The dreaming mind has creative capacities beyond what the waking mind can fully come to terms with. Like full-blown hallucinations, in dreams a deep part of our own mechanics can put together places, people, and situations. And the dream-generator does this in real-time. The construction of entire worlds, at least, the appearance of a world from the vantage of a viewer – you (usually). It is thoughtlessly repeated all-over that waking imagination is like dreams. But it's not. When we close our eyes while awake and attempt to envision something, this is a very pale comparison to the hyper-realistic perceptions and complete emersion of the dream-state. What predominates in dreams are the ancient concerns of our lineage. Survival. For early humans, running from other human men and beastly animals was an important scenario to rehearse. In dreams we did this rehearsing. We dreamed of falling, and connected a terror to it – preparing us to perceive an imminent threat of falling and avoiding it while awake. We dreamed of the territorial imperative, the all-pervasive understanding all animals have that there exists property lines, and we would dream of being on the wrong side of these lines or "the other" infiltrating onto our side. Our forefathers dreamed of dangers to their resources and to their social standing. Mother's-to-be had similar dreams, and dreams of pregnancy complications. And today, we still have the same dream architecture, and basically the same dreams.
Along with being chased and having a difficulty in getting away, teeth falling out, monsters in the night, we also dream of issues in the modern world – computers and phones not working properly, being late for a meeting, cannot complete a paper for school. And yet, amidst all of this seemingly "negative" content and thematic structure, dreams have given humanity many of our Aha! moments – the crucial breakthroughs that made it possible to invent and bring into the world that which was needed but not already present. It is likely that in the majority of trials and simulations run by the dream-machine, the average person will not perceive the missing ingredients that will lead to enormous scientific discoveries. As creative as dreams are, they require your day-time devotion to a craft or endeavor in order to weave together during sleep something of lasting use to the world.
In REM-Sleep, the dreaming mind has the capacity to make connections, like metaphors on steroids, that the waking mind would rarely conjure. But to make these connections the raw materials must be present. While awake, the work and effort must be put in, the devotion to doing all we can to figure-out how to reach a goal. It can take years of hard work before a breakthrough is reached. In the examples of dream inventions and discoveries below, the people behind the dreams had already put their 10,000-hours in. They had already been at their grind, practicing, tinkering, re-evaluating. It takes an expert to not only accumulate those raw materials which the dream-generator would need for its combinatory magic, but to also recognize a gem of an idea when the dream projects one. But if you put the requisite time in during the day, dreams can provide the glue that bridges problem with solution, and this is true for many fields of endeavor – music, literature, cinema, science, and technology/invention.
Music in dreams has always been especially powerful to me. I have had soundtracks playing during lucid dreams, mood-setting melodies accompanying my flying or other adventuring. I have created all-new rhymes or witnessed my favorite rappers freestyle. Sometimes during the dream it seems as if these are songs I already heard, but upon further inspection after awakening it is apparent that this was all new material. I wouldn't be surprised of a good deal of music, at least in part, was first heard in dreams. Keith Richards dreamed the guitar riff for "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Paul McCartney dreamed the tune for "Yesterday", and when he woke it took a while to realize that this wasn't a song in his memory that he just couldn't place but was an entirely new song. In fact, "Yesterday" is so perfectly catchy and resonates on such a deep level that it is the most covered (copied) song in modern history, maybe ever.
In the world of literature dreams have proved very fertile ground for plots and details. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was taken from dream, starting with "It was a dreary night in November…" Stephen King takes information from dreams for parts of his novels; the plot for Misery was dreamed up. Robert Louis Stevenson claimed that dreaming was a regular source of material for his writing, and he would form entire stories with this medium. Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde were dreamed up after two days of Stevenson racking his brains for a plot. More recently, parts of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series were drawn from her dreams, including the sparkling-in-the-sun vampire skin.
And how much of Hollywood's silver-screen entertainment has come from visions in sleep? James Cameron dreamed-up "The Terminator" while sleeping with a fever – the steel juggernaught emerging from fire "dragging itself across the floor with kitchen knives." Before dreaming this seedling-scene, Cameron was broke and living in hotels. After…well, you know.
The realms of science have been profoundly touched by dreams. Some of the most famous dream discoveries came about after gargantuan brain-storming in the day couldn't satisfy solutions. Otto Loewi had a dream which ultimately resulted in our understanding of the chemical transmission of nerve impulses. When he awoke, Loewi new how to begin triggering chemical release in frogs and transferring the liquid products between frogs, commencing a series of experiments that would alter a fundamental understanding of how the nervous system operates (although the full series of experiments afterward took many years to convince all skeptics). Loewi won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1936 as his reward for recognizing his dreams and acting on them. The scientist Kekule realized the ring structure for the benzene molecule when he saw snakes biting their own tails in a dream, ushering in the foundation for much of modern chemistry. Dmitri Mendeleyev created the periodic table in its entirety after falling asleep to chamber music and dreaming about how chemicals are related to one another as are the components of music. With some dream inspiration, Frederick Banting isolated insulin. Albert Einstein better conceptualized his Theory of Relativity based on a dream about sledding.
Technological inventions have on occasion received their breakthrough in design from dreams. A famous dream invention includes Elias Howe's sewing machine; in a dream Howe was taken captive, and as the natives danced around him with spears in hand, he noticed the spearheads had holes near their ends – that's it! The sewing needle should be threaded from near the tip. Larry Page "spent the night scribbling out the details" after dreaming up the idea of indexing the entire internet, and the idea for Google was born. Floyd Ragsdale had a dream about putting springs in tubes, which when applied improved the manufacturing of Kevlar fiber (the bulletproof material).
It could be assumed that most seminal religious inspiration was the product of dreams and/or dream-like hallucinations. Many wars and battles were first seen in a dream had by a general, and then executed deeming the visions as divine province. Today, we invent new varieties of aliens and abduction experiences in disturbing dreams.
Dreams are also inventive when it comes to producing beautiful scenery and even comedy. Especially in lucid dreams, I have been raptured and wrapped up in awe at the majesty of the sky – clouds catching and refracting sunglow brilliance or moonbeam shimmer. I've also seen ground-level vistas of noble nature at her best and grand cities representing no architect or builder other than my own imagination. When it comes to jokes, I have to hand it to the comedian that is the sandman – whether rapid-fire and brief or taking the more pronounced trajectory of a longer setup and unexpected (but perfectly timed) delivery, humor has a home in dreams. And don't think that a little comedy takes away from the threatening nature which I claim predominates in dreams – what we find as "funny" is very often the release valve attached to our fears; we laugh to temper the harshness of a situation or description.
As a creative and inventive species, humans should neither refute the fact that dreaming is filled with threats, nor believe that these disturbing hallucinatory worlds offer us nothing for our modern existence (which has done a good job of mitigating the threats most haunting our ancestors). Stories – in cinema, in books, as musical progressions – are well-suited to the macabre and frightful titillation of dream inspiration. Even embedded in a capture and threat dream as was Elias Howe, clues to a cultural breakthrough may be apparent. First, we must try and try again to achieve our creative aspirations while awake, and then, every now and again, the prepared eye or ear will capture a glimpse of that next-level invention in a dream.