Friday, 9 January 2015

Does precognition entail that the future has 'already happened'?

My answer is going to be no, this is not entailed - and further that the nature of the evidence/ experience of precognition is evidence against the future having 'already happened'.


I have often seen it stated that precognition - for example visions in dreams that predict the future - entails that the future has 'already happened' - either because everything is pre-determined and merely unfolds, or else because Time is simultaneous rather than sequential.

Therefore, evidence of the reality of pre-cognition - for example evidence to support the reality a prophecy, or foresight, or precognitive dreams - is taken to be evidence that the future has already happened, and that this already-happened future was somehow glimpsed by the precognitive prophet.


Of course, many/ most people who write in the public domain deny the reality of precognition altogether and dismiss the evidence for its occurrence. However, this denial and dismissal is a minority view, very unusual in the modern world and almost unique in world history: most people have done and still do believe in precognition; and many people have experienced it in their lives.


So I will assume that precognition is real, and look at the nature of the evidence for its reality. When this is done, it seems to be the pattern that precognition may be more-or-less precise in the specifics of what happens, but is always imprecise, vague, non-committal about the exact time and place and circumstances in which the prediction will happen.

This fits with the idea is that true precognitions and prophecies are made-to-happen in the future (presumably by some supernatural entity or force) - and not that that have 'already happened' and are merely being read-off.

It also implies that God (or whatever makes the thing happen) is constrained by free will and other contingencies. Such that the thing predicted will happen, but the exact time, place and circumstances are flexible - depending upon individual choices and other circumstances.

So, the prediction is that 'sooner-or-later this thing will happen', by some means or another, to some person or another - but that it can be brought forward, delayed, made to happen in one place rather than another, and so on.

This, I assume, is why even true and correct prophecies nearly always turn-out somewhat differently - sometimes surprisingly differently - from how they were imagined; because circumstances and choices dictated that that was how they had to turn out.

In summary:

1. Experience, evidence and the consensus of mankind confirm that precognition is sometimes real.

2. The nature of the real and reliably-reported experience of precognition implies that some future events can be foreseen, but not located precisely in time, space and person.

3. Therefore, the evidence is exactly consistent with what would be expected if the future was not fixed: and that the future can be made to happen, but only within constraints that determine how and when it happens.

4. In a nutshell: Evidence seems to suggest that the occurrence of some future events happens may be fixed; but how and when it occurs is un-fixed.

5. Our experience is that future - while specific elements may be predictable - is essentially open, undetermined, contingent - presumably (at least partly) because of the reality of free wills which really are free, hence unpredictable.



Philip Neal said...

Years ago I met a philosopher of some distinction who, some time before, had been in a car crash and nearly died. The talk turned to second sight and similar phenomena, and he related how a close friend of his, at exactly the same time as the car crash, had a premonition that he, the speaker had died. He believed her, in the sense of knowing that she was sincere and had had a strange mental experience beyond the range of science - but, he said, it was knowledge of something that had not happened, or perhaps did happen in an alternative reality.

Bruce Charlton said...

@PN - I would consider that something more like telepathy - because it was not seeing the future.

tgj said...

The prophet Daniel gave some very precise dates for the birth of Christ long before it happened. There are some other very striking prophecies, both in and outside of the Scriptures. True clairvoyance is indeed more or less like reading off what has in some sense already happened, although it may be seen in a symbolic form that we can't really interpret and take to be somewhat ambiguous. Space is also transcended in the same manner.

Reality at the higher levels, closer to God, is outside of time and space. It's not higher dimensions, or multiple universes, or some other mathematically describable space-time-alike that we are so keen to build models of, but something closer to Plato's timeless ideals, except on a continuum that runs both lower than the ideals and infinitely higher. This is fully compatible with the traditional view of God's omnipotence, omniscience, and total lack of constraint relative to human free will, the existence of which, like time itself and even moreso the parts of reality where time has less and less meaning, are not the sort of things that are EVER going to be understandable or explicable in rationally sensible terms. A holy person who has undergone signification purification and is clairvoyant to a greater or lesser extent might understand a little better, but, in this life, not much. Especially not in these times.

