REVIEW: Dreams & Premonitions – The Story of John W. Dunne

Keeping a dream diary used to be extremely popular thanks to the work of John William Dunne. A British aeronautical engineer, soldier and philosopher by trade, J. W. Dunne had premonitions about the future and came up with his own theories about how dreams functioned. John Dunne’s book, An Experiment with Time, was published in 1927, and documented his ideas about the dream world. His work was so influential that writers such as J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Graham Greene, and J. R. R. Tolkien, were inspired by it.

After having had a dream about an argument with a waiter over whether it was 4.30am or 4.30pm, John Awoke to find that the time was indeed precisely 4.30am. This peaked his interest in recording his dreams, leading him on an incredible journey bringing him national attention, and facilitating a popular interest in dream diaries.

Later on, as J. W. Dunne lay recovering from an injury received in the Boer War, another dream saw him in Khartoum, where he was met by 3 explorers who had come up from South Africa. The next day, a newspaper headline gave details of 3 men arriving in Sudan, who had travelled on an expedition from Cape Town.

John also foresaw the 1902 eruption of a volcano on a French speaking island. In his dream Dunne foresaw the eruption and began to warn that 4000 people would die unless something was done to evacuate the citizens. A few days after this dream, Mount Pelée, in Martinique, erupted, killing 40,000 people.

The casualty discrepancy allowed Dunne’s theory to develop in a slightly different direction; when he originally read the article detailing the disaster, which was the worst of the 20th Century, he misread the death toll as 4000. He resultantly theorised that he saw a moment in the future, looking through his own eyes where he read that very newspaper article, and had misread the 40,000 figure as 4000.

This allowed him to develop his theory of serialism, in which he theorised that our immortal soul can travel between different dimensions of time, separate from our bodies, ensuring that our dreams form a sea of fragmentary events from the past and future which can later be interpreted. As we are distracted by the material world around us, we are more likely to have premonitory visions in our sleep than when we are awake.

J. W. Dunne had dreams of other disasters too, such as a factory fire in France, and the derailing of the Flying Scotsman train, the latter of which he managed to garner the date (Spring of 1914) and location. Therefore, Dunne believed that reading back a dream diary can help predict events in the next few days, but he also had dreams that were a good 6-months ahead of schedule.

Dunne encouraged those who kept dream diaries to not necessarily take objects and symbols in dreams as being literal – he often found that representations would not always be precise, such as when a dream saw lit cigarette butts thrown at him by a crowd, but in real-life it turned out to be sparks from a fire.

After the publication of his work, it was later discovered that Dunne believed himself to be a spiritual medium, and had purposely left out this fact from his publications. The reception of the scientific community was important to him, and he felt that by mentioning this he would jeopardise the reception of his writings as a matter for scientific scrutiny.

The work reminds us, again, of how individuals such as Freud, who whilst drawing attention to the importance of symbology and the subconscious in dreams, have in some ways distracted us from sharing our dreams by making us think that they are dirty and oftentimes not worthy of analysis. Rather than awaiting a scientific study on the subject, why not try keeping a dream diary yourself?

My own experiences have shown me that there is at least a possibility that perhaps we see into some kind of shared consciousness, such as Carl Jung advocated. In one of my most vivid and prophetic dreams (15/05/2017) I saw a terrorist attack on a bridge in London in which the attackers wielded knives. They used a vehicle too – I was not sure if it was a van or a lorry. After the real-life terror attacks in London (03/06/2017), I read a news article outlining how the terrorists were hoping to hire a lorry, but failed in their endeavour, and had to settle for a van instead. Was I seeing into the minds of the attackers? Or was I being passed a message from the spirit world; a spirit that had seen the future terrorists planning the attack – heard them planning to use a lorry without knowing they’d eventually use a van. I lean towards the latter account over that of a shared consciousness. Yet, some scientists believe that we and other animals do indeed have some kind of shared consciousness. Perhaps, both ideas could somehow be correct.

There was also another attack in my dream, but this was unclear – my dream diary simply reads: ‘Seems that perhaps attacks occur across several cities – possibly including Manchester’. The brutal attacks in Manchester occured on the 22/05/2017.

However, other events in this very vivid dream did not transpire (God-forbid) – Islamic terrorists attacking a news team (‘ITV?’) in their studio live on air, or terrorists firing guns from moving vehicles like the Washington snipers.

Perhaps using several dreamers to predict and prevent future disasters, like the pre-cogs in The Minority Report, could lessen the chances for error and provide more details. This is why I would like dreamers to share with me any dreams they have that may involve a disaster scenario.

It must be kept in mind that not all dreams are literal; when I dream of a nuclear explosion for instance, it often means the end of something, like a relationship or a location change in my life. Be wary of jumping to the worst conclusion unless the dream is particularly vivid.

Copyright © 2018 Daniel J Taylor

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