The Nightshirt Sightings, Portents, Forebodings, Suspicions

Altered States of Reading (Part 3): A Private Part of Time’s Anatomy

blackmirrorpig

A couple weeks ago, Twitter etc. went wild when a new book revealed allegations that UK Prime Minister David Cameron had, during an initiation ritual while at Oxford, inserted “a private part of his anatomy” in the mouth of a dead pig. To an entire nation, it was a hilariously obvious permutation of Charlie Brooker’s disturbing debut episode of his Black Mirror series four years earlier, which centered on a British Prime Minister being blackmailed to have sex with a pig on live television, focusing specifically on the role of social media in compelling the leader to carry out the deed.

Fear of foresight causes all but the boldest writers to misinterpret their own visionary creative states as pointing to the past (i.e., channeling a muse or spirit, or maybe a past life) instead of what they really are: actually pulling information from their own future timelines.

This kind of thing—not the pig part, but “low culture” (e.g., TV, pulp) writers predicting the future, including future revelations of events that occurred in the past but of which the writer could have had no knowledge—happens all the time. Yet our collective disbelief in anything like precognition causes us to simply have a curious chuckle at these coincidences … maybe be a little “weirded out” (as Brooker said he was) … and then forget them soon afterward. It doesn’t occur to anyone to actually keep a tally. Nevertheless, I feel confident that enterprising grad students in some future department of Precognitive Media Studies will one day go back and scrutinize the whole archive of network TV from its inception, comparing dates teleplays were written with subsequent news headlines, and will turn up some pretty mind-blowing correlations.

In part one of this series, I described such a possibly prescient relationship between the planetary computer Vaal in a 1967 Star Trek episode called “The Apple,” written by science fiction writer Max Ehrlich, and Philip K Dick’s VALIS over a decade later. For various reasons, I suggested this may have been an inadvertent precognitive “plagiarism from the future” on Ehrlich’s part instead of, or in addition to, the usual forward-in-time influence of Ehrlich’s Star Trek episode on Dick’s novel.

Delving into the matter, I found that Ehrlich had not only seemingly anticipated other of Dick’s themes (and book covers), but also seems to have shared Dick’s interest in the paranormal sources of people’s dreams and obsessions. I don’t know much about Ehrlich’s life, but when writers take an interest in such things, it often arises from personal experience or at least some hunch that they themselves are in contact with sources of information that go against the prevailing mechanistic, materialistic worldview (i.e., the creative pattern Jeffrey Kripal described at length in Mutants and Mystics).

Boring Old Reincarnation

“I’ve always wondered why people have always reincarnated from the past. Those few times when I’ve had feelings of remembering another life, it was from the future.” Jacques Vallee

peterproudEhrlich was specifically interested in reincarnation. He is most famous for his 1973 novel (turned into a 1975 movie) The Reincarnation of Peter Proud, about a young professor inexplicably obsessed with Indians and increasingly troubled by recurring dreams of living another life and being murdered by his wife while taking a swim in a lake. Proud accidentally discovers the real setting of his dreams in a TV broadcast (a motif Ehrlich no doubt precognitively borrowed from Spielberg’s Close Encounters a couple years later); urged by a parapsychologist interested in reincarnation, he travels to the New England town in the TV program to investigate his nightmares and confirm his growing belief that they are indeed memories of a past life in which he was murdered.

Proud meets and befriends a girl named Ann, the daughter of a man of Indian heritage named Jeff Chapin, who had drowned “accidentally” two weeks before he was born (and when Ann was three months old), and he clandestinely interviews Ann’s mother (and Jeff’s presumptive killer) Marcia. Marcia becomes suspicious of her daughter’s boyfriend’s uncanny similarity to her late husband, which reawakens her own guilty but also hate-filled memories of him; Jeff had drunkenly raped her on their final night together. When Peter then goes for a swim in the same lake … rather stupidly … Marcia takes a boat out and kills him—in other words, duplicating the murder of him when he was her husband, two and a half decades earlier.

It’s a very unsubtle novel, and totally predictable, but its obviousness is kind of what makes it interesting: If you squint, you can almost see it as a PhilDickian story but without Dick’s level of intellectual nuance. Dick grasped that anomalous cognition, what we assume are memories from the past, could just as easily be memories from the future. This inversion of common sense is precisely what made Dick Dick, and in fact we know from his Exegesis that he had read or seen Peter Proud and had exactly that impulse to revise its core idea: “Idea for To Scare the Dead. Dreams, but not about the past as are the dreams in Peter Proud; rather, they are like the dreams about the approaching Spaniards by the Aztecs—visions of the future.”

marciachapinIn other words, here, as in my suggested relationship of Vaal and VALIS, Ehrlich is clearly a lesser writer grappling with the same phenomena as Dick was (in this case, intimations of his own self haunting him from another time) but interpreting them in a less original, more culturally safe manner. Had Dick or someone with more of his sensibility rewritten Peter Proud, it would be far more interesting as well as parsimonious: We might notice how Proud’s nightmares were precognitive of a TV program, first of all, and perhaps how by automatically (mis)interpreting his visions of drowning as related to the past, Proud’s actions inadvertently elicit or fulfill precisely the tragedy he was actually foreseeing in the future; he’d be killed in order to cover up an old crime that his search had stumbled on.

