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Sunday, 23 October 2011

How We Know that Precognition Doesn't Exist

Although in my youth I was quite sympathetic towards the possibility of ESP, the continued lack of consistent evidence turned me away from it. That, plus the realisation that, if phenomena such as telepathy were possible, they would confer a huge survival advantage on any creature possessing, so natural selection would ensure that they were as widespread as, say, the sense of smell.

In the case of precognition, the ability to see the future, there is an even better argument against its existence. Many countries around the world hold lotteries, in which the participants have to guess which numbers are going to turn up in a draw. If precognition was a real power, even one that was only held by a small percentage of humanity, and then not even very reliably, still the effect would be visible in lottery results.

The lottery organisations would be the first to notice that more people were winning than chance would allow. Rollovers would be almost unheard of, and jackpots would routinely be shared between many winners. In the UK, guessing just three numbers out of six gets you a £10 prize.Even someone whose precognitive powers were only right half the time should be able to scoop up prizes week after week.

None of this happens. Unless it goes hand in hand with a profound aversion to gambling, I think it's reasonable to conclude that precognition does not exist.


  1. I'll tell you how you predict the future.

    If you want to know the future, create it.

    Too simple? Too much cause level required to be confrontable? Maybe for some, but there it is. That's how Steve Jobs could predict widespread use of MP3 players. For example.

  2. I feel your argument is fundamentally flawed. True precogs would foresee the nightmare that being discovered would bring, and be capable of avoiding letting it happen. I doubt they would bother with high profile, and 'low' return lotteries, in favour of anonymous and high return stock deals.
    If Steve Jobs had been a precog, though, I can't see him not letting it slip somehow for after his death. Or scheduling the iPhone release earlier.

    A new scientist special last year pointed out that every formula relating to the physical world that includes time allows for time to change positively or negatively, there is no sign of any bias towards forwards only. Maybe it is as simple as Kierkegaard says, that life can only be understood backwards.

  3. That would assume that there was no continuum between having no precognitive ability and being able to see the future in great detail. My argument is that, if precognition is a natural ability, it would occur in the population in varying degrees. There would then be people who occasionally get flashes of the future (indeed, I've met people who think this is true of themselves), and such individuals would have an unconscious advantage in lotteries, biasing the distribution of winnings. No such bias has been observed, to the best of my knowledge.