Posts Tagged ‘precognition’

Dreaming. 1860. J. Israels

You’re out driving, and there’s a cop car at the side of the road. He’s pulled someone over and is serving them a ticket. You cruise past, glance through your passenger window, and the scene triggers a flash-back to last night’s dream – the same type of cop car, glimpsed through the passenger side window. So you think: that’s a neat coincidence. Right?

It wasn’t exactly the same situation. In the dream, you were parked, and the cop car pulled alongside, and the cop said: “You don’t mind if I park here, do you, sir?” But you were definitely looking at this same kind of cop car, through the passenger side window. And if things had happened the other way around, say you’d seen the cop car, and then the next night it had popped up in your dreams, you’d know where the dream had borrowed it from. But as things stand, it was just a coincidence. Anything else, and the dream had seen your future. And that’s not possible. Is it?

So then, some nights later, you dream you’re out in a part of the countryside you’ve not been to for years. It’s not an extraordinary dream – just your usual muddle of inside out and back to front stuff, the one thing bleeding into the other, and no particularly coherent narrative. Then you wake, and you reach for the phone, and you read the blogs you follow, and a guy has posted a piece on that same part of the countryside, which triggers the memory of the dream, and you think: that’s odd. Another coincidence? Sure. Or maybe you caught a glimpse of that blog before you slept, and you just forgot. Because anything else is impossible. Right?

So then you dream you’re talking to a notorious world leader in your back garden – like you do – but you’re struggling to understand what he’s saying, and you’re worried he’ll think you’re a bit numb, but you can’t help it because he’s contorting the upper left side of his lip in the most peculiar way, which distorts his speech. The next evening you decide to check out a film on Netflix, in which it turns out the lead man is portrayed with a hair lip, which has the same way of moving as in the dream. It breaks the dream, so to speak, brings back the memory of it. Another coincidence? Startling one too, this. Or maybe you caught a trailer for the film before you slept, and you just forgot.

These are all dreams I’ve collected over the last few weeks. And the question arises: how many dreams like that does it take, before the only reasonable conclusion you can come to is that your dreams are indeed previsioning little bits of your future? The thing to note is the banal nature of the images, and the fact we’re seeing in the dream what we will see, ourselves, at a point in our own future. We’re not talking about any dramatic premonition of calamity. Nor are we claiming any paranormal faculty. It seems to be the normal way the mind – any mind, your mind, my mind – Hoovers up observed events and regurgitates them in distorted form, in dreams. It’s just that the dreams seem to have access to events you haven’t observed yet. Only by habitual observation of the visual details of your dreams do you realise it. And who’s crazy enough to do that?

Isolated instances can perhaps be dismissed as coincidence, but the longer we pay attention to our dreams, and the more hits we score, the less likely coincidence becomes. Of course, if you’re of a materialist, reductionist mindset, no matter how many dreams you have, you’ll still call it a coincidence, or you’ll swerve your dreams altogether, believing them to be nonsense anyway, so the problem will not arise for you.

Others have written at length on this phenomenon, namely J W Dunne, J B Priestly and more recently Gary Lachman. Tentative explanations involve additional levels of consciousness, each with its own time reference. I can’t say for sure if this is right, but it does make a kind of sense. Let’s say, as a working hypothesis, it’s plausible, but it also strikes me that, even when science means well by the unknown, it comes across as being somewhat primitive in its toolkit.

So if we are indeed opening a crack in time by paying attention to our dreams, we have to accept there are no definitive explanations about what’s going on. There are only more questions. What draws us forward are the tantalising hints at unexplored human potential. We’ve been a long time evolving, but there’s nothing to say we’re yet done adapting to our environment, even as we shape it. In this light, precognitive dreaming might be a thing we’re evolving towards, an evolutionary mutation still looking for an advantage in the world we’re creating. Or maybe such precognition was an advantage in our hunter-gatherer past, say, warning of the bear we were to encounter in the woods next day, and which risked killing us. But now it’s a faculty that’s atrophied for want of use, like one’s appendix, or coccyx. Still, there are plenty of dangers facing us in the contemporary world, yet my dreams seem more concerned with quirky art-house details than risks to life and limb – so maybe that’s not its function at all. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

Philosophers paint such a gloomy picture of the human condition, the existentialists having concluded we’re just an accident of nature, and better off adjusting to that fact, than hanging on for something transcendent, or for hints of meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe. Given the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, one can hardly blame them for reaching such a bleak conclusion. Nor is the twenty-first shaping up to be any better. But I think nature has left enough clues in the shadows to hint at a path, which has the potential to lead us from the dark forest the philosophers have abandoned us in. I am confident we are more than we seem, and that there is more to the world, to its space and time.

