I have my own theories, but I'ld like to hear other oppinions about how this kind of scenario could turn out. This is one part of a story I'm developing.

Setting: We are talking about a medieval / fantasy setting around the year 1300-1600.

At some point in the history of this world, it’s inhabitants start to experience something strange: They dream about their own future - all at the same time. This is a global effect and affects all people who were sleeping (and able to dream) during that exact moment where this strange event was triggered. Everyone dreams about the exact same period of time and the dream feels real and detailed. If someone would die during that period of time, they’ld suddenly wake up like after a horrible nightmare - if not, they’ll continue to sleep normally but still have quite a good memory about the dream when they wake up later.

Some will quickly realize that the dream wasn’t just a dream, but instead an accurate depiction of what would happen if they didn’t have that dream. In other words: The dream depicted the future exactly, but since many people now know their own future they can act accordingly and basically change it instantly. Since this causes most dreams to not match reality after a few weeks, some might forget about it. Who knows.

But then, a few months later - it happens again. This time, it’s at 13:11, and they only dream 3 years of their future. But these global precognitive dreams keep happening in irregular (and sometimes quite short) intervals. In fact, in some rare occasions, they even dream about having such a precognitive dream! People start to notice and talk about it. Some will probably panic - others will make use of those informations.

I’m not sure if I explained it well enough, so a few pointers:

  • Every global trigger of this event has an apparently random interval (there is a reason for the triggering, but that’s out of topic). Let’s assume that it can happen at any time of the day (0:00 until 23:59) and that the intervals range between a few days to a few years.
  • Every person asleep and able to dream during a triggering, will have such a precognitive dream. This basically means that during such an event, one side of the world is affected more than the other.
  • People who are awake during that event are completly unaffected.
  • Every person’s dream has the same ‘length’. They all dream 20 years of their lives, or 15 years - or maybe just 2 days. Each trigger has a random duration (with tendency to multiple decades), but that duration then is the same for everyone dreaming - even if suddenly woken up inbetween.
  • People who dream about their own death will wake up right afterwards, as if they had a horrible nightmare. They'll remember everything up to the point where they pass out, basically. Otherwise, people who don't die will continue to sleep normally. Dying doesn't have any real influence besides the way those people tend to wake up (it's probably quite a bit more traumatizing)
  • The precognitions are absolutely accurate. But just the fact that some people dreamt about it already changes the future by itself. If no one would’ve had those dreams, everything would happen exactly as predicted.
  • Those dreams happen instantly, as soon as the event was triggered. Interrupting a person that is just having that dream is basically impossible.
  • The dreams are a reflection of "what would have happened". It's not a dream in the common sense, where it might can be influenced from outside or things like that. It's basically just a taped version of the future displayed as dream.
  • Edit: The dream feels realistic, but the person will not inherit any mental illness caused by future events. The dream itself can still be horrible / shocking enough to scar the person though, if someone is that unlucky. Here it works pretty much like our own dreams: The worst you can have is a horrible, realistic nightmare. I'm not sure how this kind of thing can affect a person's mind.
  • They can have precognitive dreams about precognitive dreaming. But this would remain quite rare and can be ignored for this question.

Theese dreams continue to happen and don’t have any apparent end. The intervals are not predictable. How could the people in such a world react and develop?

As sidenotes, my own thoughts about this kind of scenario:

Mass hysteria/panic? Depending on religious aspects?

I think technological advancements would be much, much faster, since an inventor (or a customer) knows the tool already and can re-invent it ahead of time.

Ethics/Morale would be affected. Now a murderer in the future, is known in the past. A man/woman who is unfaithful would have to pay the price before even doing it. A conflict between two friends/family members/parties would alredy affect things in the past, etc.

Ambitions might change. Someone who realizes that they don't want to meet the same end try to find other means of living.

All the newborn children in those dreams basically will never exist (?), since the exact sitations/details change.

Edit: Added another point about mental scars / effects.

