9/11: premonition of disaster

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GOMERY KIMBER believes there really can be second-sight

On the afternoon of September 11th 2001 I was making notes for a story I planned to write about the ghost of a slave ship captain. I’d already named the ghost Noah, but I couldn’t think of a suitable surname. I sat there, pen in hand, awaiting inspiration.

Eventually, a name popped into my head: Shanks, Noah Shanks.  That sounded just right. I wrote it down, made a sandwich as I’d had no lunch, and turned on the TV.  When I saw what was happening in the USA that afternoon – real horror, real terror – making notes for work of fiction seemed not a little pointless.

It was two days later, while reading newspaper reports of the attacks on America that something strange happened.  As everyone knows, there was a fourth aircraft that never reached its hijackers’ target. Flight 93, a United Airlines Boeing 757, was carrying 38 passengers and seven crew. It crashed 80 miles south-east of Pittsburgh. Or to be more precise, 8 miles east of Jennerstown, near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I looked again. Shanksville? My first reaction was, now that’s unusual, that’s the same name as the character in my story. Then I noticed that Flight 93 had crashed at 2:00 PM Greenwich Mean Time – about the same time that the name Shanks had swum to my head.

Now for several months before September 11th I had been plagued by nightmares of explosions, nuclear warfare, and natural disasters; one particularly disturbing dream concerned a skyscraper in a city under air attack. In June 1996, the flat I shared with my girlfriend was blown up by the IRA bomb which badly damaged city centre Manchester. I had assumed the nightmares related to that traumatic event, but now I wasn’t so sure. I’d dreamed of a skyscraper (there were none in Manchester) in a city attacked from the air (the IRA used a lorry bomb); could it be possible that I had glimpsed the future, dreaming of a terrorist attack that had yet to happen? But how could I have been?

Everyone knows that time is linear, flowing from the past into the future. It is impossible to have prior knowledge of a future event. Or is it? I recalled reading about the journalist John Godley who dreamed more than once of future horse race winners; on the strength of his fame as a psychic punter he went on to be a racing correspondent1. So perhaps time is stranger than we think, perhaps all of us have precognitive dreams but forget about them as soon as we wake up.

In 1927, in his famous book An Experiment With Time, J W Dunne suggested exactly that. Upon waking, Dunne would write down what he had been dreaming about, and quickly discovered that he did indeed dream of future events. While reading about a combination lock, he realised he had dreamt about it the night before. On another occasion he dreamed that his watch had stopped at four-thirty and that a crowd was shouting, “Look!  Look!”  Dunne woke up and discovered that his watch had indeed stopped at four-thirty. He wound it up, only to find the next morning that his watch was showing the right time: his dream had woken him at the moment it had stopped.

Not all Dunne’s dreams were so mundane. In 1902, as a soldier in South Africa, he dreamed he was on an island threatened by a volcanic eruption. In the dream he “was seized by a frantic desire to save the four thousand (I knew the number) unsuspecting inhabitants”. Days later he read an account of a volcanic eruption in Martinique. 40,000 people were said to have died, but Dunne misread the figure as 4,000. It was fifteen years before he realised his error. “My wonderful ‘clairvoyant’ vision had been wrong in its most insistent particular!” he noted, concluding that his dream was of reading about the eruption in the newspaper, not of the event itself.

Illustration from the 16th century Augsburg Book of Miracles

Dunne is not alone in having prior knowledge of disasters. In October 1966, a coal tip slid down a hillside and buried the Welsh mining village of Aberfan, killing 144 people, 128 of whom were children. Following a visit to Aberfan, Dr J C Barker made an appeal in the London Evening Standard for those who felt they had foreseen the disaster to contact him.  Of the 76 people who came forward, Barker was able to confirm that 26 had spoken to others about their premonition before the event. The precognitions had affected people all over the UK, from five weeks before the disaster to within two hours of it. So vivid were the precognitive dreams that in some cases people woke in great distress, reporting that they had heard children screaming. Some claimed to have had premonition of other disasters; Doctor Barker called such people “human seismographs”.

Indeed, it would seem that the greater the reading on the psychic Richter scale, the greater the number of people who receive glimpses of the future.  It should therefore be no surprise that a rash of premonitions preceded the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, which claimed 2207 lives. Ten days before he was due to sail on the ill-fated vessel, businessman J. Connon Middleton twice dreamed of a ship that turned keel upwards surrounded by frantic people in the water. Luckily for him, the conference he was due to attend in New York was cancelled and he stayed at home. Fortunate too was sailor Colin MacDonald. Three times he was asked to join the Titanic as second engineer, and three times he refused; he had a strong premonition that the ship’s maiden voyage would end in disaster. Newspaper editor W. T. Stead was not so prudent. Strangely, since he was interested in the occult, Stead ignored the advice of the fortune teller Cheiro (real name William John Walker) not to travel by water during April 1912, especially about the middle of the month (the Titanic sank on the 14th). Stead died in the disaster.

Perhaps the most uncanny of all the premonitions concerning the loss of the Titanic occurred in 1898. The American novelist Morgan Robertson was something of an oddity, in that he felt himself not a creative artist but a channel for the writings of someone else. Often Robertson was blocked and could only write when he felt himself possessed by his invisible partner. It was in this role as amanuensis that he wrote The Wreck of the Titan, the story of a ship designed to be unsinkable due to its watertight compartments. On its maiden voyage in April, the Titan, travelling at a speed of 25 knots, strikes an iceberg. The ship has only 24 lifeboats for its 3000 passengers and crew and sinks with huge loss of life. The parallels with the Titanic are remarkable. At the time it struck an iceberg on its April maiden voyage, the Titanic was travelling at 23 knots, and carried only 20 lifeboats. Like the 70,000-ton Titan, the 66,000-ton Titanic was sailing from Southampton to New York. 22,007 lives were lost, a death toll which would have been even greater at the ship not been two-thirds full . . .

