I was just sent a link to an article in The Psychologist “Sleep on a Problem… It works like a dream” by Josephine Ross
The article gathers loads of anecdotal evidence of creativity in dreams … including, inevitably, those benzine rings!
Personally … while I’m sure that some things happen unconsciously and during sleep, my guess is that 90% of these creativity stories have simpler reasons through selective memory or semi-random inspiration.
So, three reasons for stories creative solutions to problems dreams
(i) selectivity – only the times when dreams seemed to be useful are remembered!
(ii) random generation – as well as Bad Ideas I also use random metaphors as a creativity technique. Â Say to yourself “creativity is like a bottle opener” … then tried to explain why … the random start point helps you to think of things in a new way and of course is interpreted in the light of your understanding
(iii) associative generation – variant of above – you are thinking of something and so have a set of concepts and structures in your head. when you dream these same structures (not new ones) are played out associatively … but differently … then on waking these are reinterpreted and have the effec of kicking you slightly sideways
Both (ii) and (iii) are genuine use of dreams in creativity, but are not that magically something subconscious thinks of the idea and communicate sit through the dream to the conscious, more that the dream turns off a lot of the blinkers of focused thought and so allows some meandering (or total getting lost)
For the novelests though I think this is rather different, there is some of the randomness effect, but also my own views on dreams are very much that the bits in your head that do the story telling for you (i.e. that shape day to day experience into coherence) are simply doing that with nothing in your dreams … coherence ex nihilo – not surprising you get some interesting stories … in fact I recall a few myself …