It would be, in other words, exactly like a cross between any number of Dick’s stories (like Minority Report) and Nicolas Roeg’s exquisite 1973 film Don’t Look Now—a tragedy unfolding directly from a skeptic misinterpreting a precognitive vision of his own funeral as a percept in the present.* Interestingly, Ehrlich later continued his reincarnation obsession with a 1979 novel, Reincarnation in Venice, which begins just like Roeg’s movie ends: with a murder on one of Venice’s canals.

peterproudlakeSuch a revision presents us, really, with the “unconscious” of Ehrlich’s novel. I’m not saying there was a psi connection in this case, but there is a curious coincidence of names again. What is a “Peter Proud,” after all, but an erection, a filled dick?** Even though his imagination was not up to Dick’s level and thus he wrote about boring old reincarnation instead of actually seeing the future, is it too much a stretch to suppose Ehrlich may have resonated with the time-looping themes Dick was exploring and perhaps with his name as well?

Fear of Foresight

Like many (or all?) time travel narratives, Peter Proud is fundamentally an Oedipal story: The murder that ends the novel comes on the night Peter is expecting to sleep with, essentially, his own daughter Ann; the incestuous tension is not lost on Peter himself, although it doesn’t seem to give him too much pause. In psychoanalysis, the crime for the Oedipal transgression is castration … and what is killing a “Peter” but that?

It often serves our interests to think our fate is out of our hands, and thus any uncertainty about time and what it would mean to have authentic foresight confuses us and scares us.

As I suggested in my “Time’s Taboos” post, it is precisely Oedipus’s confused enjoyment, which “impossibly” connects his future and past, that turns psi into a psychoanalytic problem. The point of the tragedy is not merely that Oedipus committed an ancient version of the “grandfather paradox,” killing his father and marrying his mother; it is that he committed this crime and enjoyed it, and only belatedly discovered what it was that he had been enjoying. Oedipus is thus really a tragedy about disbelieved (and consequently misinterpreted) psi.

I am wondering whether we shouldn’t think of the idea of reincarnation as a kind of defense or denial of the Oedipal situation, a way for people to safely express their baffling precognitive or otherwise paranormal experiences without feeling like they’ve committing the ultimate taboo of ‘traveling’ mentally into the future. Such an idea would raise very interesting possibilities about much “survival” literature that go well beyond a single early 70s paranormal page-turner: What if people’s “past-life memories” are really precognitions of scenes of confirmation that elicit a reward—the reward of a parent, the reward of a researcher, their own reward in being something special? Is reincarnation just an Eastern way of pretending that the thin, gauzy veil of the future is actually a mirror?

Both Oedipus and the idea of haunting discarnate spirits were important themes in the life of probably the most famously prescient of writers, Morgan Robertson, the guy who prophesied the sinking of the Titanic 14 years before it occurred, as well as other events. True to the pattern, Robertson was not only a poor writer (unfortunately, in both senses), but he was also deeply interested in the psychic possibilities of the subconscious mind; he believed when he was writing that he was channeling “some discarnate soul, some spirit entity with literary ability, denied physical expression…” Intrigued by his prophetic gift and by the unfortunate circumstances of his sad life and career, the parapsychologist and psychiatrist Jule Eisenbud delved into Robertson’s stories and novels in search of clues to his character. His essay “Chance and Necessity: Is There a Merciful God in the House?” in his 1982 book Paranormal Foreknowledge is an utterly fascinating exercise in psi-criticism.

titanicicebergAccording to Eisenbud, who took the time to read an impressive chunk of Robertson’s pretty unreadable-sounding body of work, his hyper-masculine protagonists on the high seas invariably pine for mother figures they are fated never to possess, while they rail against the inscrutability of fate. The iceberg that sinks the “Titan” in Robertson’s most famous work Futility is just one example of cruel destiny that Robertson’s protagonists are unable to avoid, except occasionally in the depths of drink or, in a few very interesting cases, through an uncanny sixth sense. The protagonists are pretty clearly self-portraits.

