As with other forms of extrasensory perception, there is no reliable scientific evidence that precognition is a real ability possessed by anyone and it is widely considered to be pseudoscience. Specifically, precognition appears to violate the principle that an effect cannot occur before its cause.
Despite the lack of scientific evidence, many people believe it is a real phenomenon. There are many reports of precognition and it remains a topic of research and discussion within the parapsychology community.
Some surveys have been carried out on psychological reasons for belief in precognition. A 1978 Gallup poll found that 37% of Americans surveyed believed in precognition. According to psychologists Tobacyk and Milford, belief was greater in college women than in men, and a 2007 Gallup poll found that women were more prone to superstitious beliefs in general. A 2013 study discovered that greater belief in precognition was held by those who feel low in control, and the belief can act as a psychological coping mechanism.
In the early 20th century J. W. Dunne, a British aeronautics engineer, experienced several dreams which he regarded as precognitive. He developed techniques to record and analyse them, identifying any correspondences between his future experiences and his recorded dreams. He reported his findings in his 1927 book An Experiment with Time. In it he alleges that 10% of his dreams appeared to represent some future experience. He also persuaded some friends to try the experiment on themselves, with mixed results. Dunne concluded that precognitive dreams are common and that many people unknowingly have them. The book went on to develop an explanatory theory of time and consciousness which he called Serialism. In 1932 he helped the Society for Psychical Research to conduct a more formal experiment, but he and the Society's lead researcher failed to agree on the significance of the results. Dunne's work was nevertheless widely read and "undoubtedly helped to form something of the imaginative climate of those [interwar] years". The Philosopher C. D. Broad remarked that, "The only theory known to me which seems worth consideration is that proposed by Mr. Dunne in his Experiment with Time."
The first ongoing and organized research program on precognition was instituted by Joseph Banks Rhine in the 1930s at Duke University's Parapsychology Laboratory. Rhine used a method of forced-choice matching in which participants guessed the order of a deck of 25 cards, each five of which bore one of five geometrical symbols. The experiment was not blinded, so participants were able to read the symbols through the back of the cards, and were able to see and hear the experimenters throughout the experiment. This sensory leakage contributed to Rhine's experiments being discredited.
Samuel G. Soal ran forced-choice ESP experiments in which someone attempted to identify which of five animal pictures a subject in another room was looking at. Their performance on this task was at chance, but when the scores were matched with the card that came after the target card, three of the thirteen subjects showed a very high hit rate. Rhine described Soal's work as "a milestone in the field". George Price reviewed the experiment in Science in 1955, and concluded that the positive results not attributable to error were more likely the result of deliberate fraud. This prompted several replies that Price's criticism was unfair. In 1978, the experiments were exposed as fraudulent. The statistician and paragnost Betty Markwick, while seeking to vindicate Soal, discovered that he had altered his data to create all the extra hits and give the study its statistical significance. The untainted experimental results showed no evidence of precognition in the hits or the ratios.
Following these experiments, a more automated technique of experimentation was introduced that did not rely on hand-scoring of equivalence between targets and guesses, and in which the targets could be more reliably and readily tested at random. This involved testing for precognition with the use of high-speed random event generators (REG), as introduced by Helmut Schmidt in 1969, and at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab. The psychologist C. E. M. Hansel found flaws in all of Schmidt's experiments into precognition. Hansel found that necessary precautions were not taken, there was no presence of an observer or second-experimenter in any of the experiments, no counterchecking of the records and no separate machines used for high and low score attempts.
"Feeling the Future"
In 2011, the psychologist Daryl Bem, a Professor Emeritus at Cornell University, published the article "Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect" in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, offering statistical evidence for precognition. The paper itself was criticised. The publication of such a paper by a respected researcher in an upper tier journal also prompted wider debate on the validity of peer review process for allowing it. Bem appeared on MSNBC and The Colbert Report to discuss the experiment.
Jeffrey Rouder and Richard Morey applied a meta-analytical Bayes factor to Bem's data and concluded that, "We remain unconvinced of the viability of ESP. There is no plausible mechanism for it, and it seems contradicted by well-substantiated theories in both physics and biology. Against this background, a change in odds of 40 is negligible.
Psychologist James Alcock claimed to have found serious methodological flaws (metaphorical "dirty test tubes") such as changing the procedures part way through the experiments and combining results of tests with different chances of significance. It was not recorded how many tests were actually performed, nor was there an explanation of how it was determined that participants shown erotic images had "settled down" afterwards. Bem's response to Alcock's critique appeared online at the Skeptical Inquirer website and Alcock replied to these comments in a third article on the same website.