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    $\begingroup$ First of all, great question. Secondly, can they tell they're in one of these dreams, or do they figure it out once they wake up? And thirdly, if they die and wake up, do they remember what happened up to that point in the dream? Fourthly, what if you forcefully wake someone up? $\endgroup$ Aug 3 '15 at 15:09
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh 1&2) They cannot tell they're dreaming, they figure it out once they wake up. 3) They remember everything up to the point where they lose consciousness. 4) The dream is 'instantaneus' - if they slept during the event-trigger, they'll have had that dream. If they are forcefully woken up shortly after, they can still recall the dream - I'll add theese points to my post ;) $\endgroup$
    – Katai
    Aug 3 '15 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh I'm not quite sure about your second comment. Basically, they all dream a reflection of "what would have happened" - like, if you watch a movie and then rewind the tape. It's hard to explain... Hm. If you kill a guy in the future, it doesn't matter if he sleeps or not. He will 'dream' his future at the same time as you would (if you both sleep), with the difference that he'll just have a nightmare about getting killed in the end, while you just dream normally how you kill him. Those dreams are just different views of the same future, like movie tapes ;) $\endgroup$
    – Katai
    Aug 3 '15 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, my second post was based on the assumption that people could tell they were dreaming. I will remove that comment, as that is no longer the case. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 '15 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Murphy the latter: He would wake up from a really bad dream, but with a clear idea about those memories (ever had a really 'realistic' dream?). Those dreams feel realistic, as if they lived it - so it can still scar the person, but it's still 'just a dream'. It's not quite the same as actually being there and experiencing it, but certainly close. (kind of hard to explain - it'ld just work similar to a very realistic dream that some occasionally have) They won't wake up with mental illness caused by their future though - but maybe with new psychological problems caused by the dream itself. $\endgroup$
    – Katai
    Aug 4 '15 at 7:56

I did what I could to answer some of your questions, but I don't think I addressed every aspect of the issue. Let me know if there's anything in particular I missed or should elaborate on, or feel free to write your own answer.

Personal Effects - This question reminds me a lot of this one about a worldwide Groundhog Day phenomenon, in that a lot of what people do every day could turn out to be useless. For instance, if you work for twenty years at a job you hate before finally going mad with boredom, you can rest easy knowing that at least you provided for your family-- until you wake up and realize it was all a dream. Just like in the answers to the aforementioned question, this society would start valuing knowledge far more than physical objects. If you read a book in a dream, you should still remember what you read when you wake up, even if you don't have the physical copy. Thus, there should be a greater demand for teachers and storytellers, and various forms of short-lived entertainment, rather than things like decorations that only pay off if you get to keep them around.

Time Travel - Like you've mentioned, the people who've had these dreams have seen the future, and thus once they wake up they have effectively traveled into the past. On a personal level, these people will try to avoid mistakes they made and take advantage of opportunities they missed. On a larger-scale level, these people will be paid to accurately predict things. The accuracy of these predictions will vary: things like the weather are going to be the same no matter what anyone does differently, while the actions of people will change based on two factors: 1) - how long the dream lasted, and 2) - how many people were asleep. If only one guy had the dream, everything should happen as he remembered it, but if half the world had it, things will change almost immediately. However, if the dream lasted a sufficiently long time, there will be a greater length of time where things happen the same, since no one will be able to accurately remember what happened back then. Bottom line is that in most cases, the things you remember are going to stop being useful to you at some point; this could lead to some very sad scenarios, such as a guy who knows he died in the dream, but doesn't know if the world has changed enough this time to avoid it, or someone who found their soul mate in the dream, but cannot find them in the real world because things have changed too much. These problems are compounded by the next point:

Countermeasures - People like to know what everyone else is going to do, but no one likes when other people know what they will do. Thus, when a dream event occurs, it will be the top priority of many people to do the exact opposite of what they would have done. Armies would throw out all of their plans and start fresh, merchants will take a different route through the forest to avoid bandits, passwords and locks across the world will be changed. This is going to severely limit the abilities of your precogs, but only if someone finds out about the dream event. People who can afford it will have a series of 'sleepers' whose only job is to be asleep around the clock (in shifts) and inform whoever's paying them whenever there is a dream event. During their waking hours, these sleepers may actually be sleeper agents, working for the enemy, gathering data to be used when a dream event occurs. When a dream event does occur, it will be a race to take advantage of it before the enemy does.

Religion - There are a few religious problems here, but I don't think they'll matter much. There is the issue of 'why?' but religions have always been able to avoid those questions by making up answers or attributing it to some sort of 'divine mystery'. People may think these dream events are meant to help the faithful, or push humanity in the right direction, or something like that.

The bigger problem is that someone has recorded the future; this has enormous repercussions on the notions of free will, destiny, and such. But again, religions usually have answers to these sorts of things. Either there is no free will (as I recall, this is what some sects of Protestantism argued), or God is just powerful enough to create 'what if' scenarios, but the fact that people change the future after dreaming it means that we do have free will.

