Some of the most influential and successful creative ideas of all time were inspired by the subconscious while dreaming. A field of cows inspired Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, which, according to a survey by meditation and sleep specialists calm.com, is one of the most important ideas that ever came out of sleep. In his dream, Einstein was telling a farmer about cows being surrounded by an electric fence, but the farmer saw something different. Einstein awakened with the realisation that the same event could vary from different perspectives, and the theory of relativity began to take shape. Want to follow in Einstein’s footsteps? Here are 8 ways to get smarter while you sleep.
Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev was exhausted from three days of trying to classify the 56 elements when he decided to sleep on it. “I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper,” Mendeleev wrote in his diary, “Only in one place did a correction later seem necessary.” What sort of things do you dream about? The answer can be very revealing about you.
Elias Howe was exhausted from his attempts to develop a machine that could stitch together fabric. Asleep, he dreamt that cannibals were preparing to cook him as they danced about waving spears – and the spears had a hole at the sharp tip. Eureka! That’s when Howe got the idea to pass the thread through the point of the needle instead of the end, explains author David Jones in his book The Aha! Moment: A Scientist’s Take on Creativity. Howe’s invention changed the way clothing was manufactured for centuries, unlike these inventors who came to wish their inventions had never seen the light of day.
In 1922, Danish physicist Niels Bohr received the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics for conceiving the model of the atom. He was snoozing away when he had a vision of the planets attached to pieces of string circling the sun. He woke up from this dream and suddenly could envision the movement of electrons, reports calm.com. “Sleep is not just vital to health but perhaps the greatest single source of creativity,” explains Alex Tew, co-founder of Calm.
While many Beatles’ songs have a dream-like quality, it was the legendary song “Yesterday” that came to Paul McCartney in an actual dream. The Financial Times reports that McCartney woke up with the melody playing in his head. Although McCartney now had the tune of the song, he didn’t have an idea for the lyrics, so he put together some lines about scrambled eggs as a placeholder. Check out these 12 audio tracks that humanity has sent rocketing into deep space.
On November 10, 1619, German soldier René Descartes had three dreams, which went on to change the course of his life – and our modern world. The dreams, particularly the third one, spurred him to question the nature of reality. Determined to find the truth in human knowledge, he quit the army the following year to study mathematics and philosophy. He then went on to create the field of analytical geometry and also became the founder of modern rationalism. We can’t all share the same brilliant mind as Descartes, but we can sure stay on top of our mental game. Try these suggestions to always stay mentally sharp.
“I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavour to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
This is how author Mary Shelley described the lucid dream that led to her classic novel. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why author Lee Child says that women are better writers than men.
Keith Richards, guitarist to the Rolling Stones, is just as talented asleep as he is awake – at least according to how the mega-hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” was created. As he describes the history-making moment to NPR: “I go to bed as usual with my guitar, and I wake up the next morning, and I see that the tape is run to the very end. And I think, ‘Well, I didn’t do anything. Maybe I hit a button when I was asleep.’ So I put it back to the beginning and pushed play and there, in some sort of ghostly version, is the whole opening verse [to ‘Satisfaction’]. And after that, there’s 40 minutes of me snoring. But there’s the song in its embryo, and I actually dreamt the damned thing.”
Unlike many of the other world-changing ideas mentioned here, the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde didn’t originate after a night of sweet slumber; the tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde came to Robert Louis Stevenson during a drug-induced nightmare. His dream-induced screams disturbed his wife, Fanny, who angrily woke him up. Startled, he said to her, “Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.”
The nightmare took a terrible turn when Fanny thought the first draft of the story was nonsense – and she burned it. Stevenson feverishly rewrote the 30,000-word story over a three-day period. Sure enough, it ended up selling so well that the book lifted the Stevensons out of debt. Though the masterpiece had its critics, it was never banned – unlike these 13 surprising book titles.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was in an unusually deep sleep when he came up with his famous poem, according to a note scrawled on the manuscript on display at the British Library in London. Coleridge had taken opium for pain; after drifting off, he had the dream that inspired his Romantic classic. If romantic prose inspires you, here are ten moving love poems to enjoy.
The structure of the benzene ring supposedly came to Friedrich August Kekulé, a German chemist, in a dream, but several versions of that dream have been written about. The most well-known version – and the one Kekulé himself spoke about in a speech at benzene symposium in 1890 – was of a self-devouring snake. This, Kekulé said, led him to develop the ring shape for the molecule, and his illustrated structure demonstrated how atoms could be arranged with chemical bonds. Science has continued ground-breaking discoveries long after Kekulé. Here are some of the coolest scientific discoveries of recent times.
Charles Darwin may get all the glory when it comes to the theory of evolution, but scientist Alfred Russel Wallace thought of it, too. During an eight-year expedition to what is now Indonesia, Wallace collected and studied thousands of animal specimens. By 1855, Wallace concluded that living things evolve – but he didn’t figure out how until 1858 when a fever dream sparked the epiphany: Animals evolve by adapting to their environment. Much of what we as humans do can be explained by evolution – even though Darwin himself felt crying, despite being a purely human ability, was without purpose. Here’s what today’s scientists think about why humans cry.
Yep, this teenage romance story came to author Stephenie Meyer in a dream. But the vampire story wasn’t your standard boy meets girl romance: “It was two people in kind of a little circular meadow with really bright sunlight, and one of them was a beautiful, sparkly boy and one was just a girl who was human and normal, and they were having this conversation,” said Meyer about her dream. “The boy was a vampire, which is so bizarre that I’d be dreaming about vampires, and he was trying to explain to her how much he cared about her and yet at the same time how much he wanted to kill her.”
Meyer’s vampire stories became a sensation among teens and adults alike. Besides hitting the bestseller list and selling 70 million books worldwide, Twilight became a box office hit at the movies earning upwards of $380 million. Vampires may be the stuff nightmares are made of, for others it takes a little more to frighten them. Here are some of the scariest movies of all time.
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