‘What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to whoever asks, I do not know.’ – St Augustine
What really is time?
No one knows for sure. Like dreams and other invisible but essential forces in our lives, it is hard to define and pin down.
Most of us think of time as some kind of flow of events from the past through the present and into the future. We remember the past, live in the present, and the future is unknown. But, as the previous Night Watch and Night Vision co-authored IONS blogs have shown, precognitive dreams and experiences make nonsense of that standard definition, suggesting that the future really can be glimpsed, ‘remembered’ in the now. It seems physics is closer to agreeing.
Ripples through Time
While some physicists continue to insist that the flow of events/time is essential to the workings of the universe, increasing numbers agree that the flow of time is a complete illusion. We live in a series of ‘nows’ that are static and not flowing in any sense of the word. Our perception of time is also not the same based on what we are doing. We’ve all heard the sayings, “a watched kettle never boils” or “time flies when you are having fun.” Numerous studies have examined how people’s perceptions of time are different based on their mental perceptions of what they are doing. Time has the subjective experience of slowing down or speeding up.
There is also the human experience of timelessness, where people feel like there are in no time. This has been researched, especially in meditation studies. For example, the IONS team, in collaboration with colleagues, published a paper on transcendent states during meditation. One common feature of this state was that the meditators experienced a subjective sense of timelessness. Interestingly, the transcendent state was also described as being relaxed and awake and was often accompanied by feelings of bliss.
To make things more confusing, for most physics equations, time can go in either direction (forward or backward, +t or -t). This doesn’t match our everyday experience of time as linear, even though the equations work out. Suffice it to say that so far, physicists have not been super helpful in improving our everyday understanding of the flow of time, although they are working hard on it.
What about philosophers? If you think time is entirely subjective or mental and does not or cannot exist in the physical world, then you are in good company with the likes of John McTaggart and St Augustine. In contrast, if you feel that time is both a physical fact and a mental experience, you will be in good company with most present-day philosophers.
Most present-day philosophers think of time as the thing that describes how change happens, which we try to measure using a clock. That’s not clear either, but it seems a bit ahead of the physicists – maybe?
Mental Time Travel?
How about psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists?
Most of them, like the visionaries Dr. Helané Wahbeh, IONS Director of Research and author of The Science of Channeling, and Dr. Julia Mossbridge, IONS Fellow and co-author with me on the Premonition Code, focus their investigations on the mental experience of time as opposed to physical time. People seem to agree that there is an order to the events we experience in our lives, which, when put together, we call the flow of time, temporal flow, or the ‘stream of consciousness’ as psychologist William James famously put it. Many psychologists and neuroscientists studying time and time perception try to understand this mystery by figuring out how the mind and brain create this sense of temporal flow.
Understanding the science of precognition can be thought of as understanding how we might access information about events that occur in the future of our own personal temporal flow relative to our own personal “now.” This sounds like mental time travel rather than physical time travel, and that is a reasonable way to think about it. It could even be completely accurate. Either way, when we have premonitions, it feels as if the future pulls us forward both physically and mentally.
This is how it felt for Jo, who was two months shy of her 44th birthday when she found out she was pregnant.
“I was warned that at my age my baby was at a higher than normal risk for developmental abnormalities and severe disability,” she recalls. “Every parent wants a healthy and happy child and the very idea of knowing that from the start your child may be limited or held back in some way by the judgments and prejudices of society is a nightmare.
About a month after she found out she was pregnant, her doctor strongly advised her to have an amniocentesis test to help determine whether the foetus had a chromosomal defect, like Down’s or spina bifida. “He told me that the procedure was simple and relatively painless. I didn’t even need medication or an overnight stay in the hospital. The procedure was relatively simple, as my doctor had said it would be, but by far the worst part was the week-long wait for the results to come through. Before I got pregnant, a week seemed to be no time at all, but now with this burden hanging over me, it seemed like forever. I’ve been a good sleeper most of my life, but during that week, I don’t think I got more than a few hours each night. I tossed and turned, longing for the seven days and nights to pass but also wishing they would never come.
