Mysteries of Mind Space and Time

Above: a Brazilian Spiritist in trance. Some psychical researchers have suggested that the subconscious mind has access to information about the future and that, in certain circumstances, for instance when the mind is in a trance, this information can cross the barrier between the unconscious and conscious minds in the form of a premonition

Psychics appear to be able to move backwards and forwards in time, at will or spontaneously. How does this fit in with the scientists' idea of a Universe in which time has no direction? ARCHIE ROY reviews the theories

DO PRECOGNITIONS and retrocognitions exist and, if so, do they provide important clues to the nature of time? Many well-known philosophers and psychologists have taken seriously the evidence for precognitions and retrocognitions and have accepted that our 'common-sense' ideas of time may be false and misleading, in the same way as the theoretical physicists of the late 19th century came to realise that their ideas about space and time were wrong, especially in the subatomic and astronomical realms. By 1908 Hermann Minkowski was suggesting that the Universe could be described in terms of four-dimensional space-time. In fact, he was introducing what has now come to be called the block Universe, a static universe with no past, present or future except that introduced by the observer (see page 1512). The observer's consciousness travels along his world line through the block Universe like a spotlight moving over a dark landscape or field. Those bits of the field the spotlight has already picked out, the observer terms the past; those that are yet to appear in the spotlight he terms the future.

Above: Hermann Minkowski (1864-1909), the German physicist who first suggested that the Universe can be described in terms of four-dimensional space-time

William James, the American psychologist, introduced the concept of the 'specious present', a small but finite chunk of spacetime containing everything that the observer is consciously perceiving at that moment.

The psychical researcher H.F. Saltmarsh modified this theory in an attempt to account for precognition and retrocognition. He supposed that the conscious mind's specious present was smaller than the subconscious's specious present. Thus, Saltmarsh argued, it is perfectly possible that an event that lies in the 'future' of the conscious mind may lie in the specious present of the subconscious. If this event were unpleasant or likely to be dangerous to the person concerned, the subconscious might warn the conscious mind by presenting it with a premonition in the form of a dream. If the conditions are right, the premonition may even appear as a vision while the person is wide awake. Premonitory dreams are, however, commoner - and many premonitions are received in a generally relaxed and receptive state of mind while the subject is either emerging from or approaching sleep, or in a comfortable chair reading a book or watching television.

The American psychologist William James (1842 1910), who invented the concept of the 'specious present - a small chunk of space-time containing everything perceived by the observer at a given instant

Saltmarsh did not, however, like the implications of his theory for the question of free will. If the future is simply a collection of events that make up the static block Universe, and if the events that make up a person's life are simply strung out in a line within the block Universe to be approached in a set order, then it seems there can be no free will. Saltmarsh modified his theory in the light of this objection by assuming that the future is in some way plastic and modifiable, and it is only when an event is experienced or becomes a past event that it becomes 'set' so that it cannot thereafter be modified.

It is possible, however, to construct a theory that goes some way towards accounting for the fact that, even if a premonition of a future event has taken place, this does not necessarily mean that the event itself is inevitable.

Right: the Titanic leaves port on her maiden voyage. Like many other disasters, the sinking of the Titanic was the subject of a large number of premonitions. Some scientists believe that subconscious knowledge of future catastrophes is forced to become conscious through the distress it causes the subconscious mind

Let us suppose that the spotlight on the block Universe that contains everything consciously perceived by the person at that moment is surrounded by a hazy ring that represents the subconscious. Within this are all the events being perceived by the person's subconscious.

Let us take a concrete example. Let the world line be that of a girl who is scheduled to sail on the Titanic in April 1912. She buys her ticket, packs her bags and has them loaded into the hold of the great liner, and is about to embark. But at that instant the event of the liner's sinking is illuminated by the ring of her subconscious, although it still lies outside the spotlight of her conscious. The sinking is therefore still in her future, in common-sense terms. But somehow a symbolic representation of the terrible scenes perceived by her subconscious manages to cross the threshold between subconscious and conscious, and she experiences a premonition of her own death. So she changes her mind about sailing, thus changing her world line across the dark field of the Universe so that she avoids dying on the liner. And, some days in the future, she reads about the liner sinking and no doubt congratulates herself on her premonition for saving her life.

The point to note is that the two events -the death of the girl in the Titanic disaster, and her change of mind and survival - are equally real in a potential sense, in that they are both events in the dark field of the Universe; the only difference between them is that the girl's conscious spotlight illuminated one, and not the other.

Above: an observer's consciousness travelling through space-time can be represented by a spotlight A moving across a dark field'. Around the bright spot is a hazy ring of light that represents the observer's subconscious. On this theory, it is possible for a catastrophe B to enter the observer's subconscious field and appear as a premonition that causes the observer to alter his world line to pass through an event c to avoid it. It is also possible to explain the telepathic activity of psychics such as Eileen Garrett (below left): perhaps conditions for telepathy exist when the subconscious fields, but not the conscious fields, of the subjects overlap (below)

A further consequence of this theory is that, since the dark field of the Universe contains all possible events and presumably therefore all world lines, both branches of the girl's world line must exist, so we must assume that there are many, many branches and junction points; the decision taken at any moment decides which branch of the tree of world lines the conscious and unconscious spotlight will travel along. This is reminiscent of the theoretical physicist Hugh Everett's concept of a multiply branching universe in which every probability is realised but only one branch is observed. The experiences that make up a person's life, on this theory, are rather like those of a man who enters an art gallery at night, his only illumination being a spotlight that he trains on the pictures of the corridor along which he is travelling. He sees scenes of his early childhood and boyhood, and then he comes in the darkness to a 'T' junction. He can go either left or right. He chooses to go left and continues to shine his torch on the pictures on the wall of the left-hand corridor. He sees himself in these pictures as a youth carrying out various actions, going to various places, making various friends, until he becomes a man. He never sees the pictures of what his life would have been had he made a decision that took him right instead of left. He does not see, for example, that he would have died in a car accident at the age of 23. Instead he sees himself finished with university studies, taking a good job, marrying and having children.

