Precognition is the claimed paranormal ability to predict the future and is widely considered to be pseudoscience. Why, then, is the US psychic industry worth $2bn a year?
Deep in the night of 29 January 2012, Fatih Ozcan had an unusual dream. Then 27, and a waiter in a Turkish restaurant in York, Ozcan dreamed he was holding loads of cash while standing in front of his boss. When he arrived at the restaurant for his 5pm shift the next day, he was impatient to speak with his employer. I was saying: Where is he? I need him. I was telling everyone I had to play the lottery with the boss, Ozcan says. After two hours of pestering, Ozcans boss agreed to play. Two days later, the winning EuroMillions numbers were drawn the pair won 1m.
Ive had loads of dreams that have become true, but they were little things, like travelling somewhere or having a nice day, he says. Ozcan was certain this dream was prophetic and that he and his boss would win money together, because a month earlier he prayed for wealth for the first time. My boss and my colleagues didnt believe it, but I believed it and thats why I pressured him for hours.
Every month premonitions hit the headlines from the (ironically predictable) claims of Uri Geller to the countless celebrities who claim they foresaw 9/11 (including Michael Caine, Christine Lampard and Richard Madeley). Like Ozcan, several lottery winners claim they predicted their wins. In May this year, a man in Australia and a woman in Maryland both won the lottery by choosing numbers that they say came to them in a dream.
That same month, a woman who lost her fianc in the 2017 London Bridge terror attacks told an inquest about the moments before his death. Walking towards the Shard on the warm June evening, Christine Delcros suddenly felt uneasy as they neared the bridge and begged her partner to turn back. We shouldnt go there, we should go somewhere else, she recalled saying. Tragically, her fianc was the first of eight people killed in the attack.
The Wikipedia page for precognition is unforgiving; off the bat, the worlds most popular information resource claims premonitions are widely considered to be pseudoscience. This doesnt change the fact that many of us have a similar story a sense of unease before an accident, a familiar unfamiliar place, a disconcerting jolt of dj vu.
In 1967, Dr John Barker set up the London Premonitions Bureau to formally allow people to record their visions. It was the subject of a New Yorker article earlier this year. He collected many remarkable stories: shipwrecks, floods and tornadoes predicted in advance. A year after launching the bureau, two people even predicted the doctors own death he died of a brain haemorrhage in August 1968. Yet 60 years later, the most accepted explanation of precognition is that we suffer from cognitive biases, retroactively seeking patterns to make sense of a senseless world. Still, like Barker, many continue to formalise the power of premonitions and even hope to profit from the process.
Dr Julia Mossbridge, a visiting psychology scholar at Northwestern University in the US, and co-author of The Premonition Code: How Sensing the Future Can Change Your Life, says there is an ever-expanding precog economy, where people with alleged precognitive powers sell their abilities to business people, law-enforcement officials and even health professionals.
People who are good at this can make money from it, and people who want the services can buy them for all sectors of the economy, says Mossbridge, who had her first precognitive dream (about a school friend losing her watch) when she was seven. She says her so-called positive precogs (named after the mutated humans who predicted the future in the 2002 thriller Minority Report) differ from psychics with crystal balls and 1.50/min phone lines. What Im imagining is a much more sophisticated and structurally supported version of that, she says. The UN could have a group of precogs whod work on climate change alongside experts in the area. Theyre just one mode of knowing.
Mossbridges dreams for a precog economy are undoubtedly ambitious, particularly as the scientific community considers precognition to be pseudoscience. If I had to bet money on it, I would bet against the existence of these abilities based on my judgment of the currently available evidence, says Professor Christopher French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths University. Yet French isnt the one betting money. It is ordinary people who are paying precog businesses for stock market predictions and gambling tips. Mossbridge notes that psychic services have been growing since the recession and estimates the US psychic industry is worth $2bn. Once precognition hits the higher-end markets governments, investment banking the estimates will go up by an order of magnitude, she says.
Daz Smith is a 49-year-old from Bath who works for an American business, CryptoViewing, to predict cryptocurrency trends. He says more than 20,000 subscribers pay a monthly fee (on a tiered structure starting from $1) to access insights from five precogs. Anyone can apply to work for CryptoViewing to be eligible, you simply have to prove yourself by providing information about a faraway, unknown target the company sets.
The typical way I do it is I sit down at a table with a stack of paper and a pen, put my headphones on and meditate, explains Smith. Its generally classical music, because it has no words and I dont want to be influenced. At the moment, Smith is listening to the soundtrack from the 2014 sci-fi film Interstellar. It takes him an hour to gather information. He says he sees vague visuals and feels snippets of emotions that he scribbles down on the page.