Logical people and the scientific community have been scoffing at Psychics, Astrologers, Tarot readers, Palm readers and all other types of so called future seers, for quite some time now. As far as we know time only flows in one direction.
It would be awesome however if we were able to know the future before it happened. Imagine the possibilities and implications. Winning the lottery and investing in profiting shares would be top of the list. And what if we could know when and how we were to die (perhaps even glean beyond our death!?). We would be able to know so many of our itching curiosities like whether we are able to settle beyond earth, whether we do make contact with extraterrestrials, whether we make artificial consciousness etc. The possibilities are endless and wide reaching.
Alas, it seems to be scientifically impossible to do so. There is some possibility of traveling to the future (using high gravity or near light speed travel) but not of knowing it in the present before it happens.
But is it really Scientifically impossible to know the future?
Although that seems to be the prevailing paradigm it does not appear to be entirely justified. Much of the reason why the alternative isn’t a widely accepted concept is due to a lack interest and support from scientific ‘authorities’. Sticking to authority over evidence is not in the spirit of science but it is something we are prone to and must resist.
The evidence in favor of prophecy, precognition, and premonition:
There are decades worth of experimental pieces of evidence to support that we have an ability to know the future. The effects are not very large but they are statistically and scientifically significant nonetheless.
Dean Radin is a researcher in the field of parapsychology and a minor celebrity because of his many international talks on Psi Phenomenon. He has compiled a good list of evidence on his website.
Emeritus Professor of Psychology Daryl J. Bem is another researcher who has published articles, which are available on his website. In 2011 his research paper ‘Feeling the Future’ was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. His latest research (2014) a meta-analysis of the same phenomenon appears still to be under editorial review.
I have shared a few of these research articles below (not an exhaustive list):
- Honorton & Ferrari (1989). “Future telling”: A meta-analysis of forced-choice precognition experiments, 1935-1987 [pdf – source DeanRadin.com]
In this meta-analysis, the researchers found a significant result after compiling trials from 309 studies, collectively involving 50,000 individuals. The number of trials amounted to 2 million. The purpose was to see if individuals could significantly predict the identity of a stimulus that was going to be presented to them, a few hundred milliseconds up to a year in the future.
- Spottiswoode & May (2003). Skin Conductance Prestimulus Response: Analyses, Artifacts, and a Pilot Study
This experiment (similar to many others) confirmed that we become significantly aware of a stimulus before it has been presented up to a few seconds into the future.
- Radin (2004). Electrodermal presentiments of future emotions. Journal of Scientific Exploration, Volume 18, Number 2 (2004) [pdf]
In this study similar to the above one a visual stimulus was randomly shown to an observer and their electrodermal response measured. The twist is that the response was measured prior to seeing the stimulus. Surprisingly the results were similar to as if the observer was already seeing it! Other possible explanations such as expectation, sensory cues, and other artifacts have been ruled out.
- Rollin McCraty, Mike Atkinson, and Raymond Trevor Bradley. Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 1. The Surprising Role of the Heart. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. June 2004, 10(1): 133-143.
- Rollin McCraty, Mike Atkinson, and Raymond Trevor Bradley. Electrophysiological Evidence of Intuition: Part 2. A System-Wide Process? The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. July 2004, 10(2): 325-336.
Another study which in 2 parts contributes some evidence and replicates other and earlier studies that the body (here specifically focusing on the heart) is able to perceive information from the future. They find that the heart gets involved before the brain in processing this information. The study also interestingly claims that females are more intuitively attuned to perceive the future compared to males.
- Radin & Borges (2009). Intuition through time: What does the seer see? The journal of Science and Healing. July-Aug 2009, Volume 5, Issue 4, Pages: 200-211
This study is very interesting because it uses eye data prior to and during visual stimulus of different emotionality and valence. It confirms previous findings of a significant response. But it adds more depth to the findings in that it appears that the type of autonomic response significantly correlates with the emotionality and valence of the future image as well. So it appears not only that the body knows before hand that an emotionally charged image is going to be shown but also the amount and direction of this emotionality. Here again in the study, it appears females are better at perceiving the future.
- Bem, D. J. (2011). Feeling the Future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 407-425.
Yet another replication of results of presentiment studies. Here they compare results of guessing erotic images versus non-erotic images and as expected the guessing rate for erotic images was significantly more than expected by chance. The guessing rate for non-erotic images, on the other hand, was similar to what you would expect by chance.
- Radin (2011). Predicting the unpredictable: 75 years of experimental evidence
Here Dean Radin presents a thorough analysis of 75 years worth of scientific evidence demonstrating with high levels of significance the observation that we can and do know the future.
- Tressoldi et al (2011). Let your eyes predict: Prediction accuracy of pupillary responses to random alerting and neutral sounds
This study is different in that they compare eye response to future auditory stimuli. Again the results are statistically significant.
