Lawrence Brennan got in touch last weekend to talk about a dream he thought might be precognitive. It’s happened to him a few times, as he described interestingly in Paranormalia a while back. The imagery in this particular dream seemed to suggest a runner in the Grand National, so he had a punt.
Then a thought struck him about what the dream might really signify.
Long story short – no fortunes were made. But the episode underlined some interesting points, which Lawrence has identified and analysed in some detail. Here’s the correspondence, lightly edited.
Lawrence to Robert, Wednesday April 2
I was going to offer this to you so you could be a witness, should I prove successful in finally using this purported ability to predict something before it happens (my success rate so far being zero.) And I was full of hope this could be the one.
Instead it may have just turned into an example of why these things are so damned elusive. I feel like Scully in the X Files ... there’s always a get-out.
I discovered by accident a few nights ago that I could determine the content of that night’s dreams by telling myself (two or three times, eyes closed, just before drifting off, as if hypnotising myself) what I was to dream about. I say by accident, as what I was actually instructing myself to do was to have very clear, very precise and well remembered precognitive dreams that night. Seemed worth a go.
As far as I know or recall, nothing I dreamt about did indeed come true. However, to my surprise, each of the night’s dreams referenced the subject of precognitive dreaming as part of their plot. That was interesting. Did this suggest I could consciously shape the contents of my dreams before sleep? I decided to test it the next night by instructing myself in the same way to dream about a particular individual. Sure enough, I did. Well this could be handy!
A way to potentially make use of this newly realised ability occurred to me the next day, Monday. Sometime during the day a nagging half thought started tugging at my mind.. a forgotten something I was struggling to get hold of. I had a notion that I’d had a dream some time recently that was related to the Grand National. What dream, or even if there was one, or when it had happened, I still don’t know. I just felt James Dean – whether the man or his name – had something to do with it.
This annoying niggle in my mind prompted a related idea. Why not tell myself to dream about the Grand National, and see if I emerge from my slumbers with a name that matches with a real horse in the race? So on Monday night I did just that. Instructed myself to dream of the National and get the name of the winner ...
I had no dreams involving races or horses. Ah well. Still I decided to Google this year’s race, find out what horses were listed and if their names meant anything to me. First read through – nothing. Read it again five minutes later and ... hold on ... “Vintage Star”. James Dean reference? Could be. Hmm.. Five minutes later it hit me. I’d had no dreams about horse racing the night before, but what I had dreamt about was: Vintage black and white photos of old Hollywood stars followed by another group of veteran elderly movie actors in period costumes. Oh my! Vintage Star! The name describes all parts of these dreams, including the earlier James Dean half-memory. It has to be. Vintage Star to win the National. If my dreams didn’t foresee the winner they sure as hell foresaw me zoning in on the name of this horse.
I placed a free bet online and stand to win several hundred pounds if it wins, and I told half a dozen friends individually as witnesses to my ‘prediction’. This was when I was also going to write this email to you: if it wins you’d have a story, if it doesn’t, ho hum, and who need ever know? As I’ve always said, I’m not psychic.
But then this morning ... damn and blast. I did something I immediately regretted and which, if nothing else, is an object lesson in the sheer impossible-to-grab-hold-of nature of this stuff. By way of promoting and cheering on my prediction for the coming event I dug out two photos of myself and a friend in front of giant black-and-white pictures of Clark Gable and Rudolf Valentino – pictures very much like the ones in the dream - posting the former as my Facebook cover photo and sending the latter to him. As soon as I’d done so I wanted to kick myself. Perhaps you’ve already worked out why?
If we take seriously my central premise that the dream imagery was taken from near-future events and experiences, how can I know it referred to the horse race and not, say, my posting of those photographs? The latter in fact is more literally reminiscent of the content of the dream after all.
Like Planet of the Apes this would be mind-bogglingly circular. I only posted the photos because I had the dream and now face the possibility I only had that particular dream because I was going to post those photographs.
I started off all but convinced I’ve successfully foreseen the winner of this year’s Grand National, but may instead have triggered a temporal paradox. And don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Robert to Lawrence, Saturday April 5, 2.18pm
Well, I agree with your reasoning. But it’s always good to have a reason to back a horse at 50-1, so I’ve a little punt too.
[For non-Brits I should explain that it’s normally insane to bet on the Grand National, a notoriously dangerous steeplechase in which most of the horses fall over. A rank outsider is always in with a chance – this year’s actual winner was priced at 25-1.]
Lawrence to Robert Saturday April 5, 4.38pm
Bah humbug! This is why I gave up that tent on Blackpool pier.
There was something else I didn’t mention before:
First I reasoned my way out of the time-loop problem by deciding that I chose the horse because of the (slightly less convincing) James Dean connection ... and that this therefore was the reason I was always going to choose it, always put up those photos, and therefore had the precognitive dream triggered by the latter act. Paradox resolved.
