To a person who claims little or no psychic ability, and not much more than a passing interest in parapsychology, the difference between precognition and premonition is blurred and both terms could be better defined. I suspect that for convenience, the two terms are lumped together by psychologists, but I doubt if this linkage can be fully justified.
Precognition has been defined as the reported skill allowing one to see, sense, or feel future occurrences via some type of extrasensory comprehension (Source: Psychology dictionary accessed at, on 13 November 2016 http://www.dictionary.com/browse/precognition). On the other hand, Premonition seems to be more commonplace than precognition and has been defined as a feeling of anticipation or of anxiety over a future event, presentiment, OR a forewarning” (source: Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dreams#Prophetic_dreams).
Precognitive events or visions are generally transmitted through dreams, and precognitive dreams are said to be quite common. But are they – at least when we consider the more spectacular (or more vivid) of these happenings. Examples of these more spectacular events, include dreams by President Lincoln, Mark Twain, Jake Kovco, as well as some “classics” concerning Roman Emperors – Julius Caesar, Constantine, and Calligula.
Premonitory warnings need not be transmitted by dreams. Notable examples include: The destruction of the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2007 when many who worked in the building stayed away following premonitions that something bad would happen. Similarly, in 1912, several people did not board RMS Titanic for the second leg of her maiden voyage, after premonitions of danger. There are many other less well known examples.
I can recall three of my own premonitions. I worked for a United Nations organisation in the mid-1980s when I had a fairly heavy travel schedule. There was a time when, for a few weeks, I felt quite strongly that one of the flights on which I was booked was doomed. Later the feeling dissipated and I guessed that the part that was due to fail (or whatever) had been replaced.
Back in my home town of Canberra, I was due to go to an evening meeting and had a “feeling” that a hazardous mob of kangaroos was on the road, several kilometres away. I delayed my departure, and by the time that I reached the site, most of the mob had left. However, had I arrived a few minutes earlier, there could have been a different ending.
From 1990 to 1993, I worked in the Solomon Islands and reflected on a few “narrow escapes” that I had had. These included almost running off the runway in an aged amphibious seaplane. Losing both outboard motors overboard for the boat that was taking us to one of the project sites – we sat there, helplessly, out of sight of land, trying not to think of the 1,300 metres of water between us and the ocean floor. Fortunately, eventually, one of the commercial ferries came past and rescued us. Later, also in the Solomons, my family visited and we went to the Western Province for a few days. Flying back, we experienced first-hand the fright of passengers when one of the twin engines failed, requiring the pilot to get back to Honiara on one engine.
Putting these incidents together, I felt a bit like a cat that had lost eight of its nine lives, and asked my “inner self” if this were so. I was assured that the time for leaving the Solomon Islands was fast approaching!
I do not recall dreaming having any a part in generating these feelings of foreboding, rather I was reacting to my own quieter thoughts.
An intriguing account of a precognitive dream experienced by an Australian professional soldier, Jake Kovco, is included in the book Carry Me Home. Jake was the first Australian soldier to lose his life in the Iraq conflict.
Jake had been posted to Iraq, arriving about two weeks before he had the precognitive dream, on the night of 20 March 2006, when he dreamed vividly about shooting himself in the head. On waking, he wrote the details in his journal. Jake was a professional soldier and had thought about joining the elite Special Air Service Regiment. Only in exceptional circumstances would this kind of person write about a dream in his daily log book!
In the dream, he was about to clean his pistol when it discharged and the bullet went into his head. He then described, from his dream how it felt, before his body went tense and then became limp as his head began to bleed. He woke and thought that he felt blood as well as entry and exit wounds in his head. He felt that the dream was not about killing himself but that it might have been premonitory. He did nothing to prevent the dream’s outcome and died of a pistol shot wound to his head, on 21 April 2006 – as foretold in his dream.
Source: “CARRY ME HOME – The life and death of Private Jake Kovco” published by Allen and Unwin in 2008, author: Dan Box (pages 66 – 7).
Sam Clemens, better known as Mark Twain (1875 – 1910) was a well-known American humourist and the author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He dreamed about the death of his younger brother Henry in what must have been a vivid precognitive dream. He said that even after many years he could remember the details which were still fresh in his mind.
The two brothers planned to sail together on the riverboat Pennsylvania, Sam as an apprentice pilot and Henry as a “mud clerk” (a low-paid assistant to the purser who generally got his shoes muddy when helping to moor the boat as it landed). Sam dreamed the night before the ship sailed that he saw Henry’s corpse, laid out in a metal casket, wearing a suit and with a large bouquet of roses on his chest.
On the actual voyage, Sam was soon at loggerheads with the ship’s pilot, and he was put on to another boat, leaving Henry to continue the voyage upstream on Pennsylvania. However the boiler on Pennsylvania exploded and Henry was badly burned, surviving for a while in Memphis, where the injured were taken.
His handsome face was untouched, and the volunteers who laid out the corpses were so moved by his good looks that they gave him a metal casket. When Sam entered the “dead-room” in June, he saw an enactment of his dream. Only the floral bouquet was missing, but as he watched, a lady came in with a bouquet of white roses with a single red rose at the centre and laid it on Henry’s chest, as in the dream.
Source: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/dreamgates/2012/01/the-shadow-of-mark-twains-precognitive-dream.html (accessed 30 October 2016).
ABRAHAM LINCOLN (President of the United States 1861-65 [b 1809 – d 1865]).
Lincoln had a precognitive dream of his assassination, which is explained in his own words, as follows: “About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream.
“There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw lights in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”
Source Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dreams#Prophetic_dreams
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PRECOGNITION AND PREMONITION
I would like to suggest that the processes of Precognition and Premonition, while both are about future events, are actually sufficiently different for this to be recognised more widely.
From the small number of precognitive events that I have mentioned here, and my own experience, they are very vivid, deeply disturbing, transmitted by dreams, difficult to interpret fully, concern the death of the dreamer or of a close relative, are often not acted upon or even dismissed as “only a dream” and portray details accurately.
My cognitive experience in brief.
In 1973, I had a very vivid dream, so vivid that I had to tell other members of the graduate science class in which I was enrolled about it, even though I could expect a high degree of scepticism. My mother-in-law had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In the dream, she had died, but there was a ship recognisable as a ship of death waiting for one more. Although the dream made such an impression, I was unable to interpret it properly and it was not until 1976 that its message became clear when my wife died in most unusual accident, exactly a lunar year after my mother in law. Even now, over 40 years later, I can still recall the dream’s colour, the blue of the sea, the golden sand, the brown ship’s deck and the black and red of the ship’s modest superstructure.
Tony Fearnside 13 November 2016