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.

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Ordinary people are paying precog businesses for stock market predictions and gambling tips. Illustration: Nathalie Lees/The Observer

If you ask CEOs of top companies how they became successful, the majority of them will say they got there because they followed their gut feeling, says Smith. And thats what Im doing as a psychic, an intuitive. Smith says his predictions are 80% accurate, 75% of the time.

Michael D Austin is the founder of Soul Rider, a California business that offers financial forecasting to clients. He assesses signals from his team of precog viewers in conjunction with traditional market analysis. If eight people say the markets are going to go up and two people say the market is going to go down, you make a decision based on both experience and intuition. His clients include inventors, stakeholders and entrepreneurs.

Its been extremely helpful for me, says Andrea Driver, a 50-year-old from Sacramento who has been using Soul Riders services for a year. Earlier this year, Austin advised her against purchasing a piece of land for her business it later emerged there were permit issues with the location. Having him tapping into that, precogging that, was very helpful. It is easy to be sceptical of psychic claims. At one point during our call, Austin says he has a feeling theres a reason you opted to write this story.

Er, yes, I say sheepishly, I was commissioned by an editor.

Both Austin and Smith also say they dont want to use their powers to become millionaires themselves. Yet Caroline Watt, a parapsychologist at the University of Edinburgh, says studies have found a small but statistically significant precognitive effect in humans. I know that sceptical scientists would argue it is not possible to look into the future, therefore it is obviously nonsense when a study claims a positive effect, she says. However, Watt says there are some well-controlled studies that are hard to explain. She cites a 1989 meta-analysis of 309 future-telling studies conducted on 50,000 subjects between 1935 and 1987. The analysis concluded that evidence for an overall effect is strong. In 2016, researchers from the University of New South Wales found that non-conscious emotional information enables us to make better decisions in short, intuition exists. If its accepted we subconsciously gather hidden information from our surroundings, is precognition a possibility?

Despite this evidence, Watt warns that people shouldnt put much stock (or shares) in the precog economy. I would say it is a form of gambling because, although there may be a tiny effect, its not something of much practical use. The odds might be 1 in 1,000. I wouldnt bet my house or my health on that.

Mossbridge is an optimist. While she agrees with Watts small but statistically significant framing, she believes further research is needed. Scientists never used to be able to study meditation, because it was seen as too woo woo, but then people meditated and reduced stress, so now studies get funded, she says. Thats the way it always works science is the last to jump on the bandwagon.

If science is last, then the military is first. Many precogs dont just look into the future, Smith and Austin both use a technique known as remote viewing to explore distant targets in the present and the past. In 1995, the CIA declassified documents related to a secret army project, Stargate, that spent $20m researching remote viewing for 20 years, from the 1970s onwards. The files concluded that remote viewers can be used as collectors in conjunction with other intelligence sources. A major success came in 1976, when a remote viewer named Rosemary Smith found the location of a lost Soviet spy plane (in 1995, former president Jimmy Carter confirmed the incident had taken place). Yet Ray Hyman, a psychology professor tasked by the CIA to evaluate Stargate, wrote of consistent methodological problems, concluding there was little evidence remote viewing worked, let alone that it was useful in intelligence operations.

Gail Husick, 55, is a former partner in a law firm who founded a remote-viewing agency in Washington in 2014. Among other things, the Husick Group has helped the police with missing-person cases, found a lost passport, searched for stolen art and advised an entrepreneur on technology patents. Fees begin at $3,000.

Were in the information business, she says, claiming she is not a typical psychic. I had a pretty traditional education and family background. I went to Harvard Law School, I practised in Silicon Valley. After experiencing precognitive dreams, Husick trained as a remote viewer as part of Stargate, the government funded a project at Stanford Research Institute to create a remote viewing training protocol. Husick compares remote viewing to an aperture opening and closing rapidly, like the flash of images you might get when recalling your childhood bedroom. She gives her viewers a vague instruction, for example, Your target is a location, and they get into a meditative state before sketching and jotting down what they see. Its very much like seeing a memory, except its just a place you havent been before. As such, Husick warns that remote viewing is almost never 100% accurate and is best used alongside other information.

Tim OBrien, 61, is a Microsoft employee from Seattle who was adopted as a child and employed Husick to help find his birth mother. Over several months, Husick produced a 25-page report that OBrien says gave very, very intimate details about his mother that she later confirmed to be true. OBrien says these details include the fact that his mother worked in a mercantile environment and is very short, and that OBriens conception was non- consensual and distressing. Im a firm believer that it wasnt just lucky guessing. OBrien found his mother a year after Husicks report but not because of it. They tried to pinpoint the town and were inaccurate, he says, adding this caused an unnecessary side-track in his journey. Yet he has no regrets, and recommends remote viewing to others. I think its a valuable tool.

Husick offers to conduct a remote-viewing session for me. I choose a location a small hut-like pagoda on the northwestern corner of Nami Island, a micronation in South Korea where my boyfriend proposed to me earlier this summer.

Husick used 13 remote viewers for the task and then sent me her report. I was initially unimpressed by the results. The viewers saw a curved structure that resembled a pit or an amphitheatre, there was reference to tiered seating, and Husicks report mentioned a tunnel, mine, or shaft. There is a sense of intense desire, danger, threat, aggression and competition associated with the target location, the report reads, somewhat insultingly.

When I tell Husick the viewing failed, she is unperturbed. I understand your initial reaction. Most people expect us to be like psychics in the movies and the reality is that our work is much more painstaking, she says. She explores Nami Island on Google and finds several consistencies with the viewers visions. She points out that several viewers spoke of a tower-like feature near the target location a zipwire runs from the mainland to the island. The report shows that Viewer 12 saw multiples of human males rappelling downwards suspended by rope-like cords. Husick adds that, although I didnt see it, there is cascaded seating on the island in a garden area and its adorned with flags, just as one viewer drew. She explains that if I were a real client, multiple sessions would have been undertaken, and this report is just a first pass at the target.

Husick considers our session a success; I remain confused. The viewers results are over 200 pages long. For every result that makes me gasp (Viewer 12 drew a structure that looks remarkably like my pagoda), another dampens my mood (one viewer saw an industrial wasteland and urban decay the island is lush and green, and peacocks wander freely).

Should I put stock in Husicks consistencies? Professor French says a cognitive bias known as subjective validation means people consider information correct if it has personal value to them (he notes that no one is immune and, thanks to his career, he himself has a vested interest in being a sceptic). How do we know that those correspondences didnt just occur by chance? In 200 pages, theres bound to be elements that match any location you go to, he says.

Yet Mossbridge argues its still a growing business. There are more and more people who are building applications of this work. Some are legitimate and some are not, but theyre getting customers who are buying their work for reasonable and sometimes exorbitant prices, which means that the sceptics are not winning. Its worth noting that those who do buy into the precog economy dont like to publicise the fact. Austin, Husick and Smith all say that police forces who work with them prefer to keep quiet about it, and Austin believes the precog economy will have to stay on the downlow as it expands. It scares people, he says. It scares the hell out of them.

Winning the lottery after a precognitive dream was the least remarkable part of Fatih Ozcans story. The waiter only found out hed won nine days after the draw, because his boss kept the ticket and refused to halve the winnings. After protracted police proceedings, Ozcan took him to court. It was a distressing time telling the story makes his voice shake. People were telling me I had no chance of winning the court case, he says. Yet midway through his ordeal, he received reassurance in the middle of the night. I had another dream showing me I would win the case, he recalls. After a week-long trial in 2014, a judge ruled that Ozcan should be given his 500,000 share.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

 

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