Then again, before we set foot down this path, we must be sure what beckons is not simply a will-o’-the-wisp, leading us to drown in a bog of groundless speculation. Maybe there is a rational explanation for that cop car, the country roads, and the hare lip, one that doesn’t sound even more far-fetched than the suggestion we sometimes see our future. Selective bias and coincidence are the usual explainaways. Belief in the paranormal is another, as it’s highly correlated with a propensity towards selective bias and outright self-delusion. Still, none of these ring true to me, in this insance, but then I suppose they wouldn’t. From your own perspective, of course, the obvious explainaway is that Dunne, Priestly, Lachman, and me, we’re all making it up, that we story tellers are simply looking for attention, or to fill column space on an otherwise dull day.

That’s fine, until you have such a dream yourself, and then you cannot help but wonder.

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mazda night journey HDRFriday: I’m driving along, and for no particular reason my mind wanders onto the subject of the actress, Judy Davies. I follow the thought and find myself exploring her filmography all the way back to the movie of EM Forster’s novel “A passage to India.” I ponder this for a while. Good movie that. Edward Fox was in it too, and Alec Guinness. I’ve not read the novel, but I’m wondering if I should look it up.

My mind moves on, and I’m thinking of something else entirely when I pop the radio on and there’s a play on Radio 4: “A passage to India.”

This kind of low level, useless precognition is actually quite common and it can be easily explained away as coincidence. Admittedly, I’m less likely to do that than someone more scientistically inclined, but neither am I as shocked by it as I once was. At one time I would have been pondering it more deeply and most likely blogging today about the mysteries of time, space and being, but of late I recognise it makes no difference if there is or isn’t anything more to this sort of thing, and it’s best either dismissed or simply accepted as a mysterious part of life, but one we’ll never understand. I just wish it could be more helpful.

Anyway, Saturday, and I’ve picked up an ear worm: Aha’s “Take on Me” running on a continuous loop in my head – just the first couple of lines – and annoying as Hell. Then I call into a shop where they have muzak playing over the tannoy. I’ve not been there five minutes when they start playing “Take on me”. There we go again: that strange, useless precognition thing.

Then, on the way home this happens:

Okay, so I manage to avoid killing the cyclist, but not, I should add, because of any sixth sense. I’m just lucky, and actually a little warning would have been helpful, sparing me at least a near heart attack. Those bikes piled around the bend with breathtaking audacity, also, I presume, with a reckless disregard for third party insurance. The wobbling tail-end Charlie was unprepared for the bend and thus a victim for any vehicle coming the other way, in this case me.

If we’d collided, he would have gone off my bonnet, and either over or into the wall on my left. Over the wall is a thirty foot drop into a shallow river. He might have survived the wall but not the river.

He apologised in passing, called me “bud” and wobbled on – I’ve been called much worse by burly men in Lycra tights. Anyway, I drove home, then had a brew and a very long sit down. And I was thinking about how suddenly our lives can change for the worse, and how we never see it coming. We get word a close relative has been diagnosed with cancer, maybe we get the diagnosis ourselves. Something happens on the road – a Kamikaze cyclist skitters off your bonnet, kills himself and ruins your life – because whether it’s your fault or not, that’s a thing you’ll carry at the back of your mind for the rest of your life. You bumble along from day to day, thinking your life is humdrum, maybe even a little boring and then: bang.

On the other hand, the changes that bring about an improvement in our lives – barring a lottery win – tend to work more slowly. We sacrifice immediate pleasure for the thought of reaping larger benefits in the future. We invest in a pension so we can retire in comfort. We study so we can get a better job, afford a nicer house, buy our kids nice things. We bring our kids up as well as we can, then take pleasure in seeing them engage with the world. It all takes time, and it’s worth it.

