Matt Gemmell

TOLL is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Paranormal experiences

personal 10 min read

I was reading more of Dreamcatcher last night. It’s another of the many King books where primary characters have some form of ESP ability - a very common theme for King, right from Carrie. Insomnia, The Shining, Tommyknockers; the list goes on. Anyway, I was aimlessly browsing the web today when I decided to google for blogs which mentioned the word “psychic”, and on visiting one of them I eventually arrived at The Larger Universe, a company which offers “remote viewing” services (amusingly, they position their services as being useful to corporate entities, for “Revenue Generation” and so forth).

As I understand it, remote viewing is defined as the ability to mentally view events occurring at non-local points in space and even time (commonly restricted to human history on Earth, for practical purposes). I wonder if these folk really can do such a thing with any consistency. I say “with any consistency” since I effortlessly believe it’s indeed possible. I’m just playing the odds.

Our history has been the shrinking of the domain of the impossible. Submarines, aircraft, even primitive spacecraft; all were very much impossible. Much of quantum theory still seems logically “impossible”, but empirical data is growing constantly. For example, the idea that the outcome of a past experiment isn’t fixed until you inspect the results, would still readily be dismissed by the chap on the street. It’s foolish to classify anything as impossible, yet perversely we’re placed in the situation of having to disprove impossibility on a case-by-case basis. The arrogance!

The interesting thing with respect to paranormal/psychic/ESP (whatever) abilities is that, despite seemingly meeting with uniform ridicule by mainstream science, just about everyone has had direct experience with such abilities.

Even discounting all media reports entirely (which is a slightly foolhardy thing to do; not everything is fabricated by morality-free hacks), and limiting the domain of discourse to your own family, friends and acquaintances, just about everyone at least knows someone with some “odd” ability, or at least of curious events that have taken place. Indeed, most of us have personally experienced something we can’t readily explain. The point to note is that, when these events occur, they may make the hair on the back of your neck rise, but they don’t really feel wrong. In fact, they feel natural. It’s only our socially-conditioned response that makes us feel that it’s “spooky”.

A few examples. First, my father. He has an odd knack for picking words, phrases or lyrics out of the air, just moments before he sees or reads or hears them, without any warning. He’ll be driving along with the radio on, and suddenly some lyrics of a song he hasn’t heard in years enter his mind. Invariably, it’ll be the next song on the radio. Similarly, a name will spring to his mind, and he’ll meet that person within a day or two. My father reads a great deal, so it often happens with characters in books. I remember a relatively recent example, when he and I were talking about our weeks, and I mentioned that I’d been in bed with the flu for a couple of days, and used the time to read some Jules Verne, including 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - and my father immediately smiled and nodded in satisfaction. The name “Ned Land” had sprung into his mind a couple of days before, whilst I was reading the book (Ned Land is of course one of the primary characters in that book).

As for myself, I’ve had a number of experiences over the years, and there are certainly some casually odd things about me. The first is that I remember all of my dreams, every night. I always have. Statistically that’s a very rare thing. If I enter a dream which I’ve had before, I’m instantly aware of it, and of how it plays out in its entirety. I often remark to myself that it’s a repeat whilst I’m still in the dream. I achieve lucid dreaming very regularly indeed; almost every night. My dream-environments aren’t the cloudy, shifting jumble of what I understand normal dreams to be; they’re rock-solid, vibrant, involving narratives. Absolutely every bit as real, and often much more so, than waking experiences.

Another odd thing is my timekeeping ability. I always know what time it is, to within a few minutes. I can become preoccupied with an activity for hours, and when I look up I know exactly what time it is. Likewise, I can fall asleep, exhausted, at the end of a long day, and when I wake in the middle of the night in the dark, I know exactly what time it is. I’m intimately aware of occasions when the flow of time seems to slow and speed-up, and I experience that far, far less often than most people. I don’t think journeys are shorter on the way back, for example - I’m aware of the time passing in minute accuracy.

