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Premonitory Imagery

Henry Flynt

(c) 1992 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.


1. After Francis Bacon, the discipline of logic is broadened to include inductive logic--scientific or incomplete induction--even though it is easy to construct cases in which plausible induction yields false conclusions. (Chill a ball-point pen. You can try ten times to mark with it and "prove" it will never write.)

In the twentieth century, there arose almost a mystique of inductive inference: Carnap, etc.[1] That mystique of induction among "anti-metaphysical empiricists" is ironic.

- Inductive theory is based on possibilities which are not actualized. But "anti-metaphysical empiricism" can never make sense of non-actual possibilities. (As it was said, the probability that a flipped coin will come up heads cannot be one-half, because there is no such thing as half of an occurrence; it is absolutely one or absolutely zero, according to the Newtonian dynamics of a spinning disc.)[2]

- As Hume said in a perpetually inarguable observation, the fact that something happened (e.g. the sun rose) simply does not prove that it will happen again--no matter how hard a florid dogmatist pounds the table.

- As I showed in "Studies in the Person-World," SSC, the very cross-temporal construction in which a prediction is tested is an integration by ordinary personhood--a pulling together of memory and recognition and assertion and hope and fear around the rectilinear model of time. Prediction-testing cannot be meaningful without the validity of a comprehensive classical metaphysics.


Here, I shall present a view of logic even more liberal than that which includes incomplete induction. I shall entertain the topic of Premonitory Imagery or inference. ["Privately experienced imagery" which may be called premonition. It may lend itself to being taken as clairvoyance.] The point is to show how sectarian it is to restrict inference to a deductive calculus of propositions.

2. Contents for premonitory imagery include

a. dream-contents

b. hypnopompic hallucinations

c. fevered hallucinations

d. psychedelic hallucinations

e. waking "visions" at emotionally compelling moments

To this list, some people would add bodily indications of apprehension, such as nosebleeds. But I won't try to incorporate that.

For comparison, and for completeness, I may mention two other "intuitive" modes of knowing. 1) Sleeping on a decision; making the decision the next morning. 2) Thinking up to a mental block, and then putting the problem out of mind until a solution appears spontaneously. Also, there is what the American vernacular inelegantly calls a "gut-feeling."[3]

Contemplated occasions for premonitory imagery include:

- discovering another person's well-concealed feelings

- discerning how an absent friend would advise you

- deciding whether to act and incur a given physical risk

- deciding whether a confidant of yours is a betrayer

- discerning denied sexual inclinations

- learning of an emotionally significant occurrence which is distant

- discerning the appearance of the solution of an emotionally important difficulty

A note on my use of "hallucination" is called for. As I need an umbrella term for private imagery, I have chosen a use of hallucination which is somewhat liberal, but not outrageously so. Hallucinations are vivid images, apparently located outside oneself, which the consensus epistemology ranks as private experience. They include images with eyes open and with eyes closed (and while asleep). I include both the case in which you believe that the image is "real" (intersubjectively compelling), and the case in which you know that the image is chimerical.

Perhaps I should include one of my own dream-reports to show why I am willing to entertain this topic. Such a report appears as Appendix A.


3. The treatment of so-called private imagery in the balance of my work is represented by "Dreams and Reality."[4] In most work, I reject the notion that there is an objectively real world which we connect with in the alert waking state, relative to which other "worlds" we experience are self-scripted phantoms. My usual approaches--"literal empiricism," evaluational processing of experience, person-world analysis--treat dreams as comprising my actual life as much as other episodes. (Similarly for total hallucinations in the psychedelic state.)

From my usual standpoint, it is as ridiculous to read a dream as a self-scripted, hallucinated picture-message as it would be to read the waking event of e.g. seeing an automobile accident as a self-scripted, hallucinated picture-message. (Seeing an automobile accident not itself? A mere self-scripted hallucination, a message about emotional conflict?)

