Thought-Transference
This claimed faculty was baptized telepathy in 1882 by the
Society for Psychical Research, London. In the fifteenth century,
for example, Paracelsus observed, ‘‘By the magic power
of the will, a person on this side of the ocean may make a person
on the other side hear what is said on this side . . . the ethereal
body of a man may know what another man thinks at a distance
of 100 miles or more.’’
The Swedish seer Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) clearly
stated that spiritual or sympathetic states of consciousness
conquer time and space. The state of rapport discovered by the
mesmerists of the nineteenth century demonstrated transference
of thoughts and emotions. They sought the mechanism in
a ‘‘magnetic fluid.’’ Somnambulic (hypnotic trance) induced
from a distance seemed to indicate direct action between mind
and mind. The possibility that this condition might have been
brought about by conscious or subconscious suggestion was not
immediately apparent.
Many experiments in thought transference were recorded
in Germany in the beginning of the nineteenth century. A valuable
series was published by Dr. Van Ghert, Secretary of the
Royal Mineralogical Society at Jena in the Archive für den tierischen
Magnetismus and by H. M. Weserman, the Government Assessor
and Chief Inspector of Roads in Düsseldorf with his Der
Magnetismus und die allgemeine Weltsprache (1822).
William F. Barrett read a paper on the subject before the
British Association in 1876. Psychical researchers Barrett, EdThoughtography
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1566
mund Gurney, and F. W. H. Myers concluded in 1881 in their
first report on thought-transference ‘‘The possibility must not
be overlooked that further advances along the lines indicated
may, and we believe, will, necessitate a modification of that general
view of the relation of mind to matter to which modern science
has long been gravitating.’’
It must be admitted, however, that these experiments were
severely criticized for not excluding fraud.
In an 1883–84, extensive series of experiments in Liverpool,
England, conducted by Malcolm Guthrie and James Birchall
with a Miss Ralph and a Miss Edwards, concluded that impressions
of objects and sensations of taste and pain were successfully
transmitted. Sir Oliver Lodge participated in some of these
experiments and initiated some original ones at a later period.
The experiments of Eleanor Sidgwick and her more famous
husband Henry Sidgwick in 1889–90 were classic. In
thousands of experiments, a high percentage of success was
registered in transferring simple images. The increase of distance,
however, apparently had a marked effect on the results.
According to Frank Podmore, only Dr. Gilbert’s and Professor
Janet’s experiments with ‘‘Leonie’’ at Havre in 1885 and 1886
could compare in competence, care, and precision to the results
with these. In the latter case, the effect aimed at was the
induction of hypnotic sleep.
Clarissa Miles and Hermione Ramsden experimented
through an intervening distance of 20-300 miles in transferring
complex images and obtaining cross-correspondence of
thought-transference. The results were carefully noted down;
in many cases, an agreement was found between the impressions
of the two parties (see the Journal of the Society for Psychical
Research vol. 12 and 13, and the Proceedings vol. 25).
The psychical researcher Cesare Lombroso found 12
neuropaths in 20 subjects who registered success in thoughttransference
experiments. In some cases, transmission was facilitated
by alcoholic drinks or coffee stimulating the nerve centers.
He assigned great importance to the ‘‘hysterical’’ state and
expressed the opinion that the disequilibrium of sensibility in
hysterical persons was an essential condition for the production
of the phenomena. This is because these individuals imply a
greater accumulation of nervous energy in certain points of the
cortex of the brain, and a diminution in others. He did not,
however, exclude the possible influence of other causes and
held, in alluding to transmission of thought in the dying, that
the greater accumulation of energy in the cortex during the period
just before death may be due to ptomaines that become
lodged in it.
In reviewing this theory, Dr. Guiseppe Venzano speculated
(Annals of Psychic Science, January 1906) that the causes of the
accumulation of greater energy in the centers of intelligence
must be manifold and diverse and that disequilibrium of sensibility
does not constitute more than one among these many
causes. He concluded that (1) Mediumship favored the development
of the phenomenon of transmission of thought, (2) In
mediumistic séances, the thought formulated by the agent may
be carried out even by material actions absolutely independent
both of the medium and of the experimenters, (3) Under special
circumstances, thought may be transmitted to the medium
in a séance—even at a considerable distance—from a person
outside the séance (telepathy), (4) The unconscious transmission
of thought was possible.
In Proceedings, of the Society Psychical Research (1918),
Margaret Verrall reviewed 504 previous experiments in
thought-transference. The Proceedings (1924) also contained Eleanor
Sidgwick’s report on the experiments of Gilbert Murray,
which she considered ‘‘perhaps the most important ever
brought to the notice of the society both on account of their frequently
brilliant success and on account of the eminence of the
experimenter.’’ The percipient of these experiments was Murray
himself.