Several friends (writing in a 1915 volume called Morgan Robertson, The Man) confirmed the writer’s psychic gifts, although oddly enough, none of them ever mentioned his most uncanny prophecy about the Titanic, nowadays his only claim to fame. (Eisenbud assumes this lacuna is probably because such mention would have seemed in bad taste, just three years following the disaster.) Eisenbud links Robertson’s prophetic habit directly to his tortured obsession with destiny and the question of man’s ability to change it—a question seemingly tied to his drinking problem, the “iceberg” in his life that he couldn’t escape no matter how hard he tried. Very sadly, drink left him, in his early fifties, a destitute and forgotten failure in his own eyes. He died at age 54; he was found, oddly enough, standing up, leaning against a bureau in a hotel room.

Having observed precognitive and other psi phenomena throughout his clinical work, Eisenbud identified a specific pattern of individuals expressing precognitive ability as part of a gambit either to subvert apparent destiny or to camouflage themselves within it to allay their guilt. Eisenbud specifically compares Robertson to a married clergyman patient of his who produced uncanny precognitive dreams as part of a defense against his homosexuality. There are hints in Robertson’s stories too of an (at the time) unspeakable sexual orientation that may have driven him unconsciously to choose a life of the sea for several years but write of it as though it were a kind of grim fate he could not avoid: The world of his fiction is a sweaty fantasy of manly seamen pressed into service, constantly bloodying each other in brutal fistfights, etc. Robertson seemed to want fate to absolve him of something that he feared was a choice … and vice versa. His precognition, Eisenbud argues, answered this need.

Eisenbud makes a very key observation that goes well beyond Robertson in its implications: “With such an ambivalent attitude toward fate, all one would need, it might seem, would be heads and tails on the same throw. But any good precognitive event provides just this, since … the metaphysical significance of such an occurrence is sufficiently in question to satisfy both schools.” Had Robertson been born a few decades later, he might have fastened on Jung and the similarly ambivalent concept of synchronicity, to satisfy the same need. I’ve argued elsewhere that synchronicity is ultimately an empty concept, a kind of security blanket that absolves us of the responsibility to actually engage with our foresight and confront its implications. But some kind of security blanket about fate may be something we all need, in one way or another, because we are all at least a bit ambivalent about the whole question of fate.

While we might think we want to know the future, so we can change it, for example, most of the time we really do not want that responsibility. It often serves our interests to think our fate is out of our hands, and thus any uncertainty about time and what it would mean to have authentic foresight confuses us and scares us. Does seeing the future doom us or “lock it in” in some way? … Or does a vision of the future make it radically open to alteration and force us to take responsibility? Precognition is the ultimate can of worms that is best left unopened, which is why it is almost always only expressed unconsciously and inadvertently, either in the course of skilled activities where we are blind to it, or occasionally as parapraxes or creative inspirations whose source we misidentify and whose true prescience largely eludes us.

Fear of foresight thus causes all but the boldest writers to misinterpret their own visionary creative states as pointing to the past (i.e., channeling a muse or spirit, or maybe a past life) instead of what they really are: actually pulling information from their own future timelines. Dick, almost alone among genre writers, was not afraid of the latter possibility.

Is a Cigar Ever Just a Cigar?

Despite the various cultural and psychological forces acting to divert our attention from psi, I anticipate that in our lifetimes, we will see it acknowledged, specifically as precognition, facilitated by the discovery that the brain is a quantum computer continually accessing information in its own future as well “repressing” unwanted data into its own past. The physics of information that Jacques Vallee called for, governing our weird relation to time, will turn out to be none other than the hyper-associative logic of the personal unconscious and memory, just as it is formed and revealed in dreaming, the nightly updating of the search system we use to find and index this atemporal data. Dreams are not “wish fulfillments” as Freud thought, but Freud was exactly right in identifying their utterly associative, illogical character; although I don’t think he saw the link with Freud, Vallee called it a “metalogic,” which is a good term.

In the future, Christ on the Cross may be replaced by the 53-year-old Dick sprawled unconscious on the floor next to his coffee table, a martyr to the new religion of psi.

In the metalogic of our brain’s mostly unconscious search system, puns (both verbal and visual) are probably the most characteristic form of coincidence, forming the nuclei of attractor phenomena in the symptom space of psi. This is not the Jungian world of noble and poetic archetypes, but a cringingly personal world of low humor and wordplay. In such a world, there’s a lot in a name … particularly one as suggestive as Phil Dick’s.

I don’t know if I’m the first to suggest this, but I think Dick occupies a unique, special place at the juncture between the linear-causal classical worldview and the psi-dominated landscape of the future in part because of the accident of his name. The associative networks in the brains of readers (and in his own brain) unconsciously will have made a special place for him because his name happens to be that of the Phallus. In Lacanian theory, the Phallus is the virtual/absent emblem of the Real, the black hole around which the whole symbolic order revolves, producing in its vicinity all the apparent and actual time distortions that black holes in space can generate. The Phallus is the empty signifier that radically warps the spacetime of jouissance.

