Do Our Bodies See the Future Before We Do?

Do you ever get feelings that give you a hint or glimpse of an event before it happens? You do? I knew you were going to say that.

Just kidding, of course, but many people do feel that they have presentiment, the ability to detect a future event just before it occurs. Some have reported feeling shivers, or the “hairs on the back of their neck standing on end,” or similar physical sensations just before an event happened. This is different than being “psychic” or claiming to see exact details of a future event; presentiment is more of a vague feeling in the body that something is going to happen, without knowing what that something is.

Many who have experienced this are convinced that it’s a real phenomenon, and that their body really does have the ability to feel future events before they happen. Skeptics, including many scientists, believe that this is all hooey. But now there are a few scientists who tend to agree that people’s bodies can anticipate events before they happen, and that presentiment exists.

Can events be predicted when there are no cues to tip us off?

Northwestern University neuroscientist Julia Mossbridge, one of the authors of a new study published in the journal Frontiers of Perception, believes that sometimes they can. She doesn’t know how, but a review of over two dozen studies on presentiment and her own experiments have convinced her that the phenomenon exists.

Preparing for the review, Mossbridge analyzed the previous experiments and threw out any that she or her associates felt contained bias or methodological flaws. Although the individual experiments varied, the majority of them (and new experiments conducted by these researchers) used a study design that introduced random frightening or otherwise stimulating images into a series of photographs shown to subjects as their bodies were being monitored for changes in heart rate and blood flow, pupil dilation, and activity in their brains. Because the order of the photos was randomized, neither the subjects nor the researchers knew when the scary photos were about to appear. Thus there was theoretically no way that the researchers could “telegraph” pre-knowledge of an upcoming frightening image to the subjects through their body language or anything else; they didn’t know when these images would appear, either.

But in many of the subjects, their bodies knew. Between one and ten seconds before the scary photos appeared, their heart rates rose, their pupils dilated, their blood volume increased, and their brain activity spiked. Their bodies seemed to know subconsciously that something was about to happen, before it happened.

As a result, Mossbridge now believes that presentiment exists. As she says, “The claim is that events can be predicted without any cues. This evidence suggests the effect is real but small.” She and her fellow researchers do not claim that any of the subjects are psychic, only that something in their bodies reacts to future stimuli before they occur. They also point out that this isn’t necessarily of as much use in the real world as you might imagine. For example, if you were an investor, “10 seconds beforehand you might predict your stock tanking.” That’s not enough time to do anything useful with the presentiment. On the other hand, if you were driving your car too fast and had a similar feeling that something scary was about to happen, you might be able to slow down and avoid an accident.

This study is considered important because, although it does not and cannot explain how this all happens, it does seem to demonstrate that it happens. If the research is accurate, it suggests that there is still much to be learned about the universe and how it works. Mossbridge believes that “presentiment is a real, physical effect that obeys natural laws – just ones that nobody understands.”

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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