Knowledge From The Future Or Footprints From The Past?

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Jürgen Kornmeier1,2 
1Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health
Freiburg, Germany 
2Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy  
Medical Center, University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany 

Introduction: The information available to our senses is incomplete, noisy and to varying degrees ambiguous. Current theories about visual perception assume that our perceptual system tracks this problem by weighting the a priori restricted sensory information with previous memorized perceptual experiences in order to construct stable and reliable percepts. These theories are supported by numerous experimental evidence (e.g. Friston 2012; van Rooij et al. 2016; Brascamp et al. 2018; Liaci et al. 2018). 

Theories about precognition have an opposite point of view. They assume that information from the future can have influence on perception, thoughts and behavior. Some authors even postulate evolutionary advantages by such precognitive abilities. Several experimental studies provide evidence for precognition effects, other studies found no such effects and/or failed to replicate the previous findings (e.g. Rhine 1954; Honorton and Ferrari 1989; Schmied-Knittel and Schetsche 2012; Mossbridge and Radin 2018). One problem of the vast majority of precognition studies may be that the experimental paradigms did not systematically control for potential effects from the perceptual history. 

The Necker cube is a two-dimensional projection of a three-dimensional lattice cube stimulus (Necker 1832). During prolonged observation of the Necker cube our perception alternates repeatedly between two alternative 3D interpretations, even though the stimulus as such stays unchanged. Ambiguous figures, like the Necker cube evoke unstable / acategorial perceptual and mental states (e.g. Atmanspacher and Fach 2019). Precognition effects in turn are postulated to be more probable in such unstable / acategorial mental states. Ambiguous figures may thus particularly serve as experimental tools to study precognition effects (Rabeyron and Watt 2010; Bierman 2011; Stanford 2015; Mossbridge and Radin 2018). 

Methods: We presented ambiguous Necker cube stimuli and disambiguated cube variants in alternation and systematically tested in two separate experiments whether perception of a currently observed ambiguous Necker cube stimulus can be influenced by a disambiguated cube variant, presented in the immediate perceptual past (perceptual history effects) and/or in the immediate perceptual future (precognition effects). 

Results: We found strong perceptual history effects, which depended on the length of the perceptual history trace but were independent of the perceptual future. We also found some weak but non-significant indication of precognition-like effects, which however depended on the perceptual history. 

Discussion: The perceptual history effects found in the present study are in confirmation with related studies from the literature. The precognition-like patterns are interesting, but weak and only present in the first of the two experiments. Overall the present study demonstrates that any future experiment about sensory or extrasensory perception urgently needs to control for potential perceptual history effects. 

Fig. 1 A white-on-black variant of the famous Necker cube (Necker 1836), created by J. Kornmeier 

Atmanspacher H., Fach W. (2019). Exceptional Experiences of Stable and Unstable Mental States, Understood from a Dual-Aspect Point of View. Philosophies. 4:7. 

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Liaci E, Fischer A, Atmanspacher H, Heinrichs M, Tebartz van Elst L, Kornmeier J. (2018). Positive and Negative Hysteresis Effects for the Perception of Geometric and Emotional Ambiguities. PLoS ONE. 13. 

Mossbridge JA, Radin D. (2018). Precognition as a form of prospection: A review of the evidence. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. 5:78–93. 

Necker LA. (1832). Observations on some remarkable optical phaenomena seen in Switzerland; and on an optical phaenomenon which occurs on viewing a figure of a crystal or geometrical solid. Philos Magazine J Sci. 1:329–337. 

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Schmied-Knittel I, Schetsche M. (2012). Everyday Miracles: Results of a Representative Survey in Germany. Mind & Matter. 10:169–184. 

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van Rooij M, Atmanspacher H, Kornmeier J. (2016). Hysteresis in Processing of Perceptual Ambiguity on Three Different Time Scales. In: Papafragou A,, Grodner D,, Mirman D,, Trueswell J, editors. Proceedings of the 38th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Boston, USA. p. 568–573. 


Knowledge From The Future Or Footprints From The Past?


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