When a dream isn’t just a dream …
Neuroscience Is Born
Dr. Otto Loewi, hailed as the “father of neuroscience,” had a theory that there might be a chemical transmission of the nervous impulse. But he couldn’t envision how to prove it.
In 1920, he had two dreams over the course of two consecutive nights in which the design for an experiment to prove his theory appeared to him, according to the BBC. This started him on a course that would win him the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1936.
A Cosmetic Recipe That Made History
Madame C. J. Walker was the first African-American millionairess in America. She said the secret to her success came to her in a dream. At the turn of the 20th century, she began selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. She had begun to lose her hair and after trying products already on the market without success, she developed her own.
She told a reporter, according to the book “Madam C. J. Walker: Entrepreneur” by A’Lelia Perry Bundles, “[God] answered my prayer, for one night I had a dream, and in that dream a big black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up for my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, mixed it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out. I tried it on my friends; it helped them. I made up my mind I would begin to sell it.”
A Strange Fish
Biologist and geologist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) studied an obscure impression of a fossil fish in rock without gaining significant insight as to its characteristics. He was hesitant to chisel away the stone without an idea of the fish’s structure in case he were to irreparably damage the specimen.
He had three dreams over three consecutive nights in which he saw the fish with all its original features restored, reported his wife, Elizabeth Agassiz, in “Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence.” On the first two nights, he couldn’t hold the image in his mind upon waking. But on the third night, he was prepared with paper and pencil to record the vision.
His wife wrote: “He hastened to the Jardin des Plantes, and, with his drawing as a guide, succeeded in chiseling away the surface of the stone under which portions of the fish proved to be hidden. When wholly exposed it corresponded with his dream and his drawing, and he succeeded in classifying it with ease. He often spoke of this as a good illustration of the well-known fact, that when the body is at rest the tired brain will do the work it refused before.”
Indian Village Boy’s Visions Make Him a Famed Mathematician
Srinivasa Ramanujan was born to a poor family in South India in 1887. Legend has it that a goddess appeared to him in his dreams to give him mathematical formulae, which were not understood by people he showed them to in India, but which stunned G.H. Hardy of Cambridge University in England to whom Ramanujan wrote a letter in 1913.
Indian-American mathematician Krishnaswami Alladi wrote about these events in his paper “Srinivasa Ramanujan: Going Strong at 125” in the December 2012 Notices of the American Mathematical Society. He also described Ramanujan as “a self-taught genius, … one of the greatest mathematicians in history, and one of the most romantic figures in the mathematical world.”
Ramanujan’s mother also had a dream that made her son’s success possible. Thayer Watkins, an economics professor at San José University, wrote in a paper titled “Srinivasa Ramanujan, a Mathematician Brilliant Beyond Comparison,” of a dream that allowed Ramanujan to go to Cambridge: “Ramanujan’s mother had a dream in which she saw her son sitting amongst a group of Europeans with a big halo surrounding him. This convinced her that it was alright for her son to travel to England.”
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