In other words, Dick was a living pun, and he acted and increasingly acts in our culture as a symbolic-associative attractor: His influence continues to grow posthumously, and it may even be that history converges more and more on his writings, increasing their prophecy quotient, precisely because of this associative attracting power. It is Dick’s prophetic-ness that made him famous, and it is his fame that made him prophetic, in a feedback-loop. Genius, I am convinced, is nothing other than prophecy, the ability to strongly channel one’s own future.

This kind of Bohmian resonance is responsible for the very shape of culture, I think: a kind of “cellular” relationship between precognition and confirmation (or the Not Yet and the Actual). This cellular structure happens to be most visibly apparent when psi leaves a rich paper trail, as it does with frenetic, amphetamine-fueled (or alcohol-fueled, in Robertson’s case) genre writers. Occasionally their more respected “literary” cousins also tap into it, as Thomas Pynchon did when he made a “precognitive dick” the MacGuffin in his highly prescient (prescient about prescience) Gravity’s Rainbow. Because most of us mortals cannot accept or even imagine that we are ever seeing the future, however, we contort all our anomalous experiences to conform to commonsense linear causality, and our confusion results in various anomalous events that we generally manage to forget as soon as they happen.

Dick saw through culture’s psi-distorting linear-causal mystification; and it is significant that, not unlike “Peter Proud” in the above retelling, Dick’s untimely demise was a punishment for his offense, which (not unlike Oedipus) was a kind of self-enjoyment, prophetic jouissance.*** In the future, Christ on the Cross may be replaced by the 53-year-old Dick sprawled unconscious on the floor next to his coffee table—an image Dick himself foresaw. His untimely, confusedly foreseen death was a kind of martyrdom, fulfilling his destiny to be the absent signifier, the ultimate “vanishing mediator” preparing the way for a new religion of psi.

NOTES

* Nic Roeg is another rare artist of the period, besides Dick, who really confronted the issue of misrecognized precognition and overlapping time. It is present also in The Man Who Fell to Earth, a film that strongly influenced Dick’s VALIS but may have been influenced by VALIS in turn, precognitively: How else to explain the “alien” Thomas Jerome Newton’s brief vision of the pioneer family and their simultaneous, UFO-like vision of him—which is exactly like Dick’s/Horselover Fat’s superimposed ancient Rome, not to mention Dick’s own experiences of remembering seeing his future self visit himself in dreams. Roeg is subtly suggesting here that Newton is not actually a space traveler from another planet (the mundane, “nuts and bolts” assumption of the Walter Tevis novel the movie is based on) but is actually a time traveler from Earth’s thirsty, desiccated future. The story thus becomes one of Oedipal nostalgia—retreating into the past and staying there, descending into alcoholism, instead of going back to the future, where he came from. Alcohol (a stand-in for the breast) and Oedipus are a common convergence. It is also notable that Newton has no genitalia.

** Whether influenced in any way by Dick, Ehrlich was clearly highly conscious of his naming of his protagonist Peter Proud: The obscenely engorged member of Jeff Chapin before the rape is a vision that his widow cannot clear from her mind. The young Peter is like her own guilt as well as her own enjoyment come back to haunt her, the return of her repressed; Ehrlich makes it clear that Marcia’s guilt is as much over having enjoyed the rape as over the murder itself. Basically, Ehrlich whacks you over the head with the fact that Peter is a phallic symbol.

*** We usually say the punishment fits the crime, but in a Dickian universe the crime also fits the punishment: Dick died from multiple strokes; in other words, castration as punishment for masturbation. Don’t laugh—it could happen to you.

reincarnation

About

I am a science writer and armchair Fortean based in Washington, DC. Write to me at eric.wargo [at] gmail.com.

25 Responses to “Altered States of Reading (Part 3): A Private Part of Time’s Anatomy”

  • The relationship between past and future in precognitive events is a curious one. The most clearly precognitive dream I ever had seemed at the time to be an expansion on sometime that had happened a few years earlier, when my husband and I went to a concert with a couple we were friendly with at the time. The actual event five years later involved going to the zoo with a different couple we hadn’t yet met at the time of the dream but who were similar in a number of ways to the people in the dream.

    I suspect that the dreaming mind tends to fill in the blanks with familiar figures and past events. And the one episode in the dream that was fuzziest and least visual — I noted down in the dream diary I was keeping at the time that we “seemed to be” in a van with five or six other people — was also the most unlike anything the the past and the closest to the actual later event.

    Two other points. One is that even though the trip to the zoo was fairly trivial in itself, we were accompanied by our friend’s cousin, who had recently hurt her back and was in a good deal of pain (and possibly also on painkillers), and that cast a strange and tightly-wound mood over the day. The other is that in the dream it was colder out than we’d expected and I felt chilly. But in the real event, for no particular reason, I decided to bring along both a jacket and a sweater, telling myself that would give me a choice of which to wear — and when the promised sunshine never materialized, I wore them both and was glad to have them.

