10 Scientific Breakthroughs Made In Dreams
Can you remember your dream from last night? Maybe you dreamed up the cure for cancer, or a recipe for nuclear fusion, or a time travel device.
No? Well, as you’re about to find out, this might not be as far-fetched as it seems. This is 10 Scientific Breakthroughs Made In Dreams.
10. The Periodic Table Of Elements
The Periodic Table is on every science classroom wall, but it started inside someones sleeping noggin. Dmitri Medeleev‘s noggin to be precise.
Mendeleev was s Russian chemist extraordinaire who was fascinated with elements. By 1869, 64 had been discovered, and 5 of those were just from the previous decade.
But there was a puzzle: how were they all linked? Mendeleev had cards with information about all the known elements and kept trying to arrange them into an order.
After days of frustration, Mendeleev fell asleep, exhausted by this conundrum. In his dreams, he saw before him “a table where all the elements fell into place as required“.
When he woke up, he committed the design to paper, which revealed the hidden periodic patterns in the elements.
To everyone’s astonishment, this Periodic Law went on to predict the existence of elements that were undiscovered at the time – and it’s still the representation we use today.
9. Google Algorithm
When Google co-founder Larry Page was a 23-year-old student, he was searching for a Ph.D. topic and came up with the idea of super long ropes that could transport goods into Earth’s orbit.
Shortly after, though, he rejected this idea for being too crazy and started turning to his dreams for inspiration.
One night, he dreamed about downloading the entire world wide web. It was much smaller in 1996, but still, this would have taken months, and so probably wasn’t the best idea.
He woke up in the middle of his dream with the thought of just collecting the web page links instead and then began writing.
He had found his Ph.D. proposal, and over time he realized how he could rank those web page links in a search valuing sites that were linked to by a lot of other sites.
Google’s search algorithm was born, and Larry Page is now worth $40 billion.
8. Aromatic Chemistry
August Kekule was a visionary scientist, by which I mean he had some visions that helped him with science.
In 1954, while on a stagecoach, he went into a reverie during which the horses and carts became jiggling atoms. Incredibly this helped him realize that carbon likes to form straight chains.
In a second dream, years later, the flying atoms were represented as snakes. They were in motion, all turning and winding until suddenly one snake caught its tail in its mouth and formed a ring.
As he’d spent years studying carbon atoms, this serpentine vision helped Kekule realize that the element could form a ring with alternating double and single bonds, otherwise known as benzene.
The discovery of benzene marked a new understanding of aromatic compounds, which are molecules arranged in rings and these can be found everywhere from DNA to chlorophyll in plants, to crude oil, to nylon.
7. Ancient Anatomy
You know how your dreams can seem fascinating, but you wish your friend would just shut up about theirs?
I think that’s how Louis Agassiz‘ wife must have felt when she was woken in the early hours by her husband, who then excitedly told her about his dream about some fish bones.
You see, by trade, he was a biologist with a particular interest in ancient fish fossils. In 1833 he had discovered the faint fossil of a new species, the extinct Cyclopoma spinosum.
The fish reminded him of perch, but he couldn’t work out how the bones should be arranged.
In his dream, there was the fish, with all its bones in order, and it had some new features he had never seen before.
Confused by these seemingly impossible forms, he took a chisel to the fossil to investigate.
Beyond all reason, he revealed the hidden features that had appeared in his dream and managed to solve the mystery of the creature’s anatomy.
6. Automatically Guided Weapons
In 1940 at the beginning of the Second World War, the Allies found that the accuracy of their anti-aircraft machinery was incredibly weak; it could take thousands of shells to get a direct hit.
David Parkinson was an engineer with a physics Ph.D. who was working for Bell Laboratories on an electronic device that used trigonometry to pinpoint moving targets.
One night he had a vivid dream. Parkinson described how, in the dream, “I found myself in a gun pit with an anti-aircraft gun crew. The impressive thing was that every shot brought down an airplane! One of the men in the crew smiled at me and beckoned me to come closer to the gun”.
He saw the device he had been working on directly attached to the gun and realized that it could be modified to control and direct the weapon automatically.
The next day he went into the laboratory to propose the invention. 3,000 of the rudimentary computers were produced and they improved the accuracy of guns by at least ten-fold, ultimately contributing to the Allied victory in the war.