Intellectual pride is the spiritual death of Western man. The Eastern saints always tell us the same thing: "Do good." By doing good, the understanding changes: not the mind only, but all the faculties of the soul, which all work together for understanding and grasping the higher parts of reality. This is the great folly of the West: once Orthodox, it has long ago lost any notion of purification, and in its place has only notions of intellectual brilliance, genius, and the attempt to preserve it, multiply it, and synthesize it through scholastic education, philosophical system building, technology, and so forth. It is all utterly vain: so much flailing around in the dark. Thus the saints tell us to do good, not even for the sake of Christ, because if we do good then we have some hope of cleaning ourselves up enough to recognize who Christ is, and then we can proceed from there to higher and better things. But so long as all the attempts are made at the merely intellectual level of figuring things out, of ignoring everything that cannot be explained in language, put into systems and papers and books amenable for recognition by audiences desiring to be flattered, merely grasped with the unpurified mind, then so much time will be wasted on utterly vain pursuits, ultimately complete dead ends even in the purely intellectual sense, that so little good will be done by anyone that not only will no one recognize Christ, not only will the commandments that teach us what is good be disdained and ignored, but the soul will be systematically, kindly, clinically, sentimentally, logically, lovingly, ruthlessly, religiously, and utterly blindly mutilated, even in the name of Christ, even by people who consider themselves Christians, even Orthodox Christians, in the attempt to blot out the accusing, correcting, and truly loving voice of the laws that are written directly in it: the conscience. Never mind those saints, the theologians, who write searingly bright, clear, and brilliantly illuminated (by God!) prose about the human condition and our means of salvation. The light has come into the world, but the world hides from it because it does not want its evil deeds exposed, even to a priest in a private confession, even though every single deed is recorded anyway, and every single one will have to be accounted for.

I am not holy, not a saint, not clairvoyant. Nevertheless the judge will come, and nothing we do, nothing that anyone will do or could ever do, will change that. In the perfection of love, the perfection of justice will in no way be neglected.

Therefore do good. Not easy, but simple.

Bruce Charlton said...

@tgj - I broadly accept the Orthodox view of history- up to the 1820s; but then I believe that things were changed by the advent of the Mormon church and the Restoration of the gospel. I believe that God intervened directly with multiple new revelations through a latter day prophet, and made new arrangements for the End Times; which are therefore much better for us than they otherwise would have been.

chris said...

I always liked to imagine that de ja vu was essentially precognition that is realised post facto.

Essentially time is simultaneous, everything has already occurred and is currently occuring, and there exists moments in the timeline where we become aware of this present future past.

Bruce Charlton said...

@chris - Yes, that has been the most preferred Christian explanation since Boethius, and I used to try and believe it myself; but it has the treble problem of being completely incomprehensible (and thereby explaining one incomprehensibility by another but bigger one); of creating the impossible difficulty of trying to reconcile earthly mortal time with Godly eternal out-of-time without invalidating earthly time; and of creating a picture of God as impersonal and impassive and un-loving.

But the main objection I have is that it cannot be explained to a normal eight year old child - therefore it cannot be an essential Christian truth.

God-out-of-time carries enormous explanatory weight in mainstream traditional Christian theology- so much that it cannot easily be discarded - yet it is un-understandable.

I do not believe that God our loving Heavenly Father (i.e. God as understood by Christians) would have it such that key essential concepts of the essential saving faith were un-understandable by children and simple folk.

Therefore, by this version of reductio ad absurdum, I think God-out-of-Time is not true.

Bookslinger said...

I believe that the apparent paradoxes of God's foreknowledge versus man's agency are resolved by the existence of higher dimensions of both space and time. God, the Father, has foreknowledge because all of our time is as a "point" to him, all one "now", much like how all our 3-dimensional space is visible to him at one glance.

Sagab's "Flatland" video on Youtube gives a good explanation of how a higher dimensional being (or a being who can access higher dimensions) interacts with lower dimensions.

Much like we, in 3D, can view a 2D space (such as a map) in one glance because we view it from a dimension beyond the 2D map, so can God view all of our world from where He stands.

If the analogy holds to time as well as space, then our linear time would appear as a point, or a short string at most, to someone viewing it from a higher time-dimension.

The scriptures hint at higher physical dimensions, such as the Lord or angels appearing out of nowhere into a closed room. (And as Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith via a "conduit".)

This arrangement of a higher time-dimension appears, on the surface, to contradict man's agency. However, I believe agency is still in effect as long as the _information_ stays in the higher dimension and doesn't come into our sphere. We only have vague prophecies here. That doesn't mean that God the Father doesn't know or "see" what's on the time-line ahead of us.

Yes, I do think there is "time" in the dimensions which God the Father resides. However, our time is a sub-dimension of that time, like 3D is a sub-dimension of 4D, and like how a 2D map is a sub-dimension of our 3D.