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Thursday, February 24, 2005  

This is my last entry on tsunami dreams. Until I think of something else to say, anyway. But I just wanted to add this: in my last entry but one I tried to estimate how many dreams there might be each night that appear to predict anything significant the following day. Let's try to run the process the other way and estimate how many dreams of tsunamis we might have expected to occur by pure chance in the 24 hours before the tsunami disaster of 26 December 2004.

How often do people dream of tsunamis (or tidal waves, if they have old-fashioned vocabularies)? Well, any sort of flood would seem significant to keen dreamers ­– see the case of Fidget in the last entry. Suppose we were to be very restrictive and say the average person only has (and recalls) one all-singing, all-dancing, feel-your-feet-get-wet dream of devastating floods in a lifetime. Well, if you've got a better guess, tell me – and justify it.

Confining ourselves to the richest billion people in the world, the ones most likely to shove their dreams onto the Internet – and then to the two-thirds who are adults – that's 700 million such dreams they'll produce during their lives. Assuming an average lifespan of 70 years – that's 10 million dreams a year. Or 30,000 every night.

That's right: I'm saying that throughout the richest part of the world, on the night before the Boxing Day tsunami, there were tens of thousands of dreams about flooding. And every night before, and every night since.

And we're discounting the merely quite damp dreams – of leaking kitchen taps, of leaky roofs, of umbrellas with holes, of panicking in the swimming pool – even though some at least of those who had the dreams are quite likely to have regarded them as highly significant when they read the papers or watched TV the day after the great wave.

What proportion of these would be reported on the Internet? A few percent, representing a few hundred?

If so, then I'd have to look at quite a lot of the 14,000–19,000 pages that Google returns for dream + tsunami + prediction to find first-hand dream reports; I don't think I have enough stomach for abject nonsense to be able to do that.

But the take-home message is: however many pseudo-predictive dream reports you come across, they're only a small sample of what you'd expect to occur by chance.


What song the sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzzling questions, are not beyond all conjecture.

But they're beyond my powers to conjecture with back-of-the-envelope quantitative estimates.

10:59 PM

(18) comments

Tuesday, February 22, 2005  

For all I know, this is as old as the hills, but I heard it for the first time today. Better sit down for this, it's a good one:

Q: Who led the Pedants' Revolt?

A: Which Tyler


Wet dreams

While I was writing Monday's post on predictive dreams I was inspired to type tsunami + prediction into Google. I came up with a huge amount of delicious junk food for the mind. Just one or two items:

Fidget describes two watery dreams she (?) had in December, and goes on:

The second dream doesn't seem to have much to do with a tsunami, but the first one certainly could. It was much more calm than the tsunami that hit on Su-26-Dec, which probably didn't involve wind as my dream did, but it strikes me that I had a dream of this nature a mere ten days before the worst tsunami ever recorded hit SouthEast Asia. It's not much of a psychic premonition or anything, since it wasn't major and only involved me, but it's still pretty weird.

No, Fidget, it's not even weird. Especially since the dream didn't involve a tsunami at all, but a storm.

Of course, the longer the delay between the dream and the 'matching' event, the more impressive the latter will have to be to grab anyone's attention. In the case of the tsunami, an interval much greater than ten days seems to be acceptable:


A Dream of the Tsunami disaster .... written/posted back in 1997!!!

This is copied from a website where people can post interesting dreams/visions they have had, and their interpretation of it. I was looking through a random archive and came across this one. Wow! On the actual website (not here), there is also an interpretation of the dream after the description section - which is highly symbolic - and mainly adds credibility to the fact that this has not been newly added or edited by the person managing the website archives, to be in accordance with recent events.

No additions or editing needed, Gecko, when there are years of dreams to trawl through, looking for tsunami themes. And let's be fair, this dream is genuinely about a tsunami.


We arrived at a restaurant made out of logs and built on a sandy tropical island. The Chinese and Malaysian food on offer was cooked by an Indonesian Balinese chef. There were different types of people here and I particularly noticed a surfer.

All of a sudden I knew that a gigantic tidal wave was on its way. I looked out to the sea and there it was. I had never imagined such a huge tidal wave. It was totally awesome and it was like an expression of great power and might. I saw the surfer try to body surf the tidal wave but it was like a joke.

I knew that there was a steel girder fixed upright in the center of the log restaurant. I went directly to it and held on to it. There was no way I was going to let go of the steel girder.

I recommend going back to the Christian site where Gecko found this, the Daystar Ministry for Prophecy, Dreams and Visions. The folk there who first recorded this dream don't seem to regard it as presaging a physical tidal wave. They give it spiritual interpretations. Highlights:


… The steel girder is probably the Rock of Ages which is Jesus Christ. …Russell Swann suggests that the steel girder represents The Cross in which we will find rest and peace if we would be made conformable unto the death of Christ.