The physicist John Taylor has written "since only positive energies are possible, particles going backward in time cannot exist. Any claim that they do is purely a fantasy in the mind of the parapsychologist. There is therefore no direct justification for precognition from physics... experimental evidence from high energy physics is strongly against it."
Neuroscientist Samuel Schwarzkopf has written that precognition contradicts "most of the neuroscience and psychology literature, from electrophysiology and neuroimaging to temporal effects found in psychophysical research."
Various psychological processes have been offered to explain experiences of apparent precognition. These include:
- Selection bias where people remember the "hits" and forget the "misses", remember coincidences more often than other non-coincidences, or when they were correct about a future event rather than instances when they were wrong. Examples include thinking of a specific person before that person calls on the phone. Human memory, it is argued, has a tendency to record instances when the guess was correct, and to dismiss instances when the guess was incorrect.
- Unconscious perception by which people unconsciously infer, from data they have unconsciously learned, that a certain event will probably happen in a certain context. As with cryptomnesia, when the event occurs, the former knowledge appears to have been acquired without the aid of recognized channels of information.
- Self-fulfilling prophecy and Unconscious enactment in which people bring events that they have precognized to pass, but without their conscious knowledge.
Some psychologists have explained the apparent prevalence of precognitive dreams in terms of memory biases, namely a selective memory for accurate predictions and distorted memory so that dreams are retrospectively fitted onto subsequent events. In one experiment, subjects were asked to write down their dreams in a diary. This prevented the selective memory effect, and the dreams no longer seemed accurate about the future. Another experiment gave subjects a fake diary of a student with apparently precognitive dreams. This diary described events from the person's life, as well as some predictive dreams and some non-predictive dreams. When subjects were asked to recall the dreams they had read, they remembered more of the successful predictions than unsuccessful ones.
An early inquiry into allegedly prophetic dreams was done by Aristotle in his On Divination in Sleep. His criticism of these claims appeals to the fact that "the sender of such dreams should be God", and "the fact that those to whom he sends them are not the best and wisest, but merely commonplace persons." Thus: "Most [so-called prophetic] dreams are, however, to be classed as mere coincidences...", here "coincidence" being defined by Aristotle as that which does not take "place according to a universal or general rule" and referring to things which are not of themselves by necessity causally connected. His example being taking a walk during an eclipse, neither the walk nor the eclipse being apparently causally connected and so only by "coincidence" do they occur simultaneously.
J. W. Dunne believed that dream precognition did not reference any kind of future event, but specifically the future experiences of the dreamer. He was led to this idea when he found that a dream of a volcanic eruption appeared to foresee not the disaster itself but his subsequent misreading of an inaccurate account in a newspaper. In 1963 the BBC television programme Monitor broadcast an appeal by the writer J.B. Priestley for experiences which challenged our understanding of Time. He received hundreds of letters in reply and believed that many of them described genuine precognitive dreams. In 2014 the BBC Radio 4 broadcaster Francis Spufford revisited Priestley's work and its relation to the ideas of J.W. Dunne.
In 1932 Charles Lindbergh's infant son was kidnapped, murdered and buried among trees. The psychologists Henry Murray and D. R. Wheeler tested precognitive dreams by inviting the public to report any dreams of the child. A total of 1,300 dreams were reported. Only five percent envisioned the child dead and only 4 of the 1,300 envisioned the location of the grave as amongst trees. This number was no better than chance.
David Ryback, a psychologist in Atlanta, used a questionnaire survey approach to investigate precognitive dreaming in college students. His survey of over 433 participants showed that 290 or 66.9 percent reported some form of paranormal dream. He rejected many of these reports, but claimed that 8.8 percent of the population was having actual precognitive dreams.
Suppose that you can remember ten incidents from a night's dreaming, at least when prompted by a similar incident occurring a day. Now consider how many incidents occur during a day, including those you read about in the paper, watch on television or hear from your friends. There are a vast number and it is highly probable that from time to time one of them will, at least to some extent, resemble one of those from your dreams. When one or more of these coincidences occur, people are likely to conclude that dreams foretell the future.
Robert Todd Carroll, author of The Skeptic's Dictionary, put it this way: "Say the odds are a million to one that when a person has a dream of an airplane crash, there is an airplane crash the next day. With 6 billion people having an average of 250 dream themes each per night, there should be about 1.5 million people a day who have dreams that seem clairvoyant."