Even though I am often the protagonist in my dreams, other people in my dreams are vivid, are not my puppets; they express foreign intents. Also, the milieus in my dreams sometimes possess an extraordinarily vivid strangeness (as if I were seeing a community on another planet). If I am scripting all these vivid alien contents, it would mean that I possess a latent vision far broader than my waking persona.[5]

You can induce yourself to dream about a topic by obsessing on it. Dreams can be induced to perform on cue. When I studied Freud in 1988, I had Freud-style dreams. There are verbal[6] events in dreams which beg to be interpreted symbolically--in accord with what we know in waking life of innuendo, sight gags, symbols, and puns. (The rebus.) And yet it was when I studied Freud and Lacan that such dreams appeared for me. The dreams were performing on cue.


In evaluational processing of experience, and person-world analysis, dreams supply meanings to logically impossible world-states; and exemplify "natural orders" in situations which are not lawful scientifically.

To dwell on this is a diversion from my stated topic. And yet, since this approach is original, it needs to be underlined so that the rest of this study will not be taken out of context. We need, in the first instance, a "phenomenal" survey of contents of dreams, that is, of dreamed episodes. That is, a survey of the dreamed episodes'

- qualitative events;

- perceptual contours.

The following are notable dream-contents which are ignored by e.g. psychoanalysis.

a.i. You can defy gravity and pass through solid surfaces. You can increase your ability to do so by realizing that you are dreaming during the dream.

a.ii. Dreams supply counter-examples to the vacuousness of inconsistently: depicting logically impossible world-states.

a.iii. Your dream-persona becomes unaccountably foolish--accepting things, or trying to do things, which you would recognize as absurd in waking life. Norms of reasonableness are in abeyance in dreams.

a.iv. Your "self" as a vantage-point can pass outside your body, or into another's body.

a.v. When you approach objects, they metamorphose in physically inexplicable ways. I once made a building appear on a street in a dream by imagining it was there. Hallucinating within a dream. I was not aware that it was a dream.[7] This hallucinatory power did not frighten me--as it typically does when it happens to people on psychedelics.

a.vii. In a dream, you can suppose you have awakened. You can suppose that you have established that you are awake.

a.viii. A dream which is a life-situation evolving forward in time can veer away from the outcome toward which it was driving: a process metamorphosis. Should the outcome toward which the process was driving be considered possible?

a.ix. A dream can "jump cut to a different movie" while affirming the persisting identities of metamorphosed objects. More rigorously, the dream's present continues a imaginary past rather than the past just lived through, and yet the identities of objects, location, and self are affirmed as persisting.

a.x. An action of yours can begin in a dream and carry on as you awaken.

a.xi. A dream may echo events or details from widely different times in one's life. If you accepted this as memory, it would break up rectilinear time.

Similar phenomenal characterization applies to the other modes of "private imagery."

b.i. Hypnagogic imagery and hypnopompic visions are not environments or complete situations. They have no periphery.

b.ii. Hypnagogically, one can hear, involuntarily, a stream of talk echoing talk with which one has been inundated in the waking day. An effortless and even unwanted stream of speech.

c.i. Only the most intense psychedelic states are encapsulated worlds, as dreams are. Weaker states involve superimposition of anomalous phenomena on an "alert" waking "world."

We find, then, an extraordinary richness of phenomenal contours, which massively challenge the culturally normative evaluational processing of experience (called "the objective natural order" in the modern European belief-system). My position in the balance of my work, then, is that to claim that dreams are self-scripted, hallucinated picture-messages is a tragic waste of them.

To sum up, so-called hallucinated episodes comprise my actual life as much as other episodes. Correlatively, the former cannot be claimed to be objectively consequential. (That is what separates me from occultism.) Indeed, waking episodes cannot be claimed to be objectively consequential by literal empiricism.

This literal empiricism is original with me; one will not be able to apply it unless one is clear that it is not any past approach.