- Mossbridge et al (2012). Predictive physiological anticipation preceding seemingly unpredictable stimuli: a meta-analysis
The results are again confirmed. Interestingly in this study the authors found that higher quality studies revealed a greater effect size compared to lower quality ones.
- Bem et al (2015). Feeling the future: A meta-analysis of 90 experiments on the anomalous anticipation of random future events
Yet another meta-analysis which pooled results from 90 studies across 33 laboratories and 14 countries. Again yielding highly significant results in favor of precognition.
There are negative studies as well:
As with most scientific results, there are negative studies as well. Researchers are not insensitive to these. One such study (which I found from Dean Radin’s website) is the following one:
- Galek et al (2012). Correcting the Past: Failures to replicate psi [pdf – source DeanRadin.com]
Here the researchers were unable to replicate the results of Bem et al (2011) – Feeling the future. However, (as the researchers discuss) the replications focused on only 2 of the 9 experiments conducted by Bem and only the paradigm of retroactive recall. Based on this they suspect those experiments had a Type 1 error but they do not have any evidence to reject the other 7 experiments.
- Ritchie, Stuart J.; Wiseman, Richard; French, Christopher C.; Gilbert, Sam (March 2012). Gilbert, Sam, ed. “Failing the Future: Three Unsuccessful Attempts to Replicate Bem’s ‘Retroactive Facilitation of Recall’ Effect”. PLoS ONE.
I was pointed towards this study which is another negative study similar to the one above focusing on retroactive recall.
How come no one is talking about it?
These are extraordinary results. Even more so than questioning whether we need the brain for consciousness (as I discussed in a previous post). The weight of evidence seems to be there to support this claim as well (at least in my humble opinion). So why isn’t it shaking up our world view?
Being suspicious I suspect that we are trying to cling on to our old ideologies. Time is one directional and so is cause and effect. To have an effect, before its cause, is a complete inversion of our foundational assumptions.
Take an example:
A sound wave that had not yet been produced, arrived into our perception, was processed and produced an autonomic effect that we were able to measure. And then it was produced!
Such notions would dramatically change how we conceive what a sound wave is, indeed how we conceive everything.
What are (or could be) the implications?
Firstly it makes the study of consciousness and perception even more mysterious than it already is. It gives a hard blow to our current direction of studying these notions. In neuroscience, we generally think that sensory data comes in, it is processed and that leads to its perception. But it seems we are already perceiving (to an extent) before the sensory data ever had the chance to get to us let alone to be processed. This seems to show our field of perception probably extends into the future.
On the note of developing artificial consciousness, we are then also faced with the huge problem of being able to ‘program’ machines whose perception also extends into the future.
Secondly, as the results show some individuals are better at feeling the future than others (e.g. females) one has to wonder if some exceptional individuals would be extreme outliers and be able to perceive the future with a greater ability hence being truly psychic (this is obviously speculative).
Thirdly could this effect be exploited and exaggerated to become more useful to us? That would be very exciting indeed.
So what do you think?
Interesting post, Fizan. I haven’t taken the time to read any of the papers, but wanted to follow-up on your point about sticking to old ideologies, and the problem of authority over evidence. For me personally–and from what I have observed from my limited exposure–this is a big challenge for us. I think we fail to realize that science is a creative endeavor, and that to a certain extent we are faced with a blank sheet of paper in terms of the questions we choose to ask and research.
Once I wrote to the physicist Mendel Sachs when he was still alive and asked if I could interview him. He graciously invited me into his home, and we had a great discussion. He related a story about a time when he was teaching at Boston University (I think), and a grad student at MIT had taken an interest in his ideas. Mendel said the student came over once every couple of weeks for a chat, and then one day told Mendel he had to terminate the discussions. His PhD advisor had told him that if the continued to meet with Mendel he’d be out of the program at MIT. Mendel’s ideas never gained wide acceptance, and may have simply been proven wrong, but as I understand it he removed some of the symmetries Einstein had been loathe to remove from the math when developing relativity theory. Einstein, too, had profound respect for ideas of the past, and the great minds who had generated them. Mendel found that he could reformulate the basic math of relativity theory in a slightly broader formulation that contained all of the predictions of the original relativity theory, but also recovered the wave equation of quantum mechanics when the assumption was made that quantum mechanics experiments had occurred in flat space-time, meaning under conditions so localized the curvature of space had little bearing on the experiments. I have NO IDEA how to check the math, but this is one example of what you’re describing I think. Mendel wrote a book or two showing how some experimental observations were better explained by his theory than others, but I think there were some experimental observations at odds with his work. I’m not sure but wouldn’t be surprised. It’s tough for one person to develop a new paradigm in physics without steady research funding and a team of scientists. Which gets to your point. What research do we fund, and who controls it?
