Wednesday, 23 September 2015

An Experiment with Time


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An Experiment with Time
An Experiment with Time book cover.jpg
AuthorJ. W. Dunne
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherA. & C. Black
Faber & Faber
Publication date
LC ClassMLCM 2004/02936 (B)
An Experiment with Time is a long essay by the Irish aeronautical engineer J. W. Dunne (1875–1949) on the subjects of precognition and the human experience of time. First published in March 1927, it was very widely read, and his ideas promoted by several other authors, in particular by J. B. Priestley. Other books by J. W. Dunne are The Serial Universe, The New Immortality, and Nothing Dies.


  • I. Definitions
  • II. The Puzzle
  • III. The Experiment
  • IV. Temporal Endurance and Temporal Flow
  • V. Serial Time
  • VI. Replies to Critics
Appendix to the third edition:

Basic concepts[edit]

Dunne's theory is, simply put, that all moments in time are taking place at once, at the same time. For example, if a cat were to spend its whole entire life living in a box, anyone looking into the box could see the cat's birth, life and death in the same instant - were it not for the human consciousness, which means that we perceive at a fixed rate.
According to Dunne, whilst human consciousness prevents us from seeing outside of the part of time we are "meant" to look at, whilst we are dreaming we have the ability to traverse all of time without the restriction of consciousness, leading to pre-cognitive dreams, resulting in the phenomenon known as Deja vu. Henceforth, Dunne believes that we are existing in two parallel states, which requires a complete rethink of the way that we understand time.

Dunne's experiment[edit]

In An Experiment with Time, Dunne discusses how a theoretical ability to perceive events outside the normal observer's stream of consciousness might be proved to exist. He also discusses some of the possible other explanations of this effect, such as déjà vu.
He proposes that observers should place themselves in environments where consciousness might best be freed and then, immediately upon their waking, note down the memories of what had been dreamed, together with the date. Later, these notes should be scanned, with possible connections drawn between them and real life events that occurred after the notes had been written.
While the first half of the book is an explanation of the theory, the latter part comprises examples of notes and later interpretations of them as possible predictions. Statistical analysis was at that time in its infancy, and no calculation of the significance of the events reported was able to be made.

Parallels with other scientific and metaphysical systems[edit]

Dunne's theory of time has parallels in many other scientific and metaphysical theories. The Aboriginal people of Australia, for example, believe that the Dreamtime exists simultaneously in the present, past and future, and that this is the objective truth of time, linear time being a creation of human consciousness and therefore subjective. Kabbalah, Taoism and indeed most mystical traditions have always posited that waking consciousness allows awareness of reality and time in only a limited way and that it is in the sleeping state that the mind can go free into the multi-dimensional reality of time and space (examples: "Dreams are the wandering of the spirit through all nine heavens and nine earths," The Secret of the Golden Flower, trans. Richard Wilhelm). Similarly, all mystery traditions speak of the immortal and temporal selves which exist simultaneously both within time and space and without.
There are also parallels with classical relativity theory, in which time and space are merged into "spacetime", and time is not absolute and independent but is dependent upon the motion of the observer.

Scientific reception[edit]

In 1928, Sir Arthur Eddington wrote a letter to Dunne, a portion of which was reprinted in the 1929 and later editions of An Experiment With Time, in which he said:
Some psychical researchers such as George N. M. Tyrrell and C. D. Broad have pointed out problems with Dunne's theory of time. As Tyrell explained:
Dunne wrote a book just before his death which revealed that he believed himself to be a spiritual medium. He had deliberately chosen to leave this out of An Experiment with Time as he judged that it would have affected the scientific reception of his theory.[3] The partially-revised manuscript was completed by his family and published after his death under the title Intrusions?.
In a review for the New Scientist John Gribbin described An Experiment with Time as a "definitive classic".[4] Paul Davies in his book About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution (2006) wrote that Dunne was an entertaining writer but there is no scientific evidence for more than one time and that Dunne's argument seems ad hoc.[5]
In his book Is There Life After Death? (2006), British writer Anthony Peake wrote that some of Dunne's ideas are valid and attempts to update the ideas of Dunne in the light of the latest theories of quantum physics, neurology and consciousness studies.[6]

In popular culture[edit]

J. B. Priestley used Dunne's theory directly in his play Time and the Conways, professing in his introduction that he believed the theory to be true. Other writers contemporaneous to Dunne who expressed enthusiasm for his ideas included Aldous Huxley, who was also interested in the expansion of human consciousness to experience time, and Adolfo Bioy Casares, who mentioned this book in the introduction to his novel The Dream of Heroes (1954).
Charles Chilton used Dunne's analogy of time as a book to explain time travel in his radio play Journey Into Space.[citation needed] Philippa Pearce's childhood fantasy Tom's Midnight Garden also makes use of Dunne's ideas.[citation needed] The book is instrumental in Dr Philip Raven's production of his future history as 'edited' by H G Wells in his 1933 work The Shape of Things to Come.
In the 1970 children's TV series, Timeslip, a time bubble allows two children to travel between past, present and future. Much of the show's time travel concepts were based on An Experiment with Time.[7]
An Experiment with Time is referenced in the book Sidetripping by William S. Burroughs and Charles Gatewood.
It is also mentioned in the book Last Men In London by Olaf Stapledon (1932) and in Bid Time Return, a 1975 novel by Richard Matheson.
It is also mentioned in the story "Murder in the Gunroom" by H. Beam Piper, and in "Elsewhen" by Robert A. Heinlein.
It is also mentioned in the short story "Extempore" by Damon Knight (1956), originally published as "The Beach where time began". See The Best of Damon Knight (1978).
The ideas of Dunne also form the basis for "The Dark Tower" a short story by C. S. Lewis, and the unpublished novel, "The Notion Club Papers" by J. R. R. Tolkien. Both Tolkien and Lewis were members of the Inklings.
In the 2002 French movie Irréversible, one of the characters is seen reading the book by Dunne. The movie also investigates the aspects of the book through the style of filming, in that the story is told backwards, with each beginning sequence beginning either minutes or hours prior to the one which preceded it in the narrative. Also, the tagline is Le temps détruit tout meaning "Time destroys everything" – it is the first phrase spoken and the last phrase written.

See also[edit]


  1. Jump up ^
  2. Jump up ^ George Nugent Merle Tyrrell Science and psychical phenomena 1938, p. 135
  3. Jump up ^ Ruth Brandon Scientists and the supernormal New Scientist 16 June 1983 p. 786
  4. Jump up ^ John Gribbin Book Review of An Experiment with Time New Scientist 27 Aug 1981, p. 548
  5. Jump up ^ Paul Davies About Time: Einstein's Unfinished Revolution
  6. Jump up ^ Anthony Peake Is There Life After Death? The Extraordinary Science Of What Happens When We Die 2006
  7. Jump up ^ Thompson, Andy. (2004). Introduction to Timeslip, p. 2. [Timeslip DVD Special Feature]. London: Carlton Visual Entertainment. 37115 06243.

External links[edit]

1 comment:

  1. Dear Robert,
    I have read all of J.W.Dunne's books.I cannot say I have understood all
    that he wrote,but the one thing that struck me was the great importance he placed on the observing self positioned in the Time 2 state.
    I found this fitting in with Faqir Chand who also emphasized the great
    importance of self over the visionary images seen in meditation.
    From this my own take is that self is possibly the source,the observer and the actor of the meditation experience .It is possible this contradicts the present teachings of RSSB as I often am confused by contradicting messages from the writings of the RSSB masters.
    Any way thanks for posting on Dunne.
    Keep well


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