Retrocognition Explained


In most cases, psychic abilities receive publicity in the context of anticipating any event or happening in the future. However a psychic individual may also be able to reveal things about the past – a phenomenon that is known as retrocognition.

What is Retrocognition?

In the context of the paranormal, retrocognition is the ability to psychically pick up information about a place's or person's past that could not have been known by ordinary means or the physical senses like viewing, hearing and so on . Also known as "postcognition," retrocognition literally translated from its Latin roots means "backward knowing." Like precognition, Retrocognition too can take many forms. For instance psychometry can be considered an application of retrocognition. Then again, sight and sound may be involved either separately or together in the retrocognitive experience. Again As with precognition, retrocognition can occur at many levels. At its simplest it's simply a "feeling": recognizing a place, person or set of circumstances; somehow "knowing" what happened in a certain situation. The common feeling of "déjà vu" could in fact be understood as a low level example of retrocognition whereas perhaps the most spectacular demonstration of retrocognition is past life recall or regression. Here the events perceived often occurred in the far past and could not possibly have been known about by normal means.

The term “retrocognition” was coined by Frederic William Henry Myers, one of the most prominent thinkers and classicists of the nineteenth century as well as a founder of the Society for Psychical Research. His most important work Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death was compiled and published after his death; this outlines Myers’ theory of consciousness which he believed must be part of a unified model of mind, including not only normal psychological phenomena but also the wide variety of abnormal and "supernormal" phenomena.

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Retrocognition cases in history

The most popular case of retrocognition in history of psychical research was perhaps the visions of Annie Moberly and Eleanor Jourdain – two scholars and early administrators of British university education for women. Published in 1911 and titled An Adventure, the book describes how in 1901, Moberly and Jourdain tried to find their way to Marie Antoinette's private château, the Petit Trianon. Becoming lost on their way, they believed that they instead came unto the Queen's presence itself. By recalling certain details of dress, accent, topography and architecture, over the following weeks, the two scholars became convinced that persons they saw and even spoke to on that occasion must have been of a presumed recollection by Marie Antoinette, on August 10, 1792, of her last days at Trianon in 1789. While often considered in popular literature as evidence for retrocognition, the book was immediately dismissed by Eleanor Sidgwick, a leading member of the British Society for Psychical Research, in an article published in its Proceedings, as the product of mutual confabulation.

Later well-known psychics like Edward Cayce too displayed retrocognitive abilities. For example, in the life readings or those readings which dealt with the soul, Cayce would often repeat aloud significant happenings in a person's life while going back over the years until the date of the person's birth. One of the most prominent examples of this was the reading about the Essene society. More than eleven years before the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, Cayce's readings described a sect of Judaism about which scholars knew little. This group was the Essenes. Cayce gave a great deal of information about their work and their life in the community. For example, he claimed that in the Essene society men and women worked and lived together. At the time of the reading, scholars believed that the Essenes were a monastic society composed exclusively of men. However, in 1951, more than six years after Cayce's death, archaeologists made further excavations at Qumran near the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. They discovered evidence that both men and women lived together in the Essene society.

In modern times, instances of retrocognition are more common in case of psychics on TV shows who go into a location that they allegedly know nothing about but can sense and articulate information about that place. Most often, they seem to be able to do this in locations where there has been a death, trauma, or significant event. This is also perhaps reason why there are accounts of psychics helping law enforcement officials on crimes like homicide and kidnapping that happened in the past and to which the psychics can give important clues. One of the most prominent of these seers in modern times is Marinus B. Dykshorn, a Dutchman whose career as a psychic detective spans three decades and three continents and For which he has twice been made an associate member of the Sheriffs Association of North Carolina. Another name in this context is that of Irene F. Hughes of Chicago. In one particular homicide case, Mrs. Hughes was able to provide police with the name and address of the murderer -- adding that the case would take a long time to solve. Not surprisingly, it was almost three years before the fugitive was found. According to crime reporter Paul Tabori, she is credited by police in Illinois with having helped to solve no less than fifteen murder cases.

Explanations for retrocognition

Theories explaining retrocognition naturally vary according to the discipline, whether it does or does not believe in validity of the phenomena.

According to some experts of the paranormal, it is likely that retrocognition works in the same way that residual ghost phenomena works. The event is imprinted on the environment in some holographically psychic way that is not yet fully understood. This is based on the premise that everything is made up of energy – thus the energy of the traumatic or oft-repeated events remain recorded in the environment in which they originally occurred. The psychic is able to "tune in" to the specific frequency of this residual energy and "see" it or experience it, long after it has happened and even though he/she knew nothing of it beforehand.

According to rationalists, retrocognition is a highly problematic concept based upon the simple fact that it is untestable. This is because, in order to verify that an accurate retrocognitive experience has occurred, it is necessary to consult existing documents and human knowledge, the existence of which permits some contemporary basis of the knowledge to be raised. For instance if a person claims to have retrocognitive knowledge that a prominent politician now dead cheated on his wife, the only way of verifying that knowledge would be to consult extant sources of the late politician’s activities. If it is found that he did, indeed, cheat on his wife at one time, it could be said that the psychic "simply" obtained contemporary knowledge of this fact rather than directly perceived – in the manner of retrocognition – any event in the politician’s past. Because of this fundamental logical difficulty in explaining the very process of retrocognition, there has been very little experimental investigation into the phenomena even by parapsychologists.

Skeptics however have a far simpler take on the matter. According to them, the psychic could have researched the location beforehand, for example, or merely acquired the information through some other means. For psychics claiming to reveal past information about a complete stranger, it is likely that they use a number of cold reading methods to produce information rather than experience it through retrocognition.

Like many other extra-sensory phenomena, retrocognition is difficult to replicate under laboratory testing conditions, primarily because of the spontaneous nature of the perception; even more problematic is the logical underpinning of the concept as pointed out by the rationalists. And yet for all the skepticism it arouses, retrocognition remains a crucial gift for psychics whether to explore past lives or to help in more basic matters like law enforcement.