by J.M. DeBord
(This is a guest article…you can find J.M.’s details, including social media and website links at the end of the article)
As a dreams expert who does a lot of media interviews, I am asked fairly often how to distinguish ordinary dreams from precognitive ones. In fact, I was recently asked that question on the Christine Upchurch Show.
Short answer: look for personal symbolism and rule out other possibilities.
First rule out that a dream you suspect to be precognitive is actually about something personal to you. The majority of dreams for most people are entirely personal. Ask yourself if the dream is residue from the previous day. Or does it express your anxieties or wishes. Physicist Russ Targ, who has studied precognition as a scientist and written extensively about it, uses this example: You know you haven’t studied for a test, you dream you fail it then really do fail it. That’s a self-fulfilling prophecy and not precognition.
While everyone has the ability to precognitive dream because it’s an innate ability, in my experience only a small subset of the population does it regularly and remember when they do. Most people don’t remember their dreams well enough to know if they do it or not.
An example of how to separate an ordinary dream from the extraordinary can be found in my book Dreams 1-2-3: Remember, Interpret, and Live Your Dreams. I used the case of Sugar Ray Robinson’s dream about killing his opponent in the ring. Before his welterweight bout with Jimmy Doyle in 1947, Sugar Ray dreamed that he knocked out Doyle and he subsequently died. Sugar Ray was so unnerved that he tried to back out of the fight. The fight promoter brought in a priest to assure Robinson it was “only a dream.” The rest is history.
If I was the person brought in to counsel Robinson about his dream I’d begin by asking him if the details matched waking reality. In the dream, was the arena the same as the one he was scheduled to fight in? Were the people nearby, like his trainers and the ref, the same people he anticipated to be at the fight? Discrepancies between waking reality and dream reality are a sign of personal symbolism, though precognitive dreams are known to use symbolism and metaphor, too.
Next I’d explore the possibilities for symbolism. Killing someone in a dream can express personal hostility. Was there bad blood between him and Doyle, so that Robinson felt he “could kill that guy” in the figurative sense? If so, there would be a chance the dream expressed those feelings and was not precognition.
Then I’d explore if a subconscious fear was showing itself in the dream. Fighters die in the ring, rarely but it happens. Sugar Ray had no desire to actually kill someone – he was a great fighter with a vicious punch but was an honorable sportsman. I’d ask him if he feared he could kill Doyle because Doyle had taken too many hard blows to the head.
Some digging through historical accounts of the bout uncovered this possibility. Doyle was known to have head issues. He was a tenacious Irish fighter who publicly proclaimed he was fighting Robinson to earn the money to buy his mother a house. I think it’s possible Sugar Ray’s dream reflected a fear that Doyle should not be boxing anymore, then the fear came true. The dream might not have been precognitive in the strictest sense.
Unfortunately, we can’t ask Robinson the questions needed to make that determination. However, in his autobiography Robinson wrote, “I had knocked out guys before, dozens of them. But in those fights, I always had a good feeling, a conquering feeling when I saw them being counted out, maybe because I could see that they weren’t really hurt. But now, with Doyle stretched out and his eyes blank, I had that empty feeling you get when something in your life is really wrong, and all I could think of was the dream.”
Robinson added, “You warned me, God. You told me. Why did I let everyone talk me out of it.”
I think Robinson’s dream was precognitive, but it’s easier to judge after the fact.
A guy once asked me if a dream he’d had about a plane crash warned him he should not get on a flight he was scheduled to take the next day. I asked him if details from the dream matched waking reality. Was the airplane in the dream from the same airline he had booked? Was it the same type of plane? Were the airport and concourse the same? While precognitive dreams can use symbolism and metaphor, it’s not as likely to be used for details like these. What I find is, if a dream is precognitive and metaphorical, the entire dream will be metaphor, not just pieces of it.
I also asked the guy if something in his recent life could be symbolized as a plane crash. Planes take us to personal destinations. I find this dream theme often when people are beginning something new and exciting like a romantic relationship or a business venture. The guy said yes, something with his job that he’d had high hopes for recently “crashed” in the figurative sense. At the risk of being wrong I told him I did not think his dream was precognitive. I watched the news the next day with butterflies in my stomach, and fortunately there were no reports of plane crashes.
A piece of evidence used to support the existence of precognition comes from the fact that planes and trains that crash tend to have more empty seats than usual. An investigation of train crashes on the U.S. east coast during the 1950s showed that the trains that crashed or derailed had fewer passengers than the same trains on other days. The four passenger planes hijacked on September 11, 2001 had half their usual numbers of passengers.
There are many reports of people who did not take flights that crashed because they had a bad feeling.
Sometimes though the reason why people miss those flights appears to be dumb luck. For example, Seth MacFarlane was booked on American Airlines Flight 11 on the morning of September 11, 2001, but he arrived ten minutes late because his travel agent gave him the wrong departure time and he was hungover, so he was running late anyway.
Which brings me around to the best way to tell a precognitive dream from an ordinary one: intuition. It’s a gut feeling. Some people who’ve had precognitive dreams report a buzzing sound during the dreams or a ringing in their ears when they wake up. The dreams have an unusual clarity. There can be a feeling like deja vu that accompanies them.
For many people, trusting their gut feelings is a new experience. They don’t trust it and don’t know that precognition is a fact of life. If you analyze a dream that you suspect is precognitive and it a). is not related to residue from the previous day, b). is not an expression of anxiety, c). does not express a wish, and d). is not personal symbolism, then consider that it’s precognitive. But most of all, trust your gut.
The most important thing to remember is precognition is not prophecy. Precognition gives us the ability to act ahead of time, to change the possible outcome. In that way it’s more like a forecast. And forecasts can always change.
J.M. DeBord is the lead moderator at Reddit Dreams, a popular online forum for dreams at reddit.com. His book Dreams 1-2-3 is published by Hampton Roads. He is on Facebook and Google+, and has a website and a dreams blog.