In another study, Bem examined whether the well-known priming effect could also be reversed. In a typical priming study, people are shown a photo and they have to quickly indicate if the photo represents a negative or positive image. If the photo is of a cuddly kitten, you press the "positive" button and if the photo is of maggots on rotting meat, you press the "negative" button. A wealth of research has examined how subliminal priming can speed up your ability to categorize these photos. Subliminal priming occurs when a word is flashed on the computer screen so quickly that your conscious brain doesn't recognize what you saw, but your nonconscious brain does. So you just see a flash, and if I asked you to tell me what you saw, you wouldn't be able to. But deep down, your nonconscious brain saw the word and processed it. In priming studies, we consistently find that people who are primed with a word consistent with the valence of the photo will categorize it quicker. So if I quickly flash the word "happy" before the kitten picture, you will click the "positive" button even quicker, but if I instead flash the word "ugly" before it, you will take longer to respond. This is because priming you with the word "happy" gets your mind ready to see happy things.
In Bem's retroactive priming study, he simply reversed the time sequence on this effect by flashing the primed word after the person categorized the photo. So I show you the kitten picture, you pick whether it is positive or negative, and then I randomly choose to prime you with a good or bad word. The results showed that people were quicker at categorizing photos when it was followed by a consistent prime. So not only will you categorize the kitten quicker when it is preceded by a good word, you will also categorize it quicker when it is followed by a good word. It was as if, while participants were categorizing the photo, their brain knew what word was coming next and this facilitated their decision.
http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the ... -phenomena
One problem I think with the conclusion there is assuming the brain is the chief mechanism at work. I imagine this research is coming from the angle of typical materialist assumptions (for example the mind is more or less just the brain). Still, the result is intriguing -- a future event accelerates processing of a present action.
In Huayan Buddhism especially they liked to stress the relative quality of time. To them dependent origination actually goes in both directions. It basically isn't linear (at least from the perspective of a Buddha which is what the Avatamsaka-sutra/Flower Ornament Sutra tries to present). A cause is only relative to an effect ergo though that effect exists in the future it still has some kind of causal efficacy. That's why arousing the mind of Bodhicitta (the mind of enlightenment) creates that future effect of Buddhahood. Arousing Bodhicitta is attaining Buddhahood in a sense -- the cause (the initial arousal of the mind) is only possible because there is a relational effect (Buddhahood).
This actually lead to a lot of interesting theories about how YOUR FUTURE BUDDHA that you will eventually become affects you now. It also leads to conclusion that you don't take refuge in some other Buddha, but you take refuge in your future Buddha self, which is ultimately indistinguishable from all other Buddhas.
Such thought seems to have been popular in the Tang Dynasty as well as in Korea with the Huayan monk Uisang.
Anyway. Interesting article. It gave me reason to ponder things.