But the good things in life tend to be incremental, introducing themselves so slowly we hardly notice. We become so entirely accepting we can find ourselves contemptuous, that even though life is actually, rather good, we barely notice, especially if we’re hooked on always chasing the next thing. Maybe we even grumble when those little things go wrong.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is it’s always a good idea to take stock now and then, because there’s something odd about life in that it never lets you see the bad things coming, only sometimes the stuff that makes no difference to anything.


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mending clock 5I was walking along a corridor in a familiar office block, thinking to myself: what if I found some money on the floor? How would I reunite it with its owner? If I put up a note to say I had found ten pounds, anyone could come to me and say it was theirs, that they had lost ten pounds, and how would I know they were telling the truth? So I thought I could write a note instead saying I had found some money, without saying how much, and leave it to others to tell me what they thought they had lost. But this wouldn’t work either. Would anyone know exactly how much they had lost? And if they said they had lost fifteen pounds, would it be reasonable for me to say the ten pounds I had found was not at least some part of what they had lost? How would I best write that note?

This conundrum of hypothetically lost money and the note announcing it was a thing I pondered for no reason. I had not found any money. I had not lost any money. My mind had simply begun to ruminate on the problem spontaneously. There was nothing strange in this; I often ponder spurious things for no reason. I’m sure I’m not alone in doing so. And the punchline? Well, it was then I came to a notice pinned on the wall, and it said: Money found, please contact,…

To the rational mind, it was a coincidence, or I had perhaps seen the notice before, but registered its presence only subliminally, in other words without actually being conscious of seeing it. The latter explanation is more tenuous, but I admit it is plausible. To my own mind though, there is another explanation and has to do with the mysterious nature of time. It also requires a less rational approach and that we allow for the possibility we can sometimes be influenced by events that have yet to happen, that my pondering on the question of lost money was prompted by the as yet future sighting of the notice announcing lost money.

My anecdote hardly qualifies as evidence of déjà vu. All such occurrences are, by their nature, anecdotal and therefore inadmissible in the court of the scientistic pedant. And yes, I could have made my story up – I am a writer of stories after all. I suggest you have no choice then but to be sceptical, unless something similar has happened to you, for only then are the non-peer-reviewed anecdotes of time anomalies of any interest. And I bet most of you reading this have experienced something odd about time and the occasionally back to front sequencing of events.

It’s happened to me before. I find the dream a good place for encountering the influence of events that have yet to happen. I once dreamed repeatedly of a time – twenty past seven – then woke groggily from a deep sleep to hear my wife telling me I was going to be late, that it was already twenty past seven.

It doesn’t happen a lot – just now and then. I mean, I’m not a freak or anything. Moreover, you don’t have to believe in any of this. I’m not claiming a penetrating scientific insight, now will I be attempting an explanation. But if it’s happened to you, you may find such musings of interest.

For a time, between the world wars, the question of time anomalies, time slips and dream precognition were pondered openly and in all seriousness by intellectuals, by artists, writers, poets, and the general pre-soap opera public, all of them inspired by publication of a book called Experiment in Time, by J W Dunne (1927). Post war however, it was a fascination the popular world quickly grew out of. I don’t know what happened, but dreams, precognition, time anomalies and such were suddenly embarrassing topics of conversation to be having at parties. Instead we became ensnared in the theories of Freud, at least in so far as they pertained to advertising and trivial want, and we became docile consumers thereafter, with never questioning thought in our heads as regards the nature of time and reality. But the question has not gone away. And the anecdotes continue to mount. Can our thoughts be influenced by a future event? Can we visit the future in our heads before it happens?

I come back to Dunne and his book “Experiment with Time”. In it Dunne writes about time anomalies, and a kind of low level dream precognition. Then he presents a theory which attempts an explanation but which reads like a textbook exercise in geometry. I was always good at geometry, but try as I might Dunne’s lecture on it doesn’t make sense at all. Only the anecdotes stick. Thus Dunne manages to be both visionary and annoying at the same time.

Priestly (JB) writes of Dunne along similar lines in “Man and time” (1964), in which he too explores the time-haunted world, while wisely avoiding too much theorising and geometrical diagrams. Priestly had plenty of his own time-slip anecdotes, plus an archive of anecdotes sent to him by the public. Priestly is more content to rest in the philosophy and the mystery, that these things happen, and we don’t know how or why, only that it opens a door into the unknown through which many things become possible. We are wise I think, to follow his example.