5. Thousands of Theorems
A self-taught mathematical genius, Srinivasa Ramanujan was one of India’s greatest 20th-century minds.
When British mathematician G.H. Hardy began correspondence with him, it became apparent that Ramanujan had discovered some theorems already known to the West all by himself and even came up with new ones.
But according to Ramanujan, he’d had some help. The help came in the form of his hometown’s deity, the goddess Namagiri, who he said appeared to him in many dreams, presenting him with hundreds of startling new equations and formulae.
For example, one dream saw a screen of falling blood and a hand appearing to trace out elliptic integrals.
Ramanujan lived a short life. After attending Cambridge University, he was taken ill and sadly died at 32.
However, on his deathbed, he wrote down 17 further cryptic equations that had come to him in dreams.
100 years later, mathematicians approached the press to announce that these too had just been proved correct.
4. DNA Copying
Sometimes ordinary dreams just don’t cut it, and you need to induce scientific discovery through a psychotropic hallucination purposefully.
Kary Mullis was one guy who wasn’t afraid to drop some LSD for the good of humanity – and a Nobel prize.
He won the Nobel Prize for the invention of PCR, or Polymerase Chain Reaction, a novel method for copying DNA.
Mullis said: “Would I have discovered PCR had I not taken LSD? I highly doubt it. I could sit on a DNA molecule and watch the polymers go by”.
Using PCR, a small sample of DNA can be amplified to millions of copies in hours, which allows doctors to identify and then deal with diseases quickly.
Taking LSD in the field of genetics is something of a tradition now. Francis Crick, the discoverer of the double helix model, was known to experiment with the stuff as well.
Who said science was all just hard work?
3. Natural Selection
Everyone’s heard of Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection, but you may not have heard of Alfred Russel Wallace who came up with the same theory a year before Origin of Species was published.
And how did he get the drop on Darwin? A fever dream of course. In 1858 Wallace was out in Indonesia collecting bird specimens when he was struck down with a terrible fever.
Confined to his bed, his mind was drawn this way and that, before an economics book he had read twelve years earlier floated into his thoughts.
The book was by Thomas Malthus and described how human populations were kept in check by factors such as disease, famine, and war.
In his addled state, it then occurred to him that equivalent forces could be at work in the animal kingdom.
He came to the conclusion that the animals that would live through such pressures were “those fittest to survive.”
2. Chemical Nervous System
Picture two disembodied frog hearts, still beating. One being electrocuted, the other blasted with a weird fluid. Was this a dream or reality? Well, as it turns out, it was both.
In 1920 pharmacologist Otto Loewi dreamed up this famous experiment on two consecutive nights. On the first night, the thought escaped him when he woke up.
But it returned at 3 a.m. the next day, and he immediately leaped into the laboratory to dissect some frog hearts.
The purpose of the experiment was to prove that nerve impulses are controlled chemically, not electrically, which he had previously hypothesized.
After taking intravenous fluid that had been electrically stimulated and bathing a frog heart in it, that heart beat in the same way as the electrically provoked frog heart.
He realized that the fluid, after being shocked, released a new chemical, which influenced the heart.
For this discovery, Loewi was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. Not a bad night’s sleep then.
1. Modern Mathematics And Philosophy
The 10th of December 1619 was a momentous day for civilization because Rene Descartes conceived modern mathematics, science, and philosophy all inside an oven in Bavaria.
He was huddling inside trying to keep warm – don’t judge him.
After all the excitement of discovery, he went to bed, where he claims in his memoirs to have had three quite ‘out there’ dreams.
In the first, he was trapped inside a hurricane with horrific phantoms chasing him, and there was an exotic melon that looked tasty.
He was then ‘awoken’ into the second dream by loud thunder. He looked around and saw sparks flying all over the room.
In the third dream, he saw a book on a table in front of him; it was a book of Latin poetry that he was familiar with.
He read the line, ‘What path shall I take in life?’ At which point a man appeared and replied, ‘Yes and No.’ He then woke up and bought the first melon he saw. Just kidding.
What Descartes took from this bewildering array was the idea that he should abandon a career in law and instead pursue science – this new ‘universal’ knowledge – and thank god he did.