Isn’t the fact that casinos thrive, strong evidence against precognition? This is one of the most frequent questions/comments we hear with regards to our work, so we wanted to use this blog post to answer the question.
The fact that casinos do in fact maintain their edge, does suggest that people cannot consciously, or willfully, gain access to precognitive information in a terribly reliable manner. However, it does not rule out the existence of precognition that manifests more intuitively, or unconsciously. Psychologists have shown that information can exist in our minds that we are not consciously aware of, information that, for whatever reason, does not translate into conscious awareness; yet there are methods psychologists can use to access this information which is hidden from conscious awareness.
Some of the earliest work on this topic was most famously conducted with patient HM, who underwent brain surgery that removed part of the temporal lobe, the hippocampus. After initial post-surgery assessment, doctors saw that HM could carry on coherent conversations and was in fact quite lucid. Yet on further inspection it became very clear that there was something wrong with his memory. He had lost his ability to translate short term memories into long-term memory. For example, after meeting a new person (post-accident) if that person would leave the room and come back, they would have to be re-introduced. Psychologists initially thought that this meant that all new learning would be compromised. Yet researchers found out that certain types of learning and memory remained intact – specifically unconscious, or implicit learning. For example, after many sessions of learning a task like mirror drawing, even though his skills would improve on the task, he would have no awareness of ever doing the task before. Each time he did the task, it would seem to him like it was his first time. This type of amnesia, in which new explicit learning is compromised, is termed anterograde amnesia. The main character in the movie ‘Memento’ is a great example of someone with anterograde amnesia.
This groundbreaking work not only spawned modern cognitive neuropsychology but helped demonstrate very clearly an important fact about the human mind; the things that we are consciously aware of are only a very small part of the information available that influences our decisions and actions. Perhaps what is most problematic with this is that we tend to treat our conscious perceptions as the whole story, when in fact a bulk of the action takes place outside of our awareness.
When it comes to precognitive information, it is possible that we all might be akin to patient HM (i.e., perhaps suffering from a type of ‘retrocausal amnesia’ – unable to explicitly access this future information). For example, you could tell HM the following day’s winning lottery numbers, but despite this information, as soon as he’s distracted for long enough, the information would be lost to conscious memory. Perhaps we similarly are unable to access unconscious precognitive information. Importantly, psychologists have come up with clever ways to demonstrate the existence of these memory traces even when they cannot be explicitly communicated (e.g., using indirect behavioral and physiological methods).
This is the type of methodology we will be using in our experiments at the TANC lab. For example, instead of asking our participants to tell us what they think is going to happen in the future, we will measure their brain waves and/or reaction times to stimuli and see if it can reveal information about future events. In 2012, Mossbridge and colleagues analyzed all studies from 1978-2010, showing that there is in fact evidence across all studies of physiological pre-arousal that corresponds to randomly chosen future stimuli.
Therefore, the fact that casinos still thrive is not strong evidence against the existence of precognition. Given how compelling it would be to be able to “beat the house” or consistently predict stock market outcomes, our experiments are aimed at using unconscious precognition to predict these types of real-world outcomes. In future blog posts we’ll describe in more detail the TANC experiments- one of which is specifically targeted at using unconscious precognition to win at roulette!