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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