H.G. Wells

The author who people most often mention in relation to J.W. Dunne is H.G. Wells, who has a reputation for predicting technological innovations and their social and political applications. How far was Dunne inspired by Wells in his theory of time? And how far was Wells inspired by Dunne in his aeronautical visions?

Dunne’s references to Wells

In chapters 18 and 19 of An Experiment with Time (1927), Dunne discusses the Time Traveller’s theory of time in The Time Machine (1895), citing the idea of time as a fourth dimension as an advance on Hinton’s spatial fourth dimension. Dunne praises the exposition given by Wells’s character as having ‘a clearness and conciseness which has rarely, if ever, been surpassed’, while criticising both Wells and Hinton for failing ‘to mention that anything which moves in Time must take Time over its movement.’

Wells’ references to Dunne

The War in the Air (1908) is said to be inspired by Wells’ contact with Dunne’s aeronautical work. Dunne is said to have arranged flights for Wells in 1912/13.

The character Captain Douglas in Bealby: A Holiday (1915) is said to be based on J.W. Dunne

‘The Queer Story of Brownlow’s Newspaper’ (1931), refers to Dunne at the beginning and the end

The Shape of Things to Come (1933) refers to Dunne in the framing narrative (‘The Dream Book of Dr Philip Raven’)

Wells’s comments about An Experiment with Time in the Sunday Express:

I find it a fantastically interesting book. It has stirred my imagination vividly, and I think most imaginative people will be stirred by the queer things he has advanced in it. I do not think it has been given nearly enough attention.

Contrasting negative comments appeared in Wells’s review of The New Immortality in 1939.



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Richard Wiseman

Just been listening to Richard Wiseman on the Little Atoms podcast. His approach is close to what I have in mind for the Dunne project (though he is avowedly a skeptic where I have decided to take a neutral stance): whether paranormal phenomena are true or not, what’s most interesting about them is what they can tell us about ourselves – for instance how the brain works, beliefs and behaviour.

For the Dunne project it’s going to be less a psychological study into what the belief in precognition can tell us about ourselves, more a look at the functions of storytelling about precognition in our lives.

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Background research into Dunne’s family has thrown up the story of Looty, a pekingese dog presented to Queen Victoria by his father, with the message:

This little dog was found by me in the Palace of Yuan-Ming-Yuan near Pekin on 6 October 1860. It is supposed to have belonged to either the Empress or one of the ladies of the Imperial Family. It is a most affectionate and intelligent little creature – it has always been accustomed to be treated as a pet and it was with the hope that it might be looked upon as such by Her Majesty and the Royal Family that I have brought it from China.



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Royal Aero Club

I picked up some great leads at a half-day conference yesterday at the University of Westminster: Up in the Air -early flight and ‘air-mindedness’. 

First of all, the Hendon RAF museum which includes the Royal Aero Club Collection. The Aero Club minutes are all available online.

J.W. Dunne (Wiltshire Regiment), of the Balloon Factory, Farnborough, Hants., was elected on 5 November 1907, proposed by Patrick Y. Alexander and Prof. A.K. Huntington.

Dunne was elected to the Advisory Committee on 25 April 1911, and added to the Technical Reserve Committee on 23 May 1911, the Club Ground Committee on 16 April 1912, 7 April 1914 and 17 April 1915, and the Aeroplane Manufacturers’ Sub-Committee on 16 July 1912.

An Aviator’s Certificate was granted to Capt. A.D. Carden, in a Dunne Biplane at Eastchurch, on 18 June 1912.

4 March 1913: “The Certificate of Performance to be issued to the Blair Atholl Aeroplane Syndicate Ltd. in connection with the stability tests carried out on the Dunne Bi-plane was approved.”

9 November 1915: A claim for use of the Eastchurch Flying Ground by the Admiralty was agreed. “The Secretary was instructed to obtain the sanction of Messrs. J, W. Dunne and H. White Smith respectively to the rent of £72 per annum for their sheds, before submitting the claim.”

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Welcome Michelle

This summer, Michelle, an undergraduate at Anglia Ruskin University, is working on the Dunne Future Dreams project.

Michelle is funded by the University’s ‘Undergraduate Researcher Scheme’, enabling her to devote 6 weeks to investigating Dunne and producing a piece of short fiction inspired by precognitive dreaming.

Look out for further posts from Michelle as she finds out more about Dunne and his influence.
Welcome, Michelle!

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Precognition: class III impossibility

In Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel (2008), Michio Kaku assigns precognition to the Class III of impossibilities: those violating the laws of physics (the other example given is perpetual motion).

Class I (may be possible within a century or two) includes teleportation; class II (may be possible in the distant future) includes time travel.


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Can dreams predict the future? (Guardian article)

Psychologist Richard Wiseman contends that the experience of glimpsing the future in our dreams is merely an illusion.

The Guardian, 22 Feb 2011.

Believing that you have seen the future in a dream is surprisingly common, with recent surveys suggesting that around a third of the population experience this phenomenon at some point in their lives.

Wiseman discusses premonitions of the Aberfan mining disaster (1966), and gives a hypothetical account of dream content coinciding with subsequent waking events to argue that such experiences are not really glimpses of the future.

Provided that you are creative and want to believe […] the possibilities for matches are limited only by your imagination.

You have lots of dreams and encounter lots of events. Most of the time the dreams are unrelated to the events, and so you forget about them. However, once in a while one of the dreams will correspond to one of the events. Once this happens, it is suddenly easy to remember the dream and convince yourself that it has magically predicted the future. In reality, it is just the laws of probability at work.

Statistics are used to demonstrate that ‘acts of apparent prophecy are inevitable’: given the number of dreamers and number of nights they sleep, the chances of a coincidence between, say, a prominent disaster and some preceding dream content are high.

Wiseman goes on to argue that people with a tendency to paranormal experience are simply good at finding patterns in the world around them.

My take: what’s interesting here is the energy that Wiseman is prepared to expend in quashing what he (and many others) would class as pseudo-science. Comments on the story included a fair few precognitive dream testimonials (which may have annoyed or amused the author), along with some rather witty remarks. Among skeptics and believers alike, this is clearly a topic that inspires.

The article is only an extract from his book, which presumably presents more detailed arguments. But does the Law of Large Numbers work quite so well when applied to personal experience as opposed to precognition of disasters, I wonder? Either way, Wiseman has a big job pitting himself against the power of pattern spotting – against those who ‘are creative and want to believe’ – as some of the story comments demonstrate nicely.


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