Each of us has an urge to cheat on time. The same deep need which moved primitive man to consult witch doctors claiming to read the future in the patterns of blood flowing from the wound of a gored suckling pig, or which caused ancient Greeks to make the arduous journey to Parnassus to seek advice from the Oracle at Delphi, today moves people to read weather reports, tidal charts, or pre-election opinion polls.
With the wisdom of hindsight, we can see that ancient man may have been superstitious; but his arcane methods weren’t always wholly wide of the mark. Much of the vision once attributed to the magical powers of ‘prophets’ and ‘seers’ was often due to primitive, but none the less skilful, capacities to analyze past events and project their patterns on to the future. Today we call our prophets and seers scientists or psychologists, and their methods of prediction are often very sophisticated, but they fulfill the same necessary function in our lives. In some sense, they all help us to look into the future.
Only the most dogged empiricist would deny the value and validity of predictions based on sound inference from past events or from carefully assembled data, but equally it would take a solid pragmatist not on occasion to want more. Most people at some point in their lives wish that they could simply crash through the time barrier and catch a wider glimpse of what the future holds in store. Throughout history, some people have been credited with doing so.
Foreknowledge, prevision, or ‘precognition’, as the ability to see into the future is usually called today, is a difficult subject, no less so for the practiced psychic researcher than for the layman. As Gardner Murphy wrote in The Challenge of Psychical Research, ‘To make contact with that which does not yet exist is, for many, a contradiction in terms, a philosophical paradox, an outrage; or it even may be held to come under the category of “impossibility”.’ So that same mysterious ability, which tantalizes us with its promise of granting a head start on destiny at the same time offends us with its outrageous and ‘impossible’ claims – far more so than any other psychic ability.
While telepathy and psychokinesis remain problematic in the absence of any hard and fast scientific proof that they exist, were such proof forthcoming it would issue no devastating challenge to our accepted way of looking at the world. The transfer of thought from one mind to another or the physical influence of mind upon matter require at most the discovery of some new physical force or some previously undetected capacity of the human brain. Either might peacefully coexist alongside the forces and capacities that we already know. But this is not true of precognition. Solid proof that some people do indeed have foreknowledge of events in the future would challenge the most fundamental tenets of both common sense and classical physics.