Retro-Cognition - Encyclopedia

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RETRO-COGNITION (from Lat. retro, back, cognitio, the acquiring of knowledge), a word invented by F. W. H. Myers to denote a supposed faculty of acquiring direct knowledge of the past beyond the reach of the subject's ordinary memory. The alleged manifestations of the faculty are of several kinds, of which the most important are as follows: (I) There are many recorded cases in which an impression has been received in dream or vision representing some recent event - shipwreck, death-bed scene, railway accident - outside the knowledge of the percipient. (2) Analogous to the transmission of habits and physical peculiarities in particular families, it is alleged that there are also cases of the transmission of definite memories of scenes and events in the life of some ancestor. (3) It is asserted that pictures of past scenes may be called up in certain cases by the presence of a material object associated with those scenes - e.g. a vision of the destruction of Pompeii by a piece of cinder from the buried city, or the scene of a martyrdom by a charred fragment of bone - the percipient being unaware at the time of the nature of the object. For this supposed faculty the American geologist, Professor Denton, has suggested the name "psychometry." There are also cases recorded in which pictures of historical scenes unknown to the seer have been described in the crystal. (4) Some spirit mediums profess to realise incidents belonging to their previous incarnation. Thus Flournoy's medium, Helene Smith, represented herself as having been successively incarnated as a Hindoo Princess, Simandini, and as Marie Antoinette, and gave vivid descriptimas of scenes in which she had figured in these capacities.

It will be gathered that the facts afford little warrant for the assumption of a faculty of retro-cognition. The cases described in the first class, though apparently exhibiting knowledge not within the range of the percipient's ordinary faculties, hardly call for such an extreme hypothesis. In the other cases the result recorded may plausibly be attributed to the imagination of the percipient, working upon hints given by bystanders, or aided by the emergence of forgotten knowledge.


See W. Denton, The Soul of Things (Wellesley, Mass., U.S.A., 1863); F. W. H. Myers, article "The Subliminal Self" in Proc. S. P. R. vol. xi.; Human Personality (London, 1903); Th. Flournoy, Des Indes a la planete Mars (Geneva, 1900).

(F. P.)

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