But the critic will argue it’s absurd to claim we can see the future, because by seeing it we might then take steps to avoid it. But if we’ve seen it, how can we possibly avoid it? This attempt at paradox is rather a feeble one, however, presupposing as it does a single linear line in time. It does not allow for the idea of multiple lines, of the possibility that what we see of the future is only one possible version of it. We take our permission for such speculation from the Many Worlds interpretation of Quantum Mechanics and by so doing also usher in a semi-scientific basis for our idle postulations, but without actually explaining anything. Quantum Mechanics is endlessly useful for us dreamers in this respect. We can use it to prove anything.

This is where the way becomes strange and all explanations equally valid. If these slips in time are real, and I have no choice but to accept they are, it points to something perhaps, to a future evolution of consciousness where the actual nature of time is revealed and becomes useful to us. Or it may be there’s just something a little frayed around the edges of the consciousness we posses, that it is only an imperfection that allows sporadic glimpses of a place outside of time, beyond the curtain so to speak, a place we do not belong and can never explain within the limited paradigm of which we are a part and spend our entire lives.

But if we are trapped for the most part, in a purely linear flow of time, while being capable of more, we must ask ourselves what purpose does it serve, this self imposed imprisonment, this pedestrian view? And what nightmares would it unleash, were we ever to break free and see the universe as it really is?

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dunneIt’s about quarter of a century now since I first encountered the book “An Experiment with Time” by the former gentleman-designer and aircraft pioneer, J W Dunne (1875-1949). In 1902 Dunne had a dream about the eruption of Mount Pelee, on the island of Martinique, shortly before it happened for real. He did not dream of himself being present during the eruption but, more crucially, of picking up a newspaper at home and reading about it. Why crucially? Well, Dunne concluded the dream was not a presentiment of the disaster itself, but of his own action of picking up the newspaper. Dunne had seen himself at a point in his own future. This incident spawned much private theorising on the nature of time and existence, which in turn led to a series of very popular books, the first of which was “An Experiment with Time”, published in 1927 and which has been steadily reprinted ever since. This book suggests that in certain mental states – dreams or hypnogogic imagery – we are all capable of a form of first hand precognition of ourselves at a point days or weeks in our own future.

When we dream, we often recognise the influences of the recent past playing out in the dream narrative. But what Dunne suggested was that if we paid sufficient attention to our dreams we would find unequivocal influences from our immediate future as well. Dunne picked up a newspaper and read of the eruption in Martinique, but that event had already imprinted itself in his consciousness sufficient for it to appear as a fairly clear influence in his dreams some time previously. Dunne professed no psychic abilities and was rather disturbed by the prospect that he might be “gifted” in this way. Rather than assume this to be the case however, he chose instead to pursue the idea that the ability was in fact latent in all of us, and that all we have to do is make a record of our dreams in order to realise the truth of it.

Having made this startling observation, Dunne then began to puzzle over what it revealed about the nature of time if a part of us was indeed capable of seeing into the future. The familiar stuff of fiction and pseudo science, precognition – if true – has some serious implications for our understanding of the nature of reality. We might dream of ourselves in a situation we’d like to avoid – say a fatal accident – and decide not to get out of bed that day, so altering a future we had apparently already witnessed. But if we have already witnessed it, how can we avoid it? This is one of the paradoxes which cannot be reconciled in a deterministic universe, which suggests our futures are fixed, but which Dunne’s observations apparently bull-doze aside.

Was Dunne right? Can we dream of future things? As experiments go, the protocols Dunne uses and describes in “Experiment with Time” wouldn’t pass muster in modern parapsychological research, but his examples are compelling, and anyway, we can all sit down and make an accounting of our own dreams and decide for ourselves, so I decided to take a look at mine. It took several months, but sure enough my own little experiments with time revealed a number of intriguing de-ja-vous experiences. The first was a dream of myself sailing down an industrial backwater, on a canal boat. The following evening, when channel zapping on the TV, I zapped into the scene from the dream. Another was a dream of walking along a beach with peculiar dune formations, then of visiting that beach quite by chance some time later, a place I’d never been before. There were other incidents, most of them undramatic – indeed quite banal – but sufficient to convince me Dunne was not a crackpot, and that he had indeed revealed something peculiar, not only about time, but of our place in it.

