Can premonitions be true? A new book unravels the amazing science behind a British psychiatrist who tried to predict the future by mining people’s visions and dreams.
The doctor who tried to predict the future
Can premonitions be true? A new book unravels the amazing science behind a British psychiatrist who tried to predict the future by mining people's visions and dreams.
Last week, Michigan man Austin Larson went missing while working in the woods. Local psychic Kat Girard got in touch. She drew a blue circle on her phone map. Larson was found in the place she marked.
Throughout history, many people have claimed to predict the future. In Ancient Rome, haruspices would examine the offal of sacrificed animals to predict the future. 16th-Century French astrologer Nostradamus predicted that London would burn in "the year 66". 1566 passed without crisis, but 1666 brought the Great Fire.
The Premonitions Bureau, a new book by the journalist Sam Knight, tells the story of an English psychiatrist called John Barker. Between 1966 to 1968, Barker asked for predictions in a newspaper.
He received 732 responses. All but 18 were wrong. These predicted fires, a train crash, a plane disaster and Barker's own sudden death in 1968.
Many are sceptical about such claims. As James McConnachie says in New Scientist: "Premonitions aren't true. If you deal in them, you are deluded or a charlatan." They could stem from confirmation bias.
We only remember premonitions when they appear to contain truth. The wrong are forgotten. They could be simply the result of chance. As Knight writes: "The rational response to premonitions is that they are a coincidence."
Social scientist Philip Tetlock believes some people are superforecasters, whose genius for sifting through information makes them able to accurately guess future events.
And science may yet come to explain premonitions. In 1935, Albert Einstein identified that subatomic particles in different places can influence each other. Some believe that if such events could occur in the human brain, powers like premonition might result.
Can premonitions be true?
Yes: For all the advances of science, we still know only a tiny amount about the workings of our minds and the world beyond our physical existence. New evidence might emerge that changes everything.
No: Some people might seem to have incredible predictive power in some situations. But this rests on a combination of scraps of knowledge and chance, rather than a real ability to sense the future.
Or...? It depends what you mean by a premonition. If you mean a prediction that defies all logic, no. But if you mean a prediction that seems to defy logic but may have a rational explanation, then yes.