But how is it possible to know about something that has not yet happened? Classical science, and common sense, revolts at such a notion. Newtonian physics tells us that all elements of the universe are isolated from each other, divisible, wholly self-contained and separate. We are Mind, sitting outside this mechanical universe, looking in. Strangely, this paradigm still obtains. I say strangely because discoveries in quantum physics should have caused its demise in the early part of the last century. In quantum physics, matter cannot be divided into discrete units, but is completely indivisible. The universe can only be understood as a web of interconnections. Things once in contact remain in contact throughout all space and time. Indeed, space and time appear to be nothing more than arbitrary constructs, and do not in fact exist.

Augsburg Book of Miracles

In The New Immortality, J. W. Dunne equates our lives to a strip of film which shows everything that happens to us from cradle to grave.  The ‘everyday you’, which Dunne calls Observer 1, travels along this film strip, totally engrossed in the mundane business of living.  But when the ‘everyday you’ relaxes, a strange thing happens: you become the ‘real you’, able to observe the strip of film from a distance and see into the future just as easily as you can see into the past. It was in such a relaxed state – trying to come up with the name for a character in a story – that the name Shanks drifted into my mind.

A similar state of mind, which we might call alert relaxation – is used by remote viewers, which is what the US military calls its clairvoyants. Astonishing as it may seem, during the Cold War, the Pentagon spent millions of dollars on the Stargate Programme, training military personnel as psychic spies, spies who were used to discover the secrets of the Soviet Union without ever leaving the USA. Stargate was disbanded in 1995, and since then former remote viewers have gone into business, predicting the future of the stock market for corporate clients and teaching civilians how to ‘’see at a distance’. One such RVer is Prudence Calabrese who claims to have had a vision of the attack on the World Trade Centre as long ago as 1997. Posted on her LargerUniverse.com website are the ten pages of sketches and notes she claims to have made during a remote viewing session on 10 March 1997.

But is there any hard scientific evidence to support the theory that everything is connected, that time is not linear, that we can forecast the future? In fact, there is.

On September 11th, 2001, three hours before the first airliner struck the World Trade Centre, a machine at Princeton University in New Jersey predicted some major disaster. The machine is a Random Event Generator used to monitor completely unpredictable processes, such as the decay of a radioactive ingredient. The results it produces are down purely to chance and are recorded on a graph. Most of the time the graph shows a wavy line, with only a few minor variations, but occasionally the line peaks. That is what happened on the morning of September 11th. Between 9am to 10am Eastern Standard Time, as the attacks began and those infamous pictures were broadcast around the world, the graph peaked enormously.

In fact, the REG graph began to rise at 6am, three hours before the first strike on the WTC. Writer on the paranormal, Colin Wilson, believes that this was because many people around the world, Barker’s human seismographs, were experiencing premonitions of the coming disaster, and that this surge of fear and distress showed itself on the graph three hours before the attack began.

I was not alone in my premonition of disaster. Actress Nicole Kidman has described how she intended to fly to New York from Los Angeles on September 10th, but changed her mind because she had a premonition that things ‘would not go well there’. A British writer on the paranormal has related to me how she cancelled a trip with her mother to the USA after experiencing a vivid nightmare in which the plane on which they were travelling was deliberately crashed into the ground Mother and daughter had been recommended by a relative to visit the viewing deck of the World Trade Centre.  The only gap in their tight schedule for such a visit was on the morning of the 11th . . .

In America, countless individuals have contacted psychical investigators to report similar premonitions. Perhaps the most sinister of all concern followers of Osama Bin Laden. In a video tape found by US troops in Afghanistan, Bin Laden and his lieutenants make extensive reference to precognitive dreams about September 11th amongst their own followers.

In The Roots of Coincidence, Arthur Koestler quotes Oxford Professor of Logic, H. H. Price. Price believed that “telepathically received impressions have some difficultly in crossing the threshold and manifesting themselves in consciousness. There seems to be some barrier . . . which tends to shut them out of consciousness . . . and they make use of all sorts of devices for overcoming it. Sometimes they make use of the muscular mechanism of the body, and emerge in the form of automatic speech or writing [we are reminded of Morgan Robertson who believed himself merely the channel for another writer]. Sometimes they emerge in the form of dreams . . . And often they can only emerge in a distorted or symbolic form (as other unconscious mental contents do). It is a plausible guess that many of our everyday thoughts and emotions are telepathic or partly telepathic in origin, but are not recognised to be so because they are so much distorted and mixed with other mental contents in crossing the threshold of consciousness”

So, were my nightmares a premonition of disaster, garbled and distorted? I am inclined to think that they were. As for the name Shanks popping into my mind at the time Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, was that coincidence or clairvoyance? I can’t prove it, but I think it was the latter.

  1. John Godley was the Irish peer, Lord Kilbracken, and the story of his dream winners are related in this documentary from the 1970s, introduced by Colin Wilson: Leap in the Dark – Dream me a winner – Paranormal – Documentary – YouTube []