Predicting the Unpredictable: Critical Analysis and Practical Implications of Predictive Anticipatory Activity

By: Julia A. Mossbridge, Patrizio Tressoldi, Jessica Utts, John A. Ives, Dean Radin, Wayne B. Jonas
Publication Name: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
Year: 2014
Citation: Volume 8
Type: Journal
A recent meta-analysis of experiments from seven independent laboratories (n = 26) indicates that the human body can apparently detect randomly delivered stimuli occurring 1–10 s in the future (Mossbridge et al., 2012). The key observation in these studies is that human physiology appears to be able to distinguish between unpredictable dichotomous future stimuli, such as emotional vs. neutral images or sound vs. silence. This phenomenon has been called presentiment (as in “feeling the future”). In this paper we call it predictive anticipatory activity (PAA). The phenomenon is “predictive” because it can distinguish between upcoming stimuli; it is “anticipatory” because the physiological changes occur before a future event; and it is an “activity” because it involves changes in the cardiopulmonary, skin, and/or nervous systems. PAA is an unconscious phenomenon that seems to be a time-reversed reflection of the usual physiological response to a stimulus. It appears to resemble precognition (consciously knowing something is going to happen before it does), but PAA specifically refers to unconscious physiological reactions as opposed to conscious premonitions. Though it is possible that PAA underlies the conscious experience of precognition, experiments testing this idea have not produced clear results. The first part of this paper reviews the evidence for PAA and examines the two most difficult challenges for obtaining valid evidence for it: expectation bias and multiple analyses. The second part speculates on possible mechanisms and the theoretical implications of PAA for understanding physiology and consciousness. The third part examines potential practical applications.