4. Let me return to the topic of the present study. Here I indulge the consensus epistemology, which conceives dreams and the other "private imagery" as chimeras. This investigation is a gesture of shrewd opportunism: again, I am illustrating the narrowness of restricting inference to a deductive calculus of propositions.

The substantiality of this investigation depends totally on a person's manifest honesty in seeking to know self. Otherwise--as when a person can get attention and approval by lying about visions--it might as well be a theory of flying-saucer sightings. (And that is probably the epistemological level in primitive societies.)[8] Cf. DEPTH PSYCHOLOGY, Ch. II, typescript pp. B-6, B-7.

My treatment rejects occult agendas. I am not interested in claims that a few people possess supernatural powers. I am interested in phenomena experienced by most people. People dream almost every night. "Flashes" or "visions" are common in great personal crises--which may involve sleep deprivation.

As I've already said, you can induce yourself to dream about a topic by obsessing on it. But I don't want to begin with dreams which are tampered to the degree of appearing to order. I am interested in "privately experienced imagery" which, in the first instance, is spontaneous and unforced. On the other hand, hallucinatory events are likely to occur at times of great life-stress.

Let us recall the modes of "hallucination."

a. dream-content

b. hypnopompic hallucination

c. fevered hallucination

d. psychedelic hallucination

e. waking "vision" at an emotionally compelling moment

To what extent does any of these demand to be read as a private phantom whose only "use" would be as a message to myself? (Whether from some hidden part of myself, or from some external source.)

My answer: some dream-contents; some psychedelic hallucinations; most waking hallucinations concurrent with life-stress.


Unlike exploitive authors on "premonition," I insist that hallucinatory "knowing" can arrive at false conclusions. (Just as scientific induction can.) No level of vividness of the "private imagery" guarantees that the propositions you derive will be borne out. A decisive test in this regard seems to have occurred in 1970 or 1971 in connection with the Apollo XIV spaceflight. The Dream Registry, which documented prophetic dreams, had received many reports that foretold disaster for the flight. But the flight was completed safely in February 1971. It is tempting to speculate that these premonitory dreams were prompted as a sort of guessing to inflate the dreamers' importance.

On the other hand, just as premonitions are not all guaranteed to be true, they are not all guaranteed to be false.

Other reservations about PI are possible. One can speculate that a valid vision comes about in the same way as an inspiration. After you have occupied your mind with a problem to exhaustion, the problem may be solved by a nonconscious process of mentation. Thus, PI is not more mysterious than any inspiration.

A feature of visions is that they may unify "reason" and "emotion"--delineating what ideas and principles mean emotionally, and what their personal price is. But it can be objected that it is detrimental ever to allow ad hominem aspects as evidence. (In other words, it is wrong to admire Galileo's ideas because they offended the Church.)

It is most appropriate to attend to hallucinatory "knowing" (if not to trust it) in mortal crises. Emotional stress brings you to the point of hallucination. There may follow a vision which is so vivid that it is a biographic event--whether the predictions it invites you to believe are borne out or not.

The account of "premonition" in this study may seem perfunctory. But that is because my treatment is not exploitive. I propose to explore the indications and counter-indications for viewing private imagery in this guise--nothing more. Any surmises about extra-personal sources of visions (e.g. a realized future disclosing itself before it happens) would be pure fantasy.[9]


1. Let me focus on dreams, and survey some phenomenal dream-contents in addition to those of A.3. In surveying the contents of dreams, we must make a strict distinction between

- "phenomenal scrutiny," the reporting of the dreamed episodes' events or perceptual contours;

- reading a dream as a plain morality play, assuming that oneself is its script-writer, protagonist, and audience;

- Freud's practice of reading the dream's events as a rebus, a construct of sight gags, symbols, and puns; then the message requires the priestly divination of the psychoanalyst.

It is the first enterprise I am concerned with here.

