Friday, 4 May 2018

Precognition - an explanation

It used to be universally accepted that precognition was possible, and indeed surveys of modern people in developed countries have shown that even now a large proportion of the population believe in precognitive dreams - dreams that foretell the future.

Given that most people have always believed that this this happens; the question of how it is possible has been a subject for speculation. It is a matter of particular concern to Christians - since our religion assumes that we have 'free will' or individual agency: because we must choose to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, if we are to receive the gifts he promises. And if there is real choice, then how can the future be known in advance?

The way that I personally explain this, and which seems perfectly clear and comprehensible to me! - is yet apparently so unusual that I have never found it articulated by anyone else; so I plank it down here, for what it's worth.

Everything has meaning and purpose - nothing is random, and nothing is merely passively, 'mechanically' determined.

(Not every 'unit' of occurrence has individual meaning/ purpose; not every distinguishable thing nor every distinguishable time-slice; but every-thing and time-slice is part-of divine meanings and purposes.)

Therefore, God is 'behind' everything that happens - and at the same time, how we personally respond, think-about and act after these happenings, can be our-own, comes-from our-selves.

So the totality of happenings is a combination of God's will and the multitude of interacting wills of people (and other entities with will).

How then does God pursue his plans? Well, the situation is always 'in flux' but God is continually acting-upon that flux. God is shaping the flux in his desired direction... this is sometimes termed Divine Providence.

I envisage it as God working behind the scenes to set-up the scenes; but how each scene plays-out is not under God's control. Yet he can and will continue setting-up scenes in hope that they will, sooner or later, play-out as desired.

Mortal life is (in brief) about experiences and learning from them; so God is always working to provide each person with the experiences that they need - but whether or not we learn from them what God wishes us to learn is not under God's control. Therefore, he will often repeatedly set-up experiences in order to give us the type of experience we most need, and these experiences will be repeated until we have learned.

For example, we may need to learn that pride is a sin, and will repeatedly get experiences from-which we ought-to infer that pride is a sin - but it may take many such experiences before 'the penny drops' - and indeed, we may never learn that pride is a sin; no matter how frequent and harsh the lessons we are given.

So precognition is possible because God is trying to accomplish certain things, and provide us with the kind of experiences - indeed specific experiences - that are potentially useful experiences.

But the well-validated, convincing precognitive experiences (including prophecies) are (almost always) only partial, often distorted, and are not given exact timings... Actual precognition does not give a complete, exact and exactly-timed prediction.

This is because God is working via human free will. God can make an exact thing happen - but not at an exact time if it is subject to free will; or, God can make 'something' happen at an exact time in the future, but what exactly happens is is not predictable insofar as it is subject to free will.

So precognitions are either: exactly-X will happen - sooner or later; or 'something' will happen on the exact time/date of X; or some combination of the two.

This also explains why - although everything is, in-principle, meaningful and purposive, we only very seldom understand actual things.

The world operates to provide experiences and opportunities for learning, for everybody alive (and indeed all living things - which is every-thing). But we do not know the experiences that every-body else and every-thing else needs; nor whether they have learned what they need - therefore, we do not understand most things, most of the time.

(We can, in principle, learn and know what we personally need; and therefore we can understand our own lives in terms of Divine Providence. We can ultimately understand and can know everything that is understandable and knowable - however, this will be a cumulative process, happening in time; and will be from our personal perspective, 'seen' from our 'point-of-view'.)



Chiu ChunLing said...

From my perspective, precognition is no more inexplicable than memory.

Whether you accept that the present is all that there is, and that it undergoes ordered transformation to become the future and abolish the past, or believe that the past continues to exist in some manner after we cease to regard it as the present, and thus that the future may already exist in the same sense but in the opposite direction.

But humans often deal with the issue of volition as if it gave them unlimited potential to change a future that doesn't yet exist, but has no power over the past which is both real and fixed.

I can see no logical basis for such an asymmetry. First off, it is factually incorrect. Most of our volitional power in any moment must be focused on altering our relationship and view of the past in order for it to be effective in shaping our future. To dream only of the future without studying and learning from the past (and these are vastly different things) is to ensure that one cannot have any realistic conception of things as they will actually occur.

The future is not more amenable to being radically altered by our present volition than is the past, what we can do is choose our attitude towards it. And this is also what we can do with they past, what we must do with the past if we are to see the future that is rather than be deluded by false hopes or terrors.

Men often like to think as if, by cheering for one horse or another, they can determine the outcome of the race. But they cheer for a horse because they have bet on it. Betting changes their relationship to the outcome of the race, it doesn't change the outcome.

