In a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP), Cornell psychology professor Daryl Bem has published an article that suggests you can, possibly more often than the 25 percent of the time on average you might expect just by chance.
Entitled ”Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect,” the paper presents evidence from nine experiments involving over 1,000 subjects suggesting that events in the future may influence events in the past — a concept known as ”retrocausation.” In some of the experiments, students were able to guess at future events at levels of accuracy beyond what would be expected by chance. In others, events that took place in the future appeared to influence those in the past, such as one in which rehearsing a list of words enhanced recall of those words, with the twist that the rehearsal took place after the test of recall.
As Director of Research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, where, among other things, we study experiences that seem to transcend the usual boundaries of time or space (generically called ”psi” experiences), I’ve already received a slew of comments and queries regarding the pre-print of the article that is making the rounds.
The comments range from, ”Wow, that’s amazing!” to, ”That’s not possible — there must be some mistake.” But most responses are along the lines of ”Hello?? This isn’t news. Hundreds of articles reporting significant results on psi experiments have already been published in dozens of academic journals. What’s the big deal?”
So what is notable about the current publication? To begin, Bem is not just any psychologist; he is one of the most prominent psychologists in the world (he was probably mentioned in your Psych 101 textbook, and may have even co-authored it). And JPSP is not just any journal but sits atop the psychology journal heap; the article, especially given its premise, was subjected to a rigorous peer-review (where scientific colleagues critique the article and decide whether it is worthy of publication). Also, Bem intentionally adopted well-accepted research protocols in the studies, albeit with a few key twists, that are simple and replicable (they don’t require lots of special equipment, and the analyses are straightforward). Even so, whether the larger scientific community will pay attention to this study remains to be seen.