    So perhaps precognition does allow us to change the future — only not consciously and not in any way we might expect.

  • You’re right, Cory. Precognitive dreams often involve a sort of coincidental relationship to something in the past, or the unconscious uses a similar past event to represent the future one. It is as though in trying to represent (or pantomime) some future event, the brain is limited to making use of past material (memory), and/or what catches the attention of our psi radar is stuff that resembles things that have happened to us before. This is why coincidence does play a role in precognition, and why it is easy, on the base of that, to claim “synchronicity” instead of see what is actually happening (precognition).

    And yes, that possibility of also changing the future is part of the mystery … although I’m personally now starting to question my own previous questioning of the deterministic glass-block universe idea. The more I delve into the possible quantum mechanisms (read: desperately try to understand seemingly mind-blowing articles written in pure math and gibberish), the more deterministic things look. Randomness is really the future history of particles, etc. It makes sense to me that the universe is “post-selected.” I’ll delve into this in the next post hopefully.

  • I think that part of our difficulties with time come from our view of Time as a continuous and unalterable plane. The Vedic view of time is of time as a repeating cycle, and while that’s more sophisticated, I think it’s still not enough. What if Time has TOPOGRAPHY? What if Time is actually multi-dimensional and has peaks and troughs and valleys and caverns, similar to the topography of a mountain range? If true, it’s not a surprise that a person standing at the right place at the right time could see the past or the future as clearly as the ground they’re standing on.

  • re: Dammerung

    Yes, Id’d ceirtainly say that time is (or might well be) multi-directional; meaning, that it unfolds in multiple directions at once, rather than just the one. Much more like an expanding dot in space (into multiple arrows and planes), or as a fractal, or the parts and motions and positions of a body, or any other such geometrical shape, or even the expansion of space (in and out of time and sight), than as just a 1D-directional arrow, or the fairylands of flat-land, or indeed even the machine-numbered cog-wheel’s re-turning like that of a clockwork.

  • What I *really* hoped you’d bite on in my long comment on your last post was the idea that “psi is for decisions in the moment,” which wouldn’t necessarily need to be “conscious.” I think Cory Panshin’s anecdote above is in line with that idea.

    I am on the fence in terms of writers and “precognition.” there’s an essay floating around somewhere that outlines several ways in which Morgan Robertson’s *Futility* “made sense” in terms of the technology and technological advancement of the time when he wrote it.

    I’m not saying it never happens, but it seems to me it’s just (!) as reasonable to look at and for things that were written *before* a published work for influences than after!

    Recently in a column you mentioned the American science fiction author Robert Sheckley, a special interest of mine. The last couple of weeks, I read through the 1960 Sheckley collection, *Notions: Unlimited. (Bantam Books). The 12 stories in this collection were published between 1953 and 1957 (5 in 1957).

    There are a wide variety of themes in these stories. I think Sheckley’s prose is just as good as Dick’s during the same time period (and maybe better). There is a fair amount of overlap between some of Sheckley’s themes and Dick’s: how neurotechnology might influence people’s lives; big govt. surveillance and bureaucracy. Sheckley’s 1953 story *Watchbird* (published in *Galaxy*) explores the latter theme through the idea of implementing a “pre-crime” prevention strategy (without using the term “pre-crime” three years before Dick published *The Minority Report*.

    Now, maybe Sheckley was pre-cognizing Dick’s story, but it seems, uhm, simpler (?) to assume that Dick had read that story, or talked with other science fiction readers/writers who had read it.

    One of the hallmarks of science fiction, to me, is that *many* authors visited and re-visited various themes; like a good program of social psychology research, several different kinds of problems (first contact, for instance)are approached over and over again through somewhat different angles. I’d be willing to bet, for instance, that there isn’t much in Star Trek: TOS that is not prefigured, closely, in one or more (probably more)short stories or novels published in the 1950’s and possibly ’40’s.

    That being said, Dick gets tons of press these days, and Sheckley does not. I actually picked *Notions* off my shelf with an eye towards looking for “precognizings” as per your first column. With the possible exception of *Watchbird,* nothing leaps out to me. What I *did* find was 12 competently written SF stories covering a wide variety of SF themes from a 1950’s perspective.

    Maybe Dick *does* function as a future-oriented nexus that carries a set of ideas explored by many into future consciousness under his banner, in part because of his particular gifts (which I would argue have more to do with sheer imagination than writing style per se!).

