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No. 113: Sep-Oct 1997

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A Dream Invention

We never thought that Bell Labs would rely on a dream of one of its engineers to invent a new device!

In 1940, when Nazi armies were victorious everywhere, D.B. Parkinson was designing a carded potentiometer for civilian telephones. One night, he dreamed he was on the Continent close to an Allied artillery piece. The remarkable thing about this gun was that every shell it fired it nailed a German plane. Parkinson expanded on this part of his dream:

"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. There was no mistaking it. It was the identical item."

Bell Lab engineers quickly saw how Parkinson's potentiometer could be applied to antiaircraft gun control. The M9 gun director was the practical result of Parkinson's dream. In one week in August of 1944, the M9's were credited with destroying 89 of 91 V-1 buzz bombs launched from the Antwerp area toward England.

(Schindler, George; "Dreaming of Victory," New Scientist, p. 53, May 31, 1997.)

Comment. Alert readers will have noted that this anecdote contradicts the claim that dreams are always retrospective.

From Science Frontiers #113, SEP-OCT 1997. 1997-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987