I begin with observations about patterns among consecutive dreams over periods of years.

a.i. After a waking event of great emotional import, you will dream about it repeatedly, but the dreams will trail off in a period of years. Dreams after I crashed a car. Dreaming that first my father, and then my mother, were still alive after they died.

a.ii. Situations which are not tied to a single overwhelming waking event recur from dream to dream.

a.iii. Human characters who are composites of people you know in waking life repeat from one dream to another.

a.iv. A situation established in a series of dreams will get turned in a different direction after a few years. I dream over and over about trying to walk upstairs in my apartment building and finding portions of floors missing, making it unsafe. Years ago, the building was Chrystie St. The halls were realistically dingy. Now I dream about my present residence; the halls are chalk white.

a.v. One will have a series of dreams with different scenarios, but with a common characteristic--such as ending with a shock, with you "starting awake."


Next, observations about the individual dream.

b.i. A dream is a life-episode in a "world" evolving forward in time. You do not experience events without a world-context.

b.ii. I am always the same age as in waking life, or younger. There is never an apprehension about being older.

b.iii. Long-past events are echoed--events one does not dwell on, or even remember, in waking consciousness.

b.iv. A dream will embrace events or details echoing different times in one's life.

b.v. Your dream-persona is usually truncated, occupied with issues understandable to a child, lacking adult conflicts of wills and interpretations. If an intellectual topic arises explicitly in a dream, it does so in the context of a life-episode. E.g. if a proposition is announced in a dream, I see it in a manuscript which I open.

b.vii. Your dream-persona becomes unaccountably foolish--trying to do things you would recognize as absurd in waking life. Cf. absence of norms of reasonableness.

b.viii. Dream narratives proceed in brief phases, and objects metamorphose (in physically impossible ways) in transitions between phases.

b.ix. When you approach objects to look at them closely or take hold of them, they metamorphose.

b.x. As you try to act in the course of a dream, obstacles are repeatedly thrown up at you. You are frustrated at every turn.

b.xi. Rarely, there is the opposite of frustration: an object such as a key magically appears because you want it.



If one insists that a dream is a morality play, with me as its script-writer, protagonist, and audience, then even before we consider Freudian "readings," we must note the light cast on the dream when the expectation is imposed on it that it is an edifying message. The point is that

if you read the dream as an edifying movie, and

read it literally, then its message is preposterous

This feature would have been of only negative interest in Freud's agenda. Given the dogmatic premise that the dream exists to convey truth to the dreamer, Freud is forced to read the dream as a coded message. In any case, Freud never remarked on the preposterousness of the literal "message." In my treatment, on the other hand, it is of great importance to understand this.

The following features undercut the notion that the dream is a morality play of which I am the author, protagonist, and audience.

a. Even though I am often the protagonist in my dreams, other people in my dreams are vivid, are not my puppets; they express foreign intents. Also, the milieus in my dreams sometimes possess an extraordinarily vivid strangeness (as if I were seeing a community on another planet).

b. In dreams, I face threats which in waking life are preposterous. Long after I graduated college, I continued to dream that I was in college, taking exams, and flunking. Also, that I was on the periphery of the college community--it was uncertain whether I had validly registered. The supposed hidden mentation continues to fret over the past after it is factually so distant as to be irrelevant. Moreover, dreams elaborate on contemporary threats in a preposterous way.

c. Sometimes the dream gives roles, to people I know in waking life, which misrepresent them absurdly.

d. A dream may seem to depict a past situation dramatically so as to show me as guilty. And yet in waking terms, for me to feel guilty about the situation in question is wildly inappropriate. I am presented as guilty for letting down people whom everyone in waking life would agree stood for something contemptible. And whom everyone in waking life would agree used me--not the other way around. (Seemingly my dreams reproach me for skipping out on my political associates of decades ago. That's ridiculous.)