Ethics - As you said, people may learn about future crimes, and wish to apply punishment early. But I think we sort of do this already, just with incomplete information. If someone has committed crimes, people suspect they will do them again. If you commit a crime in the future, people suspect you will do it again. But since the future can be altered, these precognitive crimes are just like past ones: the people guilty of them can change, can be saved, can see the error of their ways, etc. Plus, see the 'Countermeasures' section for why most of the things these people did probably won't happen now.

In summary, I think the overall effect of this is that people would live more in the moment, and be much more willing to change. You can't really make long-term plans if there's a good possibility you're in a dream. Knowledge will take precedence over physical possessions, and flexibility will take precedence over following a set plan. As a result of this, like you said, science and technology should improve at a greater rate. However, larger, more long-term things like architecture and government might suffer. And, for the most part, people will adjust, so these changes shouldn't end up making too much of a difference.

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    $\begingroup$ Hehe, the thing about those 'sleepers' is actually a plot point in my story, where an organization cycles through many 'sleeping' members who get told all sorts of information from outside agents, sort of like 'living archieves' - to accurately inform about future events if it turns out to be a dream! I really like your clear sum up, will have to think about it ;) $\endgroup$
    – Katai
    Aug 4 '15 at 8:27

Your justice system may have to cope with dream-only violence if and when the harm is psychological. Someone may pre-commit to abducting and torturing the heir to the throne but then after the next dreaming cycle in which they remember carrying out their plans they cancel them.

The heir wakes up having just experienced horrible endless torture and ends up a wreck. You meanwhile cancel all plans to do it. You never actually carry out the act but the heir is now out of the way.

If your justice system doesn't punish pre-crime then you throw up your hands and say that you've seen the error of your ways and of course would never do that in this timeline.

There's going to be a lot of trauma in your world. Everyone who burns to death in an accident is going to have memories like someone who survived horrible burns in an accident.

And since everyone keeps trying out alternative futures a huge portion of the population is going to get to randomly experience horrible trauma.

Indeed some people are going to try to cut down on hours asleep for fear of more such events.

To build on DaaaahWhoosh's answer, people are going to intentionally seed false information in the expectation of more dreams.

Loss of dream children is going to be particularly hard. Imagine living through 20 years of raising a child, seeing grandchildren but then you wake up. They're effectively dead and you lost them more thoroughly than mere death. People are going to be grieving for lost children a lot. I can imagine parents waking up together, realizing they were in a dream and bursting into tears because Bobby is gone just as truly as if he was hit by a bus. I can imagine people fearing close connections for fear that they'll wake up at any moment like the last few times.

On the bright side you're going to have people waking up able to play the flute like someone who's spent 20 years practicing. People with terrible regrets are going to hope that they'll get to wake up to try again like the other times.

  • $\begingroup$ Wow, this answer is a lot darker than mine. But definitely accurate. This reminds me of an episode of Star Trek where Picard lives out a lifetime on an alien planet, then it all turns out to be a dream. Something about it being a record of that planet and its people before it was destroyed. I recall him being pretty shaken up about it. $\endgroup$ Aug 3 '15 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of something similar, combine that with the voyager episode where they're transporting a telepathic race and Torres is getting shunted into a dream from one of the old women about how she turned her lover over to the authorities and watched his execution during a program of mass genocide. $\endgroup$
    – Murphy
    Aug 3 '15 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh Seems like I really have to watch TNG then, sounds like exactly what I was thinking of here ;) $\endgroup$
    – Katai
    Aug 4 '15 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ I like the darker tone of it, but in the end this always depends on one detail: Can you apply a skill learned in your dream? Probably not perfectly, but one surely has the 'experience' at that point. I was expecting a lot of trauma as well, as knowing what will never happen anymore will surely break some people over time. You're mostly thinking in the same lines as I did when judging the problematics of such events. I'll have to think about this one as well ;) $\endgroup$
    – Katai
    Aug 4 '15 at 8:31
  • $\begingroup$ @katal I would say that anything you learn that is mental such as studying history, math, or physics would transfer just fine (assuming dream recall is perfect), but anything requiring a physical effort (playing football, playing an instrument, etc.) would only partially transfer since your body still needs to build muscles and coordination you don't have. The longer the apparent dream (two years of classes vs one day) the more knowledge (and possible trauma) transfers from dream to 'real life'. $\endgroup$ Sep 8 at 6:56

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