  • Since you started this series of posts, I’ve been thinking a lot about “the mythopoetic unconscious.” I could have sworn the source I had for that idea was in *The Oxford Companion to the Mind* (1987). I finally, after reading this post, looked for it and… not there (I now have other ideas about where to find that material).

    Stephen King writes about the necessity of letting “the boys in the basement” out. Robert Louis Stephenson talked about dreaming and/or imagining his stories as if he was watching people act them out in front of his mind’s eye. Russel Hoban is a more ‘literary’ author than King, but I think he expresses the process of the mythopoetic unconscious as well as any author I’ve encountered (near the end of his most well-known work, *Riddley Walker,* young Riddley flees from a dangerous situation, and passes a group of younger children singing rhymes about his predicament before the circumstances of his predicament could have become common knowledge).

    Just given those three authors, all of whom seem to have a kind of “channeling” aspect to their writing, I’m not sure I can think of a lot of “precognizing” (maybe in Stephenson….), but a lot of interesting stuff that came out of their non-conscious processes.

    If it IS true that that kind of thinking opens up avenues for precognitive insight, then another place it occurs to me that you might look would be to free-style rap, where the performers spout out associations on the spot. Unfortunately, I don’t enjoy the format, so I probably won’t be fetching up any examples!

  • I am on the fence in terms of writers and “precognition.” there’s an essay floating around somewhere that outlines several ways in which Morgan Robertson’s *Futility* “made sense” in terms of the technology and technological advancement of the time when he wrote it.

    Several people have parsed his story and assigned probabilities to his predictions. One guy did a sort of Drake-equation-style thing and arrived at an astronomical improbability, but Martin Gardner wrote a whole (well, thin) book on why it’s impossible to calculate the odds, and why lots of specific aspects of the prediction would actually have been predictable (including the name Titanic). I’m not committed to this or any particular work of fiction being psi — anything COULD be coincidence and surely lots of things are, and lots have standard linear-causal influences. But the mass of uncanny examples, plus the KNOWN existence of precognition (in dreams, etc.) makes it unreasonable to exclude psi until all other possibilities (including chance) have been eliminated. I’m suggesting we really need to get past the idea that psi is some rare and outrageous factor in life and creativity.

    There are a wide variety of themes in these stories. I think Sheckley’s prose is just as good as Dick’s during the same time period (and maybe better). There is a fair amount of overlap between some of Sheckley’s themes and Dick’s: how neurotechnology might influence people’s lives; big govt. surveillance and bureaucracy. Sheckley’s 1953 story *Watchbird* (published in *Galaxy*) explores the latter theme through the idea of implementing a “pre-crime” prevention strategy (without using the term “pre-crime” three years before Dick published *The Minority Report*.

    Now, maybe Sheckley was pre-cognizing Dick’s story, but it seems, uhm, simpler (?) to assume that Dick had read that story, or talked with other science fiction readers/writers who had read it.

    Fascinating! I haven’t read enough of Scheckley’s work, but what I’ve read is great. Glad you’re delving back into him. I’ll check out Watchbird. Yes, without knowing who read who when, especially from this distance, there’s no telling what the influences are, although I’m very curious in this case.

  • Just given those three authors, all of whom seem to have a kind of “channeling” aspect to their writing, I’m not sure I can think of a lot of “precognizing” (maybe in Stephenson….), but a lot of interesting stuff that came out of their non-conscious processes.

    The idea of channeling comes up all the time in the most interesting writers’ memoirs (maybe all writers, but I only read the memoirs of the ones I find interesting). But I think that’s just a way of describing the disembodied/dissociative feeling of performing any skill well. I get it when I’m in the writing zone, or the martial arts zone, or the driving zone, or the cooking zone. In the case of writing, since it is producing ideas, it is easy to imagine that it is some “other intelligence” (whereas channeling some disembodied cook or disembodied driver or disembodied martial artist makes less sense), but I think it is simply a product of our refusal/inability to think that we sometimes operate from a conscious state that is literally in the future. We really aren’t exactly ourselves in these states, but are displaced from the present moment.

    I’ve always loved King’s “boys in the basement.” He’s one of those writers who I suspect of being highly precognitive but while I love his ideas/premises I don’t actually enjoy his writing, so I’ll probably never get a chance to verify that idea. Another writer I suspect would be fruitful to reexamine is W.S. Burroughs — again, not my favorite writer, but definitely tapped into something beyond mere literary talent. Ginsberg’s another, and I’ll be writing about him in a future installment.

  • The trouble with combining a deterministic model of time with precognition is that it only works if the actual events follow the foreknowledge more or less closely. If the foreknowledge seems to be serving as a warning (or even an unconscious trigger) to do something differently and avert the negative consequences that were foreseen, that implies it is possible to choose a different quantum path. What other reason could there be to have presentiments of things that never actually happen?

  • What other reason could there be to have presentiments of things that never actually happen?

