Have you ever experienced this: you’re watching a game show on telly, and one of the contestants are to be randomly chosen to take part in a special question round or something. Just as they’re about to announce who it is, you get this premonition of who it’s going to be. And a second later they say the exact name you were thinking of.
It seems to happen a lot to me, and it’s a little unsettling – like an ahead-of-time echo or a déjà vu or something. It’s also annoying, as it only seem to work if I couldn’t care less (I don’t like game shows).
Now. I would like to make something perfectly clear: I do not believe in paranormal premonitions. If what I experience actually does happen and is not just my brain playing tricks on me, there must be some kind of logical (or at least quantum mechanical) explanation for the phenomenon.
So what is this thing? Is it even theoretically possible to experience things that haven’t happened yet? Well, yes. Sort of. Time is the fourth dimension after all, and as such it has a reach beyond the ‘here’-point, both ‘backwards’ and ‘forwards’ in time. Just as an apple still exists even if we’re not at its location in space, it also exists when we’re not in the same location in time. In theory at least, we could potentially sense the apple from a different place in time as well as space.
An additional threat to causality of events (i.e. the notion that what I do now will have effects in the future but not the past) is the concept of quantum entanglement. It states that if atomic particles have been in physical contact with each other they become entangled, and whatever happens to one is immediately reflected in the other – even if they would happen to be light years apart. In a way, they are transmitting information across not just space but also time.
The concept of entanglement is of limited use in trying to explain the phenomenon of time echoes, though, as I can’t see how any atoms in my brain would have become physically entangled with any of the game show contestants’ atoms.
Or perhaps there are no time echoes at all. Perhaps I just predict what the game show host is about to say. Perhaps it’s just old-fashioned human mind reading?
I’m not so sure. If I was that good at predicting what people were about to say, surely I’d have a career as a powerful and successful politician by now? Believe me, if I had that sort of capability, I’d taken over the world and you’d all be my subjects kept in check by my army of kill-bots. But you aren’t and I haven’t so I’m not.
The illusion of consciousness
In my example above, watching the game show, I suddenly just ‘know’ what will happen within the next second. So is this a time echo? Am I sensing what will happen before it actually does happen?
Perhaps not. Ignoring the whole ‘time is relative’ and ‘what is now, anyway?’ maze, it could instead be related to the illusion of our conscious minds. “Illusion?” I hear you say. “Didn’t you write a post on the origin of consciousness a little while ago? Surely consciousness really exists.” Yes, it does. We are conscious and we express free will, but there seem to be a slight lag in our brains from when the sensory information is processed to when we become aware of them. In other words, it takes a few hundred milliseconds for us to realise we’ve seen or heard something, even though the brain has received the information from our eyes and ears.
This delay could be the explanation to the time echo we sometimes experience. If we were to accidentally tap into the received information before we become aware of having acquired it, it could then feel like déjà vu when we do become aware of it, a fraction of a second later. “Woah! I already knew that!” our conscious mind would say. “That’s so weird!”
In fact, there are several medical conditions that can lead to experiences similar to déjà vu. So perhaps I should really go see a doctor and have a brain scan?
But I don’t know. It doesn’t really feel like déjà vu. It’s not like I – on hearing the results – suddenly realise I already knew them. It’s more like I just know, with absolute certainty, what the results are going to be. Sometimes I even get the chance to say it out loud, if the premonition happens several seconds in advance.
Surely it can’t be actual supernatural premonition though? Not only don’t I believe in that, but I also know for a fact that I don’t have any superpowers. I’m no medium in contact with the ‘other worlds’.
A while back I came across a study called Feeling the future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Now, I would generally discard studies that don’t seem scientific, but this one I found on the New Scientist web site and the web article linking to it incredulously stated – even if cautiously – that they couldn’t find anything wrong with it. The results seemed to stand.
So what were the results? Well, in a comprehensive study of some 1,000 students, Dr Bem conducted standardised psychological tests (like Avoidance or Priming) but with a twist: he ran them backwards. So instead of letting the students learn that clicking on the left part of the screen will probably produce negative imagery, he measured the effects of the students knowing in advance which half of the screen would produce negative imagery.
And the tests showed a statistically significant result with a mean effect size of 0.22. It’s small but important, because if it can be verified (by replication of the results), it would hint at a tendency for us humans to be able to predict future outcomes ahead-of-time.
How this could possibly work from a physical point of view I don’t know, but the evolutionary advantage of being able to sense negative (or erotic) stimuli in advance would obviously be immense. It doesn’t seem to work for more than a second or two ahead-of-time, but even that would be a major advantage and could mean the difference between life and death. It’s the proverbial ‘spider-sense’.
So even if I can’t really find an explanation to this phenomenon, I can’t ignore it. I do experience something, even though it’s of limited practical use to me. I’ll just have to continue knowing in advance who’s gonna win whatever inane game show I happen to watch on telly by mistake, and live with the fact that I’m a weirdo.
Oddly enough, I’m sort of ok with that.