In the first part of this series of posts on the scientific evidence for psi phenomena, I discussed the myriad proof for telepathy. In part 2, I talked about the evidence of clairvoyance (and remote viewing) and also mentioned that there are probably still lots of studies that were done by the government that have yet to see the light of day (and may never see the light of day). In this, part 3 of the series, I will talk about the evidence for precognition.
Precognition is knowledge of an event that has yet to occur that can’t be deduced from ‘normally known data’ to be present. In short, precognition is an ability to know the future. Writing, in short-hand, about the scientific evidence of psi phenomena has become easier because in the last 20-30 years, there have been researchers who have done a lot of hard work. More accurately, they’ve summarized much of the data up to the point of their study and some have even written brilliant meta-analyses either critiquing or in support of the data. For precognition, there was a meta-analysis published in 1989 in the Journal of Parapsychology called: “‘Future Telling’: A Meta-Analysis of Forced-Choice Precognition Experiments 1935-1987.”
A forced-choice precognition experiment is where the experimenter gives the participant a number of options (for a future event) where the participant has to select from those options. This can be contrasted with those studies that were done called free-response studies. A free-response study is one in which the range of options/targets for the participant are seemingly unlimited. A good meta-analysis of free-response studies (Assessing the Noise Reduction Model in Parapsychology). There is one other kind of methodology that is used in testing for precognition: unconscious perception. In this method, the participant’s precognitive ability is being tested, in a sense, without their knowledge. The precognitive abilities are tested through skin conductance and EEG activity. I’ll talk about that a little later on in the post. Let’s talk about the results from the forced-choice experiments.
In the forced-choice meta-analysis, Honorton and Ferrari were able to gather 2,000,000 individual trials by more than 50,000 participants. Most of these studies involved participants guessing Zener cards after the deck was thoroughly shuffled (and some obscure randomized factor done through computers or by cutting the deck to the temperature of a distant city). The combined results of the studies produced odds against chance of 10 septillion to 1. Yes, a septillion. That’s 10 with 24 zeros after it. To purport that the results do not support the evidence for precognition would be preposterous.
One of the critiques of precognition studies (and parapsychology in general) is that the methodology is flawed or faulty. However, in the study I was just referencing, the one about forced-choice, the researchers took a closer look at the methodologies used by the studies they reviewed. Stunningly, what they found, when the quality of the methodology improved, so too, did the precognition results. Meaning, as the methodology got better, so did the results for precognition.
Earlier, I mentioned that I was going to talk about skin conductance and EEG tests of precognition. Some of the research that is coming out of tests of these nature can be simply — mind-boggling. Rollin McCraty and researchers at the Institute of HeartMath were attempting to find evidence for intuition through electrophysiological means. Meaning, they wanted to see if the body had foreknowledge of an event before the mind did. To do this, they used skin conductance, EEG, and ECG, to measure the response in various areas of the body before an image was shown to the participant. These images would either be emotionally arousing or not. The participant had no conscious foreknowledge of what image was to be shown to them.
The researchers found that participants’ body knew when the participant was to see an image that was emotionally arousing. The reactions of the participants’ body prior to seeing an emotionally arousing image versus the reactions prior to seeing a calm image were significantly different. In fact, they found that this information was received by the heart before it was received by the brain. You can read the papers written by the researchers:
As was stated in the conclusions of these articles: “Overall, we have independently replicated and extended previous research documenting prestimulus responses.” Meaning, these studies are not the only studies of its kind — offering evidence for precognition. There are other studies (like this one) that claim the same.
I have a hard time differentiating my favorite from my non-favorites with regard to psi phenomena and the Big 5, but there’s a special place in my heart for precognition. Particularly because of what it means for us as humans and our interpretation of time. There’s a fantastic two-part episode of Star Trek called Time’s Arrow that does a wonderful job of depicting a possibility when it comes to the directionality of time.
Of course, we think that time moves from the past to the present to the future — but what if this were not true? Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “. . . for us physicist believe the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one.” Another good Einstein quote on this matter: “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” And one more from Einstein: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” Whether or not you believe in the possibility of time travel or the inherent direction of the arrow of time, it is clear that from our science fiction (movies and books), there is some part of humanity that is fascinated by the idea.