How, in 1940, a Bell Labs engineer invented a guidance system for anti-aircraft guns in a dream. Source: The Bigelow Society
Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychologist, elaborated the theory that the solution to a difficult problem can somehow suddenly crystallize in the unconscious mind.
A compelling example in favour of this theory concerns an engineer, David Bigelow Parkinson. The time was spring, 1940 and Parkinson was then a young engineer working at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New York City in the specialized field of electromechanical design. He was working on improving an instrument called an automatic level recorder. A small potentiometer [an instrument for measuring electromotive forces] controlled a pair of magnetic clutches which in turn controlled a pen to plot a logarithm.
Meanwhile, the top story in the headlines concerned the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of stranded Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France across the Channel to England. This news greatly preoccupied Parkinson's mind along with that of his work. And the two ideas came together in a dream, which he later described in an unpublished memoir:
I found myself in a gun pit or revetment with an anti-aircraft gun crew . [A] gun there. was firing occasionally, and the impressive thing was that every shot brought down an airplane! After three or four shots one of the men in the crew smiled at me and beckoned me to come closer to the gun. When I drew near he pointed to the exposed end of the left trunnion. Mounted there was the control potentiometer of my level recorder!
Parkinson realized the full significance of his dream the following morning. If his potentiometer could control the pen on the recorder, something similar could, with the right engineering, control an anti-aircraft gun. At the time, the complex mechanical systems controlling these guns were not very accurate and could not be mass-produced.
Parkinson discussed the idea that morning with his boss, Clarence A. Lovell. They worked for several days writing a report and then met with Lovell's boss. Just before this meeting, on 18 June 1940, Parkinson realized he would need a diagram to explain his ideas so made a quick sketch on a sheet of plain white typingpaper.
The company submitted a proposal for exploratory work on an electromechanical system for directing antiaircraft guns to the Army Signal Corps which was subsequently approved. An engineering model was delivered for testing to the Army at Fort Monroe MD on 1 December 1941. The result of Parkinson's dream began rolling off the assembly lines early in 1943. More than 3000 of the gun directors, designated the M-9, were built.
Many thousands of shells were fired to bring down a single aircraft with the older directors; the M9 brought the number down to around 100 shells per hit on an aircraft.
Thus Parkinson's unconscious revelation led to one of the most effective pieces of air-defense technology in World War II.
The penchant of sleepwalkers for high and often dangerous places was noisily demonstrated in 1932 when Joseph Furst, a member of the municipal band at Hettstadt, Germany, promenaded at night on the roof of his home, rehearsing brassily til the neighborhood protested. Though totally unaware of his situation, he came to no harm.
— Hilary Evans, "The Sleepwalking Bandsman," The Skeptic, 16(2), Winter 2004.
The nighttime walk of a sleepwalking trombone player on the roof of his house in Hettstadt, Germany.
In 1957, the Woodlake road camp prison in California began an experiment in convict rehabilitation. It was called "Operation Sleep." The idea was to use sleep learning to reform convicts. As the prisoners slept, they heard the soothing voice of a psychiatrist speaking the following script:
Listen, my inner self, remember and obey this creed of life: Live relaxed, completely and utterly relaxed... Love, rule my life. Love God, my family, and others... Have faith... work with others... Face life without fear, be calm, unafraid... Know myself and my faults... live without alcohol... Alcohol is a poison. I do not need alcohol. Abstain with ease. Alcohol is repulsive to me...
I am truly happy. I give my life to my family, to my friends, and to the world. I am filled with love and compassion for all, so help me God.
The script had been written by the County's Public Defender, John Locke, with help from a local Presbyterian minister, Rev. Glen Peters, and a hospital therapist, Robert C. Lally. They described Operation Sleep as "a type of brain-washing — but not the type used by the totalitarians."
Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any data on whether the experiment actually had an effect of criminal behavior. The superintendent of the prison noted, "We have had excellent cooperation from the inmates. But of course, it is too early yet to tell what effect it will have. We won't know until after the men have been released and face the temptations of freedom again."
The picture at the top is from Newsweek (Dec 30, 1957), and shows one of the prisoners who participated in the experiment. The fact that he's sleeping with a dog seems a little strange. I guess the inmates got to keep pets in this prison.
Wilmington Morning News - Oct 11, 1957
Update: I found a news story from 1961 offering a 3-year update on Operation Sleep. I'm actually surprised that the prison kept the experiment going for that long. Public defender John Locke claimed that the experiment had been showing positive results, but said they needed to keep it going for another 3 years to be sure. From the Ottawa Citizen - Feb 21, 1961:
For three years now the sleep therapy program has been in operation. Locke and his associates are careful to admit that it will be at least three years more before anything conclusive can be deduced from the careful check they keep on prisoners after their release.
Almost from the beginning though, the guards at the road camps noticed that the young inmates did not cause the same amount of trouble they had created formerly and were surprised when prisoners started coming to them for counsel.
What is probably most indicative of the therapy's effect is the decrease in alcoholism revealed by surveys among ex-prisoners.
January 1936: In Rome, Italy, Goffredo Galluzzi, a "self-styled electrical engineer," created a "snoremeter" in an attempt to stop his wife from snoring. The device, which fit over her mouth like a muzzle, included a thin brass blade that would be lifted by the heavy breathing of snoring, causing an alarm to go off, thereby waking his wife and stopping the snoring. However, the blade came loose, went down her throat, and almost choked her to death.
When I did a keyword search on this story to see how many papers it had run in, I came across something odd. The story was reported as news both in January 1936 and April 1946, but with one difference. In 1936 Galluzzi was reported as living in Rome. In 1946, he had become a resident of Syracuse, Sicily.
So a case of recycled news. It's also quite possible the story was complete baloney, both in 1936 and 1946.
The Evening Times (Sayre, Pennsylvania) - Jan 29, 1936
Very creepy. If you were woken by a stranger telling you to answer the phone, would you do it?
I'm a pretty deep sleeper. It usually takes me a few minutes after waking to achieve full consciousness. So I suspect this trick would work on me.
Ironwood Daily Globe - Nov 7, 1958
Go Answer the Phone, Said Bedroom Stranger
SEATTLE (AP)—Darwin Barker was awakened by a man at the foot of his bed who told him to "go answer the phone."
Groggy with sleep, Barker staggered into another room to the telephone. The ringing awoke him completely.
He rushed back into his bedroom but by that time the man was gone. So were Barker's trousers, wallet and $1.25.
"Discover how you can apply sleep learning to gain health, relaxation, confidence, personal magnetism, self mastery, memory power, success in business and human relations... learn foreign languages and how to play the piano."
Arthur "Turkey" Gehrke of Watertown, Wis., had an odd habit. Every November he would go to bed and stay there until the following April. He told the press, "I hibernate and don't get into trouble; while I may miss some fun, I also miss a lot of disagreeable things." He also said, "If more folks went to bed all winter, there wouldn't be so much trouble and confusion in the world."
Strangely, his business didn't suffer because of his sleep habits. He owned a bar, the Turkey's Roost. He hired a temporary bartender to replace him during his hibernation, and the publicity because of his hibernating actually attracted extra business.
Gehrke began his habit of hibernating in 1913 and continued it until his death in 1942.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.