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"Precognition" or "Precog"(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 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.

Skeptics believe the concept of precognition 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.2

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. J. B. 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.3

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 2007.4

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.


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.2 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.5

In fiction

See also


  1. Parapsychological Association: Glossary of Key Words Frequently Used in Parapsychology (2006-12-24) 

  2. Carroll, Robert Todd (2005). "Psychic". The Skeptics Dictionary. Retrieved on 2007-08-10. 

  3. Berger, Arthur S.; Berger, Joyce (1991). The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. Paragon House Publishers. ISBN 1557780439. 

  4. Odling-Smee, Lucy (2007-03-01). "The lab that asked the wrong questions". Nature 446 (446): 10–11. doi:10.1038/446010a. Retrieved on 2007-06-29. 

  5. "The Belief Engine", Skeptical Inquirer, May 1995