Five Scientific Discoveries Made in Dreams
In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities.
1. Dmitri Mendeleev, Periodic Table
Dmitri Mendeleev (1834–1907) wanted to organize the 65 known elements somehow. He knew there was a pattern to be discerned, and it had something to do with atomic weight, but the pattern remained elusive. Then, Mendeleev later reported, “In a dream I saw a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.” Mendeleev’s words were quoted in “On the Question of Scientiﬁc Creativity,” by Russian chemist B.M. Kedrov.
A painting of Dmitri Mendeleev, 1878, by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi. (Public domain)
This was how the periodic table was formed. The arrangement he saw in his dream was so accurate, it even revealed that some elements had been incorrectly measured; they were placed in his periodic table according to their atomic weight, which wasn’t even known yet.
2. Niels Bohr, Atomic Model
“Niels Bohr [1885–1962]reports that he developed the model of the atom based on a dream of sitting on the sun with all the planets hissing around on tiny cords,” according to a paper titled “Pillow-Talk: Seamless Interface for Dream Priming Recalling and Playback,” by Edwina Portocarrero at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-authors.
Right: Niels Bohr, ca. 1922 (AB Lagrelius & Westphal) Background: Illustration of an atom. (Alexander Bedrin/iStock)
3. Elias Howe, Sewing Machine
Elias Howe (1819–1867) is often credited with inventing the sewing machine, though in reality he significantly improved previous designs and received the first U.S. patent for a sewing machine using the lockstitch design. It was a major development in creating the modern sewing machine. Before a breakthrough came to him in a dream, however, he was stuck on the problem of where to place the eye of the needle.
Left: Elias Howe, ca. 1850 (Public Domain) Right: Howe’s sewing machine, 1846 (Public domain) Background: Starry sky (Trifonov_Evgeniy/iStock/Thinkstock)
His dream is recorded in a family history titled, “The Bemis History and Genealogy: Being an Account, in Greater Part, of the Descendants of Joseph Bemis of Watertown, Massachusetts:”
“He almost beggared himself before he discovered where the eye of the needle of the sewing machine should be located. … His original idea was to follow the model of the ordinary needle, and have the eye at the heel. It never occurred to him that it should be placed near the point, and he might have failed altogether if he had not dreamed he was building a sewing machine for a savage king in a strange country.
“Just as in his actual waking experience, he was perplexed about the needle’s eye. He thought the king gave him twenty-four hours in which to complete the machine and make it sew. If not finished in that time death was to be the punishment. Howe worked and worked, and puzzled, and finally gave it up. Then he thought he was taken out to be executed.
“He noticed that the warriors carried spears that were pierced near the head. Instantly came the solution of the difficulty, and while the inventor was begging for time he awoke. It was 4 o’clock in the morning.
“He jumped out of bed, ran to his workshop, and by 9, a needle with an eye at the point had been rudely modeled. After that it was easy.”
4. Albert Einstein, Speed of Light
“Einstein said his entire career was an extended meditation on a dream he had as a teenager,” explained the Rev. John W. Price in an interview with John H. Lienhard, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering and history at the University of Houston, on the radio show “Engines of Our Ingenuity.”
Albert Einstein (Public domain) Background: Sled (Afhunta/iStock)
“He dreamt that he was riding a sled down a steep, snowy slope and, as he approached the speed of light in his dream, the colors all blended into one. He spent much of his career, inspired by that dream, thinking about what happens at the speed of light.”
5. Friedrich August Kekulé, Molecular Structure of Benzene
Friedrich August Kekulé (1829–1896) developed a structural theory in chemistry (related to the bonding order of atoms in a molecule) that was integral to the development of organic chemistry. Dozing on a bus, a vision that provided a starting point for this theory appeared to him, as recorded in “Serendipidty, Accidental Discoveries in Science,” by Royston M. Roberts: