1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Premonition

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PREMONITION (from Lat. prae, before, monere, to advise or warn), an impression relating to a future event. Strictly the word should mean a warning proceeding from an external source. Its modern extension to all forms of impression supposed to convey information as to the future is justified on the assumption that such intimations commonly originate in the subliminal consciousness of the percipient and are thence transferred to the ordinary consciousness. In modern times the best attested premonitions are those relating to events about to occur in the subject's own organism. It was observed by the animal magnetists at the beginning of the 19th century in France and Germany, that certain of their subjects, when in the “magnetic” trance, could foretell accurately the course of their diseases, the date of the occurrence of a crisis and the length of time needed to effect a cure. Similar observations were subsequently recorded in Great Britain and in America (see, for instance, the case of Anna Winsor, 1860-1863, reported by Dr Ira Barrows). The power of prediction possessed by the subject in such cases may be explained in two ways: (1) As due to an abnormal power of perception possessed by certain persons, when in the hypnotic trance, of the working of their own pathological processes; or (2) more probably, as the result of self-suggestion; the organism is “set” to explode at a given date in a crisis, or to develop the fore-ordained symptoms.

Apart from these cases there are two types of alleged premonitions. (1) The future event may be foreshadowed by a symbol. Amongst the best known of these symbolic impressions are banshees, corpse lights, phantom funeral processions, ominous animals or sounds and symbolic dreams (e.g. of teeth falling out). Of all such cases it is enough to say that it is impossible for the serious inquirer to establish any causal connexion between the omen and the event which it is presumed to foreshadow. (2) There are many instances, recorded by educated witnesses, of dreams, visions, warning voices, &c., giving precise information as to coming events. In some of these cases, where the dream, &c., has been put on record before its “fulfilment” is known, chance is sufficient to explain the coincidence, as in the recorded cases of dreams foretelling the winner of the Derby or the death of a crowned head. In cases where such an explanation is precluded by the nature of the details foreshadowed, the evidence is found to be defective, generally from the absence of contemporary documents. The persistent belief on the part of the narrators in the genuineness of their previsions indicates that in some cases there may be a hallucination of memory, analogous to the well known feeling of “false recognition.” Prof. Josiah Royce has suggested for this supposed form of hallucination the term “pseudo-presentiment.”

Bibliography.—See Puységur, Du Magnétisme animal (1807); Alexandre Bertrand, Traité du somnambulisme (1823); Mrs H. Sidgwick, Proceedings S.P.R., vol. v.; F. W. H. Myers, Proceedings S.P.R., vol. xi.; F. W. H. Myers, Human Personality (1903); F. Podmore, Studies in Psychical Research (1897); Proceedings American Society for Psychical Research (1889, Report on Phantasms and Presentiments); Annales des sciences psychiques (Jan.-Feb., 1889, Article on Premonitions by G. B. Ermacora).

(F. P.)