AskDefine | Define precognition

Dictionary Definition

precognition n : knowledge of an event before it occurs [syn: foreknowledge]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Knowledge of something that is to occur in the future.
  2. The ability to see the future in advance.

Related terms


knowledge of something that is to occur in the future
ability to see the future in advance

Extensive Definition

Precognition (from the Latin præ-, “prior to,” + cognitio, “a getting to know”) denotes a form of extra-sensory perception where in a person is said to perceive information about places or events through paranormal means before they happen. A related term, presentiment, refers to information about future events which is said to be perceived as emotions. These terms are considered by some to be special cases of the more general term clairvoyance.
Those skeptical of the existence of precognition and other forms of ESP believe it to be the result of fraud or self-delusion and contend that selection bias is the cause of the belief that one has precognition where individuals remember the "hits" and forget the "misses". Skeptics contend that the human memory naturally has a tendency to remember coincidences more often than other non-coincidences and thus individuals tend to remember more frequently when they were correct about a future event and forget the instances when they were wrong.

History and research

J. W. Dunne, a British aeronautics engineer, undertook the first systematic study of precognition in the early twentieth century. In 1927, he published the classic An Experiment with Time, which contained his findings and theories. Dunne's study was based on his own precognitive dreams, which involved both trivial incidents in his own life and major news events appearing in the press the day after the dream. When first realizing that he was seeing the future in his dreams, Dunne worried that he was "a freak." His worries soon eased when he discovered that precognitive dreams are common; he concluded that many people have them without realizing it, perhaps because they do not recall the details or fail to properly interpret the dream symbols. Joseph Banks Rhine and Louisa Rhine began the next significant systematic research of precognition in the 1930s at the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University. Rhine used card-guessing experiments in which the participant was asked to record his guess of the order of a card deck before the deck was shuffled.
London psychiatrist J. A. Barker established the British Premonitions Bureau in 1967, which collected precognitive data in order to provide an early warning system of impending disasters. Barker succeeded in finding a number of "human seismographs" who tuned in regularly to disasters, but were unable to accurately pinpoint the times. The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab is one of the more recent examples of attempts to study precognition, it began in 1979 with precognitive experiments have since been done in a variety of formats by various parapsychologists, for example by the remote viewing researchers. This facility was closed down in 2007.

Causality and paradox

An issue related to precognitive events includes paradoxes due to causality, (which are used heavily in fiction). One form of paradox includes events that are prevented due to the actions of those that know of it through precognition. In this case, the event doesn't happen, which would prevent the viewer from seeing the event in the first place.
A subtler form of paradox is the circular cause and consequence problem of events that are actually caused by the foreseeing of the event. Though in and of itself this chain is logically consistent, it is a chicken or egg problem -- if the event did not happen the viewer would not have seen it, which would have prevented it from happening.


The existence of precognition is disputed by skeptics such as Robert Todd Carroll, who believe that there is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the existence of precognition and who contend that examples of what are commonly thought to be precognition can be explained naturally without evoking supernatural abilities. Skeptics point to the fact that the human memory has a tendency to selectively recall coincidences and forget all of the other examples where, for example, dreams and other thoughts do not come to be. Examples include thinking of a specific individual right before the individual thought of calls on the phone. Human memory has a tendency to remember the instances where the individual thought of calls and forget the instances where the individual calls when not thought of just prior to calling. This is an example of selection bias and skeptics assert that examples of precognition are better explained using psychology and natural human tendencies opposed to supernatural or paranormal powers.

In fiction

  • In the Star Wars franchise, both the Jedi and Sith are granted precognitive abilities through mastery of The Force. Allowing them to predict probable future events and to react to events that have not yet happened; giving them the appearance of possessing super human reflexes in combat.
  • In the TV series Heroes, the characters Isaac Mendez, Peter Petrelli and Sylar have the ability to see and paint pictures from the future, although only Isaac had this power originally; Sylar and Peter both acquired it from him.
  • In the TV series Supernatural, the character Sam Winchester has the supernatural power to have visions from the future, though he displays no control over this skill.
  • Horror author Stephen King uses precognition in some of his novels, most notably The Shining and The Dead Zone, where a man can see the immediate future or past by touching an object relating to the subject of his prediction.
  • Precognition, and the implications of wielding a power like it, plays a significant role in Frank Herbert's Dune series, in which precognition is essential to faster than light space travel.
  • Alyssa Milano's character Phoebe Halliwell in the television series Charmed possesses the power of precognition.
  • Many Marvel/DC character possess the power of precognition, including Destiny of the X-Men comics and Lilith from Teen Titans series. Spider-Man's "spider-sense" is also a limited precognitive sense. In the film Elektra, based on the comic book character Elektra Natchios, the protagonist displays the ability of "Kimagure", a seemingly supernatural ability that grants the practitioner the power, among others, to see the future. Another Marvel ninja, Psylocke, also has the mutant power to have visions from the future, though she displays no control over this skill.
  • The movies Minority Report and Next, both derived from short stories written by science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick, contain major references to precognitives.
  • In her Bishop/Special Crimes Unit novels, Kay Hooper writes of an FBI team of psychics, some specializing in precognition.
  • In the novel series Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, one of the main characters, Alice Cullen, has the ability to see decision-based futures.
  • The Code Geass franchise has published a spin-off manga series entitle 'Nightmare of Nunnally', where it shows Nunnally Lamperouge obtaining a Geass of her own, which grants her the ability to read the line of the future.
  • The novel by Isabel Allende, The House of The Spirits, one of the characters has the ability to perceive someones' death.
  • In the TV series Stargate SG-1, Jonas Quinn acquires the ability to see possible futures in the episode Prophecy.
  • In the TV series Stargate Atlantis, the Atlantis expedition encounters a man named Davos who has visions of the future in the episode The Seer.
  • In the anime series Yu-gi-oh!, Ishizu Ishtar has the power to see both into the past and the future using the Millennium Necklace.
precognition in German: Präkognition
precognition in Spanish: Precognición
precognition in French: Précognition
precognition in Japanese: 予知
precognition in Polish: Prekognicja
precognition in Portuguese: Precognição
precognition in Russian: Прекогниция
precognition in Turkish: Prekognisyon
precognition in Chinese: 預知

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

a priori knowledge, anticipation, apprehension, buddhi, clairvoyance, command, comprehension, conception, conceptualization, direct apprehension, foreboding, foreknowing, foreknowledge, foreseeability, forewisdom, grasp, grip, ideation, immediate cognition, insight, inspiration, intellection, intelligence, intuition, intuitionism, intuitive reason, intuitiveness, intuitivism, knowledge without thought, mastery, mental grasp, prehension, presage, prescience, presentiment, satori, savvy, second sight, second-sightedness, sixth sense, subconscious knowledge, subconscious perception, understanding, unmediated perception, wisdom
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