Although acceptance of psychic phenomena has become much wider during the last twenty years in western society, some aspects of psychic experience are still either completely ignored, or inhabit a liminal zone at the margins of psychic study. Precognitive experience is one of these. One of the significant aspects of precognition that distinguishes from it from directed psychic activity is that is involuntary. Precognition happens to the precog. Normally, the experience is unsought and the recipient is passive. Experientially it feels like an awareness shift towards incoming data and images that are coming from elsewhere'.
For example, one of the more common forms of precog that I have experienced fairly often is the just around the corner' type of event such as seeing' a deer running onto the road around a bend that you are about to drive around. In these cases, the images are clear and unequivocal. I see the deer run onto the road in precog. I slow the car down and then as I corner the bend, I see the deer again. Only this time, the deer is just stepping onto the road because I have slowed down; it sees the car and bucks and springs away. This interests me. Where is that image coming from? I see the deer as it will be if I don't slow down, running into the middle of the road. Does that exist somewhere? Then, I respond to the image, slow down and that imminent reality changes. The deer springs away. In some senses the image I saw in precog didn't happen. In some senses, it changes what happens. And in another sense, both the precognition and the actual reality are inseparably embedded.
I wish that when I first started having precogs about twenty years ago that I had someone I could have talked to about what was happening. Much the same as other forms of psychic awakening', the awakening precogs experiences many, or all, of the symptoms of a spiritual emergency' in Dr. Stanislav Grof's terminology. But whereas directed psychics (those that experience their abilities under their rational control and direction) have a much more clearly defined community and even a profession, those who experience a strong sense of precognition are much more likely to see the experience as invasive, confusing and even disturbing. I certainly did. Try explaining to a girlfriend that you are mad about something that she is going to do, but hasn't even thought about doing yet! It's not easy. And yet, for the precog the fact' that the other person is going to do something, is known' to the precog. There's no thinking, or speculation, involved in precognition. You either know, or you don't know. Sometimes the knowing is accompanied by images, sometimes not. It can be confusing for the 'precog' and even more confusing for those around them. I am sometimes woken instantaneously from deep sleep states by a precog. I know something. I can't do anything about that knowing, I didn't ask for it, it just happened. It can be awkward.
Once I was awoken from a deep sleep state into a total lucid awareness that a person I only knew via the internet, who was on the other side of the world, was planning to make a personal and professional attack on a teacher of mine. I emailed the teacher right away. Fortunately, the teacher was open and receptive enough to just receive the information without judgment. Within a couple of hours, the attack happened, but the forewarning meant it didn't come as a surprise and it was swiftly dealt with. I've learnt not to ask what does it mean?', when I receive a precog. I just accept the incoming data and imagery without analyzing or judging it. This is because it just doesn't help to do so, this is something that is happening to me, not that I am causing to happen. This can be amply illustrated by the fact that precogs contain information that I do not, and in many cases, could not know. Analysis and judgement just tend to result in the precog being dismissed, whereas the point of precognition seems usually to be to take some sort of corrective, or anticipatory, action. This isn't always the case. Short-term immediate precogs like the deer on the road, usually result in an immediate, even sometimes reflexive action, but more general precogs that aren't specific messages to an individual relating to something happening immediately, or in the near future, often result in a change of attitude or disposition, rather than an action.
In my experience, precognitive activity is pretty much exactly how they are depicted by Philip K Dick in his masterful short story Minority Report'. Events that are highly relevant in the short term to an individual, warning of unseen or unsuspected dangers, are usually very sharp, definite and image driven. Just as in the movie of the story, the precog awakens' to the precognition. It can be startling, powerful, and even painful. Sometimes it comes with an accompanying adrenalin surge. On the other hand, events that are more long term and don't relate to a single individual are often more ambiguous, less literal and even mythic' in their imagery. A recent precog I had was the combination of two images. One was a politician joking with an adviser about stealing the election. The other was a mythic' vision of a state of stasis. I saw a series of images, rooms with dust settling on them, traffic jams at standstill, people immobilized and even paralyzed in a frozen moment of time. Am I seeing something that is literally happening? No, but as I demonstrated in the example of the deer running onto the road, this is not what is happening even in ordinary' short-term precogs. What links these two seemingly different types of experience is the mode of perception. These images, emotions and information are experienced by the perceiver as entering, even taking over, the ordinary, directed mode of perception. This is something I've come to terms with now, but early on, I really didn't like this aspect of precognition. It felt weird, even a little nauseating to have one's apparently sovereign perception hijacked in this way. After a number of precogs turned out to be potentially life saving and also turned out to be absolutely accurate, I changed my disposition toward them. Now, I just pay attention. I don't dismiss them, but I don't encourage them either. In my experience, they are incoming information, my attachment to them in any way doesn't seem to be useful, or productive, so I just let them be; I pay them attention, definitely note them, even when they seem to be ambiguous or confusing.