In another life (about fifteen years ago) I became interested in a technology called Grander Water that was basically water trapped in a stainless steel container, that purportedly influenced other water that came into close proximity. The idea was that water is an energetic system and that pollutants damaged the electromagnetic structure of water. If you think of water as an electromagnetic body, maybe this will compute. Maybe not. 🙂 Johann Grander had no scientific training and his ideas were expressed wholly outside of a scientific paradigm, and he didn’t really care about publishing. But I bought some units and tested them in about ten cooling towers, and I took microbiological samples to a local laboratory. I was able to duplicate some of the work that the company was suggesting as evidence of the technology’s efficacy, but most people called me a quack. Scientists, too. I really could get nowhere, but I had a great time! In my crowning achievement, I was able to connect with a researcher at Purdue University who did some testing in his lab and at Argonne National Labs. Just playing around. He showed that the technology caused a reconfiguration of the oxidation-redux cycles of water (water has a subtle and continuous waxing and waning of redox potential that our cells have modified through the use of copper-doped protein to produce a clock–exactly sixty cycles equals the 24-hr day). He also noted responses to sun spots that they had unexpectedly found playing around with the technology. I ran out of funds, had a family to take care of, and ultimately walked away. And I was trying to do practical things, like avoid the need for industrial chemicals to control microbiology in industrial cooling systems. Since that time a journal called “Water” was started that now publishes papers from all over the world, and a few of those researchers have tested the Grander product as well. Dr. Ben-Jacob did some work as well, though he didn’t feel he could publish because he couldn’t explain the causes at work… That is how I initially learned of his work.
Point being, in my opinion there are undoubtedly countless unexplored threads that are to a certain extent controlled by how research funds are spent. I don’t view this as a conspiracy. Just human nature. We do cling to what we know, what we’ve been taught, and it is very hard, even for scientists, to admit the world may not be quite as they’ve imagined. Often researchers on the fringe also become frustrated and probably don’t always go about their work in an entirely productive manner. It is all too easy to feel rejected and to invoke the conspiracy card. Then you start sounding like a quack for real… The onus placed on researchers who purport to offer evidence of unexpected phenomena is often very high as compared to researchers who are refining received ideas. The guys with “out there” ideas have to not only reproduce it (when it is still probably not fully understood) and also provide a theoretical context that explains it and doesn’t offend too many received ideas. It’s a really tough bar to meet when you stumble across something interesting you can’t initially explain…
Hi Michael, thanks for sharing. I hadn’t heard of Grander water before. It seems to be a very interesting phenomenon worth further research. But I completely agree with you what gets studied depends a lot on the economics and politics of science. It’s a shame that that PhD student was threatened just for taking interest in alternate ideas. Similar to how scientists wanting tenure tend to stay well clear of such types of research ideas as well.
I don’t believe it’s a conspiracy either. But I am very suspicious of cooperate interests influencing the direction of science.
I am also suspicious that some research evidence like the one I am currently discussing is too difficult to accommodate within existing structures. This should not be the case because as you say science has to be a creative excercise and kept pure. We should let the evidence lead us rather than trying to forcefully accommodate it within existing structures. This connects to a point I was making in an earlier comment (on a different post) about there being interference from the ‘real’ that shakes up our existing structures.
My thoughts here are pretty much the same as on the previous post. The only thing I’d add here is advice: be skeptical. There’s a large amount of pseudoscience out there, some of it by shysters, but a fair amount by well meaning kooks. Most scientists don’t have the energy or inclination to swat down every paranormal claim. But adding “skeptic” to Google searches will often get you the skeptical response to a lot of this stuff.
I do agree that perception is prediction, or more precisely, *attempted* prediction, but there’s nothing spooky about it. It’s just the brain’s best guess at what it will sense, and it’s constantly engaging in error correction based on new sensory data. Indeed, what we call “consciousness” seems to get involved when the prediction error rate is high, i.e., when we’re in a novel situation and habitual responses won’t get the job done.
I expected you would have similar thoughts as before 🙂
On being skeptical, I feel I become skeptical of skeptics who rather than disproving the claims scientifically resort to other means. Scientists should not have a mindset to see certain claims as ‘paranormal’, or they will be biased from the start. The claims are about normality. We can either prove them or disprove them. As this claim has a lot of evidence behind it, it deserves further exposure and study (either to strengthen it or disprove it).
As part of my job, I participate in regular critical appraisals of Psychiatric research. What I find is that we can critique almost every research in the field, to the extent that if we were to become very stringent on our criteria we would likely dismiss almost each and every one of them. Yet the field is based on such research nonetheless.
