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Thinking Ahead: Everyday Psychics and A Parallelogram

by Rebecca Stevens, Artistic Apprentice

Bee, the central character in Bruce Norris’s A Parallelogram, believes she can see the future. She is not alone: around the globe there are people who believe in the power of their own “psychic” predictions and share them with others, largely on the internet. Last year, capitalized on this trend by soliciting readers of Paranormal Phenomena for predictions about 2010. While contributors made the occasional prediction based on current events (“The unemployment rate will drop to 8.5% by June”), the majority were specific, ominous and occasionally bizarre: • A minor electrical fire will cause an office building in a major U.S. city to evacuate mere moments before a terrorist attack brings down the whole building. • Mt. Rainier is due to blow its top on July 7th. • They will discover Big Foot in Seattle Woods. But consider this: the Carter administration successfully used government employed psychics to locate a downed spy plane that satellites could not find. For years, Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, retained a special assistant for supernatural research, fearful that scientists from the Soviet Union would make advances in the field. Police departments from Los Angeles to Chicago continue to consult clairvoyants to assist in murder cases. History is full of small moments of foresight: researchers of parapsychology have recorded stories of survival when disaster is unthinkably avoided (a trolley conductor in Los Angeles who instinctively pulled his emergency brakes at a location he had dreamed he would crash and narrowly avoided hitting a swerving car), or painful realizations of earlier warnings when disaster strikes (a little girl who told her mother she would die the night before she perished in the 1966 mining disaster of Aberfan, Wales). Though we may be unsure whether to believe these stories are indelible proof or complete scam, our interest in them persists. The belief that individuals can see the future has existed for centuries. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the word “prophet” from old French in the 10th century as a “divinely inspired person who speaks in the name of God.” The connection with divinity was dropped by the 15th century to “a prognosticator, a forecaster.” In 1862, the phrase “prophet of doom” arrived, authored by William Cox Bennett in a poem entitled To My Watch. By 1892, New England Magazine borrowed the phrase to describe Parker Pillsbury, a fervent abolitionist and women’s rights activist. While prophets today no longer hold prominent positions in our government and culture, our curiosity lingers. The British Premonition Bureau and the Central Premonition Registry in New York City, both established in the late 1950s, formed to collect and screen early warnings of disaster (both eventually closed due to bad press and lack of funds). Both Freud and Jung were members of The Society for Psychical Research in the UK. The Rhine Research Center, a statistical and lab approach to understanding ESP, and The Arlington Institute are the most recent institutions devoted to the study of consciousness, including precognition. Moreover, human conception of time has proven to be inaccurate. As Einstein stated, “For us faithful physicists, the separation between past, present and future has only the meaning of an illusion, though a persistent one.” Perhaps we could have access to and knowledge of events in our future if only we understood how time truly functions. Can we know the future in advance? Our search to prove the authenticity or falsehood of premonition may only prove what we believed at the outset. Testing shows that the stronger an individual’s beliefs in the potential of parapsychology the better he or she performs on ESP tests. In the end, whether or not we can see into the future may rest on the strength of our own belief.