Of course another question that the precog has to ponder is why doesn't this happen all the time? Why doesn't precognition protect me from anything bad happening at all? Why didn't I have a precog about that bag being stolen, that trip and fall in the street, even the traffic accident that causes the death of a friend? This is really quite a profound question. My conclusion is that the ordinary state of wakeful consciousness is actually a clear screen' that indicates, as Eckhart Tolle might say, that whatever is happening to us is exactly what should be happening to us for the purpose of evolving our consciousness. It may not be fun, it may not be pleasant, but it is part of the necessary life experience that we must pass through in order to evolve. In fact, I would go further than that and say that precognition is a form of temporal radar that may be constantly scanning the possibility matrix of the future' and subtly adjusting and rearranging the potential futures that we interact with at a threshold below the usual state of consciousness. Then, on unusual occasions and when required, precognition erupts from this quantum ocean of the possible and invades our ordinary, directed states of consciousness.
This may seem a far-fetched and extreme rationalization of psy phenomena, but precognition raises many interesting and significant questions for theories of consciousness and, indeed, for the theories of time in physics, which precognitive phenomena seem to blatantly violate. Most of these questions are unanswered and precognition has proven a notorious difficult field of study. Whereas directed ESP phenomena can be relatively easily tested by double-blind, placebo methods, most experiments testing and assessing genuine precognitive ability would involve a lot of waiting around for something to happen.
One possibility is that precognition is merely a subset of directed psychic phenomena. When I have been traveling with a friend who is a professional psychic working for police forces in the UK doing things like hunting for missing persons, leads in murder cases, and related things, she would amuse us by nonchalantly announcing what her psychic GPS' was telling her. A lot of these predictions were typical around the corner' precog phenomena, like be careful, there's a cyclist around the next bend.' And there always was. And this was normal, everyday experience for her. And unremarkable to us because of her nonchalance.
This seems credible, but it ignores one of the most intriguing epistemological aspects of precognition; the associated feeling that this isn't coming from your' mind. The otherness' of a big precognitive hit to me is palpable. It would be convenient to ignore this aspect of precognition, because it would allow the idea that psychic activity is itself a subset of conscious brain activity more credibility. This in turn would allow these experiences to be more easily viewed as congruent with most contemporary theories of mind that view consciousness as essentially a biophysical process. Unfortunately from the precog perspective, this just doesn't feel right at all. It is not as if the deer around the corner is an archetype, or a projection. It's an image of the exact deer, in detail. There's nothing symbolic, or mythic about it. It just can't be argued away by suggesting a resonant feedback loop' exists between your brain and an external reality. There's a picture of a deer in your mind and then 15 seconds later you a viewing the same deer. Any coherent theory of precognition is going to have to deal with this. Anyone who has actually experienced precognition just isn't going to buy it otherwise. That doesn't seem to be much of a problem for most researchers investigating the nature of mind. A pervasive skeptical attitude to psychic phenomena exists, at least in the west, in most academic circles. In most cases, skepticism itself seems sufficient to deflect resources away from areas that are troublesome and difficult to study. That omission may well turn out to be the Achille's Heel of modern neuroscience and consciousness research. Liminal areas like precognition repeatedly turn out to be the awkward exceptions that not only don't prove the rule, but thoroughly undermine it in the long term.
As an alternative, I suggest that any coherent theory of consciousness has to deal with the fact that consciousness is distributed throughout space and time in ways that confound the idea that it has a biophysical origin in the brain. Perhaps, indeed, consciousness is at its root a little more like precognition than the rational skeptics would ever be comfortable with. That is to say, consciousness is a localized field phenomenon that concentrates around what we call the event horizon of the present moment. From this center, it radiates in probabilistic quantum waves we call the future'. And this is what we see when we have a precognitive experience. It is literally the future', but it the future' is no longer a place, or destination, but a partially viewable probability matrix which we are forever surfing into on the surfboard of the now'.
This is a theory of mind that would horrify the 19th century empiricists, but doesn't seem so counter-intuitive in a post-quantum world. After all, isn't it more compelling to develop a theory of consciousness that describes its actual observable qualities, rather than ignores them? If instead of building a theory of consciousness that was congruent with the dogmas of contemporary science, what if we were to build one from the human experience of consciousness outwards and see where the common ground lies? It may be that this quantum theory of consciousness' is merely the next theoretical frontier in the slow motion collapse of scientific materialism.
People who use, or develop, their psychic abilities are often described as being gifted', or even cursed'. I think this can be a very misleading way of perceiving what is happening. It is often as if the psychic or precog is thought of as having an extra', or sixth' sense of perception that others, the non-psychic, don't have. Although some psychics seem to encourage this sense of specialness, I think that this is often more of a commercial dispensation than a philosophical one. To me, in my experience, what is happening to me is clearly something that is latent in all people. It is not as if the precog has an extra set of eyes. It is just that we are open — whether we like or not sometimes — to a different form of seeing. That what we see' is not viewed as real' is just a matter of opinion from those who haven't experienced precognition about what is a matter of fact for us. To understand precognition our theories of mind have to open as much as our minds do, if we are to actually describe the reality of precognition in a theory of consciousness that isn't just cherry picking the facts. At least we precogs' can joke about it. Whenever a skeptic says precognition is just a projection, we'll just say "I knew you were going to say that."
Image by Lomo-Cam, courtesy of Creative Commons license.