    How about this: To the degree they don’t happen, they’re not presentiments. 🙂

  • As someone who’s had several frighteningly accurate precognitions throughout her life, I seriously doubt these are instances of precognition. Remember that old adage about life imitating art. Once someone creates a fictional scenario, however far fetched at the time, and then disseminates it to a wide audience, it will resonate in people’s thinking from that point on. It can then influence and provide a blueprint for action (saying it has the power to make it so). This is much more about sociology and cultural influences than it is about precognition.

  • I’m not committed to any of these things being precognition. But once we acknowledge that precognition exists, why must we persist in assuming that it only could have played a role when ordinary causality or coincidence can absolutely be ruled out? If precognition is always there in the background, as I think it is, it could have an unseen hand in lots of things. We’re at the very beginnings of thinking about it and its scope. “Assuming smallness” is the apologetic approach taken by many professional parapsychologists about psi, but I think that’s very likely a mistake (tactically as well as scientifically).

  • I had an eyebrow raised when I saw Dick in connection with the ‘Reincarnation of Peter Proud.’ Hardly a sci-fi reader by inclination, I stumbled onto Dick with either one or no one to recommend him (I can’t precisely date a certain conversation). After Martian Time-Slip knocked me slightly off course, The ROPP, when it turned up somewhere where there was ‘nothing else to read’ may have confirmed the changed direction. More a propos of this post I must say, when I first read VALIS I could not restrain a smirk at the fact that PKD did not perhaps so much succeed in translating ‘Dick’ into (Horselover) ‘Fat’ as indelibly coupling the two words together.

  • If I may be forgiven for following up here to a comment from the last post, I’d say, in response to the question about those engaged in ‘disclaiming and depreciating’ psi that I did not so much have in mind a class as a narrow set of individuals or a stereotypical personality, namely, the kind of highly successful person who might say ‘Don’t bother me with that [parapsychological] nonsense,’ and at the same time make highly competent, if unconscious, use of psi. This would merely be the obverse of Ahck’s psychic neurotic who sets himself up for the ‘impossible’ defeat, and, following yourself, perhaps enjoys doing so.

  • What if Time is actually multi-dimensional and has peaks and troughs and valleys and caverns, similar to the topography of a mountain range? If true, it’s not a surprise that a person standing at the right place at the right time could see the past or the future as clearly as the ground they’re standing on.

    Dammerung, that’s exactly the metaphor that Frank Herbert uses to describe Paul’s prescience in Dune.

  • I’m wary of quantum consciousness models being combined with ideas about precognition. Stapp’s own model is controversial, and even pro-Psi philosopher Braude is critical that precognition is even possibly.

    On the other side, there seem to philosophical issues with how physicists commonly think of Time as noted by Bergson long ago but more recently by Tallis in his presentation Killing Time:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1J7BOoaFfbA

  • Seth Lloyd has shown how information can be sent back in time within a quantum computer using teleportation and post-selection. If the brain turns out to be a quantum computer (and lots of people are working on this problem), then the problem of precognition is solved. Braude is interesting but I disagree with him on ESP: I think precognition may be the only form of ESP (as May argues). The philosophical problems are not as intractable as they’re made out to be.

  • I don’t think the brain utilizing some aspect of quantum mechanics makes a quantum computer. I’ll try to find Lloyd’s work as it seems to me when people talk about time travel they are making certain assumptions about the nature of time that may be fundamentally incorrect.

    OTOH, it’s possible that timelines exist in potential but are not actualized until we collectively “select” a track. Arvan’s work on reality as a Peer-to-Peer “simulation” runs on that idea.

    In the past, discussing this I’ve wondered if precognition might involve a resonance between current actions/thoughts are the nearby tracks – a sort of reverse morphic resonance.

    But I’m still unconvinced that physicists current idea of time as a fourth spatial axis is the correct conception.

  • OTOH, it’s possible that timelines exist in potential but are not actualized until we collectively “select” a track.

    I believe this is more or less what “post-selection” means in the QM world.

    In the past, discussing this I’ve wondered if precognition might involve a resonance between current actions/thoughts are the nearby tracks – a sort of reverse morphic resonance.

    Jon Taylor has argued that precognition involves Bohmian resonance between brain states at different points in time. I agree with his basic view of psi (as precognition of our own future brain states) but I question this mechanism, as it does involve a kind of morphic resonance, which has the same problem Sheldrake’s theories do (i.e., what defines a “form”? How does nature define similarity?).

    But I’m still unconvinced that physicists current idea of time as a fourth spatial axis is the correct conception.