All these characteristics undercut the premonitory imagery thesis--evincing that as prophecy, the dream is idiotic. (In fact, the characteristics lend themselves to Freud's thesis. Dreams do not convey realism about the objective world; they replay repressed emotional reactions, which may be highly irrational. Then the dream has to be read as a coded message. But that is the difficulty: to extract something reasonable from the dream, you have to resort to ingenious interpretations having the character of paranoid delusion.)

Seeking to salvage some merit for the premonitory imagery thesis, I would say that most dreams yield preposterous messages because they are not compelled by mortal crises. A dream arising at a time of mortal challenge to your thematic identity and safety is more likely to have a literal message which is sensible and penetrating.



Throughout my work in depth psychology, I seek to give the hypothesis of the unconscious a hearing--in conjunction with my principle of multi-stage intellectual transformation.

There is highly suggestive evidence for the speculation that

the individual mind has an active hidden agenda of episodic memories and emotional reactions (some of which involve one's inculcated moral norms)

Moreover, the illness of fever seems to be able to "cook the ingredients" and produce visions. Then, there is highly suggestive evidence for the speculation that

there are individual emotions and instinctive assessments (not acknowledged in consciousness) which manifest in somatic distress

In short, it is plausible that there is a vigorous agenda of mentation which waking consciousness does not display.

The hypothecated hidden mentation called the unconscious is not stupid. It is clever and resourceful, with full access to everything stored in the preconscious. Trying to "psych out" one's unconscious is like playing chess with an opponent at least as proficient as yourself.

Nevertheless, no matter how appealing these speculations are, we must remember that they are only speculations. Nobody has ever resolved the contradiction in the notion of an unconscious consciousness. Moreover, attempts to decipher dream-contents are always liable to the objection that there are as many concealed meanings as ingenuity chooses to see. No decoding gets proved uniquely correct.

The unconscious was discovered by Freud; what did the discovery consist in? Disparate phenomena of an individual's "psychology" were pulled together to become a unitary hydraulic system, or a building with antechambers and storeys.

"All modes of 'privately experienced imagery' belong to the upwelling of a unitary unconscious, or primary process,"

says psychoanalysis. As I portrayed in detail in Chapter II.A of this work, a modern European ideology of rationalism and naturalism and secularism needed an appropriately biologic and "unshrinking" view of privately experienced imagery, sex and love and taboo, myth and magic.

But there is a nonconscious intellectual problem-solving process which produces "inspirations." Why can't it be part of the "unconscious"?

The Freudian psychological package which has the unconscious as its centerpiece depends overwhelmingly on reading private imagery as a self-scripted message--according to a symbolism of the initiates.



1. As for my observations in C which tell against the notion that dreams are messages conveying truth, Freudians would have an answer to these observations. In fact, they would have too many answers. Once you enter on the path of divination and decipherment, any new event can be incorporated in the delusion if enough ingenuity is brought to bear on it. You just keep changing the story as each new event belies the story you have just offered. Virtuosity of ingenuity. Layers and layers: the symbol is a mask for a more buried symbol. The most popular notion is that of reverse codes: objects or charades which mean the opposite of what they depict.

Freud would emphasize that there are verbal[10] events in dreams which beg to be interpreted symbolically--in accord with what we know in waking life of innuendo, sight gags, symbols, and puns. The rebus. Dreams treat speech oracularly (beg to be interpreted as puns). Dreams suggest being in a world in which there is an easy conversion between rebus and puns--even bilingual puns. Idioms are conveyed by pictures. Ears glued to a wall: "the walls have ears." Pictographs.

My dream of June 14, 1992. A Freudian would say that the bees attracted to honey was a rebus for the saying "You can attract flies with honey," meaning that a gracious answer induces people to be cooperative. "The honey and bees: a 'sight gag,' a picture to be read as a proverb." But the dream does not support this as the uniquely right interpretation.

Answering C.1.a and 1.c. A Freudian would say that the other people in the dreams are speaking as proxies for the dreamer. One speaks through now this character, now that character. Freud requires an elaborate decoding of the dream.

