It's long been regarded as pseudo-science or simple lore, but precognition – that is, the ability to not just predict but to actually perceive the future – is getting a fair shake in some scientific circles lately. A research paper titled Feeling the Future from Cornell Professor Daryl Bem shows some statistically significant results coming from a series of experiments empirically testing the human mind powers of premonition and precognition. If his results are replicated elsewhere, it may change the way researchers look at the brain, its perception of time, and exactly what its limitations are.
That's not to say that storefront psychics really can read your palm, or that one can see the future simply by thinking hard about it. But Bem's empirical, straightforward science suggests the brain does have some ability to perceive what's coming. The science is sound enough that Bem's paper found a home in the prestigious Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which will publish the piece shortly. It also received a fairly lengthy write-up in Psychology Today.
Bem's research on what he calls psi – meaning "anomalous processes of information or energy transfer that are currently unexplained in terms of known physical or biological mechanisms" – attempts to explore and explain precognition (conscious awareness of a future event) and premonition (affective apprehension of a future event). To do so he conducted nine experiments on more than 1,000 Cornell students.
For an in-depth break down of Bem's methodologies, you can access a preview of his paper (PDF). But his methodology is consistent throughout: Take an established psychological response to a certain stimuli, then flip it around so the stimulus comes after the response and see if the response is still the same. The results weren't overwhelming, but they were statistically significant.
For instance, in one experiment Bem gathered 100 subjects, half male and half female. Using a computerized system, they then played a game in which two curtains were displayed on the screen and the subjects had to choose which one had a picture hiding behind it. Some of these pictures were neutral in content. Others were chosen at random by the computer from a database of semi-erotic and erotic photos (hey, looks like science isn't boring after all).
The result: In cases where an erotic photo was lurking behind the curtain the subjects were able to accurately identify which curtain it was behind with 53.4 percent accuracy – not a huge statistical spike but significantly better than the 50 percent accuracy rate that could be expected by chance. The accuracy rates were not as high for non-stimulating images, which fell more or less in line with raw statistical chance. This suggests that the subjects could somehow sense the erotic stimuli that awaited them before it happened.
In another experiment Bem reversed the priming effect wherein subjects are subliminally tipped off before identifying a photo as positive or negative. Bem found that by subliminally tipping off subjects after – rather than before – showing the image, they still were able to categorize the pictures more quickly as if the brain knew that the subliminal hint was coming even though it hadn't happened yet.
We won't declare the Earth shattered just yet, but other cognitive researchers are taking notice of Bem's work. Apparently there have been hundreds of requests for replication packages so other scientists can re-test Bem's experiments and see if the results come back the same. If they do, we may have to reconsider how we perceive our own cognition. But you already knew I was going to say that, didn't you?
Not all that surprising. Sounds similar to results I've seen reported showing marginal abilities for people to influence random events (sorting of coins or something like that). In our linear, 3-D perspective, this sounds strange...almost "psychic". In the quantum realm though, apparently it's not unexpected. I don't pretend to understand quantum mechanics, but I did read something recently in a reputable source that asked the question "why can't we remember the future?", almost as though quantum theory would suggest we should be able to.
One day I woke up and told my wife that I had a dream about somebody acting weird in a public place. A few hours later that's exactly what happened. That freaked out my wife and really surprised me. As a very rational person I still can't explain how that could have happened with such accuracy.
@viinci I have dreams and they happen to just come true about 15% of the time. It's so bizarre.
Yeah, I just stumbled across a YouTube video that says you can win the lotto via remote viewing, if you practice.
We could make a new XXX movie ... " MINORITY RESORT ".
Any-who ... this could save time and money, at the singles bars.
Minority Report is a good movie, and has a lot of relation to precognition, however, the movie proves that precognition does not really determine the future, just the likeliest possibility of the future...
"Statistically significant" is a stretch for the erotic test.
I read the article, and he did a total of 1560 erotic-related trials; that got him 53.1%. Problem is if you want 99% certainty that his value is not consistent with 50% within error bars (or a completely null result for psi) you need more trials. 99% certainty margin of error is ~1.29/Sqrt(1560) = 3.26% which makes 53.1% consistent with 50% within a margin of error that requests 99% certainty (not too much to ask when we're talking about something so controversial).
It's even worse statistically if you assume that one of his 100 people either is, or is not, able of doing this. He'd need a 60% (10%, or 1/Sqrt(100) margin of error) or better result to convince me one of those people actually had it with a group size of 100 to work from.
Seems psychology science guys love to run to the presses as soon as they get something bordering reasonable statistics. Yes, it's hard rounding up lots of people, but if you waited and got better numbers your argument would have much more weight. If the effect really is 3%, get 4000+ trials and you push 2% margin of error.
Read and decide for yourself: www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margin_of_error
An old guy showing erotic material to students ... sounds like a typical psychology experiment to me! No wonder there are hundreds of requests to repeat the experiment. :)
By the way, how come we never hear about the experiments where it's less than 50%???
My thought, here, too. With a test group of 100, 3% is *not* statistically significant. Look for this to be debunked in the next round.
I don't believe in psychics, but this could be real. On a side note. Dreams predicting reality is bound to happen if only by chance some time in your life, but...
