After a vivid dream which seemed to predict the future I learned one of the most interesting and surprising things about the human brain.
My dream took place on the grounds of a top secret and highly secured government building which I was attempting to illegally break into. The building was protected by high fences, guard dogs, bad guys with guns, search lights on the roof, and was surrounded by thick forest loaded with trip wires ready to trigger the alarm system.
I’d already made it through the forest being careful to avoid all the trip wires and was hiding in the shadows of the treeline, out of sight of the sweeping search light beams.
Then I fucked up. I lost my footing and rolled down a hill, it got steeper and steeper and I kept rolling down faster and faster. I knew exactly what was at the bottom of the hill: the trip wires. As soon as I hit those trip wires I knew there would be sirens, security, search lights, everything. The game would be up and I would be found.
But there was no way to stop myself and I rolled all the way to the bottom where I hit the trip wires. At that very moment my alarm clock went off and I woke up bolt upright remembering every detail of the dream.
How on Earth did that happen? I’d experienced dreams where reality crept into the dream gradually but this was different, this was a dream that perfectly aligned with a future event. That morning I came up with some theories to try and explain my dream:
The entire thing could have been a fluke, simple as that. The alarm going off at the exact second I hit the trip wires could have been nothing but pure coincidence. But I wasn’t content with this explanation because it just seemed like too much of a coincidence to me.
I got supernatural powers that let me see the future and maybe while I’m dreaming I’m able to connect to these powers and receive their messages about the future.
But I don’t believe this theory because, well it’s bollocks isn’t it. In fact I only put it in here because some people who I told about my dream genuinely suggested I might be a little bit psychic.
What kind of budget psychic can only tell when his own alarm clock is about to go off? An alarm clock which he set himself and that goes off at the exact same time every single day?
What if my body clock was responsible for this? What if my body clock is so accurate that it knows precisely when it’s time to get up and it somehow managed to influence my dream?
Perhaps its feasible but my body clock was rubbish back then. My sleep hygiene was terrible and hauling my ass out of bed was a struggle nearly every morning. The body clock theory might have some credibility, but not in this case.
Perhaps the alarm started going off and I heard it subconsciously but not in the dream. The events of the dream then played out to suit the sound coming through my ears, in this case by making me roll down the hill and into the trip wires.
I decided this was the most feasible of all the theories however there was one thing I couldn’t fully accept which was concept of the alarm going off but me not hearing it until the dream decided it was the right time. My alarm was loud and I swear it started the very second I hit those wires.
My alarm clock clearly displays the time in illuminated numbers so maybe while I was sleeping I could somehow see the time and that allowed me to know when the alarm was about to ring? Some people do sleep with their eyes open (apparently my uncle does it all the time and it freaks people out) so perhaps I was doing that and could see the time even though I wasn’t aware of it?
But I’ve never slept with my eyes opened before and even if I did I find it hard to believe that while I’m asleep there is another part of me just staring at the clock the whole night. And the clock only shows the minutes so even if I could see the time I still wouldn’t know to the second when the alarm was going off.
Eventually I found my answer and to this day it’s one of the weirdest things I’ve ever learned about the human brain. I don’t recall what book I found this in (I had to read a bunch of them) but I do remember it was on the subject of human memory rather than on dreaming.
So here’s really what happened in my head that morning: I’m laying there dreaming away about the heist, and then my alarm clock goes off. My brain wants to explain the beeping noise so it invents the situation involving trip wires, and then it implants it in my memory as if it happened before the alarm goes off.
I didn’t roll down a hill, hit the trip wires, and then hear the alarm. I heard the alarm first, then created a story to explain it, then ‘saved’ it in my memory as if it happened in the past.
How weird is that? If you think that your memories are always recollections of past events then you might be wrong because it turns out your brain can just cobble together some story and stick it in any chronological point of your memory that it wants to.
This absolutely blew my mind when I read about this but it got better on the next page because it turns out this happens when you’re awake too.
Years ago, long before my dream, I was watching a drunk relative who had returned from the pub utterly smashed and was swaying around the kitchen like Captain Jack Sparrow. He bumped into the kitchen counter and his hand met with a children’s toy trumpet which he grabbed without looking at.
Then someone walked in the kitchen and says “Alright mate, what’s with the trumpet?”. And he looked down at the trumpet in is hand and I could tell by his face he had no idea why he had a trumpet. But then he just started talking:
“We were in the pub, and Keith came …he had a drum kit, and everyone was …dancing so we had to play …all the old songs. It was amazing!”
I thought about that for ages because I was too young to understand how drunk people act and I couldn’t figure out why he would openly lie even though everyone in the room saw him pick up the trumpet and knew that his story was utter bullshit.
But it wasn’t utter bullshit. It wasn’t true either, but it wasn’t utter bullshit because as far as he believed he had just played an impromptu gig at the local pub on a little toy trumpet. Just like in my dream, his brain had scrambled to make sense of the situation, created a fictional memory, and instantly accepted as fact.
There was at least one other time when I’ve seen this happen during a boozy night out with the lads. We were walking back from the pub to a house party and one of the lads saw a traffic cone so obviously he picked it up and bought it into the party.
I can’t explain to you why us Brits like traffic cones so much when we get drunk, it’s just a thing we do here. They’re like a mark of excellence, a trophy to show your devotion to getting pissed up. Wake up in the morning with a banging hangover and you must have had a good night, but wake up with an unexplained traffic cone nearby and top marks mate because you fucking went for it.
Anyway my point is we got to the party and someone says “why have you got a traffic cone” and the guy with the cone fabricated some huge story which was all bullshit because he just found the cone like 10 minutes ago. I don’t remember the story because I was drunk too and I didn’t call him out on it because what’s the point of that? And besides, it was a traffic cone, we were proud of that cone. And we needed that cone the following morning to remind ourselves what a great time we had.