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Socrates's Swan

Dreamed 407 BC, by Socrates

Socrates himself was no writer, but he apparently told this dream to his friends, including Plato. Several variants have survived.

Socrates dreamed that a cygnet (young swan) appeared. The fullest versions say he dreamed it grew out of his chest. However it appeared, the cygnet soon settled in his lap, and developed quickly into a full-fledged swan. Then it "flew forth into the open sky uttering a song that charmed all hearers."

A strange, lovely image. But... the next day, Socrates met Plato, who became his star pupil, and eventually his biographer--immortalizing Socrates.

NOTES ON ESP

If only he'd dreamed this the night after meeting Plato! Such a perceptive prediction of Plato's literary fame after one day's acquaintance would be an impressive assessment of a young man. No Athenian could miss the echoes of one of their city's core myths--Athena springing from the head of Zeus. If it's true that Socrates dreamed the cygnet emerged from his heart, it says much about the warmth of their friendship, evident in Plato's moving account of Socrates' trial and death.

But to dream this the night before he met his star pupil is something else, something that rubs our notions of time the wrong way.

Plato's own pupil, Aristotle, was well aware of the problems that prophetic dreams like this posed for science:

With regard to prophecy which takes place in sleep and is said to emerge from dreams, it is not easy either to disdain it or to believe in it. The fact that all or many suppose that dreams contain something significant supports the notion as based on experience, and on some subjects divination in dreams is not incredible but rather reasonable; and therefore one might think likewise about all other dreams. Yet the fact that we see no reasonable cause for it to be so makes us distrust it.
This candidly expresses the (still-active) dilemma of science on prophetic dreams (and ESP in general); copious anecdotal and statistical evidence of phenomena clashing with current physical theory. And 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.' Yet reports of such dreams are longstanding, pan-cultural, well-attested, and such dreamers rival Plato and Socrates in intelligence and reputation--for example, Lincoln and Mark Twain.



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