Issue No. 2 -- December 1999

News Item 103: Minds May Track Danger Unconsciously

Under the title "Minds may track danger unconsciously," SCIENCE NEWS [Vol. 156, 11Dec99] briefly reports on a new study which indicates that "Some kind of unconscious signal function in the brain for anticipating danger situations must be a central feature of any comprehensive model of mind."

SCIENCE NEWS is quoting from a report published in the current JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN PSYCHOANALYTIC ASSOCIATION authored by psychologist Philip S. Wong of the New School for Social Research in New York.

According to Wong’s study, "Feelings of anxiety typically flood consciousness with a vivid sense of foreboding. However, those anguished feelings may orginate in an unconscious mental process that anticipates real or imagined threats" according to Wong’s study.

To explore the possibility of unconscious processes involved in anxiety resulting from such danger signals, Wong set up an experimental research design using the principles of classical conditioning.

Wong fitted seventeen men, all physically and mentally healthy, with equipment to monitor the electrical activity of their brains.

The subjects first viewed a series of frowning faces presented subliminally, so that the researchers could determine baseline neural activity.

The subjects then saw a new set of frowning faces shown to them long enough for conscious perusal.

A mild finger shock was then administered to them them two and one-half seconds after the appearance of each consciously discernable face.

After this conditioning procedure, the men then were exposed to subliminal (i.e., not consciously discernable) presentations of the faces that had been linked to a shock, but this time they received no shock.

The results reported by Wong were that "distinct slow-wave brain activity emerged about half a second before the time at which shocks had been delivered in the conditioning phase."

Several earlier experiments have indicated that that this so-called "expectancy wave" arises when subjects consciously anticipate making a planed movement, or when they are about to receive a conditioned reward or punishment.

In his study, Wong indicates that the expectancy wave was elicited unconsciously. "It represents part of an unconscious danger-evaluation process, common to many animals, that underlies human anxiety responses to unseen real or imagined danger."

Psychologist John A. Bargh of New York University, who studies unconscious influences on attitudes an goals, commented that Wong’s "findings make a lot of sense in trying to understand danger assessment and the experience of fear and anxiety."

Departing now from the foregoing scientific review, it is somewhat fair to point up that "Minds may track danger unconsciously" has always been referred to as premonition or presentiment psychical and parapsychological research.

Indeed, the formal definition of PREMONITION is "Anticipation of an event without conscious reason," and which is also called presentiment.

So, "Anticipation of an event without conscious reason" and "Minds may track danger unconsciously" more or less incorporate almost identical reasoning.

The only real difference is that the anticipation of an event without conscious reason can occur without prior conditioning by mild electrical shocks.

During the earlier decades of the twentieth century, a number of books were published giving reports of premonitions and presentiments - or of minds tracking up-coming danger.

The reports were largely dismissed by scientists, and even by many parapsychologists, because they were anecdotal, and anecdotal evidence was not considered scientific.

An ANECDOTE is, of course, a short narrative of a biographical incident or event that was interesting, sometimes amusing, sometimes not amusing, of what the narrator claimed to have experienced.

Anecdotes, however, can only be narrated after the incident or event, and after-the-fact materials were deemed not scientifically acceptable - unless the basis for the experiences could be scientifically achieved.

As it is, though, all witnesses of premonitions agreed (even the experiencers themselves) that they did not depend on "consciously discernable" factors. Thus, the general assumption all along has been that their source originated in an unconscious mental process that anticipates events forthcoming - especially if the event ultimately did occur.

Scientist Wong has therefore at least grabbed the tail of the unconscious mental process that non-consciously anticipates. The history of premonitions, however, incorporates a much large scope than the one he (and others) is carefully experimenting for.

Anecdotes of fulfilled premonitions (usually of forthcoming danger) make for fascinating and astonishing reading - if one is interested in such.

If you can locate them, highly recommended in this regard are:

SEEING INTO THE FUTURE, by Harvy Day (Thorsons Publishers, Ltd., 1966).

THEY FORESAW THE FUTURE, by Justine Glass (Putnam’s, New York, 1969.)

PREMONITIONS: A LEAP INTO THE FUTURE, by Herbert B. Greenhouse (Bernard Geis, New York, 1971).

Except for listing them because of many requests to do so, I don’t particularly like pumping my own books in this database. Doing so seems too much like an ego thing.

However, YOUR NOSTRADAMUS FACTOR by Ingo Swann (Fireside, Simon & Schuster, 1993) adds many details to the books mentioned above - and hypothesizes the intrinsic existence of a non-conscious "factor-process" within the human systems that is always sensing or is "alert" to future events, especially with regard to danger.