Scientifically speaking  dream anecdotes do not equate to data and you must bear that in mind dear reader while reading this exposition by a self confessed mystical fiction writer. Sure enough Dunne met with serious opposition in academic circles on both the scientific and philosophical fronts. Among writers though, especially those of a mystical bent, and non-academic philosophers, and indeed the general public, his theories became very popular.

A man who knew Dunne and had the pleasure of discussing these ideas with him personally was the author, playwright and broadcaster J B Priestly. Priestly’s book Man and Time (1964) deals in part with Dunne’s work and in my opinion does a better job of exploring the philosophical issues. Unlike Dunne, however, Priestly wisely avoids any home-spun theorising on a scientific explanation. Such theorising however was to be Dunne’s undoing.

Dunne’s first rate technical background meant he was unable to let his experiments rest without coming up with a detailed conjecture involving maths and charts that explained it all, text-book fashion – at least to his satisfaction. Thus Dunne plunged headlong into a field that few theorists at the time were equipped to deal with, and duly came a cropper. He speculated that while the conscious mind experiences time linearly, the unconscious can plunder images from any point in our life from birth to death. We therefore exist, he said, for all time as an infinite number of moments whose direction lies at right angles to the familiar direction of time’s arrow, a series of “serial” moments. We never die, argued Dunne, because although we do exist somewhere at the point of death we are also still young, somewhere in time. Although I’m personally open to such a notion, it is vulnerable to philosophical attack, and Dunne was to spend much of his later years locking horns with learned critics, gaining the reputation of a bit of a crackpot.

Suffice it to say, he was never invited to expound upon his ideas at the Royal Institution, and while this may not be without sound reason, it’s a pity his actual observations were thrown out with the bath-water of his dubious scientific theories. It remains an awkward fact, I believe, that we do sometimes dream of things that are influenced by events we have yet to encounter. Where this leaves us in terms of an understanding of the nature of time and our place in it is no more certain now than it was when Dunne first dreamed of the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902. Indeed it’s probably best not to think too hard on it, but it is interesting. Writers of course are free to speculate and plunder his ideas at will for material. As well as Priestly, he was an influence on the Sci Fi writer Robert Heinlein, and of course on more obscure scribes such as yours truly – see my story The Choices.

We can of course make a great deal of sense of the universe from the perspective of reductionist thinking. We paint a very convincing picture of a materialistic and mechanistic world, and for the day to day stuff this is fine – we get by – but we also do well to bear in mind that this is not the real nature of the universe at all. It’s much, much stranger than our physical senses perceive it. How strange? Well, how strange can you imagine it?

An Experiment with Time – 1927 J W Dunne (1875-1949)

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drreamIn the biological sciences, dreams don’t amount to much. Bizarre and useless, we’re advised there is no meaning to be extracted from them. We dream of a rabbit, look it up in a dream dictionary, and learn the rabbit means we’ll have good luck. Hmm – seems superficial at best.

But wait!

What if we dream we’re naked among people we know – family, friends colleagues? Depending on which book we look this one up in, it can be interpreted as meaning we are afraid of showing others our true selves. In this case then, the dream appears symbolic of personal unconscious complexes, and that’s meaningful in that it reveals to us aspects of our selves in a potentially helpful way, prompting further questions like: what parts of myself do I not want others to see, and why not?

Maybe there’s more to dreams after all?

In fact dream interpretation has been an important part of psychoanalysis for over a century. Sadly though, for the layman, dreaming still languishes in the realm of simplistic dream dictionaries. Serious literature is more elusive,… but infinitely more enlightening.

We all dream, every night. It’s just remembering our dreams that’s the problem. But it’s actually not that difficult and consists merely of making a mental note as we lay down to sleep that we will try to remember our dreams. And in time, we remember them. And the more dreams we remember, the more richly we are rewarded with our dreams – the first foggy, disjointed fragments maturing into vivid dream canvasses resplendent in allegorical meaning and which leave us tingling all day in their numinous afterglow.

