Icelanders call it Berdreymin—the ability to see the future in dreams. On my travels collecting dreams from around the world, clairvoyance has been one of the most persistent themes. I've met Ukrainians in Donbass who report having dreamed about the war before it began, New Yorkers who recounted dreams of plane crashes and smoke-filled rooms on the morning of 9/11, and people across the globe who claim to have foreseen the deaths of loved ones.
Historically, there has never been a scientifically rigorous way to evaluate these experiences. Still, clairvoyance and other forms of ESP have been taken seriously enough that both the KGB and CIA had extensive Cold War Era programs. More recent experiments into the phenomena have yielded inconsistent results. Skeptics commonly cite false-memory research to dismiss believers, while supporters often blame unfavorable results on unrealistic laboratory settings.
A new app called Shadow is poised to answer skeptics and believers alike. The app records dreams (which you submit upon waking) and enters them into a massive database, allowing thousands of the time-stamped transcripts to be searched by keyword. Clairvoyance could be identified through specific keyword spikes before major events. While the app was first envisioned as an introspection tool for the Quantified Self Movement, it may end up finally answering a fundamental question about the nature of consciousness.
I met with Hunter Lee Soik, the 33-year-old visionary behind Shadow—a man seeking to predict the future by creating it.
VICE: What was your original goal for Shadow?
Hunter Lee Soik: The first goal was to just give people a mirror to look at their own subconscious data and say, "Oh, I didn't even realize it was doing that. I didn't even realize I was worried about these things." The goal is to bring some of these subconscious issues into the conscious mind where they can be addressed.
How has that process played out for you?
Well, I was adopted, and I've gone through a lot of things. I know what pain feels like. I know what loss of identity feels like. I went through all of that, and I came out on the other side, and now everything is awesome. We all have that one thing we have to deal with, and it's not something that can be suppressed. When you suppress something, it always comes out in some weird way. You have to address it, get past it, and move on to the critical question of, "Why am I here?"
How did your issues show up in your dreams?
If we talk about that, some things will have to be off the record.
Is there a meaningful dream that you can talk about?
Well, in one, I died—well, I don't know if was really dead, but I had gone somewhere else. I had this glimpse of some sort of other world. And, when I woke up, I was sad because I had to come back.
What was the world like?
It was the most religious thing I've been through, without being really religious—more spiritual than religious. But it had all the underpinnings of the typical religious story. I had the feeling of tumbling, and felt like I was going into some sort of underground negative world. Then I remember coming back up on this conveyor belt and seeing light. [In the dream] I attached God to that concept, and made that the reality.
It's remarkable how often mystical concepts appear in dreams. When I first heard about Shadow, it struck me as a massive experiment about collective unconsciousness.
Could be. I mean, what happens if we can start looking at precognitive dreams, and say, "Oh there are actually correlations that are happening in real time." If we had this data back during 9/11, we could point to a time-stamped audio file describing the dream that predates the actual event. So, how could you then refute that kind of hard data? But, then what happens, when that reality becomes the reality? It's kind of like Schrodinger's Cat. What kind of loop happens there?
What have you found so far?
We have a very small user base right now of 9,000, so we don't have a large enough dataset. But there is something to be said about media content going into dream consciousness. I could be completely unaware of what's happening in the news, but I would know what the top trending things are because they come up in the dreams: ISIS, Ebola, Robin Williams.
What's your ultimate aim now for the app?
Ultimately, we want to use technology to make people more human. Dreams are a perfect way to start. The idea is, if someone can trust us with their dreams, then they're likely to trust us with other important aspects of their lives. And what I mean by that is if you walk 10,000 steps in a day, do you fall asleep faster? Do you record more positive dreams? Does the mattress you sleep on make a difference? Right now, technologies are providing a tremendous amount of service, but the business psychology is wrong. [Corporations are] on an ad-based revenue model, so they have a lot of data about you which they don't share with you. They can use it to manipulate you.
What's the alternative?
I think there's a sunrise on a new paradigm where we use data intelligently to help people live better and find better products.
And you're giving the data back to the people who generate it?
Absolutely. And you're helping people use the data to make connections. Who else is dreaming what you're dreaming, for example? I really believe a lot in quantum field mechanics. And I believe that a lot of the science jargon [means] simply: If you're happy, and you hang out with someone, you make them happy, and they make someone else happy. That's what I believe it's all about.
Follow Roc's latest project collecting dreams from around the globe at World Dream Atlas.