I had a dream that my dad was in an serious car accident and two days later he was in a minor car accident. I thought that was crazy. A couple of days later I had a dream that I was in a gas station and it was being robbed. I live in southern Indiana far from any cities so this never happens. Two days later I am reading the paper at work, while on break, and I read that a gas station in our county had been robbed. I kinda freak and explain this to my coworkers. Next, I have a dream that someone in my family was getting a divorce. I couldn't remember who, but I was not letting this pass. I tell my myself that my father in law will get a divorce, (most probable) and that I will find out in two days. Two days later my wife said "I just talked to my dad." I said "let me guess he's getting a divorce." She said "yes how did you know?" I told her that I knew two days ago and predicted it. I had two other dreams that had come true when I was a kid so it was something that I was curious about anyway. It's been three years now and it hasn't happened again.
Besides the fact that the results are small enough to be within the bounds of error, there may be another factor involved.
Could be that there are 'tells' in the experiment. Some subtle ( and inuntended ) hint, could well be enought to influence 3% of the subjects. Don't know how the experiment was conducted, but some folks are excellent at reading body language.
That "lil" preview turned out to be 42 pages.
Some psychic phenomena could just be people perceiving things that you wouldn't expect them to be able to. I used to be good at guessing my phone would go off a few seconds before it did... and this same phone would set off some speakers a few seconds before it went off. Possibly however the phone was interacting with the speakers, it also interacted with some part of my body, which my subconscious (correctly) associated with the phone going off right after.
The statistical significance comes for comparing the percentage guessed correctly of curtains with erotic photos behind to the percentage guessed correct when there are non-erotic, negative, neutral etc photos behind the curtain. This is where a T-test comes in. You can look that up on Wikipedia. As far as I can tell his statistical methods hold up and I don't think the author could have had this paper published in a peer reviewed journal if his statistical analysis was not correct. Also 99% confidence intervals are usually reserved for human trials of new drugs. Even if something is "controversial", in most fields of study a 95% confidence interval is sufficient. I don't believe the confidence interval correlates with how controversial a subject is.
You are wrong ... the formula and description you are using does not take into account the fact that the distribution of the individual outcomes under the null hypothesis is not unknown but is rather Bernoulli (i.i.d with p=0.50), in which case the requirements for significance at the 1% level are actually much less than what you are stating and achieved by 53.1% on 1560 trials.
Two heads are better than one!
I'm quite confident that we will never hear another thing about this study. Unfortunately the suggestion that there may be something to precognition or premonition is enough to convince some people.
All of our senses developed over billions of years of strong external stimuli (light, vibrations, force, heat and chemical interactions). Even if you had some notion that knowledge of the future is somehow available in the present, it is quite impossible to explain how a 'sixth sense' could develop from such ethereal information that we apparently cannot detect by any other means.
To explore the phenomenon of precognition, one should understand the nature and its laws. Collection of statistical values has nothing to do with this phenomenon unless it is related with the natural laws. Based on the experience of nature, I can say that sun will definitely rise tomorrow. I can definitely say that early in the morning once I wake up I have to go to bathroom. These are only few things which any human being can foretell. To go deep into the phenomenon of precognition, one has to understand the law of Karmas (action). There is a saying “as you sow so shall you reap”. This is not happening automatically or God is ruling on that. But there is a mechanism how our own actions are encoded in our consciousness (it happens in present), how they are collected into layer by layer (past are within us) and ultimately how they flows out (past is stepping out into the future) and give the present shape to us. Law of karma can give us answer for everything. It can give us what is our origin and where we are destine to. Psychology will be only a part under the laws of karma. There fore its time for scientist to think about how to understand the mechanism on how the three stages of Karma are interacting with our life. I would rather advice to open a new branch of science call “Karmalogy”
I knew McCain lost the election when he made Palin his VP how's that for some precognitive powers.
If people can see the future, would there be more difficulty in seeing the darkside of the force? LOL!
Comic strip poking fun at Bem's recently accepted studies on premonition (psi).
well a lot of scientific research now research is dealing with in the margin of error. you could simply eliminate that by getting a larger sample size (say half a million).
Plus why do people tie in rock-paper-scissors 50% of the time even though theres only a 33% chance of that happening?
oh and people who think posting spam like the comment above will boost your sales. you must be getting some jacked up marketing advice(designer boots on a science news website?)
I can do this.
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I have experienced precognitive abilities. Lots of them. And there would be no test or experiment to have. You would just have to be there at the right time. I don't have control over them. They come when they want to. Mine mainly come in the form of a trance or when I'm half asleep. I'm always telling someone that something is going to happen and it's always something bad. And it always happens. I freak out and get depressed for about two weeks. I scare some people. For example, I answered the phone in my sleep once and told the guy I was dating at the time that he would be in a car accident within two weeks. He was and now he's scared of me. Just a month ago I told the maintenance man at my apts that he was going to have a heart attack before Christmas. I know he thinks I'm crazy cause that came in the form of a trance. I probably won't see him before then. Now that one seems like anyone could come up with that but all the other ones have been natural disasters and not something that would sound like a guess. I have an autoimmune disease called Sjogrens. And get horrible sinus infections. Don't know if it could be related. I can't really talk to anyone about it.