One thing I keep learning about our mysterious minds—in every category of a phenomenon—say, a mystical experience, a reported alien contact, or the effects of psychokinesis—there are endless variations. Nothing is mechanical, or exactly predictable about mental life. No matter how time-tested a rule, it will always be broken.
Precognition subverts our commonsense idea of time and our intuitive sense of cause and effect. Since when does the effect come before the cause? Precognition—also called foreknowledge and prophecy—is to know of specific events that have yet to occur. That may sound impossible, but plenty of evidence says it’s a real effect.
Laying aside the attempt to explain precognition, we should be aware of how strange the phenomenon is. The story I want to mention makes it even stranger. Isabel F. wrote an account of her experience to me: “The ability of my mind to function in an unusual way is by recognition through the form of dreams. It is always the same dream and with the same consequences.” It’s the consequences that make having this dream so traumatic. .
Since she was twelve years old she had a recurrent “dream about a couple getting married, the groom happens to be one of my friends, but the bride is some girl I have never seen before in my life.” The reason Isabel finds it so hard to talk about this particular dream is plain enough. “Every time I have this dream,” she says “the groom who happens to be my friend gets killed in real life.”
Precognition is clearly a gift, but also, it could be a curse. Isabel shared with me three examples of her cursed gift. The first occurred when she was twelve. She had what she called her “nightmare’ of Carlos, her friend, getting married to a strange girl and then woke up at six in the morning. Two hours later her father called from work to tell her that Carlos was killed in a car accident.
She was fifteen when it happened again; this time the groom was Javier. She had the dream on a Sunday afternoon, and was frightened because of what happened after the first time. She kept the dream to herself. In the morning, Isabel’s mother called her family in Columbia, and learned that Javier was killed in a motorcycle accident. That’s two.
More recently, on a trip to visit her family in Columbia, she had the same marriage dream, this time the groom was another friend, Fernando. Isabel was so upset she drove for four hours to Fernando’s home, but a half hour after she arrived, the police showed up: “Fernando was shot four times and was dead when they found him.”
She gave no further examples, preferring not to discuss her experience, and lives in fear of having the dream again. She misses the friends whose deaths she knew in advance, but couldn’t save. I’m baffled by this weird, narrowly channeled, and useless display of a paranormal ability.
Why should anybody be endowed with such a cruel gift? The only value it seems to have is philosophical, as if it wants to remind us that time is riddled with mysteries. And by inverting the relationship between cause and effect, it strikes a blow against common sense. Maybe these weird displays of nature are meant to make us question our basic beliefs about reality. If so, the lesson seems to be that the insights we may gain don’t come cheaply.
I recently spoke with somebody in the U.S. Justice Department who happens to have impressive psychic abilities. One thing he said was that his gifts caused him no end of trouble. I’m not surprised. People with special gifts often suffer as a consequence of having them. There’s a dangerous side to having psychic talents, as Socrates, Jesus, and Joan of Arc found out.