- Déjà vu
- Precognition (Scots law)
- Premonition (film)
- Premonitions (novel)
- Second sight
- Veridical dream
- List of topics characterized as pseudoscience
- Inner eye
- Alcock, James. (1981). Parapsychology-Science Or Magic?: A Psychological Perspective Pergamon Press. pp. 3-6. ISBN 978-0080257730
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- Priestley, J.B.; Man and Time, Aldus 1964, 2nd Edition Bloomsbury 1989.
- Peake, Anthony; The Labyrinth of Time, Arcturus, 2012, Chapter 10: "Dreams and precognition".
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- Hyman, Ray (2007). "Evaluating Parapsychological Claims". In Robert J. Sternberg; Henry J. Roediger III; Diane F. Halpern. Critical Thinking in Psychology. Cambridge University Press. p. 217. ISBN 0-521-60834-1.
- Dunne, J. W. (1927). An Experiment With Time. Hampton Roads Publishing Co. ISBN 978-1-57174-234-6.
- Flew, Antony; "The Sources of Serialism, in Shivesh Thakur (Ed). Philosophy and Psychical Research, George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1976, pp. 81-96. ISBN 0-04-100041-2
- Brian Inglis; The Paranormal: An Encyclopedia of Psychic Phenomena. Paladin (Grafton), 1986, p.92.
- Dunne, J.W.; An Experiment with Time, 3rd Edition, Faber, 1934, Appendix III: The new experiment.
- Stewart, V.; "J. W. Dunne and literary culture in the 1930s and 1940s", Literature and History, Volume 17, Number 2, Autumn 2008, pp. 62-81, Manchester University Press.
- Anon,; "Obituary: Mr. J. W. Dunne, Philosopher and Airman", The Times, August 27, 1949, Page 7.
- C. D. Broad; "The Philosophical Implications of Foreknowledge", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, Vol. 16, Knowledge and Foreknowledge (1937), pp. 177-209
- Harold Gulliksen. (1938). Extra-Sensory Perception: What Is It?. American Journal of Sociology. Vol. 43, No. 4. pp. 623-634. "Investigating Rhine's methods, we find that his mathematical methods are wrong and that the effect of this error would in some cases be negligible and in others very marked. We find that many of his experiments were set up in a manner which would tend to increase, instead of to diminish, the possibility of systematic clerical errors; and lastly, that the ESP cards can be read from the back."
- Charles M. Wynn, Arthur W. Wiggins. (2001). Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends...and Pseudoscience Begins. Joseph Henry Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0-309-07309-7 "In 1940, Rhine coauthored a book, Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years in which he suggested that something more than mere guess work was involved in his experiments. He was right! It is now known that the experiments conducted in his laboratory contained serious methodological flaws. Tests often took place with minimal or no screening between the subject and the person administering the test. Subjects could see the backs of cards that were later discovered to be so cheaply printed that a faint outline of the symbol could be seen. Furthermore, in face-to-face tests, subjects could see card faces reflected in the tester’s eyeglasses or cornea. They were even able to (consciously or unconsciously) pick up clues from the tester’s facial expression and voice inflection. In addition, an observant subject could identify the cards by certain irregularities like warped edges, spots on the backs, or design imperfections."
- Terence Hines. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 122. ISBN 1-57392-979-4 "The procedural errors in the Rhine experiments have been extremely damaging to his claims to have demonstrated the existence of ESP. Equally damaging has been the fact that the results have not replicated when the experiments have been conducted in other laboratories."
- Colman, Andrew M. (1988). Facts, Fallacies and Frauds in Psychology. Unwin Hyman. pp. 175–180. ISBN 0-04-445289-6.
- Hyman, Ray (2007). "Evaluating Parapsychological Claims". In Robert J. Sternberg; Henry L. Roediger; Diane F. Halpern. Critical Thinking in Psychology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 219–223. ISBN 0-521-60834-1.
- Betty Markwick. (1985). The establishment of data manipulation in the Soal-Shackleton experiments. In Paul Kurtz. A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books. pp. 287-312. ISBN 0-87975-300-5
- Odling-Smee, Lucy (March 1, 2007). "The lab that asked the wrong questions". Nature. 446 (7131): 10–11. PMID 17330012. doi:10.1038/446010a. Retrieved 2007-06-29.
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- Bem, DJ (March 2011). "Feeling the future: experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect." (PDF). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 100 (3): 407–25. PMID 21280961. doi:10.1037/a0021524.
- James Alcock, Back from the Future: Parapsychology and the Bem Affair, March/April 2011 Skeptical Inquirer, January 6, 2011.
- "Room for Debate: When Peer Review Falters". The New York Times. January 7, 2011.
- "Professor: Strong evidence ESP is real". MSNBC. 2008-01-23. Retrieved Jan 30, 2011.