    It’s no longer a consensus view among physicists. The linkage of time and entropy also has to be redefined, given that entropy turns out to be entanglement (Lloyd again), and “random” particle behavior is actually a result of particles’ future histories of measurement (Aharonov). This emerging picture, it seems to me, will make precognition much more palatable to science: The future is interacting with and determining things at the particle level continuously, and in special circumstances (like quantum computers, where coherence scales up) information can be extracted from future “noise.”

  • I always wondered about all those funny objects Lacan created to explain behavioral aberrations from expected manners (as well as the creation of those manners). This slightly reminds me of particle-physicists and their habit to declare new objects wherever there’s a measuremental aberration from what is expected given the equations that are state of the art. And yes, the cigar illustrates the stick-y-ness of sexual connotations well. Once you are told about it you can’t forget about it. Although I’m suspicious if this is mainly because of Freud told us about it.

  • I always wondered about all those funny objects Lacan created to explain behavioral aberrations from expected manners (as well as the creation of those manners). This slightly reminds me of particle-physicists and their habit to declare new objects wherever there’s a measuremental aberration from what is expected given the equations that are state of the art.

    That’s a great analogy.

  • @Eric: Ah, lots to think about – why this blog is one of my favorites! On the subject of morphic resonance, I agree the similarity and form issues do arise in a mechanistic-materialist metaphysics whether the resonance is between past and present or present and future.

    Not sure if this holds true if Mind (consciousness + aboutness of thoughts) is regarded as one of the fundamentals? – Morphic Resonance fits in well with Eric Weiss’s ideas from The Long Trajectory for example which are based on the work of Whitehead and Sri Aurobindo. And IIRC Sheldrake came up wit the following his reading of Bergson and Whitehead.

    Aharonov’s work is interesting, a physicist friend talked me through it awhile back, though it’s not clear to me whether there is only one arrow of time or two under his conception of how QM works (especially if you bring in precognition). I know there’s an idea called Syntropy that incorporates two arrows, with the Present as the meeting place. That might explain the mystery of the present and how it doesn’t seem to fit into physics (as Smolin noted in The Trouble With Physics).

    The Peer-to-Peer hypothesis also suggests that while all the timelines exist in potentiality, consciousness is the “reader” that examines the information level of reality and brings us collectively onto one track. That would explain the evolutionary benefit of precognition that Cory mentioned. We see potential tracks leading to disaster via some quantum phenomenon (because as you’ve suggested the Real exists in a pre-actualized state) and ideally right the train. (Hammeroff in the past has argued this is partly how Orch-OR works.)

    Ideally future experiments will give us a better picture, though I think there are certain ideas that need to be abandoned such as the notion of “laws of nature” being immaterial forces that press upon particles. But without such laws I don’t think the idea of a deterministic universe can hold?

  • I know there’s an idea called Syntropy that incorporates two arrows, with the Present as the meeting place.

    Syntropy is interesting. I critiqued it a while back (http://thenightshirt.com/?p=3134) but I was possibly too harsh. As a principle it is fine, but when imagined as a force of some kind (as I think Sheldrake and Platonists do) I disagree. I think ‘attraction’ toward future forms is mediated by conscious action.

    Ideally future experiments will give us a better picture, though I think there are certain ideas that need to be abandoned such as the notion of “laws of nature” being immaterial forces that press upon particles. But without such laws I don’t think the idea of a deterministic universe can hold?

    I agree with you (and Sheldrake) on this point: the laws of nature are mutable/fluctuating, perhaps in response to our actions or consciousness. Although I’ve been loudly anti-deterministic on this blog, I’m on the fence again the more I learn about QM. If randomness goes away, as it seems to have done, where does that leave free will? I’m not sure.

  • Taken to the logical extreme, there seems to be no reason why one cannot posit a ‘pilot wave of the universe’ in the de Broglie-Bohm interpretation. In this case, to determine future states of the universe one would merely need to know with perfect certainty the initial conditions of the universe, or know with perfect certainty the existing conditions of the present universe or those at any other time T. Both of these preconditions are, to my understanding of the current notions of physics, impossible to ascertain (due to singularity, uncertainty principle, respectively, as I think I understand things). Beyond this objection, ‘a pilot wave of the universe’ is not a hypothesis or a theory, but a conclusion that demands the a priori veracity of its own presupposition, i.e., it’s tautological, begs the question, etc. This is a very stripped down objection but perhaps it might nudge your thinking back towards the fence (where as I think I’ve stated I am content to remain).

  • @Eric: I don’t think free will can depend on randomness. Rather, the space for it is whether there are final causes to be found in nature. To me it seems this space exists because AFAICTell causality can’t be explained properly without final causes.

    It sees to me this is what Fuchs, being a fan of William James, is trying to achieve with QBism by examining what might take place within “indeterminism”.

    As for the determinism at the QM level, it seems to me whether that’s the case is arguable. AFAIK there’s no consensus (as yet) as to what is happening at the QM level?