One night a couple of days before my test was due, I eventually managed to fall asleep around midnight. For the first and only time in my pregnancy, I actually dreamt of giving birth. My doctor delivered my baby – which was unusual because I had already been informed of my midwife delivery team – and then handed him to me. I remember looking down at his tiny face and seeing a dimple on his cheek. Then I heard my doctor pronouncing him healthy. My sister came in and she was carrying an enormous cuddly blue elephant with ‘It’s a boy’ written on one of its paws and ‘angel’ written on the other. I handed my baby to my husband and lay back in my bed, taking in the details of the delivery room. When I woke up the next morning my anxiety had gone completely. I felt calm and in control. Back in real life, my husband held my hand and told me that whatever the results were, we would get through this. I hugged him and told him that I was fine. I wasn’t just saying this to comfort him – as I knew how nervous he was – I really meant it. I knew that everything was going to be fine.
I really can’t explain why or how, but I know that my dream was a premonition, a vision of my future. I have never felt so peaceful and calm in my entire life before or since, and although we wanted the sex of our baby to be a surprise, when I gave birth, I also knew that it was going to be a boy.
I surprised everyone, including myself, over the next two days with my resilience and calm. I slept like a baby (well, how babies are supposed to sleep). As my dream had predicted, the results of my test were negative. Five months later, I gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy with a dimple on his cheek. Giving birth for the first time is a scary experience, but for me it felt like I had done it all before in my dream. The delivery room was the same and most eerily of all it was my doctor who delivered the baby, rather than my midwife who was unexpectedly out of action that day due to a bout of flu. The only detail that wasn’t accurate was when my sister walked in. She was carrying a tiny bunch of flowers and not a cuddly blue elephant. As for my baby, his face, his tiny hands and his beautiful blue eyes were exactly as they were in my dream.” After a few days in hospital, Jo returned home with her son held tightly in her arms. “There was a surprise waiting for me when I got home. While I was recovering in the hospital my sister and my husband had completed the nursery and there sitting in the cot – you guessed it – was the blue elephant of my dreams with ‘angel’ on one of its paws. I hadn’t told anyone about my dream, but there it was.”
(Extracted from The Premonition Code: The Science of Precognition – How sensing the future can change your life. By Theresa Cheung and Dr. Julia Mossbridge. Preface Loyd Auerbach. Foreword by Dr. Dean Radin; Watkins, 2017)
Pushing and/or Pulling
How can this kind of precognitive “pull” from the future that Jo experienced actually work?
Casual loops, where it is unclear what event causes what may hold the answer. But if you aren’t a quantum physicist, what does all this mean?
It means that although our waking daily experiences tell us that causes generally move in the “pushing” or forward direction in time, when you look closely enough, you see that there seem to also be hidden physical pulls from the future reaching into the past, known as retrocausality.
And it is possible that you might already be harnessing these pulls from your future right now, in your body when awake and in your dreams at night. So, listening to physical cues in your waking life and recalling your dreams can help you transcend time.
Somewhere in Time
If you take home one idea out of all of these, make it that the everyday feeling that the future has no effect on the present is not necessarily true. And as a result of the current uncertainty about what time is and causality in philosophical and scientific circles, it is not at all unreasonable to talk in a serious way about the possibility of genuine precognition.
And, perhaps most significant of all, there may also be a spiritual dimension here. Precognition is a reminder that an infinite part of us may exist outside of time and space. IONS is passionately dedicated to researching and finding a scientific explanation for this infinite part so that somewhere, somehow in time, science and spirituality become truly happy partners.
IONS congratulates best-selling author Theresa Cheung for being named one of the 100 Most Spiritual Influential Living People in 2023. Check out her latest book, Empower Your Inner Psychic, How to Harness Your Intuition and Manifest Your Dream Life.