- "The Colbert Report: January 27, 2011 - Brian Greene". Comedy Central. 2008-01-23. Retrieved Jan 30, 2011.
- Rouder, J.; Morey, R. (2011). "A Bayes factor meta-analysis of Bem's ESP claim". Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 18: 682–689. doi:10.3758/s13423-011-0088-7.
- "Odds are against ESP: New statistical approach doesn't support claims that extra-sensory perception exists". Science Daily.
- Bem, Daryl (6 January 2011). "Response to Alcock’s "Back from the Future: Comments on Bem"". Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- Alcock, James (6 January 2011). "Response to Bem’s Comments". Retrieved 31 January 2012.
- Galak, J.; LeBoeuf, R. A.; Nelson, L. D.; Simmons, J. P. (2012). "Correcting the past: Failures to replicate psi". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 103: 933–948. PMID 22924750. doi:10.1037/a0029709.
- Frazier, Kendrick (2013). "Failure to Replicate Results of Bem Parapsychology Experiments Published by Same Journal". csicop.org. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
- Wynn, Charles; Wiggins, Arthur. (2001). Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends...and Pseudoscience Begins. Joseph Henry Press. p. 165. ISBN 978-0309073097 "One of the reasons scientists have difficulty believing that psi effects are real is that there is no known mechanism by which they could occur. PK action-at-a-distance would presumably employ an action-at-a-distance force that is as yet unknown to science... Similarly, there is no known sense (stimulation and receptor) by which thoughts could travel from one person to another by which the mind could project itself elsewhere in the present, future, or past."
- Bunge, Mario. (1983). Treatise on Basic Philosophy: Volume 6: Epistemology & Methodology II: Understanding the World. Springer. pp. 225-226. ISBN 978-9027716347
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- Schwarzkopf, Samuel (2014). "We Should Have Seen This Coming". Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 8: 332. PMC . PMID 24904372. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00332.
- Hines, Terence (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. pp. 78–81. ISBN 978-1-57392-979-0.
- Alcock, James E. (1981). Parapsychology: Science or Magic?: a psychological perspective. Oxford: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-025773-9. via Hines, Terence (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. pp. 78–81. ISBN 978-1-57392-979-0.
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- Aristotle. On Divination in Sleep
- Sean O'Donnell, The Paranormal Explained. Lulu 2007.
- Brian Inglis; The Paranormal: An Encyclopedia of Psychic Phenomena. Paladin (Grafton), 1986, p.90.
- J.B. Priestley; Man and Time, Aldus, 1964.
- Francis Spufford, "I Have Been Here Before", Sunday Feature, BBC Radio 3, 14 Sep 2014.
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- Wiseman, Richard. (2011). Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There. Macmillan. pp. 163-167. ISBN 978-0-230-75298-6
- "In short, you have lots of dreams and encounter lots of events. Most of the time the dreams are unrelated to the events, and so you forget about them. However, once in a while one of the dreams will correspond to one of the events. Once this happens, it is suddenly easy to remember the dream and convince yourself that it has magically predicted the future. In reality, it is just the laws of probability at work."
- "The principle is known as the ‘Law of Large Numbers’, and states that unusual events are likely to happen when there are lots of opportunities for that event. It is exactly the same with any national lottery. The chances of any one person hitting the jackpot is millions to one, but still it happens as regular as clockwork each week because such a large number of people buy tickets. For genuine evidence of premonitions then, the situation is even worse than we have imagined... Given that people dream about doom and gloom more often than not, the numbers quickly stack up and acts of apparent prophecy are inevitable."
- Sutherland, Stuart. (1994). Irrationality: The Enemy Within. pp. 312-313. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-016726-9
- "Law of Truly Large Numbers".
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Premonition.|
- Robert Todd Carroll. (2013). "Precognition and Second Sight". The Skeptic's Dictionary.
- Chris French. (2012). "Precognition Studies and the Curse of the Failed Replications". The Guardian.
- Nicolas Gauvrit. (2011). "Precognition or Pathological Science? An Analysis of Daryl Bem’s Controversial Feeling the Future Paper". The Skeptics Society.
- Thomas Gilovich. (1993). How We Know What Isn't So: Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. Free Press. ISBN 978-0-02-911706-4
- Terence Hines. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-979-4
- David Marks. (2000). The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd Edition). Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-798-8
- Robert Novella. (2000). "The Power of Coincidence: Some Notes on "Psychic" Predictions". Quackwatch.
- Stephanie Pappas. (2012). "Controversial Psychic Ability Claim Doesn't Hold Up in New Experiments". LiveScience.
- Richard Wiseman. (2011). Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-230-75298-6