Monday, 5 August 2013

(Extra)sensing the weather

SunsetThough it had been overcast all morning, there had been no rain. Following a trip outside, I had been indoors for around half an hour when I 'sensed' it was raining. It had not been raining just a couple of minutes before, when I had last looked out of the window. With all the windows closed, I certainly couldn't hear any rain or smell the newly wet ground. Nevertheless, when I looked out, it was raining lightly, just as I 'expected'. So how had I accurately 'sensed' it?

I had not heard a weather forecast for our area that day. Though the overcast sky made rain a distinct possibility, we've had many such days in recent months here with not a drop of rain. Looking at the local weather forecast AFTER the incident, it said the chances of precipitation were 20%. So there was a 1 in 5 chance of rain BUT the odds of of my predicting that correctly were longer, given that I had no useful relevant information to go on. So with quite impressive odds against guessing the precise few minutes when it would rain, how did I do it - ESP perhaps? Or was it just blind chance?

There is another possibility. I think many apparent ESP events in everyday life do not involve paranormal senses. Instead they use normal senses, often combined, together with unconscious inferences based on as lifetime of experience. As an example, consider the current incident. Just after it I tried to recall anything 'different' I had noticed when I 'sensed' the rain. Indeed I had - the sound of a a passing car! Even though the rain had merely wet the ground, creating no puddles, it was apparently enough to subtly change the sound of passing car tyres. That had been what made me think it was raining. It wasn't a conscious process. I just 'knew' it must be raining but had no idea why.

Some people claim to be able to smell oncoming rain. And research has shown that this is entirely plausible (see here). I think we all make unconscious inferences, based on experience and sensory input, that allow us to 'know' things that are not immediately obvious. This would appear like ESP in many circumstances. I had previously thought that such unconscious insight was probably restricted to a small percentage of the population with unusual abilities, like super-recognisers (see here). But after this experience of my own, I can see how those of us without such abilities may also have psychic-like experiences from time to time.

Of course, none of this would explain someone significantly beating chance scores in a well-controlled ESP experiment. However, even if we assume some sort of ESP exists, that doesn't mean it is needed to explain all 'psychic' incidents in everyday life. Unconscious insight may explain many such experiences. Our brains know a lot more about what is going on around us than we are ever aware of consciously. Sometimes snippets of this information come into our consciousness, as if from nowhere. It can certainly feel like ESP but it is always worth checking if you can remember noticing anything 'different' before getting your insight. It might just tell you how you got that information.

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