There are other interesting implications about this theory of time and the Universe. A human being may be looked upon as the sum of a conscious field, subconscious field and a body. The body is embedded in the block Universe. What we call our body is only an instantaneous slice of a larger and longer entity, the 'body envelope' - the world line the spotlight of consciousness travels along. It seems reasonable to regard a person, alive and in a state of consciousness, as equivalent to conscious field plus subconscious field plus body envelope. If so, is an unconscious or dreaming person equivalent to subconscious field plus body envelope?

Spiritual paths

It may be that a psychic's subconscious field has the freedom to wander over the dark field of the Universe, probing until it intersects the world path of another person. In this case perhaps subconscious field plus body envelope equals unconscious or dreaming person - or perhaps at least in some cases the alleged spirit who communicates through a psychic. And there is also the intriguing possibility that if two subconscious fields, but not the corresponding conscious fields, intersect then the right conditions for telepathic communication are created.

Further reading
J.W. Dunne, An experiment with time, Papermac 1981
A. Mackenzie, The riddle of the future, Arthur Barker 1974
H.F. Saltmarsh, Foreknowledge, G. Bell & Sons 1938
Jacques Vallée, Messengers of deception, And/Or Press (Berkeley) 1979

It has been suggested by a number of psychologists and psychical researchers that perhaps the ring of unconscious perception covers the whole lifespan of a human being. For example, Aniela Jaffé has suggested that, at his deepest level, a human being has knowledge of his whole life, and Professor Tenhaeff has remarked that the psychic may derive his paranormal knowledge of his sitter through telepathy from the sitter's psyche. The philosopher Henri Bergson speculated that one of the tasks of the brain may be to restrict this view of time to a particular moment as in J.W. Dunne's theory of time (see page 1666), in which the consciousness of the human being is confined to the present moment, but a higher self in sleep is allowed views of past and future events in his life. The American parapsychologist Lawrence LeShan has pointed to the opinions of many mystics and psychics that, in their altered states of consciousness, time and space are irrelevant, there is no yesterday, today or tomorrow, and no passing of time. As the medium Eileen Garrett said, 'In the ultimate nature of the Universe there are no divisions in time and space' - a view that is not fundamentally in disagreement with the teachings of modern quantum mechanics.

It really looks, in fact, as if our consciousness creates time so that it is an illusion -a view that is in accordance with Eastern mystical teaching. Future study of precognitions and retrocognitions will possibly be able to define more clearly the problems bound up with the study of the nature of time - for example, the problem of free will and precognition, the idea that cause always precedes effect, the possibility that, given a precognition, the future can be changed by action taken on the part of the percipient, and so on. Philosophers C.D. Broad, C.W.K. Mundle; H.H. Price and many others have already turned their minds to these problems. The fact that such people are prepared to utilise the evidence for precognition and retrocognition in tackling the question of the nature of time shows that the subject is recognised as one of the most important research fields of science.

Picking and Choosing

How is it that psychics appear to have private access to information about the past and the future? One suggestion is that they are simply using a secret information' retrieval system.

Librarians are well aware of the fact that the disorder of a system is often only apparent. The traditional way of storing books by subject and author's name alphabetically is not the only way. Books may be put anywhere the shelves being filled in an apparently random way as long as an unambiguous information storage and retrieval system is used.

For example, a book on the Milky Way will be physically located on the library shelves devoted to astronomy and lie between Barr and Bartlett because the author's name is Barrett. In the library's storage and retrieval systems, however, it may be located with three other books by Krupp, Nash and Lawrence because all three books are about the Milky Way. If the library's retrieval system is triggered with the request for books on the subject 'Milky Way', all four books will appear - even though Lawrence's book is devoted to the well-known confection called 'Milky Way'! If one did not know that an information retrieval system was operating, one might be tempted to think that the appearance of Lawrence's book with the astronomical ones was a meaningful gastronomic synchronicity - or to dismiss it as a coincidence.

In a similar way, a hologram viewed with the naked eye makes no sense (see page 1464) - but when illuminated by a laser beam, it produces an astonishingly lifelike three-dimensional image (left).

Assuming that the seeming disorder of life does make sense when the correct retrieval system is applied it is possible to see time as merely an illusion produced by our pedestrian consciousnesses as they traverse the block Universe. The tricks of time - precognitions, timeslips, the ability of psychics to scan at will the long-gone past or the as yet unrealised future - are freak effects of an information storage and retrieval system. If this hypothesis is true, certain questions become relevant: What are the rules for retrieving information from the system? Can anyone learn them? And even, is it meaningful to ask who or what is responsible for the system? And perhaps if it has a physical existence, it can be located. But where?

Timeless What is Time? The Flow of Time Entropy and the Arrow of Time Timeslips

Reproduced from THE UNEXPLAINED p1734