[Here the Dear Lord, pace Einstein, seems to be both subtle and malicious. Couldn't the Rock of Ages have been symbolized by a rock? Couldn't the Cross have been represented by a cross? Wouldn't that show a bit of divine helpfulness?]

… Russell also suggests that the Chinese and Malaysian food on offer and which was cooked by an Indonesian Balinese chef represents teachings from Eastern Mysticism which have much to do with the selfist [sic] religion of self realization and self esteem.

I see that there are plenty of premonition registry sites online. I hope someone is monitoring them. Certainly the professional prophets are being watched. James Randi reports:

We've all been shocked by the recent disaster in Asia, the tsunami event — which, I note, was not predicted by any of our ever-alert psychic "sensitives."

10:35 PM

(1) comments

Monday, February 21, 2005  

Immensely struck, and probably spooked

I rarely dream. Or I rarely remember my dreams. We won't go into the metaphysical puzzler of what the difference might be between those propositions. I used to dream a lot as a kid, and to swap accounts of my dreams with my school friends. Mine were luridly coloured and frequently involved nuclear annihilation. I'm talking about 1960. I believe I could revive the habit of dreaming if I were to keep a notebook by my bed and write down what I recalled the moment the alarm woke me. (Making sure I didn't use Radio 4 as my alarm, otherwise I'd be transcribing the waking John Humphrys and James Naughty instead of the sleeping Chris Cooper.) As I say, I believe I could recapture dreams this way – but I don't bother, because I don't attach significance to dreams.

But I'd find it hard to avoid attaching significance to a dream if it coincided in a few features with some unusual event that happened to me the following day. I'd be immensely struck by that, and probably spooked.

Despite what my rational mind told me. For it really would be rational to shrug and forget it.

Think of it: there are 40 million adults in this country. If only 3 per cent of them recall their dreams, that's over a million dreams recalled each morning. Imagine the following experiment: descriptions of those million dreams are written down, each in a paragraph. Also, one-paragraph descriptions of unusual occurrences are written down: the occurrences could be anything that might catch one's attention in the course of a day. The kind of incident that makes a story in a local newspaper. Or a disaster reported in the nationals. Or some unusual personal incident – someone meeting by chance a school friend they haven't seen for 30 years, say.

The two sets of descriptions are jumbled randomly and then paired, one dream description with one event description and so on. How many would seem like a good match?

One in a thousand seems a pretty cautious estimate to me. We're just talking orders of magnitude here – one in a hundred seems too high, and favours my case too much; one in ten thousand seems unduly pessimistic.

One in a thousand applied to a million dreams implies a thousand potential matches every day in Britain. And some proportion of these will be noticed, and some proportion of those will have a fuss made about them, even if only in a local paper or some crank Website.

Perhaps I was too sanguine in assuming one chance matching in a thousand – perhaps it should be far fewer. But don't forget that people who are interested in their dreams can compare each one not with a single incident chosen at random (as in the imaginary experiment above), but with any of a huge number of incidents that happen to them during the day, or that they learn about through the media. And if they don't find any matches, they can compare that same dream with what they encounter the next day, or the next. There are really an enormous number of chances to find significant coincidences. The problem is not explaining occasional seeming dream predictions, but explaining why so few are reported.

Perhaps people are just not alert.

11:02 PM

(4) comments

Saturday, February 12, 2005  

A significant anniversary

It's one year to the day since my last post here. If you want to know what kept me away - well, I can't quite recall right now. If I could, I wouldn't bore you with it anyway. This is a punditblog, not a journalblog. I mention my private life when I can draw some wider point from it. Can I make any general point about an absence from blogging of a year? Let's think. Here's William James on the importance of keeping up habit:

Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again.

Perhaps I was daunted by the size of the blogosphere. My blogwatcher is Bloglines, which does the job very adequately for me. Here are just a few of the 64 feeds that I don't get around to reading at the moment. (I won't give links - just google for them.)

Agoraphilia: mostly the microeconomics of everyday life

EnviroSpin Watch: Philip Stott keeping globally cool news for women who don't mind being individuals

Language Log: language up close, with Google usally being the microscope

Oh, That Liberal Media: "highlighting liberal bias, agendas, distortions and erroneous reporting..." - in an even-handed way, of course

Adam Smith Institute Blog: giving a big hand to that invisible hand

Natalie Solent: I read her for the sewing

SteynOnline: almost another P J O'Rourke

And science news from The Economist, Scientific American, The Guardian, New
and so on.

And those are just the subscriptions I care to make public.

10:25 PM

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