Posts Tagged ‘presentiment’

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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fortune telling“Why prove to a man he is wrong? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win, you lose it. You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgement, and his self-respect.” *

So Deepak Chopra reminds us in his introduction to Dean Radin’s latest book: “Supernormal”, in which Radin turns the spotlight of scientific rigour onto the so called siddhis – the paranormal side effects reported by experienced meditators – things like Psychokinesis, Presentiment, and Telekinesis.

You don’t believe in this sort of thing? Perhaps those words even embarrass you? Well, just hold on,… belief isn’t a word I like to use. I need to have a reason for my thoughts, and that comes down to a mixture of knowledge, experience and – yes – intuition as well, but I think there’s a body of evidence now we can no longer ignore. But I’m not going to argue about it, and neither is Dean Radin. Radin seeks instead to build a body of evidence so large it cannot help but change formerly skeptical minds, like mine. Supernormal Perception? Materialism is wrong? How do you get that message across in the face of overwhelming prejudice to the contrary? Well, you don’t. You simply present the facts, and hopefully at some point the other guy, like me, will think it was his idea all along.

For now however, Materialism remains the prevailing scientific paradigm. It tells us we are the sum of our material parts, that even our thoughts are due entirely to mechanisms going on in the goo of our brains. According to this materialistic doctrine, our consciousness, our sense of self, is an illusion. In short we do not exist. But how can that be right? Of course we want there to be something more to the world than its materials, we want there to be something more to ourselves other than the goo in our brains. We want the ghost in our heads – the thing that keeps telling us we’re real – to be telling the truth: that we do indeed exist!

Materialism has been a successful way of looking at the world. It’s taken us from horses and carts to automobiles and aeroplanes, and from printing presses to the internet, but its core assumption that “material” is all there is renders it blind to evidence to the contrary, renders it dismissive of anomalous experience, renders it unable to grasp the idea that consciousness might actually be real, that it might be independent of any currently understood material paradigm. Thus materialism crosses the line from reason into more of a belief system. Then, like all belief systems, it runs out of steam, stranding us at a point in our evolution where it feels safe, but is unable to move on, unable to address anything other than what it already knows.

But there’s a growing body of evidence now that suggests materialism is an incomplete model of the way things really are. Materialists still pour scorn upon it because that is their nature, but the emerging picture is this: that the mind can indeed sometimes see around corners, that we do indeed have premonitions of future events, and we can indeed alter outcomes in the here and now simply by the power of the mind. The evidence resides, not in one or two flamboyant individuals with mesmeric stares and peculiar tastes in clothing, but in the population at large. It is a small effect, but reliably demonstrable in all of us. And Dean Radin, among others, has been demonstrating it for decades.

It’s nothing new. The evidence has been around since the 1930’s, and merely grows ever more persuasive with each fresh pass. Nor is this evidence anecdotal – it’s based upon thousands upon thousands of published trials, subject to scientific rigour and statistical analysis. But such is the power of the status quo, this is a body of work largely unknown, even today.

Why is any of this this important? So we can read minds at parties and amaze our friends? So what? But, if we can show that the mind is not confined to the brain – and I think we can – if we can show that its reach extends beyond the body and that it can extract information from the environment at a remove in both space and time – and I think we can – it has profound implications for our view of what the mind is, and how the universe works. It also changes our ideas of what we are, and how we might be capable of evolving.

The end-game of Materialism is intrinsically pessimistic: there can be no happy endings; the disintegration of organised matter is fact; we are all going to die and that is that, and the vast majority of us will live and die, our lives unnoticed. But to have confidence that one can explore the world, psychically, to intuit it, even to shape it, to be an integral part of it by virtue of the mind alone, places each of us back at the centre of our lives, and at the outset of a great adventure into the new and the mysterious. It also grants us the power of a self determination, and a psychical integrity that Materialism has long denied us.

It’s a dangerous idea.

We should be careful who we tell.

*Dale Carnegie – 1888-1955. Writer, motivational speaker, lecturer, author of “how to win friends and influence people”.

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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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