Remember this post, in which I described the Web Bot that predicts the future, based on linguistic patterns monitored by algorithms on the Internet? It looks like Social Psychologists may substantiate some Computer Scientists' wild theories about precognition. On Twitter, Kate Sherrod commented: "Intriguing. Conducting reversed versions of standard memory tests may have uncovered a form of 'future memory.'"
Memory, as we understand it, is an essential element of the mind-body problem. The latter was defined by René Descartes. He saw the body and mind as separate entities, and was the originator of dualism. There are two pieces on dualism at Machines Like Us, here and here. Memory has, in the Cartesian universe, been one of the means by which the tangible and real entered the realms of analysis, interpretation, history, ghosts, religious faith, legend and myth. In other words, memory allowed the real world to become intangible and unreal. This idea has persisted since the Greeks and Romans deified Memory.
But now, memory is being analyzed in directions opposite to that in which we normally understand it. Firstly, any kind of cognition is increasingly demystified as a physical function. For example, see this 2009 research from the Journal of Neuroscience, which captured anticipatory brain wave functions with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging; the result: "neural clairvoyance involves strong activity in areas of the brain responsible for preparing the body to move."
In fringe examples, some developmental biologists believe anticipation of the future is one of the driving forces of evolution. They attribute clairvoyant behaviour to so-called morphogenic fields (a sort of grey area of biological response in which genes interact with, and respond to, the environment - sometimes associated with the ionosphere), which theoretically transmit learned knowledge through non-communication among like species:
Even as the interface of human life and computers literally makes us ghosts in the machine, and the notions of split realities, broken atoms and fractured universes are now rampant in our society, the field of Memory Studies is making these ghosts real. Scientists have broken down memory into a biological function that can be treated or altered. They have found a drug that could give us a perfect visual memory."In the 1920s in Southampton, England, a bird called the blue tit discovered it could tear the tops of milk bottles on doorsteps and drink the cream. Soon this skill showed up in blue tits over a hundred miles away, which is odd in that they seldom fly further than 15 miles. Amateur bird-watchers caught on and traced the expansion of the habit. It spread faster and faster until by 1947 it was universal throughout Britain. In a parallel development, the habit had spread to blue tits in Holland, Sweden and Denmark. German occupation cut off milk deliveries in Holland for eight years -- five years longer than the life of a blue tit. Then, in 1948 the milk started to be delivered. Within months blue tits all over Holland were drinking cream, a habit that had taken decades to take hold before the war. Where did they get this knowledge?
Secondly, conducting memory tests backwards potentially reveals a human capacity for reversed memory, or, precognition. Hence, there is some scientific evidence that the human mind can perceive the future; from late 2010:
Popsci summarizes Bem's approach: "[H]is 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."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 ... [see it here]. 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).
Interestingly, some results which demonstrated Bem's point depended on test subjects' anticipatory responses to erotic imagery. Subjects were slightly better at guessing whether erotic (versus non-erotic) imagery would be randomly projected behind a curtain - or not: "The accuracy rates were not as high for non-stimulating images, which fell more or less in line with raw statistical chance [of 50-50]. This suggests that the subjects could somehow sense the erotic stimuli that awaited them before it happened." Bem also found that people who were already highly attuned to stimulus-seeking demonstrated stronger anticipatory abilities.
Psychology Today suggests that quantum physicists' findings that time is not linear, even though that is how we generally perceive it (with one notable exception observed by linguists), could explain these and similar phenomena. In this post and this post, I have discussed how those who believe in the paranormal do so because they perceive time flowing in a backward direction.
There are more reports on Bem's research here, here and here. Perhaps the key to understanding Bem's research is to return to his methodology, in which he reversed standard memory tests. Rather than think of this type of brain activity as precognition, or looking forward into the future, treat the phenomenon as memory in reverse. This kind of thinking is described by the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass (1871): "It's a poor sort of memory that works only backwards." Carroll's character insists that if one lives backwards, then memory works both ways.
See all my posts on Memory.