Dunne’s experiments in waking precognition

All quotations below are taken from the 13th chapter of J. W. Dunne’s Experiment with Time, in which he discusses experiments he conducted to determine whether or not the sort of precognition he had observed in dreams could also occur in waking life.

A little consideration suggested that the simplest way to set about a waking experiment would be to take a book which one intended to read within the next few minutes, think determinedly of the title — so as to begin with an idea which should have associational links with whatever one might come upon in that future reading — and then wait for odds and ends of images to come into the mind by simple association.

Obviously, one could save a lot of time by rejecting at once all images which one recognized as pertaining to the past. Also, since the images would be perceived while awake and with one’s wits about one, one might rely more upon one’s memories of them than one could when the memories were formed sleeping, and thus save a vast amount of writing. A brief note of each image should suffice.

In my own attempt at waking precognition (qv), I did not follow this method of beginning with an image which could be expected to have associational links with future experiences. I simply tried to pull images out of thin air. At this I was reasonably successful, but it seems probable that for most people most of the time, such an attempt would generate primarily past- and present-associated images without the aid of a future-oriented associational anchor of some kind.

Actually, the anchoring image needn’t be specifically future-related. Any image which is not obviously associated with one’s past experiences should do. One might choose an image which is timeless and iconic but not commonplace — a tarot card, for instance. I know that many tarot readers use the cards in precisely that manner, as starting points for an associational network of images. Rather than “translating” the cards in a straightforward way, using the conventional divinatory meanings given in the “little white book,” they concentrate on the images themselves and see what comes to them. (Of course studying the LWB and other commentaries on the cards still has its place, since the effect of such study is to create an ever thicker and more intricate network of associatons centered on the cards. One wants to cast one’s associational net as wide as possible.)

As for Dunne’s idea of using the title of a book one is about to read, caution would be necessary, since one’s ideas may have been “contaminated” with past exposure to the book in question. It is not common to buy or borrow a book without first flipping through it a bit, and words and images encountered in that way might stay in the mind after their source has been forgotten. (E-books might be useful in this regard, since it is not convenient to flip through them.) And of course one may also have read reviews of the book, heard discussions about it, etc., and these experiences, too, may leave traces in the mind after the experience itself has been forgotten. It would be best to steer clear of classics and bestsellers.

On the other hand, precognitive images associated with a book title may not necessarily come from the book itself — especially if one is in the habit of reading on trains, taking books on vacations, etc. I know that when I reread a book after many years, my reading often triggers memories of things that were going on in my life at the time of the previous reading, and the same principle could work for future experiences. Dunne’s first book experiment is a good example of this.

The first experiment was a gorgeous success — until I discovered that I had read the book before.

It was interesting, however, as showing the tremendous difficulty the waking mind experiences in freeing itself from its memories. I spent by far the greater part of the time in rejecting images of the past and starting afresh with a mind comparatively blank.

Apart from the items which related to the book (already read), I got only a few ideas, mostly concerning London and the exterior and interior of clubs. The only exception was the single word ‘woodknife‘, which drifted into my mind, seemingly, from nowhere. A little reflection satisfied me that I had never in my life come upon such a word, so I jotted it down.

Two or three days after this I moved, quite unexpectedly, to London. On my arrival, I went to my club, and having for the moment nothing better to do, proceeded to the library, picked out a newly published novel, and tried a second experiment. Result — nil. In fifteen minutes I got only eight images, which did not clearly belong to the ‘past’ half of the associational network. One of these eight related to a kangaroo hunt in Australia — riders and hounds chasing pell-mell after the leaping animal. Another comprised the single word ‘narwhal‘. There was nothing in the book that fitted, and presently I threw it aside.

I then drifted into a little inner library, which is an excellent place for a nap. I chose a comfortable armchair, and, for appearances’ sake, equipped myself with another volume — R. F. Burton’s Book of the Sword, opening this in the middle.

Immediately my eyes fell upon a little picture of an ancient dagger, underneath which was inscribed ‘Knife (wood)‘. I sat up at that, and began to dip into the book, turning back after a moment to page II. There I came upon a reference to the horn of the narwhal. Reading on, I found on the succeeding page the words ‘The “old man” kangaroo, with the long nail of the powerful hind leg, has opened the stomach of many a staunch hound.’

In the above experiment, none of the images which later “came true” actually appeared in the book Dunne was using as an associational anchor, but in extraliterary life (London, clubs) or in other books (woodknife, narwhal, kangaroo hunt).

Dunne goes on to relate several cases in which he successfully foresaw some of the contents of books he was about to read, but these are mostly inconclusive. His most impressive book-related precognition was, again, fulfilled outside the context of the book.

Here I altered the procedure. I opened the book at the beginning, and found the name of one of the characters, being careful not to glance at any other page. It seemed to me that a name which would be likely to occur in close association with many of the incidents of the story would provide a better associational link than does the mere idea of the book’s title. . . .

I then tried a book of Snaith’s, taking the heroine’s name as an associational link. Here I failed completely. But, in the middle of this experiment, I got one very curious image.

It was of an umbrella with a perfectly plain, straight handle, a mere thin extension of the main stick, and of much the same appearance and dimensions as the portion which projected at the ferrule end. This umbrella, folded, was standing unsupported, upside down, handle on the pavement, just outside the Piccadilly Hotel.

I happened to pass that way in a bus the next day. Shortly before we got to the hotel I caught sight of a most eccentric-looking figure walking along the pavement in the same direction, and on the hotel side of the street. It was an old lady, dressed in a freakish, very early-Victorian, black costume, poke bonnet and all. She carried an umbrella in which the handle was merely a plain, thin, unpolished extension of the main stick, of much the same appearance and dimensions as the portion which projected at the ferrule end. She was using this umbrella — closed, of course — as a walking-stick, grasping it pilgrim’s-staff fashion. But she had it upside down. She was holding the ferrule end, and was pounding along towards the hotel with the handle on the pavement.

I need hardly say that I had never before in all my life seen anyone use an umbrella that way.

So it does appear that it can be effective to use an unread book — either the title or the name of one of the characters — as a starting point from which to generate potentially precognitive images. However, results which are found in the book itself may be suspect, for the reasons discussed above; the most convincing precognitions will relate to incidents occurring outside of the book being used.


Filed under Precognition / Prophecy

2 responses to “Dunne’s experiments in waking precognition

  1. Pingback: Waking precognition: a trial run | Bugs to fearen babes withall

  2. Pingback: Waking precognition experiments: postmortem | Bugs to fearen babes withall

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