Precognitive dreams are dreams that appear to predict the future through a sixth sense; a way of accessing future information that is unrelated to any existing knowledge acquired through normal means.
Let me give you an example of what many people would deem as precognition, but is actually quite simply explained. Mary has a dream that she is pregnant and three weeks later discovers that she is pregnant in real life. This is not really a psychic dream because Mary had access to plenty of unconscious insight: her body gave her subtle signals, and she knew she had been trying to conceive.
We all have intuitive dreams like this. They express our innermost hopes and fears based on unconscious information that we may or may not be repressing. There is nothing paranormal about Mary's dream.
Indeed, to be deemed a truly precognitive dream with paranormal roots, we need to access unpredictable information about the future. And that is one reason why precognition is hard to prove.
Here is another reason - and it's all about numbers.
When the Titanic sunk in 1912, hundreds of people came forward with reports of psychic dreams about the demise of the great ship. Amazingly, it was possible to validate at least 19 of them, including one date-stamped letter.
Does this prove that psychic dreams are real?
Alas, no. According to Robert Todd Carroll, author of The Skeptic's Dictionary, having dreams that predict the future is all a numbers game: there are 6.5 billion people on this planet - each with free will - and having an average of five dreams per night.
In turn, those dreams support multiple dream themes, such as sinking ships or airplane crashes. It is therefore highly likely that many thousands of people will dream about a sinking ship on any given night.
And let's not forget the element of unconscious insight. The Titanic was the world's largest ship on its maiden voyage, and was in the headlines even before the tragedy struck. What's more, the media had fatefully called her "unsinkable".
How often have you dreamed about your own death? You could say that this is an unlikely event, made even more unlikely if you then go and die soon after. This is exactly what happened to Abraham Lincoln.
In 1865, two weeks before he was shot dead, Abraham Lincoln had a psychic dream about a funeral at the White House. In the dream, he asked someone who was in the casket and they replied, "the president of the United States". He told his wife about the dream but neither of them took it to heart - for on the night of his assassination he gave his bodyguard the night off.
The American writer, Mark Twain, and his brother Henry once worked on riverboats on the Mississippi. One night Mark had a dream about his brother's corpse lying in a metal coffin in his sister's living room. It rested on two chairs, with a bouquet and a single crimson flower in the center. He told his sister about his dream.
Weeks later, his brother was killed in a massive explosion on a riverboat. Many others died and were buried in wooden coffins. But one onlooker felt such pity for young Henry that she raised the money for an expensive metal coffin. At the funeral, saw the coffin as it was in his dream. As he stood over Henry's casket, a woman placed a bouquet with a single red rose in the middle.
At face value, these are both compelling cases of precognitive dreaming. But mathematics could still reduce these events to mere coincidence.
The only way to build up a solid base of evidence for psychic dreams would be to consistently record every dream, and have a separate person record all the significant world events of the following day, then compare the data. Even so, matching this data would be a difficult and highly subjective task.
Like all psychic predictions, I find the idea of precognitive dreams requires blind faith. After all, many of our dreams are too interpretive and scattered to make sense of the future information we're supposed to be receiving.
However, lucid dreaming offers a unique opportunity to ask for specific information about the future. Just like Googling next week's weather, we can become conscious in our dreams and ask unpredictable information, such as:
If there were any substance to precognition, this would be a fantastic way to build evidence for it. We could limit our dream themes (predictions) to one per night - and ask for clarification in as much detail as needed.
For example, a lucid dreamer could predict the sinking of the Titanic by asking for the name of the ship, the number of people on board, the number of victims, and the time and location that the ship would go down. Having access to such explicit information would leave no doubt as to the existence of precognitive dreams.
Currently the only support for psychic dreams comes in the form of anecdotal evidence. And let's face it, if we dream of a plane crash and then a plane crash occurs in the next few days, that personal experience is pretty compelling because it's packed with emotions and seems too striking a coincidence from the special first-hand perspective. No wonder some people think they're psychic.
But this sort of coincidental anecdote doesn't really help us. If anything, it casts more doubt over the reliability of so-called psychic dreams, and may even hinder genuine attempts to investigate the nature of any unconscious sixth sense while dreaming.
If nothing else, we can gain future insight from our lucid dreams by taking advantage of the unconscious intuition principle I mentioned earlier. If Mary had a unconscious inkling that she was pregnant, it would be quite easy to ask her lucid dreaming self whether this was the case. Other lucid dreamers, while talking to their unconscious self, ask for personal insights that would otherwise go under the conscious radar. It's a great way to explore your unconscious mind.
If we're completely honest, lucid dreaming isn't really known for being the most social of interests. In fact, often it's a lone pursuit - just you, your dream journal and the landscape of your mind. But this technique called PAL (or Partner Assisted Lucidity) breaks down that wall and turns lucid dream exploration into a social event.
Members of our lucid dream forum have been asking how to create dream characters in lucid dreams. The most common problem is having characters who look nothing like they should. Or they seem disinterested in your company. Or they fail to show up on command altogether. So, how to combat this? It's a matter of finding creative solutions that bypass logical expectations.
To lucid dream, I recommend being able to remember at least one vivid dream per night. That will boost your self awareness in dreams (making lucidity more likely) and also means you can actually remember your lucid dreams. Which is nice. Here are four detailed tips on how to remember your dreams more frequently. And if you don't think you dream at all - trust me, you almost certainly do. It takes an extraordinarily rare sleep disorder to deprive someone of dream sleep.
It is estimated that these wise and wily Indians have been using mugwort in their healing and ritual practices for 13,000 years, where it is known as the ‘dream sage’. They use the herb to promote good dreams, which they consider an essential aspect of normal human functioning! But that’s not all...
Silene Capensis has been used for millennia by the Xhosa shaman of the river valleys in the eastern cape of South Africa, where it is known as Undela Ziimhlophe or 'white paths'. It's fragrant white flowers open only at night, when they emit a fragrant and almost hypnotising aroma. Also known as African Dream Herb or Ubulawu, Silene Capensis induces spectacularly vivid dreams - yet has never entered the mainstream and remains a fringe taste within western culture.
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?