My question to you is can you give me a scientific standard to distinguish between ‘real’ science and ‘pseudo’ science? And whether that criteria can exclude the currently presented research and not other accepted research.
On perception being prediction; if we were to guess between 2 blank screens, that which of them has an arousing picture behind it, the (expected) prediction should be successful only 50% of the time. If it’s statistically more than chance on repeated observations and repeated experiments (as shown in some of these studies), then there has to be something else going on in the realm of reality (not something spooky or paranormal).The expectation is hence wrong and needs revision, we cannot force the data to fit the expectation.
“My question to you is can you give me a scientific standard to distinguish between ‘real’ science and ‘pseudo’ science?”
I can only tell you how I approach it. If it’s a field I’m familiar with, I look at the study’s methodology. What mechanisms are in place to counter the investigator’s biases (double blind, placebo controls, etc)? Do their conclusions leap over mundane explanations in favor of the ones they want to find? How open are they to alternate explanations? If the conclusions are extraordinary, is the evidence equally extraordinary? Are the results reproducible or otherwise verifiable?
But in most cases, when we’re talking about fields outside of our expertise, we’re dependent on the evaluation of experts in that field. If a field is generally competent at its subject matter, and someone in that field is making radical claims but failing to convince their peers after years or decades of effort, it probably means those claims have no merit. Historical visionaries who turn out to be right usually convince at least a substantial portion of their field within a few years of their initial claims.
Note the field competency qualification above. Big foot hunters approving of each other’s sighting stories don’t really increase the credibility of those sightings. Evidence that a substantial portion of the biology profession accepts *would* increase it. Paranormalists approving of each other’s methods are equally of little value unless a substantial number of general physicists also concur.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mike.
I agree with you on how to approach research evidence you are familiar with. I would still not claim a research article which fails criteria of double blind/ placebo control/ validity/ reliability/ confounding/ Bias etc. to be pseudo science (not to say the current research fails these). Indeed a lot of legitimate research fails many of these criteria on a regular basis, it can be called poorly conducted but not pseudo. I have rarely seen any research which passes all criteria (at least in my field).
The openness to alternate explanations is foundational in any research as your objective as a scientist is to prove your claim wrong (the null hypothesis). With these researches (that I’ve shared) I don’t find a null hypothesis to be lacking, in fact without that they couldn’t check the statistical validity of their results. Reproducibility seems to be present as well.
The problem might be the extraordinary findings. However, on its own, this does not merit rejecting the results. Yes, they need consistent results and lots of evidence. With the current phenomenon, this does seem to be happening.
There is a problem however in that if such ideas are going to be rejected at the outset, and if any interest in them is going to be academically damaging then no one will go near them. Hence we won’t get the necessary amount of evidence to settle the claims. Such neurotic defenses lead to a maintenance of the existent ideology over the potential ones. I don’t find such an endeavor to be in the spirit of science.
We have to make some distinctions and be finer in our skepticism. Take climate change, for example, there are researchers in the field who deny it, backing it with some research evidence. The difference here is that the majority of researchers have discovered evidence to show that it is happening. It is a specific issue and the rejecters are denying all the other evidence which seems unreasonable.
On the issue of consciousness and perception, however, the matter isn’t as settled. In contrast to climate change which can be measured by objective readings that can be compared to each other, consciousness cannot be. We can only measure what it relates to and what it doesn’t. The ‘presentiment’ researchers do not deny the existing scientific evidence. As presentiment has such a small effect it would go mostly unnoticed. The results don’t seem extraordinary to how humans perceive the world either because people often claim of having such a sense from time to time.
With regards to Big foot hunters, they do not have objective testable evidence for the most part. When they rarely do, it is indirect and anecdotal. The biologist can only comment on whether there is a possibility for big foot’s existence. This does not automatically mean there is no Big foot, only that the evidence so far is inconclusive.
There is also the issue of reproducibility, which is often lacking with much of the paranormal claims because they are in general fringe events which only occurred when they occurred. Even if a legitimate person observes them (say a physicist) and publishes the evidence, they will most likely not be able to convince their peers, who do not have access to the observations and cannot reproduce. In contrast, the ‘presentiment’ research is easily verifiable and reproducible (and has been so), as it is in their opinion a normal and common phenomenon.
As a result, so far I have no reason to label this research as pseudo science. Although I remain open to any further developments.
On a separate note, I’m having trouble commenting on your site. When I type a comment over a certain length, the Post Comment button seems to scroll off inside of the comment container. I can sometimes retrieve it by zooming out, but not always. Not sure if there’s anything you can do to fix it, but thought you might want to know about it.
Thanks for letting me know Mike, really appreciate it. I will try to test it out and see if I can manage to correct it (the pains of self-hosting 🙁 ). Thanks.