by Eric Wargo
I’ve mentioned several times the debt I owe to J.W. Dunne and his 1927 book An Experiment with Time. Dunne was not a scientific researcher or a parapsychologist by training, but a military man and aeronautical engineer who became interested in questions of time and its structure after becoming aware of uncanny examples of apparent precognitive dreams he had had. His “experiment” was systematically recording his dreams and then comparing them in the days, weeks, and months afterward to events that occurred in his life. His book is filled with numerous apparent matches, although spread over the course of years. Precognitive dreams, he felt, happened at a relatively low frequency.
Because of our natural ‘temporal bias,’ we seldom consider the possibility that our dreams (let alone our waking thoughts) refer to future events, and Dunne notes this is the main reason precognitive dreams are so seldom reported. We simply don’t notice them. His theory, based on the precognitive dreams his self-experimentation revealed, was that the apparent flow of time was an effect of consciousness moving like a searchlight through a past, present, and future that already exist, rather like Einstein’s teacher Minkowski’s solid four-dimensional spacetime block. Dunne thought that dreams sometimes picked up this ‘already existing’ future information.
Interestingly, although Dunne was writing at a time when the study of dreams was popular due to the influence of Freud, he ignores the then-mainstream psychoanalytic school of thought that dreams’ surface content consisted mainly of symbols standing in for hidden or latent ideas, concealing wishes repressed or buried in the unconscious mind. For Freud, dreams relate to events in daily life in a very nonliteral and usually non-obvious way. His method of dream interpretation required free associating on each remembered dream element to arrive at the latent dream thought. When done honestly and thoroughly, free association readily reveals real-life current preoccupations, worries, fears, and wishes, as well as powerful symbols from childhood. It also reveals that most dreams bear some connection to recent events in the dreamer’s life. Many dreams contain a scattering of elements that are immediately recognizable from recent experience—what Freud called “day residues”—but unpacking a dream through free association reveals many, many more such connections.
Dunne, instead, focused only on the surface content of his dreams and thus on obvious future things “seen” in his dreams. But given the way dreams mostly distort material, we might expect free association on dreams’ surface content to reveal much more future information thinly concealed in them, and this has been precisely my own experience since following Dunne’s method. To create a truly powerful method and theory of precognitive dream analysis, we need to combine Dunne’s hypothesis with Freud’s method of free-associative interpretation. To show how this works, I will discuss two vivid examples from my own limited experience with precognitive dreaming.