Then there are the previews, which I’ve had on a fairly regular basis since I was very young; perhaps five or so. Previews are what I call my deja-vu experiences. Everyone has deja-vu: the sudden strong sense that you’ve experienced the current events before; that you’re living through a repeat, and not an instant-replay - rather, than you experienced these events and this time-period quite long ago. I still have that normal component of deja-vu, but nine times out of ten, as soon as I get the deja-vu feeling, the next several minutes, sometimes up to about 15 minutes, of events spring into my mind, complete. I’m aware of precisely what’s going to occur for the next number of minutes, and I’ve never known it to be wrong. Instead of just remembering that I’ve gone through the current events before, I just remember the next bit too. Commonly, the “next bit” involves some minor unpleasant experience; often something embarrassing or foolish happening to someone else who’s present; and the events can then be changed to avoid it. I had previews quite routinely during high school; my circle of friends became quite used to it. I don’t think it’s strange at all; it’s just part of normal life-experience for me. It certainly doesn’t feel wrong or strange in any way when it happens.

The other thing is leaning. I’ve only called it leaning for the past six years or so, ever since I played Donkey Kong 64 on the N64. At several stages in the game, you’re riding a mine-cart through a huge abandoned mine, and the baddies have laid traps on various sections of the track. Accordingly, when you approach a Y-junction in the track, you have to “lean” to one side or the other to make the cart follow the appropriate section of track, avoiding the dynamite or whatever was on the other fork. Simple enough idea. It struck me at the time that “leaning” was a really appropriate metaphor for another experience I have periodically, and which started when I was much younger. Leaning starts when you feel a decision coming, or a fork in the road. When you’re traveling on a train, and you approach a junction, you can feel the slight bump as the train’s wheels move onto the forked section, to take whatever path has been chosen by the lever. You can “feel the join”, if you will.

Now, modern science believes that every decision in our life is such a “join”. It’s a fork in the road, where you choose one path to follow, but the other path still exists. The beginning of your life is the trunk of a tree, and every decision you make pushes you along a particular branch, then a particular sub-branch, and so on. The other branches still exist, though; they’re just inaccessible to you. Modern science says that we actually make both decisions every time, causing the branching-off of two universes, in each of which you choose a different path and your life plays out differently. A fork in the road, in which two separate “you”s take both forks at once.

As I said, at certain times, when a decision approaches (a decision of any kind; a branch - not necessarily a formal, intellectual life-choice), I can feel the join. Briefly, I see the two paths, not just mentally visualising outcomes, but seeing the two states as they will be after the decision has been made. At that point, I can “lean into the turn”, and choose my preferred route. The thing that makes it interesting is that in one respect it’s not like a junction on a railway line: with leaning, you can sometimes lean after the junction. Leaning after the junction (changing your mind) is made much more difficult if you’ve seen some direct consequence of your initial decision (seen with your eyes). Once you’ve made a choice, and seen some outcome with your eyes, it’s extremely difficult to reverse the choice; to lean the other way. It’s for that reason that, sometimes, when I feel the join, I close my eyes whilst leaning into the turn. That way, if after a few moments I realise it’s the wrong choice, or an outcome is more negative that I initially thought, I can lean back much more easily.

The example of leaning which always springs first into my mind is the lamp-table. When I was young (maybe four or five), my mother had a little white plastic table, not even a foot high, which sat at the top of the stairs outside the bathroom. It had a lamp on it, to be put on at night, to provide some light for those getting up to use the bathroom. I would often kneel at that table (which was just the right height for me to kneel at when I was small), and play with toy cars or whatever my current favourite thing was. Since it was completely made of plastic, and since its flat surface was very thin indeed, putting any kind of weight at all on it made it creak in that way that plastic does. This particular day, for whatever reason, I decided to see how much I could make it creak. I took everything off the table, and pressed my palms down onto it. I heard some creaking; good. But not enough. I pressed harder, and was answered by more creaking, but nothing spectacular. I’m not sure what my intention was, but I was thoroughly caught up in that haze children get when they’re learning about the force they can exert on the world. Truth be told, some part of me wanted to break it.

