Can one’s dreams foresee the future?
It's a question that has captivated cultures for as long as history has been recorded. Many attribute the predictive power of dreams to spirituality and divine intervention. Yet, regardless of the faith of any individual who enters the dream state, there are numerous instances in which dreams actually do come true in ways that were not anticipated. Most prophetic dreams do not bear spiritually significant meaning and hold no link to life-changing events.
Researchers have found that the brain’s activity during sleep may explain the capacity of dreams to foretell the future.
The science behind predictive dreams
There are frequent stories of people who explain that they had dreams unexpectedly came true. There are several possible explanations.
Some experts suggest that dreams may include events that a person has not necessarily thought through while awake. After dreaming of something, such as passing or failing a test, a student might begin to believe in the probability of either outcome. In this example, a student’s behavior might change: he or she may study more or less for the test after the dream. This can happen because the dream may be considered a reflection of the most likely outcome, which becomes very life-like and powerful in the dream state. The power of dreams, however, only applies to outcomes that can be at least partially controlled by a person who knew of the dream.
However, some dreams come true without any intervention or “post dream” action that could have been controlled by the dreamer or anyone who knew the content of the dream. Evidence points to the idea that dreams can also be a synthesis of a person’s conscious and subconscious memories—a synthesis of real clues that make it easier to accurately anticipate the probability of certain outcomes. This theory also suggests that obvious clues may not be considered important until all the facts are pooled. Sometimes this occurs during sleep.
Dream anatomy and function
REM sleep is dependent on intact structure and function of several areas of the brain. One study showed that patients who had suffered from bilateral lesions of the ventromesial region or the parieto-temporo-occipital junction lost the ability to dream during sleep.1,2
And a few studies point to pattern recognition as a component of REM sleep. This suggests that there may be some linking of events that occurs during the dream state that does not always occur when awake. . . essentially putting concrete signs that are collected during waking hours together to form a reasonable deduction about their implications.
1. Solms M. The Neuropsychology of Dreams: A Clinico-Anatomical Study. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum. 1997.
2. Llewellyn S. Dream to predict? REM dreaming as prospective coding. Front Psychol. 2015;6:1961.
Revonsuo A. The reinterpretation of dreams: an evolutionary hypothesis of the function of dreaming. Behav Brain Sci. 2000;23:877-901.