The Science of Precognition

October 16, 2018
Julia Mossbridge, IONS Fellow

Precognition is the scientific name for a group of abilities that have to do with knowing or using information about the future without drawing on information from the five senses, memory, or logic. Premonitions are one of those abilities – a premonition is a feeling or sense about a future event. But precognition includes premonition as well as other ways of knowing, so precognition is the umbrella term that includes premonitions. So what exactly is precognition, again?

If every Thursday you get a call from Aunt Millie, it’s not precognition to feel like she’ll call on a Thursday. If it’s raining, it’s not precognition to bring an umbrella out so you don’t get wet. If a particular subject in school is difficult for you and you haven’t studied for a test, a dream that you might fail the test would not be considered precognitive, though it might be tragically accurate! In addition, there’s always coincidence – which can explain a lot.

To be reasonably convinced that genuine precognition has occurred in your daily life, you would need to meet all of the following criteria:

  • Two or more correspondences between the precognition and the event.
  • A reasonably short delay between the precognition and the event.
  • No way of predicting or causing the event yourself in the normal course of your daily life, even using your unconscious mind.
  • Extra credit if you record the experience before the event occurs (so you don’t fool yourself with false memories).

Here are two of many examples of spontaneous precognitive experiences that fit these requirements:

  1. Craig Hendricks, a 65-year-old retired US Army Officer Sergeant 1st Class who now lives in San Diego, California, tells a story of a compulsion he had while in the Joint Inter- Agency Task Force in Baghdad. “We had a trailer, there were 20 of us with our computers. We were doing research. One day as I was sitting there in this air-conditioned space, it occurred to me that I needed to get an ice tea. I never drank ice tea. We had plenty of cold water and it was 112°F outside. But I had this thought – ‘I really want some ice tea.’ It was almost a conversation within my own mind. I said, ‘Nah, don’t think so.’ The thought came up again, ‘Go get some tea.’ I said, ‘No, I really don’t think so.’ The voice was insistent. ‘You need to go get some tea!’ I said, ‘I refuse to. It’s ridiculous. I will not.’ Finally, it asked again, and I decided it was a good time for a break. I left my office, sweating like a dog, and walked to the compound to get the ice tea. Then I headed back to the trailer. The trailer was in a security compound, and when I returned, it was all secured. I wasn’t allowed in. I wondered why, and later found out that about a minute after I’d left, a 120mm rocket had impacted right next to the trailer; stuck like a dart into the ground. It would have killed anyone in the vicinity – but it was not fused correctly. It could have killed me just by impact, even if it didn’t explode.” What are the two correspondences here?  They are the feeling of urgency and Craig’s leaving the trailer to go to the compound. If Craig had just felt that he wanted ice tea but not in an urgent way, the story would not seem so precognitive – he would have been feeling he wanted ice tea when the rocket hit. Or if Craig urgently felt he wanted something to drink, but he just got some water from the trailer, no impressive precognition. In order for us to call this experience a genuinely precognitive one, Craig had to decide he urgently wanted to do something that could only be achieved by leaving the trailer and going far away in order to avoid the rocket strike.
  2. Here’s a precognition experience with all the elements plus extra credit. According to a newspaper story in January 2018, a Virginian named Victor Amole dreamed about the numbers 3-10-17-26-32. He had never had a dream like that before. He decided to enter the lottery using those numbers. In fact, he entered four times. He won, each ticket being worth $100,000. Five numbers (five correspondences), all recorded before the event. In this case, the odds of anyone’s dream of five random numbers being accurate are easy to calculate – according to the Virginia lottery, they were 1 in 278,256 for that draw.

While some scientists who study precognition study spontaneous precognition (outside the lab), most of them study precognition using controlled tests administered in the lab or over the internet. Instead of going through all the results from these studies, here is a summary: there is statistically impressive evidence for both conscious and unconscious precognition, based on careful studies. And a thing called unconscious precognition – in other words, precognition that we don’t notice in our daily lives because we’re not conscious of it – seems to be relatively commonplace. For example, a 2012 analysis of 26 experiments found that physiological changes occur before emotional events that do not occur as often before boring events. These are changes in heart rate, sweat, respiration and behavior, and they occur seconds before violent or erotic images are randomly selected to be shown to people volunteering for these experiments.

Because of these kinds of results, precognition is becoming a hot topic in the research world. This doesn’t mean precognition research is uncontroversial. Check any Wikipedia entry for any of the researchers we have discussed here – or just read the entry for “precognition”, and you will see that the mainstream scientific view, which Wikipedia represents well, is: “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.” Luckily, this kind of uninformed view is largely ignored by the scientists who see the data first hand.

Julia Mossbridge, PhD, is a Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Visiting Scholar in the Psychology Department at Northwestern University, the Science Director at Focus@Will Labs, and an Associated Professor in Integral and Transpersonal Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Dr. Mossbridge’s interest in how time is perceived by unconscious and conscious processes has led her to examine aspects of both cognitive and perceptual timing (e.g., order effects on reading comprehension, perceptual integration across senses) as well as controversial reverse-temporal effects (covered in ABC News 20/20, Wall Street Journal Ideas Market, Fox News and other mainstream media outlets). She is also the 2014 winner of the Charles Honorton Integrative Contributions award for this work. She is the the co-author of a new book related to this work, The Premonition Code, released October 16, 2018 from Watkins Media. She is also the author of Unfolding: The Perpetual Science of Your Soul’s Work (New World Library, 2002) and The Garden: An Inside Experiment. She is also the co-author, with Imants Baruss, of Transcendent Mind: Re-thinking the Science of Consciousness.

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