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Unimagined Sensitivities, Part 12

Crises can seemingly generate psychic distress signals of pain or anguish.

In a previous post, I offered 2 illustrations — one involving a dying airman, the other a mortally wounded wolf — of how searing trauma might produce effects that are simultaneously physical, emotional, and spiritual.

The process would seem to be as elemental in other animals (mammals, at least) as it is in people, given that humans and many other creatures are endowed with a similar neurobiology, a similar capacity for emotion, and a similarly social nature. The late, great neuoroscientist Jaak Panksepp — known as the "rat tickler" for his breakthrough finding that rats experience a human-like pleasure — came to the conclusion that all mammals are “brothers and sisters under the skin” since we share the same fundamental neurology and physiology. He further opined that, once we understand the nature of other animals’ feelings, “we will finally understand ourselves.”

The shared nature of feelings — and the spiritual communion they engender — is on display, I suggest, in the many anomalous reports concerning people and pets. It's possible, even likely, that a life-threatening emergency and the prospect of death so marshals the complete attention of an animal that the energy involved in its travail upends, at least occasionally, the normal convergence of space/time so that anomalous perceptions result. Whatever the dynamics involved, they typically communicate something of value between creatures that have an emotional tie, whether human to human, pet to human, or elephant to elephant.

In my last post, I explored the phenomenon of prodromal dreaming. In certain cases, dreams can evidently serve as a virtual x-ray, bubbling up information about a person's physical health from the unconscious to the conscious mind. Now, a question: could something like a prodromal dream be produced when someone else is undergoing a profound biological struggle? The possibility is worth considering. There are certainly many accounts of such ‘distress signals’ occurring during waking hours. Despite their seeming strangeness and intangibility, it’s striking that they involve such palpable physicality. Some examples:

  • A mother was writing a letter to her daughter when her right hand felt as though it were burning and she dropped the pen. Less than an hour later, she received a phone call telling her that her daughter’s right hand had been severely burned by acid in a laboratory accident. (Dossey 2001, p. 253)
  • A man and his wife were attending a football game when the man got up and announced they had to return home because their son had been hurt. Once home, they discovered that the boy had shot a BB into his thumb, which would require emergency surgery. (Dossey 2001, pp. 253-4)
  • A nurse received a call after midnight concerning a patient she had been seeing. The patient’s daughter had already called 911. The nurse went to the patient’s home and found her looking terribly ill, with low blood pressure, chest pains, and breathing difficulties. After the ambulance left with the patient, the nurse returned home to try to sleep. She was suddenly awakened by “a violent jerk that went through my whole body.” As she was trying to figure out what had happened, the phone rang. The patient’s daughter was on the line, saying that her mother had just experienced cardiac arrest but that the doctor was able to “shock her back” to life. (Dossey 1999, pp. 136-7)
  • A family living on a farm in upstate New York began their day’s work, but all returned to the house later in the morning after experiencing a strange feeling. All eight family members felt an intense foreboding, each without being aware the others felt the same. That day, in Michigan, a son in the family died in an accident. (Dossey 2001, p. 254)
  • A woman felt a pain in her chest and said her sister had been hurt. The woman later found out that her sister was in a fatal car accident at the same time; her chest had been crushed by the steering wheel. (Dossey 2001, p. 254)
  • A soldier was knocked unconscious by shell fragments. That same day, a continent away, his daughter, age two and a half, was playing on the family’s kitchen floor. According to the man’s wife, their toddler suddenly got up, said to her mother “Daddy’s been hurt,” and then went back to her toys.

These kinds of experiences suggest an analogue to the prodromal dream, except during wakefulness. They resemble the nightmares that jolted awake Harry Robinson (friend of Romeo the wolf) and Virginia Anaya (who awoke on January 13, 1964 with a vision of the dying airman, Mel Wooten). It seems that a life-threatening emergency can produce a veritable 'distress signal' that communicates something of the individual's situation — whether sharp pain or other physiological perceptions or a palpable sense of anguish or foreboding.


Dossey, Larry. Healing Beyond the Body. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.

Beitman, Bernard. A Non-Statistician's Approach to Coincidences: Part 5. Connecting with Coincidence.

Dossey, Larry. Reinventing Medicine. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.