I then decided to use my elbows. I clasped my hands together so that my elbows were together and facing down, and placed them on the table, pressing down hard. Lots of creaking! Perhaps a little snapping noise below. I remember starting to feel slightly guilty, but I was much more interested in seeing how far I could take it. I realised I could exert much more force if I put my chin on top of my clasped hands, and thus used my neck and back along with my arms to push my elbows downwards. I did so, and as I began pressing my chin down, I automatically and instinctively closed my eyes. I pressed as hard as I could, and, unsurprisingly, the surface of the table gave way. There was a huge cracking, snapping noise, and the surface just fell away in pieces, all jagged shards and broken edges. I heard some pieces springing back up, and I heard others drop onto the carpet below. I saw all the pieces vividly, even though the fright of the sudden noise and lack of resistance had made me keep my eyes closed. My eyes were wide, even though my eyelids remained shut. I was still in the same position, chin on top of clasped hands, though my elbows were now hanging down through the middle of the little table, several inches below the level its surface had been. Looking back, it’s amazing I didn’t get cut on one of the jagged edges.

Predictably, I then started to feel extremely worried. My mother wouldn’t be very pleased, to say the least. I’d been playing with toy cars, and kneeling down, so there wasn’t any ready explanation for an accidental breakage. I would certainly be in trouble. I pictured the scene, and suddenly I felt the join. I saw both outcomes; broken table and no broken table. I’d already passed the fork in the road, but I felt the join and I could still lean back. I’d had little experience with leaning at this point; this was mostly on an instinctive level. I leaned back (not physically; I leaned back to the other side of the track, in my mind), and raised my elbows upwards, out of the middle of the table. There was no noise of any kind. I opened my eyes, and the table was fully intact, as I knew it would be on this side of the track.

I couldn’t quite believe it, but I was much, much less amazed than you might think I’d be in such a situation. It was a natural thing; I felt that strongly. I wanted to tell someone about it; really badly wanted to. As a normal child, I made up all kinds of the usual fantasy stories (not lies; just play). I remember experiencing a funny, horrible feeling for the first time - I would later learn that it was called irony. I realised in that moment that if I were to tell my parents, they’d think it was just one of the usual childish fantasies (“a spaceship landed in the garden last night? I bet that was scary!”). I realised I could probably never convince them otherwise. I was the boy who cried wolf. I didn’t like irony much.

I turned the table over (remember, it was less than a foot high and was plastic, so it hardly weighed a thing), and inspected the underside. Some part of me believed that, when I raised my elbows, the broken and bent-down shards had simply been able to spring back up, and had happened to knit back together again neatly, leaving no trace. Impossible, but the capacity to believe in the impossible is incredible when you’re trying to deceive yourself. There were no marks, no traces. No pieces on the floor. The surface was perfect, but then of course it was, because it had never been broken. Not on this fork. I stood it back on its legs again, and pressed down on the surface to check. Just the same low creak you always got; just the same amount of resistance. I put the lamp back on the table, and went back downstairs. I felt a bit afraid of the table, but that went away quickly enough.

That table is still outside the bathroom in my mother’s house, and there’s still a lamp on it (a different lamp, though). Still unbroken. It doesn’t seem strange to me at all. It’s just what happens when you feel the join, and then you get the chance to lean back. Had I opened my eyes as soon as I broke the table, it would have remained broken, and there would be a different table there today - I know that for certain.

Previews, leaning and precise timekeeping are an ordinary, normal and even mundane part of my life. I’m a programmer, and a university student in the middle of a Computer Science degree. I read New Scientist and I watch Star Trek. I don’t go around looking for auras or rearranging furniture to get rid of negative energy, but only because I don’t seem to be tuned to respond to those wavelengths. Others can’t lean into the turn; I can’t hear people’s thoughts. I don’t think I’m unusual or psychotic in any way. I’m just a Mac OS X geek who sometimes feels the join. And I don’t think anything at all is impossible.