Precognition is the direct knowledge or perception of the future, obtained through extrasensory means. Precognition is the most frequently reported of all extrasensory perception (ESP) experiences, occurring most often (60 percent to 70 percent) in dreams. It may also occur spontaneously in waking visions, auditory hallucinations, flashing thoughts entering the mind, and the sense of "knowing." Precognitive knowledge also may be induced through trance, channeling, mediumship, and divination.
Usually the majority of precognitive experiences happen within a forty-eight hour period prior to the future event, most often it is within twenty-four hours. In rare cases precognitive experiences occur months or even years before the actual event takes place. Severe emotional shock seems to be a major factor in precognition. By a ratio of four-to-one, most concern unhappy events, such as death and dying, illness, accidents, and natural disasters. Intimacy is also a major factor, 80 to 85 percent of such experiences involve a spouse, family member or friend with whom the individual has close emotional ties. The remainder involves casual acquaintances and strangers, most of whom are victims in major disasters such as airplane crashes or earthquakes.
The difference between precognition, premonition, and prophecy: premonition generally involves knowledge of a future event while premonition involves the sense or feeling that something is going to happen; whereas all prophecy is precognition, but not all precognition is prophecy.
The reliance upon precognition reaches back to ancient times, when prophets and oracles were sought for their access to the future. The Greeks considered the future immutable. Free will, however, can change the perceived future, as seen in the many incidents of individuals saving their lives and escaping disasters by changing their previously formed plans based on precognitive information. Psychical researchers estimate that one-third to one-half of all precognitive experiences may provide useful information to avert disasters.
This apparent ability to alter the perceived future makes precognition difficult to understand. If precognition is a glimpse of the true or real future, then the effects are witnessed before the causes. Such conditions do occur in quantum physics. The most popular theory holds that precognition is a glimpse of a possible future that is based upon present conditions and existing information, and which may be altered depending upon acts of free will. That theory implies the future can cause the past, a phenomenon called "backward causality" or "retro-causality."
A different and controversial theory contends that the precognitive experience itself unleashes a powerful psychokinetic (PK) energy, which then brings the envisioned future to pass. Such self-fulfilling prophecies were examined in the 1960s by the London psychiatrist J. A. Barker, who contended in his book, Scared to Death, that people who died in the manner and at the time predicted by fortune-tellers were literally "scared to death" and contributed somehow to their own demise. Barker studied more precognitions surrounding the coal slide disaster in 1966, at Aberfan, Wales, which killed 144 people. He established the British Premonitions Bureau, which collected precognitive data in order to avert disasters. Barker succeeded in finding a number of "human seismographs" who tuned in regularly to disasters but were unable to accurately pinpoint the times.
Despite the difficulty in understanding precognition, it is the easiest form of extrasensory perception to test in the laboratory. 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 personal 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 discovering that precognitive dreams are common; he concluded, that many people have them without realizing it, perhaps because the do not recall the details or fail to properly interpret the dream symbols.
Dunne's Theory of Serial Time proposes that time exists in layers on dimensions, each of which may be viewed in different perspectives from different layers. The origin of all layers is Absolute Time, created by God. Needless to say, the scientific community rejected Dunne's theory.
J. B. Rhine and Louisa Rhine began the next significant systematic research of precognition in the 1930s at the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University. J. B. Rhine's original goal was to prove telepathy, but his experiment with ESP cards also revealed precognition and PK; however when other perused psychical researchers Rhine's work, precognition continued being an ongoing research project.
One peculiarity concerning precognition is that one rarely perceives one's own death; perhaps one explanation is the trauma it too great for the ego to accept. Some notable exceptions do exist: Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his own death six weeks before his assassination. However, his dream was not of being shot and dying, but of being an observer after the fact. He saw a long procession of mourners entering the White House. When he entered himself and passed the coffin, he was shocked to find himself looking at his own body. American presidents John Garfield and William McKinley experienced foreknowledge of their deaths. A.G.H.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience, New York: HarperCollins, 1991, pp. 463