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Dream to Discover: Scientists That Solved Enigmas While They Slept


Our brain needs to rest to reorganize the information it acquires during the day; which is why it is possible to solve problems while we sleep.

Thanks to modern neuroscience we know that our brain needs at least to do two things to organize information: to be distracted and to sleep. It sounds paradoxical, but that is how we function. We could dedicate all our attention to a problem, by concentrating on assimilating all the existing information and try to consider all the possible angles, but there will come a point where our brains tire and we will simply not be able to see any further. Which is why we need to think about something else or, as when we sleep, free up our mind from thought control. The information will then become appropriately ordered.

As a result, and although it may seem strange, there are many cases in which an invention or a discovery has taken place in dreams. For a moment it could be believed that scientific investigation is exclusively rational, but there is also that other part of us that can intervene and collaborate, with unexpected results.

Here are three examples of scientists that dreamed about what they so longed to discover:

Mendeleev’s periodic table

After spending several days thinking up a system that could order the known chemical elements based on their atomic weight, Dmitri Mendeleev had a dream in which they all were perfectly arranged in a table. When he woke up, Mendeleev immediately drew his vision, and which revealed itself perfectly, as such system even revealed the errors in the values of some of the elements and even showed the existence of some that were not yet known.

Niels Bohr’s atomic model

According to Edwina Portocarrero and other researchers at the MIT, the physicist Niels Bohr had the idea of the atomic model in a dream in which he saw the sun surrounded by all the planets of the solar system, and which appeared tied together with little strings.

The speed of light

The anecdote goes that, when he was young, Albert Einstein dreamt that he rode a sled in the snow, downhill, with the speed increasing as the descent continued; in the dream, Einstein felt that the sled accelerated to the speed of light, and with which the surroundings began to fade and the colors all bled into one. In some ways the scientific work of the physicist was an attempt at finding out what would happen to the body or a quantity of energy if it moved at the same speed as light.

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