31 August 2009

“Visions of the Future – The Definitive Study of Premonitions” by Keith Hearne

Historically, the future has always been a prime concern for everyone, from the simple man trying to find out how his life will turn out to the great leader pondering the path of a nation. It’s almost as if we can still hear the flutes and drums of distant Neolithic communities, circling around their priest, elder or shaman in the often vain hope to know more about the unfathomable days and months ahead of them. The weather and its agricultural impact were their main interest. Curiously, later and more advanced societies that bred pivotal civilizations like the ancient Egyptians and Greeks would also seek comfort in the mystical qualities of oracles. Some Emperors wouldn´t even take a step out of their beds without proper counseling by their astrologers.

The trend is still well alive today and we may certainly state that the obsession with the future has been travelling hand-in-hand with us throughout the millennia. But the leap between concern and the actual ability to see future events is a large one. Unbeknownst to many is the fact that people around the world experience various kinds of premonitory experiences, some sporadically and a few recurrently. Interestingly enough, those prophetic sights span all cultures, sexes and walks of life, building a fascinating corpus of anecdotal evidence that spurred the interest of some researchers.

So is the case of Dr. Keith Hearne, a renowned psychologist that has conducted investigations in the area of lucid dreaming. During his inquiries into this subject he experienced what he felt to be a premonition and the event lingered in his mind, awakening his interest to the subject. He would start delving into the problem, collecting hundreds of first hand narratives of sighting of future events. Usually, the premonitions were only recognized as so after the predicted event took place. This makes research quite hard, for the vision is rarely reported before the situation yet to occur. As in many other paranormal fields of study, the witness testimonies are the main and often only basis to work with, obliging the investigator to develop efficient means to filter them.

A premonition consists “an experience which appears to anticipate a future event and which could not have been inferred from information available before the event”. These surprising visions manifest themselves in different ways: some in dreams (during the REM phase of sleep), others during waking time or sometimes in the transitional state before sleep (often associated with hypnagogic imagery). The author makes a fast incursion into the historical dimension of the theme, underlining events that incorporated concepts like omen or augury into common knowledge. Hearne then stresses the need for some form of categorization of the experiences, creating three major tiers.

The first and the most emotionally shattering are the bad news, gathering future events of a tragic nature that may or may not be directly related to the percipient. In fact, this latter question is of the utmost relevance, for the witness’s accounts include situations of imminent danger involving relatives or friends (obviously the more disturbing ones), known people (including popular or prominent personalities) and total strangers (often associated with major disasters). Contrary to generic belief, there are many visions where there isn’t a direct relation or personal knowledge of the people involved. The other two categories include the not-so-bad news and the good news, where the aforementioned pattern is also observable. Other point of interest is that the premonitions aren’t always perfectly clear, including elements that later will prove to be totally wrong (misleading perhaps?), even when the event comes to be. This conducts to situations where the facts are only understandable after the situation occurs, making us think about the real purpose (if any exists at all) of these prophetic happenings (how relevant can they be if nothing can be done to prevent, for instance, an incoming tragedy?). It challenges us to think of the eternal dichotomy between the deterministic theory, where destiny is inescapable, and the uncertainty and liberty of a free will existence.

After a very straight presentation of the amassed narratives, Dr. Keith Hearne enters a phase where he tries to establish connections between the visible patterns that emerge from his studies. The percipients themselves come from different social strata and age groups, but there are some puzzling facts that came to light and may later reveal itself essential for a better understanding of this phenomenon. What can we make of the fact that several premonitions occurred to women in advanced stages of pregnancy? Also interesting were the results of psychological tests applied to groups of people who had such visions, showing a higher prevalence of neuroticism among them when compared to the normal population. In the end the evidence is still feeble and it’s sad to notice that 20 years after this excellent book was published it doesn’t seem that we’ve gotten any further into this theme. It may seem a trifle perhaps, that a serious and continuous study of premonitions must be made. We now have the scientific ability to tackle in a serious manner this and other fringe subjects that have been with us Humans all along, but still lay beyond our understanding. Make no mistakes: the answer to the questions raised by this subject will always enrich us scientifically and intellectually, even if it turns out to be just a neurological/psychological aberration.

Additional information on Dr. Keith Hearne’s life and work projects may be found in the following websites: http://www.european-college.co.uk/ and http://sawka.com/spiritwatch/keith_hearne.htm.