By interpreting my dreams I sought a new direction in life. The experience was wholly positive, but not in the way I expected. Most dreams remained inscrutable; life was unchanged; I did the same things, the same job, faced the same problems. However in retrospect, I realised the dreams had guided me towards the centre of a newly reconstructed self, one in which the same elements were present, but had been rearranged.

I had gained a different perspective.

Dreams, it seems, serve a potentially transformative function of the psyche, if we can only bring ourselves to take them seriously.

And now?

I admit I’m out of the habit of recalling dreams. My journal is rarely updated and what few dreams I spontaneously hold onto these days have lost their depth and their power. But I’ve been wondering if the time has come to make an effort to uncover my dreams again, or even to crank it up a bit,…

…and go flying in them!

In all my dreaming, I have simply let the dreams wash over me, so that like most dreamers, I do not know I am dreaming, when I dream. But dreaming can be taken further; we can train ourselves to dream lucidly.

In lucid dreams we are no longer passive observers of the dream, but self determining participants, capable of critical reasoning and intelligent engagement. We can shape our environment, talk to dream characters, and we can get about by flying. How cool is that?

Lucid dreaming requires a more advanced skillset, one I don’t possess, but one I’m led to believe can be acquired easily. The question is, should I make the effort?

The fictional characters in my current work-in-progress are adept at lucid dreaming. The dream space allows them a more flexible stage on which to explore the nature of their being, and I find the philosophical implications irresistible. But if one writes of Australia, how authentic can one be if one has never been there?

The tales of lucid dreamers have been like Siren voices for a while now urging me to make the push and become a lucid dreamer myself. But a wise old friend cautions me that to enter on this path is also to risk losing oneself inside one’s own head, becoming mired in a different kind of mud – one of self-generated and entirely hedonistic dream-content – none of which means anything.

Lucid dreamers talk of directly engaging with the unconscious, rather than being passively subjected to its whims, as in ordinary dreams. They talk of strange, paranormal things too, like precognitive dreams, healing in dreams, and even of meeting the dreaming selves of other people. But while such things fascinate and feed my hunger for interesting fictional scenarios, to actually bluster in and interrogate one’s own unconscious, seems an immodest thing to do. My wise old friend reminds me that when we travel the liminal zones bordering the Faery lands, we are always better going quietly, and on tiptoe.

I do need to move on from where I’m at. I sense a stagnation in my ways and in my thoughts. So, I have blown the dust from my dream journal, and made a few fresh entries, but the dreams I seek are strictly of the ordinary kind. I’m sure lucid dreaming can be a wild party, but I’m also thinking it’s better to wait for an invitation than to use one’s cleverness and egotistical wit to gatecrash a gathering where nobody’s quite sure what’s going on. Notwithstanding the extraordinary exploits of my fictional characters, to dream lucidly is perhaps to risk dragging the expectations of the real world into the realm of the Faery, to inform it, to shape it, and ultimately I fear, as with any other environment we seek to exploit for our own aims, to irreparably corrupt it.

So, while I may continue to appear, on occasion, naked and embarrassed in my dreams, my dreams at least are seeing me as I truly am, rather than how I would prefer myself to be seen. I think they prefer me that way.

And who am I to argue?

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There’s a saying in my home village, that when it comes to certain extended and long established families, if you kick one, they all squeal. It’s a wry comment on the occasional clannishness of rural life, but what if it were true? What if you could take two human beings, stimulate one, and detect a corresponding blip in the mind of the other – even though the other be some distance away and strictly speaking, consciously unaware of the “stumulus” his clan-buddy was receiving?

For a start it would rule out any dubious claims of “psychic ability”, if you could simply point at a print-out on a piece of paper that says conclusively, regardless of what the percipient was consciously feeling, there was a definite unconscious response there, the indelible thumbprint of a real sixth sense.

Well, there’s actually good scientific evidence for taking such a thing seriously, though it’s not generally well known. What’s more it’s evidence that’s been around since the 1960’s, and continues to be replicated in laboratory settings all over the world. The reason it interests me is that it adds to the overall suspicion that our minds are not confined to our brains, that in some way a part of us is able to function independently of the medium of the brain.