Then on Thursday night I woke between dreams for a few minutes and tried sleepily, but consciously this time, to ‘foresee’ the result. Jockeys’ silks appeared vividly in my mind’s eye. Yellow and Green quarters. Next morning the sweepstakes in the papers included little graphics of each rider’s colours. Two of the forty had the yellow and green quarters design. And one of them was .... Vintage Star.
Once again I had personally convincing evidence I’d ‘seen the future’, but had no way to know whether I was foreseeing the colours of the horse that was going to win ... only that I was foreseeing the colours of the horse I had already decided to follow! Which is useless, and means the predictive proof of precognition that might satisfy other people remains as elusive as ever.
In the light of this experience Lawrence later sent this link on classic and recent examples of people dreaming the winners of horse races. He analysed the cases as follows:
The first thing of note in each incident described is very significant ... that in each case the precognitive dream actually showed literally what it was about. That is, it involved horses in a race and the announced winner. In other words, no interpreting signs or metaphors are necessary at all. That’s a strong clue as to their qualitative difference from my attempts, and a reminder that I keep making the same mistake over and over ... seeing hidden meaning in my dreams where none exists.
However there’s a second characteristic of the stories that belies my own experiences and observations (which I’m going to list) in the cases above, as reported at least. This is a clear suggestion that the individuals only pay attention (and indeed seek out) the precognized event because of the dream. Which suggests that either someone or something was planting the dreams in their mind, or else that we’re back to time loops. Either way, it’s not how it appears to work in my own experience at all.
So what do I know - perhaps others would say ‘believe’ - about precognitive dreaming, as far as my own experiences go?
1) Such dreams relate to utterly trivial and seemingly random matters. There are no ‘messages’, warnings or other intentions behind them. I’ve yet to experience anything that suggests future events, of a particular emotional impact or significance, are likely to show up in a dream.
2) The plot is irrelevant, and almost always pure nonsense/fantasy. Trying to read meanings or symbolism into it is fruitless. The precognitive aspects relate only to visuals ... TV or movie scenes, news headlines, photos, unusual surroundings, peculiar actions ... and will appear pretty much as themselves within the otherwise unrelated plot. Unless the image in question is novel or confusing, in which case it may be distorted to make sense within the story. I have identified no rule or quality that makes any particular object or incident turn up rather than another.
3) The future-relevant visuals that do turn up are inspired by one’s own experience of witnessing/reading/hearing about those incidents. They are not objectively inspired by the incident itself (eg, it’s the experience of receiving the news of a plane crash, with all its errors and conjectures, rather than the plane crash itself, that would fuel the content of the dream). If I’m not going to see it in real life, in some sense, then it’s not going to show up in my dream.
4) The dreams cannot ever be used to make a prediction. You only notice they referred to the future after it happens. The only way one might predict, that I can currently conceive of, is to say ‘X’ turned up in the plot of my dream, so ‘X’ is likely to turn up in my personal viewing/reading etc in the next day or so.
5) The elements of a dream that are taken from the future rather than the past or from pure fantasy, are not qualitatively distinct or identifiable. Having said that, I have noted in the past that where a new face or object imposes itself upon another in the recall of the dream (eg. what was originally ‘John’ somehow mid-action turns into ‘Mike’), then the latter - the interloper - often seems to be the thing that turns up, particularly the next morning.
6) The passage of time seems to be somehow simultaneously relevant, and irrelevant to the precognized imagery. That’s to say, the fact the great majority of foreseen images happen within the first several hours, or perhaps days, after waking from the dream suggests nearness in time to the event is relevant. And yet I’ve noticed striking correlations between a dream and events that occurred five months later ... which suggests there is no such time limit at all.
It also might suggest that far more material from one’s dreams than is ever noticed will turn up in future ... but the time lapse prevents you recalling the dream (even if you recorded it at the time) or spotting the connection!
7) I now have two personal anecdotes that suggest the period just after waking from slumber is conducive to consciously trying to foresee a specific thing in a ‘remote viewing’ kind of way. However, setting out in advance to repeat the exercise the following night seems to be counter-productive, and may suggest lazy spontaneity is required.
8) My newly-observed ability to decide what I would dream about equally only lasted two nights, and I’ve not been able to replicate it since.
So these are my own observations of how it works for me and, I’m fairly confident, for the other 95% of the population who don’t claim special powers. I leave 5%, because I’ve now read two books by people who have PDs, and in each case they seem utterly sincere, yet describe experiences far beyond any I recognize ... ones where their visions do seem directed and directable, and often involve spirit encounters and OOBEs etc. These perhaps are the people who see plane crashes rather than scenes from tomorrow’s episode of Frasier. So if they’re not making it up, I can only surmise that they differ from me in that they are indeed ‘psychics’ or mediums.
Perhaps their dreams are being used as means of communication. I know mine aren’t, or I’d now be claiming 800 quid from an online bookie.