February 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: An Experiment With Time

Guest post by Tim.

Dreamt Monday 9 Feb: On holiday with family and cats. Staying in beachside house. Sea levels rise overnight due to some kind of lunar/tidal anomaly. Woke to find house surrounded by water. Outside orca frolic and chase stingrays. Seems very menacing to me but children delighted and determined to jump in water to join in fun. I frantically run around stopping one from leaping out window into sea, only for another to escape and find new way to jump into water. Pedro (cat) somehow leaps into water too and also in danger of being eaten by orca. 

File:An Experiment with Time book cover.jpgThe above is part of the raw data I gathered while following the experimental method outlined in the book An Experiment withTime by J. W. Dunne. It was a bestseller at the time of publication (1927) and ran into many editions, but had fallen into obscurity by the time I came across it eighty-something years later in the basement of the Central City Library. In this little book Dunne writes about time and human perception of it, and his theory that we sometimes catch glimpses of the future when we dream. His experiment basically asks the reader to record their dreams every night, and to study them and note any similarities between them and subsequent waking events. 

Dunne was a very practical man apparently -- an aircraft engineer in the very early days of the field -- and goes to great pains to let us know that he is not interested in anything that cannot be explained rationally. "This is not a book about 'occultism', and not a book about what is called 'psycho-analysis'" he writes as soon as we get started. And it is interesting that he chose those two terms, too, because the crux of his argument rests upon the relationship between dreams and precognition. Keep clear, followers of Freud and Madame Blavatsky.

He writes in a friendly, professorial way that makes his theories seem so reasonable. And then he throws in some time-jargon such as: "the serialism of the fields of presentation involves the existence of a serial observer. In this respect every time-travelling field is the field apparent to a similarly travelling and similarly dimensioned observer. Observation by any such observer is observation by all observers pertaining to the dimensionally larger fields." Get it?  Sort of. And then, with diagrams and algebraic terms he outlines some convincing-looking ideas of time and multi-dimensional space and perception, and proves that we can all see the future in our dreams. 

It all seems so convincing that when he describes his own personal experiences with prophetic dreams (like the time he dreamt of being on a volcanic island and being aware that it would erupt and kill 4000 people and the very next day he saw the newspaper headline “Volcano disaster in Martinique 4000 killed”). I'm with him. I mean, everyone has had dreams that seem spookily prescient right? Whether that is precognition or just some quirk of neurology I don't know; but have I always liked the idea that there are things in the natural world that we don’t perceive properly, and that one nice thing about humans is that we really want to come up with ideas to explain them i.e. ghosts, UFOs, precognitive dreams, string theory….

I read An Experiment with Time a while ago but was reminded of it when I saw an article in the Times Literary Supplement (issue dated October 31 2014). In it was published the dream experiment as performed and described by Nabokov in 1964. Like Dunne, Nabokov was a man of scientific interests -- he was a well-respected amateur lepidopterist -- and also a Freud-denier. Nabokov seems genuinely open to the experiment and does seem to find some precognitive scraps amongst his dreams.

Some patches of prose in his dream diary are direct presentiments of his novel  Ada from 1967 (Van Veen, the 'hero' of Ada, writes a treatise on time, 'The Texture of Time', and describes his precognitive dreams as "dim-doom visions: fatidic-sign nightmares, thalamic calamities, menacing riddles.  Not infrequently the menace is well concealed, and the innocent incident will turn out to possess, if jotted down and looked up later, the kind of precognitive flavour that Dunne has explained by the action of "reverse memory").

 An Experiment with Time was popular in its day. I imagine earnest undergraduates in 1927 comparing dream diaries and finding thrilling grains of the future amongst them; or drunken dinner parties becoming suddenly hushed when prophecies are uncannily revealed. Maybe the real reason for its popularity was that Dunne’s experiment gave people permission to talk openly about their dreams (one of the Seven Things You’re Not Supposed To Talk About ).

I wrote about one of my dreams because Dunne made it okay, and because a few days later something happened that seemed somehow familiar even as it happened…

Thursday 12 Feb: Early in morning both rabbits escaped and were running around neighbourhood gardens. Me and S----- running around like slapstick comedians trying to catch them. Pedro was having great time helping round them up. Some correlation? Coincidence? Maybe this relates to dream of 9th ?…Any possible significance in the fact that rabbit escape was morning after I saw meteorite light up night sky, before it crash-landed in the ocean?

-- Tim

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 17:31


  1. Great to have resurfaced this book from the basement. Thanks for an entertaining Saturday morning read.


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