Rather than making long-odds bets and cheering for a horse that isn't going to win, the clever (I do not say wise) look at the past and offer attractive odds on the horse that will win. Of course, being clever rather than wise, they aren't always content to be strictly honest in their dealings. Nor do seeds thrown on fresh manure rather than rocks go to Heaven as a result. Any analogy breaks down if you try to push it too far.

The repentant gain power to learn from their past and thus wisely choose their relationship to the inevitable future. This wisdom makes their perceptions of the future precognitive rather than delusional. But it comes from letting go of their delusional misapprehensions about the past and remembering what really was rather than what seems most flattering to their desires to feed their vanity.

Cognitive science demonstrates amply this malleable aspect of memory, though it is generally couched in different terms there.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

CCL, you seem to be saying that everything about the future is predetermined and inevitable except our own attitudes towards it. How is that a consistent position? If the future is just as fixed as the past, I have no more ability to choose my future attitudes than to alter my past ones.

Bruce Charlton said...

I agree with WmJas in my understanding of CCL.

I think of the the difficulties of discussing time is that we tend to become captivated by our models - for example our visualisations. This is a charactaristic error of modern science (and was noted as such 200 years ago, by Goethe - or more poetically by William Blake)... I mean that we tend to assume that there is no end to analysis, to explaining.

But what happens when you analyses below the metaphysical level is that you generate contingent, aritrary 'models' - none of which are real. By contrast science (according to Goethe, correctly IMO) ought to be about explaining in terms of the ultimate phenomena. At that point we may contemplate the phenomena, and understand how they 'fit' with everything else - but we cannot explain them in terms of anything more fundamental.

(e. In biology, the genetic revolution (in the 1950s) actually stopped 'doing biology' - which is the science of living things; and instead studied the biochemistry found-in living things. Consequently, none of what-had-been the main problems of biology - such as the nature of life, the origins of life, the nature of form - have been addressed, or solved, since that time.)

But time is (for me, anyway) a bottom line metaphysical reality, which cannot be explained in terms of anything more fundamental - time cannot be 'analysed'. We can give examples of what it does, how we perceive ti it - but we cannot explain what it is, because the concept is irreducible.

Chiu ChunLing said...

What you believe you know about the past through memory is generally false in the first instance because it is biased by your instinctive need to avoid contemplating challenges to your social value. This is a well known cognitive problem in humans.

The first and most difficult task of free will is to challenge your distorted perspective of what has happened in the past, this is why repentance and forgiveness are central aspects of Christianity, because they are the prerequisites for any really serious commitment to the will of God in in the future.

Ultimately, you will serve God's plan. Your only real choice is whether you do so willingly out of love or serve as an unwitting pawn. Yes, the outcome from your perspective is different depending on whether you serve willingly or not, but in the ultimate scheme of things it doesn't make an overall difference.

This is fundamentally difficult for most humans to appreciate because they naturally have a perspective that assigns great importance to their own perspective. And of course that's not entirely wrong, you should seek Heaven because you want to be with God (at least, that's why God wants you to seek Heaven). But the extension of this natural preference for your personal perspective to the belief that you are personally changing the outcome of the universe as a whole is illogical, or even just ridiculous.

God knows, for each of His children, whether or not they ultimately will choose Him. Such is the nature of true love, it enlightens one concerning the real nature of the beloved. But even if God didn't know your individual fate, but were personally indifferent to you, it would still be a simple matter to assess statistically the outcome of eternity.

A nuclear physicist doesn't need to know which particular atoms will undergo quantum events leading to nuclear decay in order to accurately predict the outcome of a chain reaction. He only needs to know the statistical rate of such events among all the atoms. No individual atom decides the entire process, it only itself undergoes the quantum event...or not. But to call that a "decision" or to suppose the atom itself cares either way is nonsensical. It is merely an analogy.

You decide your relationship to the future, as to the past, and that relationship really does matter to you (and to God, because He loves you as an individual). But to the grand scheme of events it matters not at all. There will be villains, and there will be heroes, but whichever you decide to be doesn't change the story. The story is decided by the total choices of everyone, not just yourself.

God accepts this. That's both why God is all powerful, and why "all powerful" doesn't mean "able to save people against their own will". Otherwise God would do just that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - As you presumably know, I regard the metaphysics underlying your view to be mistaken and incoherent.

Chiu ChunLing said...

Unfortunately, this view does not rest on any given metaphysics, it is applicable regardless of metaphysics.

It is of course meaningless without the correct metaphysical outlook, but still coherent and applicable.

We can decide our own preference for what part we will play in the future that really will be. We do not have the power to substantially alter that future for anyone else.