On February 16, 1927, V. J. Woolley, research officer of the
Society for Psychical Research, arranged interesting experiments
through radio. He and the agents were in the society’s
office, with no means of communication with anyone outside it.
Sir Oliver Lodge sat in the broadcasting office at the microphone
and directed the radio listeners to record any impressions
they were able to form of the objects willed. They were
shown three minutes each with an interval of two minutes. The
only information given to the listeners was that the first and
fourth objects were playing cards of unusual design; second was
a Japanese print of a skull with a bird on top; the third was a
bunch of three sprays of white lilac; the fifth was of Woolley
himself wearing a bowler hat and a grotesque mask. The agents
remained in the society’s premises through the night without
access to a telephone.
The morning mail brought in 24,659 answers. According to
Woolley’s summary in Proceedings, vol. 38 (part 105), the card
test gave no evidence of telepathic transmission but the answers
disclosed the peculiarity of a strong tendency to choose an ace,
especially the ace of spades and that there was a marked preference
for odd-numbered cards as against even-numbered ones.
Of the third object, five listeners gave a skull as the description
of the picture, one adding the interesting detail that it represented
a skull in a garden, and a sixth noted a human head. Of
these six records, no less than three gave flowers as the third
object. Of the last object of the test, five answers gave the impression
of Mr. Woolley, 146 of someone present, 236 of someone
dressed up or masquerading, 73 of masks or faces, 202 of
hats, and 499 of feeling of amusement.
Woolley, however, believed that these numbers in themselves
were of little importance as there was no definite chance
of expectation with which to compare them. The number of
double successes was very small. ‘‘There does seem to be an indication
of a supernormal faculty,’’ stated Woolley, ‘‘on the part
of a few of those who took part, though their successes are
swamped by the very large mass of failures on the part of others.’’
The first attempt to link thought-transference with radio
was staged in Chicago some years previous to the Society for
Psychical Research experiment by Gardner Murphy while at
Harvard. At a later date he conducted a second similar experiment
with the assistance of J. Malcolm Bird in Newark. Murphy
did not publish a complete record though the Newark tests
were reported in the Scientific American (June 1924).
Interesting results in thought-transference have been obtained
in cross-correspondence experiments. The principle is
that two people at a stated time think of something, write it
down and post it to find out whether their thoughts corresponded.
Charles Richet outlined the steps for successful experiments
in transferring drawings or cards (1) The agent must be
absolutely motionless and have his back turned to the percipient,
(2) The choice of the number, the card, or the drawing
must be made by pure chance, (3) No result, whether success
or failure, should be told to the percipient before the end of the
sitting, (4) Not more than twenty trials should be made on any
one day, (5) All results, whatever they may be, should be stated
in full, (6) The percipient must be unable to see anything, directly
or indirectly; it is best that his eyes should be bandaged
and his back turned.
It had been found that the success of thought-transmission
depended upon the moods and health of the experimenters.
This required concentration on the part of the transmitter and
passivity of mind on the part of the recipient. It proved helpful
if the agent tried to visualize the picture that he or she wished
to convey and was best to keep an object before the eye and
think of it while trying to transmit its image.
Lodge observed that the transference of drawings was much
more distinct when tactual contact was maintained between the
agent and the percipient. He discovered as early as 1883 that
when two agents are acting, each contributes to the effect; the
result is due to both combined. He put down between two
agents a double opaque sheet of thick paper with a square
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drawn on one side and a St. Andrew’s cross on the other. Each
agent looked on one side without any notion what was on the
other. One percipient declared that ‘‘the thing won’t keep still
. . . I seem to see things moving about. . . . First I see a thing
up there and then one down there.’’ Finally the percipient drew
a square and drew a cross inside from corner to corner saying
afterward ‘‘I don’t know what made me put it inside.’’
He also attempted to find out what is really transmitted—
the idea, or name of the object or the visual impressions. He
observed the transmission of irregular drawings was very difficult
and that in some cases the idea or name, and not the visual
impression at all, was the thing transferred.
Engineer and psychical researcher René Warcollier made
an interesting table of the comparative facility in transmission.
He found the percentage of color transmission 70 percent; of
attitudes, 55 percent; drawings, 45 percent; objects, 38 percent;
ideas 37 percent; mental images, 10 percent; words and
figures 10 percent. Russian experimenter Dr. N. Kotik found
that the percentage of successes increased when the agent and
percipient were linked by a wire.
Objections to the reality of thought-transference is primarily
two-fold chance and natural parallelism of kindred minds.
Stage demonstrations of thought-transference are known to be
explained by a secret code. Sometimes, however, more subtle
sensitivity may be present. The stage performer Mrs. Zancig,
for instance, was found by James Hewat McKenzie in experiments
at the British College of Psychic Science to possess a
marked gift of clairvoyance to the degree of reading passages
in closed books.
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