Did he foresee his death on the Titanic's voyage?
Of all psychic phenomena, precognition is the hardest to get my head around. Telepathy and clairvoyance, well, they're strange, but at least they don't involve time paradoxes. Mediumship — okay, if you accept that people continue on the Other Side after they pass out of this life, there doesn't seem to be any inherent reason why some psychically gifted individuals can't tune in to them.
How can anyone intuitively sense what hasn't happened yet? Is time simply an illusion, the future fixed, like a road continuing even though we can't see around a bend? What, then, of free will? (I once talked determinism versus free will with a fellow writer. I told him, "I am determined to make you see the truth of free will." He replied, "Of my own free will, I accept your argument for determinism.")
But high-flying philosophical rationalization purporting to show that the future is predetermined is a lot of my eye. Of course we bloody have free will and we all know it. There is no doubt in my mind I could have, if I had chosen to, written this posting about the wisdom of the Federal Reserve System. (It would have been short.) Instead I was determined … I mean, I decided to write about precognition, a subject I had not foreseen when I woke up this morning.
Even the mainstream media, as a rule remarkably uninterested in the nature of reality behind appearances, occasionally takes notice of premonitions, as the Daily Mail does here. (Tip o' the chapeau to Running 'Cause I Can't Fly.)
In the psychical research literature, most (though not all) descriptions of premonitions involve upcoming disaster or danger. Their emotional punch seems to enable them to break through a mental sheath that normally keeps us from being constantly bombarded with psychic imagery. The Daily Mail piece understandably, for today's readers, emphasizes visions of the 9/11 attacks. It also briefly touches on premonitions about the Titanic's epic calamity in 1912. That is in some ways an even more striking case.
Here is an account of apparent precognitions involving the loss of the Titanic.
From a psychical research standpoint, William T. Stead's story is particularly fascinating. He was a crusading journalist in London, as well as a spiritualist with clairvoyant powers. His daughter's biography of him says that his motto was the beautiful, "The union of all who love in the service of all who suffer." Professionally, he seems to have been talented but something of a square peg, as many people with psychic abilities (even if they don't know they have them) tend to be.
According to this account:
In one of his many stories, From the Old World to the New, a novel published in 1892, Stead described the sinking of a ship called the Majestic in the North Atlantic from hitting an iceberg. The name of the ship’s captain was Edward J. Smith, the same name of the captain of the Titanic. In an 1886 story for The Pall Mall Gazette, Stead wrote about the sinking of an ocean liner and how lives were lost because there were too few lifeboats. Whether these two separate stories were precognition on Stead’s part or merely coincidence is not known, but Stead apparently did not foresee the tragedy when he booked passage on the Titanic.
Stead did not survive the ship's sinking — on the physical plane. It appears that he was able to communicate post mortem from the astral plane.
According to Rev. Charles L. Tweedale, the Church of England vicar of Weston, Stead appeared at a sitting given by Etta Wriedt in New York on April 17. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the physician who created Sherlock Holmes, called Wriedt the best direct-voice medium in the world, and the plan was for Stead to accompany Wriedt back to England on his return voyage so that she could demonstrate her gift there. Wriedt made the trip without Stead and gave a sitting on May 6 in Wimbledon. In attendance were Vice-Admiral W. Usborne Moore and Estelle Stead, Stead’s daughter. Moore reported that Stead talked with his daughter for at least 40 minutes. He described it as the most painful but most realistic and convincing conversation he had heard during his investigations of mediumship.
General Sir Alfred E. Turner reported that he held a small and private sitting at his home with Mrs. Wriedt. “We had hardly commenced when a voice, which apparently came from behind my right shoulder, exclaimed: ‘I am so happy to be with you again,’ Turner reported. “The voice was unmistakably that of Stead, who immediately began to tell us the events of the dire moments when the leviathan settled down. There was a short, sharp struggle to gain his breath and immediately afterwards he came to his senses in another stage of existence.” At a later sitting with Wriedt, Turner saw Stead materialize, wearing his usual attire.
Even if we believe every word of this, it doesn't help us solve the riddle of how the future can be known, or whether our hash has been settled long before we started our path through life. I have read some psychics who suggest something like Hamlet does: "There's a divinity that shapes our ends/Rough-hew them how we will." That is, we have limited free will, we can choose one course or another in the present but ultimately our karma will meet us. We have an appointment in Samarra.
Other psychics support free will more strongly, though. They claim that we can under some circumstances glimpse the forces at work that are leading us to a future event, but that by altering our conduct, we can change the outcome. And indeed, there are cases on record in the annals of the Society for Psychical Research and elsewhere that seem to bear this out. In one case I recall, well witnessed at the time, a woman had a vision that her child was playing on railroad tracks and was crushed by an oncoming engine. She ran out of the house, found her child playing on the tracks, and rescued him as the engine was roaring toward him.
Maybe it is destiny or karma or forces set in motion in the womb of time that rough-hew our ends, but we can shape them, especially if we listen to our intuition.