For a detailed description of the more recent experiments in this field, I suggest reading Dean Radin’s Entangled Minds. But the gist of it is if you take two people who are emotionally linked in some way – say though blood or close friendship, isolate them from each other, and stimulate the brain of one, say by flashing a light in their eyes, a corresponding part of the remote “twin’s” brain will activate at a rate in tune with the rate of the flashing light the other person can see.

Of course the more remarkable the claim for evidence of what I suppose we must call here “psychical phenomenon”, the more voraciously the professional skeptics will pick holes in the experimental protocols, in search of a more scientistically prosaic explanation. And, as they have since the days of Victorian parlour-medimship, they will either claim incompetence on the part of the investigators, or simply fraud, and when all that fails they will cast unfounded aspersions regarding the investigator’s parentage, sanity, or morals.

But the beauty of this kind of experiment is the ease with which it can be replicated, and by now we have many studies that confirm the results – also it has to be said some that don’t – but generally, statistically, there is a growing consensus that the phenomenon is real, and that it’s worth taking seriously.

But an even more remarkable phenomenon suggests the mind has the ability not only to act beyond the confines of the physical brain but also to see ahead in time. The professional skeptics are in a real flap about this one, but again the evidence in favour is mounting.

The design of this experiment is very simple. The degree of emotional arousal we’re feeling can be detected by measuring things like the electrical resistance of the skin or the dilation of our pupils. Such responses are controlled by our autonomic nervous system, which means we have no conscious control over them. Changes occur when we become aroused or frightened. Such strong emotional responses can be triggered experimentally by flashing up pictures – either erotic or horrific, and interspersing them, randomly with calming or neutral images. If you measure our responses, investigators have found we’re already bracing ourselves before the emotional pictures come up, as if the unconscious mind already knows what kind of picture it’s going to get.

Naturally, this raises all sorts of questions, and not a few doubts, but the evidence thus far is persuasive, that the effect is real, regardless of the philosophical and logical inconsistencies it implies. It suggests the mind can look ahead to a future in which we have already been subjected to a certain experience. In these so called presentiment experiments, the protocol is automatic – the computer presents images randomly, and measures the emotional response. There is no element of guessing on the part of the percipient. He just has to sit and wait for the pictures to come up. Women seem to be better at it than men.

Skeptics object to the idea of precognition or presentiment on philosophical grounds, dismissing it as “logically impossible”, and quoting the so called “intervention paradox”. Precognition of a future event, they say, would indicate that the future already exists, but foreknowledge of it would enable us to intervene, and to avoid that future – as we might reasonably wish to do if what we’ve seen is something unpleasant. But if we change the future, how could we possibly have foreseen it?

It’s an interesting point, but the presentiment studies suggest the future is nowhere near so clear-cut. My own view has always been that the future may be interpreted more as a range of possibilities where the probability of a specific occurrence depends on the attitudes we hold and the steps we take in the present moment. The future is not fixed, but negotiable, within a certain set of constraints.

Returning to our presentiment experiments then, it’s possible that a sensitive percipient might be able to consciously sense that the next picture will be an unpleasant one, and therefore prevent it from appearing. The percipient thus alters his future, based upon the fact that he’d already been there some seconds before and made a conscious choice whether or not to participate in a particular outcome.

There is persuasive anecdotal evidence in support of this – real life accounts of people who have narrowly avoided death from fatal accidents, or in combat situations. This kind of visceral experience has a profound effect upon the psyche, one that renders you less fussy about the experimental protocols and the controls required to test the validity of such a daring hypothesis. For these people the experience is real, and there simply is no intervention paradox. In one possible future they are dead, and in another, they are alive. So it looks like the intervention paradox is false, that it’s based upon an incomplete model of the nature of space and time, and that we need to seriously rethink the nature of our existence within it.

We all have some degree of personal free will, but not all futures are open to us, and some are more likely than others. But it seems we do have a choice in the paths we take, and sometimes we can get a preview of the options.

The idea that we can make a speculative foray into our immediate future suggests the human psyche does not exist at a fixed point in time, but is smeared across a temporal range that spans our past, present and future, so that our awareness, our sense of self is made up of an average of recent past, present and recent future events. And the future is malleable to a degree, because even if the vanguard of our subliminal consciousness has already begun to experience a particular future, it can still be changed if we don’t like it and we are lucky enough to be in tune with our sixth sense at the crucial moment.

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