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Precognition is the psychical influence of a hypothetical universal information system capable of probabilistically determining the potential trajectory of future events. This is achieved through the computation of relative causal knowledge encompassing deterministic and random variables. These variables are then theorized to be stored by the system and retrievable by the experient. Whether an object has a couple or several potential trajectories, these future events are to some extent necessitated by past and present events. Trajectories are quantified by the system and the most likely variables are determined, stored, and are limitedly accessible to experients of precognitive phenomena. This is theorized via a compatiblistic viewpoint involving determinism and free will in coherent cooperation; assuming that not every event has an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. (Kelly, 2011)

Those skeptical of the existence of precognition and other forms of ESP believe it to be the result of fraud or self-delusion and contend that selection bias is the cause of the belief that one has precognition where individuals remember the “hits” and forget the “misses”. Skeptics contend that the human memory naturally has a tendency to remember coincidences more often than other non-coincidences and thus individuals tend to remember more frequently when they were correct about a future event and forget the instances when they were wrong.[3]


(from the Latin præ-, “prior to,” + cognitio, “a getting to know”) denotes a form of extrasensory perception where in a person is said to perceive information about places or events through paranormal means before they happen.[1][2] A related term, presentiment, refers to information about future events which is said to be perceived as emotions. These terms are considered by some to be special cases of the more general term clairvoyance.

History and Research

J. W. Dunne, a British aeronautics engineer, undertook the first systematic study of precognition in the early twentieth century. In 1927, he published the classic An Experiment with Time, which contained his findings and theories. Dunne’s study was based on his own precognitive dreams, which involved both trivial incidents in his own life and major news events appearing in the press the day after the dream. When first realizing that he was seeing the future in his dreams, Dunne worried that he was “a freak.” His worries soon eased when he discovered that precognitive dreams are common; he concluded that many people have them without realizing it, perhaps because they do not recall the details or fail to properly interpret the dream symbols.[4] Joseph Banks Rhine and Louisa Rhine began the next significant systematic research of precognition in the 1930s at the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University. Rhine used card-guessing experiments in which the participant was asked to record his guess of the order of a card deck before the deck was shuffled.[5]

London psychiatrist J. A. Barker established the British Premonitions Bureau in 1967, which collected precognitive data in order to provide an early warning system of impending disasters. Barker succeeded in finding a number of “human seismographs” who tuned in regularly to disasters, but were unable to accurately pinpoint the times. The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab is one of the more recent examples of attempts to study precognition, beginning in 1979, with precognitive experiments conducted in a variety of formats by various parapsychologists. This facility was closed in 2007.[6]

Causality and Paradox

An issue related to precognitive events includes paradoxes due to causality, (which are used heavily in fiction). One form of paradox includes events that are prevented due to the actions of those that know of it through precognition. In this case, the event doesn’t happen, which would prevent the viewer from seeing the event in the first place.

A subtler form of paradox is the circular cause and consequence problem of events that are actually caused by the foreseeing of the event. Though in and of itself this chain is logically consistent, it is a chicken or egg problem — if the event did not happen the viewer would not have seen it, which would have prevented it from happening.

Probabilistic System Model

The method utilized by experients of precognitive phenomena is comprehensible via the convergence of the mechanics and laws pertaining to the universal information system and the experient. Since the system is theoretical, so too is its and the experients natural laws and mechanics. This system does not allow exact measurements of positions and velocities. This theory is relative to the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principle. That is, that certain pairs of physical properties within the system, such as position and momentum, cannot both be known to arbitrary precision. In theory, the more one property is known, the less precisely the other can be known. This of course raises a particular issue for experients. Since it is impossible for the system to determine both the position and velocity of an object, with any degree of accuracy or certainty, then the nature of the system promotes uncertainty of future events leaving the experient with more than one potential trajectory per object. At the macroscopic scale, the paths of objects can only be predicted in a probabilistic way. The paths however may not be precisely specified in a complete quantum description of the objects; as “path” is a classical concept in which quantum objects do not precisely possess. In regards to the universal information system and the experient, predictability deteriorates in time creating an effect on the length of time between the precognitive experience and the actual occurrence of the event to which the experience related. This has showed itself through analysis to leave the duration between the experience and the occurrence usually around two days time and rarely within one month’s time or more for non-deterministic events. (Kelly, 2011)


The existence of precognition is disputed by skeptics such as Robert Todd Carroll, who believe that there is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the existence of precognition and who contend that examples of what are commonly thought to be precognition can be explained naturally without evoking supernatural abilities.[3] Skeptics point to the fact that the human memory has a tendency to selectively recall coincidences and forget all of the other examples where, for example, dreams and other thoughts do not come to be. Examples include thinking of a specific individual right before the individual thought of calls on the phone. Human memory has a tendency to remember the instances where the individual thought of calls and forget the instances where the individual calls when not thought of just prior to calling. This is an example of selection bias and skeptics assert that examples of precognition are better explained using psychology and natural human tendencies opposed to supernatural or paranormal powers. (Kelly, 2011)

Neurological Causation & Interpretive Processes

It was once thought that any indeterminism in quantum mechanics occurred at too small a scale to influence biological or neurological systems. Today there is evidence that nervous systems are indeed indeterministic.This could lead to discoveries pinpointing the nervous system as the means of receiving and transmitting precognitive-based signals. This could also suggest a part played by the parietal cortex, primarily the posterior parietal lobe in which recent findings have suggested that feelings of “free will” at least partially originate in this area. This area could be concluded as at least partially responsible for interpreting signals pertaining to future events as neurological disorders caused by injury to this region of the brain are in correlation with several disorders reported by experients of precognitive phenomena including dysgraphia [deficiency in the ability to write], dyscalculis [difficulty in learning or comprehending mathematics], and left-right disorientation. However, interpretive subsystems are theorized to be external to the experient. Their objective is to mediate transmissions between the system and the experient by translating the signal for the receptor. In the case of an experient receiving information from the system, the information is deemed properly mediated and comprehensible to the experients mental interpretive processes pending the onset of mental interpretive processes. Information interpreted is either immediately accessible consciously by the experient, or in the case of subconscious reception, is delayed and results in spontaneous experiences. (Kelly, 2011)


  1. Parapsychological Association: Glossary of Key Words Frequently Used in Parapsychology (2006-12-24)
  2. Randi, James (1995). “An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural”
  3. a b Carroll, Robert Todd (2005). “Psychic”. The Skeptics Dictionary. Retrieved on 2007-08-10.
  4. Dunne, J.W. (1927). An Experiment with Time. Hampton Roads Publishing Co. I. ISBN 978-1571742346.
  5. Berger, Arthur S.; Berger, Joyce (1991). The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research.
  6. Odling-Smee, Lucy (2007-03-01), “The lab that asked the wrong questions”, Nature 446(446): 10–11, doi:10.1038/446010a
  7. Kelly, Theresa M. (2011) Clairvoyance: A Quantum Approach – A Textbook of the University of Alternative Studies. Charleston, South Carolina USA.

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