Parapsychology, Unsolved Mysteries

The man who predicted the Titanic disaster (and other WTF premonitions)

On a clear, chilly night in April, a tragedy occurred in the North Atlantic. An “unsinkable” British passenger liner, the world’s largest ship, crashed into an iceberg on its starboard side and did the very thing they said it couldn’t: sank. Due to the insufficient amount of lifeboats, it took most of the passengers with it.

And no, I’m not talking about the Titanic. I’m talking about the Titan, a fictional ship from the novel The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility by Morgan Robertson. A book that was published 14 years before the Titanic set sail.

Say it with me: Whaaaaat?

Yeah, that’s what I thought when I first heard about this. Just like the Titan, the Titanic was British, the largest ship afloat at the time, and dubbed “unsinkable”. It sank in the North Atlantic in April after striking an iceberg on its starboard side. And having too few lifeboats aboard, most of the passengers drowned. What’s more, the fictional Titan was 800 feet long, the Titanic 882. The speed at which the Titan hit the iceberg was 25 knots, the Titanic’s speed 22.5. And both ships had a capacity of 3,000. While there are a handful of differences (the Titan left only 13 survivors next to the Titanic’s 705, for example), Robertson’s book is a near-exact account of what happened to the real Titanic in 1912.

After the Titanic disaster, people said that Robertson must’ve been a clairvoyant and that his novel was a premonition. Robertson himself denied this, saying that with his knowledge of maritime trends and shipbuilding, he simply knew what he was talking about.

Perhaps. Or perhaps Robertson wasn’t consciously aware that he was penning a premonition.

The Titan/Titanic is one example among many of striking coincidences that could be much more. One came to light earlier this year. An extract from a book called End of Days, written in 2008 by psychic Sylvia Browne, said the following:

In around 2020 a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments. Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again ten years later, and then disappear completely.

Did Sylvia Browne predict Covid-19? This one’s a bit murkier since there aren’t yet any signs that this pandemic will “vanish as quickly as it arrived” (although I’m sure we all wish it would).

But then there’s the case of Eryl Mai Jones, who told her mother she’d had a dream that she went to school and it was gone because something black was covering it. She also said she wasn’t afraid to die because she’d be “with Peter and June”. The next day, 150,000 cubic metres of coal waste and slurry collapsed on Eryl Mai’s school. Eryl Mai, along with Peter and June, and 141 others, were crushed to death in the Aberfan disaster of 1966.

The Aberfan disaster

In 1967, speed record breaker Donald Campbell, while playing cards with friends, turned up an ace of spades, then a queen, and said that Mary, Queen of Scots, had turned up the same combination of cards right before she was beheaded. He predicted that someone in his family was going to “get the chop”. The next day, his boat, the Bluebird, crashed on Coniston Water in the Lake District and Campbell himself was… beheaded.

And in 2001, Lawrence Boisseau had a dream that the Twin Towers were crashing around him, and then his wife dreamed about debris filling the streets of Manhattan. A few days later, Boisseau went to work in the Twin Towers and was killed in the 9/11 attacks.

In an earlier article, I talked about whether these kinds of premonitions are the result of a sixth sense. But psychologist Carl Jung had a different explanation. He invented a term called “synchronicity”, which he defined as “meaningful coincidences”. Jung said the concept referred to two or more events that are causally unrelated happening together in a meaningful manner, events that are unlikely to occur together simply by random chance.

An example of synchronicity appears in French writer Émile Deschamps’ memoirs. He said that in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger called Monsieur de Fontgibu. Ten years later, Deschamps tried to order some plum pudding in a restaurant, only to be told that someone had just got the last one. That someone turned out to be de Fontgibu. Deschamps visited the restaurant again many years later and again order plum pudding. This time, de Fontgibu—now senile—just happened to wander into the room, having got the wrong address.

Come to think of it, we’ve all experienced synchronicity at one time or another. When we use the phrase “speak of the devil”, it’s because the person we’ve just been talking about has phoned or walked in the door. And I’m sure many of us have thought of a song we’ve not heard in years, then heard that song play on the radio. Or said something right before someone on the TV says the same thing. Or received a message from a friend right when we’re in the middle of messaging them.

But are these examples of synchronicity? Or merely coincidence? And if synchronicity is real, what’s causing it? The universe? God? Some other mystical or paranormal force? Or are we back in sixth sense territory? Perhaps we all possess differing levels of psychic ability, and it’s those abilities that cause us to sense things that then happen.

Scientists regard synchronicity and psychic powers as pseudoscientific and not based on experimental evidence. They say that much of it is down to pareidolia (seeing patterns where there aren’t any, like the ‘man in the moon’) and confirmation bias (noticing and remembering things that confirm our beliefs and ignoring things that do not).

So maybe that’s all the Titan/Titanic thing is. And Eryl Mai Jones’ and Lawrence Boisseau’s death dreams. And Donald Campbell’s cards. And Émile Deschamps’ plum puddings. Coincidences we’re trying to make into something more.

I don’t know where I sit on this one. While I can’t say I believe in synchronicity or psychic powers—and I know that pareidolia is common—that doesn’t mean these freaky-deaky tales should be brushed off. After all, when is something just too coincidental to be coincidence?

Next month: my top 10 Disney urban legends, and whether any of them might be true

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