Answering C.1.b.

i) The emotional stress of the earlier life-episode was so great that it remains on the cumulative hidden agenda forever.

ii) My college experience is being used as a code for a present issue, say overhanging unease at never graduating my Ph.D.[11] Or, feeling alienated, sidelined, in the milieu I have chosen in later life.

But these two plausible explanations cancel each other out.

Answering C.l.d.

i) The dream expresses my irrational guilt, that is what superego is all about.

ii) A depiction of what I believe to be the other persons' guilt, with the players reversed to mask them. Reverse-coding.

Again, the two plausible explanations cancel each other out.

Narrative fiction and drama do not switch a self among characters, or convey an idiom with a picture. (Like having walls grow ears in a spy novel to show that "the room is bugged.") It is more entertaining to vicariously experience struggles in realistic situations. Whimsy interrupts the suspension of belief, destroying apprehension as vicarious experience.

And yet, Freud could well answer that many of these techniques of coding are genuine techniques of pre-analytical thought and story-telling. Humans do think symbolically and metaphorically. (And do use metonymy.) These techniques do have to be congenital paths of the mind, don't they?


In Freud's theory, the primary process is that of an illogical, instinctual persona. I find dreams biased in this direction, as per B.3.b.v. That can be a reason for separating nonconscious work on a problem from "the unconscious."

Freud goes on to compress the "rational" and exalted realms of life to an egoic reality-principle accompanied by sublimation and by parental indoctrination. Independent authenticity is the sole possession of the bio-infantile realm. Thus, my unresolved bio-infantile conflicts are the source of all my "hallucinations." The latter are messages which are so deeply coded that things usually mean their opposites. The "truths" my hallucinations furnish concern my inferior motives and instinctual wishing.

These Freudian positions have the effect of negating the topic I seek to explore, namely premonitory imagery. (Occasions of PI extend beyond dreams, of course.) I wish to consider that private imagery can advert piercingly to all subject-matters, including the "realistically egoic," the elevated, the philosophic. Instead of Freud's dichotomy of primary and secondary processes, which makes the primary process authentic, I find in PI a unity of experience in which the emotional meaning and the personal price of ideas and principles is delineated. Such dreams show the way to ratiocination which is not clinically indifferent. Private imagery is able to address all subject-matters directly. PI does not know Freud's dichotomy of processes.

There is no guarantee that the premonitions suggested by private imagery will be borne out; but neither is there a guarantee that they will always be wrong. But that is as with stock market hunches. It is not sufficient for reliability.


[1] Cf. John Pollock, Nomic Probability and the Foundations of Induction.

[2] Proofs of the Law of Large Numbers as a nonempirical absolute are known to be mere wheel-spinning. (Silvan Schweber)

[3] In my freshman year in college, a classmate who had been ridiculing modern poetry gave me what he said was a typewritten copy of a poem by Dylan Thomas and asked me for an opinion of it. I took the page back to my dormitory room, and found myself irresistibly drawn to the garbage can, where I dropped it in. I made no effort to analyze the text. The classmate later told me that the poem was a fabrication.

[4] Published in Blueprint for a Higher Civilization (Milan, 1975). [Hereafter Blueprint.] See also "Determination of an Objectivity by Reciprocal Subjectivity" (May 1980, unpublished).

[5] In Blueprint, page 160, I did propose that that was a resource we could draw on.

[6] language, speech

[7] The question of a second degree of illusion, in this and following cases, is treated in my "An Epistemic Calculus" (July 1987, unpublished).

[8] I must note also that a psychiatrist may use the term self-honesty in an ideologically motivated way. He may mean being willing to accept his doctrine-laden interpretation of "mental" phenomena. You're honest if you admit that a dream about fried potatoes means "you want to sleep with your mother."

[9] But I want to mention that some of my work, such as the "Choice Chronology Project," plays with such notions in very restricted ways.

[10] language, speech

[11] But it was profound wisdom for me never to turn in my dissertation.