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Term coined by British psychical researcher F. W. H. Myers in 1882, as a result of his joint investigation with Edmund Gurney, Henry Sidgwick, and William F. Barrett into the possibilities of thought-transference. It was applied to the researchers' concept of "a coincidence between two persons' thoughts which requires a causal explanation," and it was defined as "transmission of thought independently of the recognized channels of sense."

Though the researchers never implied such a connotation, the public assumed that telepathy was an agency of communication between mind and mind, that it was a mysterious link between conscious and subconscious minds, and that it could be used to select intelligence by which incidents from the memories of persons present and familiar or distant and unknown.

The public concept of telepathy became a rival of the spirit hypothesis. This misconception spread so widely that many people considered telepathy to be distinct from thought transference, advancing the following argument:

"In telepathy the transmitter is often unaware that he acts as an agent and the receiver does not consciously prepare himself for the reception. Telepathy cannot be made a subject of experiments, while thought-transference can. Thought-transference is a rudimentary faculty. Telepathy is a well-developed mode of supernormal perception and is usually brought into play by the influence of very strong emotions."

The need for differentiation was acknowledged by the old school of telepathists, too, when they spoke of spontaneous telepathy as distinct from experimental telepathy. Frank Pod-more a hardened skepticin his The Newer Spiritualism (1910) suggests that: "Whilst the attempt to correlate the two kinds of phenomena is perhaps legitimate, we can hardly be justified in making the spontaneous phenomena the basis of a theory of telepathy."

Myers argued that telepathy as a faculty must certainly exist in the universe if the universe contains any disembodied intelligences at all. Prayer could be telepathic communion with higher beings, and the basis of sympathy and antipathy may be telepathy. Monitions of approach appear to be telepathic messages. The knowledge of victory or disaster in war that so inexplicably occurred among ancient Greeks may have been telepathically acquired.

Origins of Modern Telepathic Theories

The theory of thought transference is not a new one. Like the theory of gravitation, it is a daughter of astrology, but while gravitation is universally accepted by science, telepathy remains a questionable hypothesis for many. However, it is clear how both sprang from astrology, and one may trace the connection between them.

The wise men of ancient times taught that the stars radiated an invisible influence that held them together in their course and that affected men and events on our planet, receiving in turn some subtle emanation from the earth and its inhabitants. From this idea it was but a step to assume that a radiant influence, whether magnetic or otherwise, passed from one human being to another. The doctrine of astral influence was shared by Paracelsus and his alchemistic successors until the epoch of Sir Isaac Newton, whose discovery of the law of gravitation brought the age of simplistic astrology to a close.

The possible analogy between the mysterious force binding worlds together and the subtle influence joining mind with mind is obvious. The two are vastly different, however, in that while gravitation may be readily demonstrated and never fails to give definite results, experiments in telepathy cannot be depended upon to succeed uniformly even under the most favorable conditions. Nevertheless, the experiments that have been conducted from time to time have more than justified the public interest in telepathy.

In 1882 the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), London, came into being, numbering among its members some of the most distinguished men of the era. Its goal was to elucidate the so-called supernatural phenomena that were exciting so much popular interest and curiosity. Foremost among these was the phenomenon of thought transference.

Viewing their subjects in a purely scientific light, trained in handling of evidence, and resolved to pursue truth with open and unbiased minds, members of the SPR did much to bring a purer and more dignified atmosphere to the study of psychic phenomena. They recognized the untrustworthiness of human nature in general, and the prevalence of fraud, even where nothing was to be gained but the gratification of a perverted vanity. Their experiments were conducted under the most rigid conditions, with every precaution taken against conscious or unconscious deception.

Among the most valuable evidence obtained from experimental thought transference was that gleaned by Professor Henry Sidgwick and his wife Eleanor Sidgwick from their experiments at Brighton in 1889 to 1891. In this series the percipientsclerks and shop assistantswere hypnotized. Sometimes they were asked to visualize, on a blank card, an image or picture chosen by the agent. At other times, the agent would choose one of a bundle of cards numbered from 10 to 90, and the percipient was required to state the number on the chosen card, which was done correctly in a surprising number of cases.

Curiously enough, the results varied in proportion as the agent and percipient were near or far apart, and were affected by the intervention of a door or even a curtain between the two. This was ascribed to a lack of confidence on the part of the percipient, however, or to such physical causes as fatigue or boredom, rather than to the limited scope of the telepathic principle. On the whole it seems probable that chance alone did not account for the number of correct replies given by the hypnotized subject.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, criticism was leveled at these experiments by F. C. C. Hansen and A. Lehmann, of Copenhagen, who believed that the phenomenon known as "involuntary whispering," combined with hyperesthesia on the part of the percipient, would suffice to produce the results obtained by the Sidgwicks (see Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 9, p. 113).

This suggested explanation has some merit. If hypnotism causes such a refinement of the senses, may not some elements of hyperesthesia linger in the subconscious of the normal individual? If dreams contain such unusual examples of deduction, may not the mind in waking moments follow a process of reasoning imperceptible to the higher consciousness?

It seems that the "other self," which is never quite as much in the background as we imagine, sees and hears a thousand things of which we are unconscious and that come to the surface in dreams. There is no reason to suppose that it might not see and hear things too slight to be perceived in a grosser sphere of consciousness, and thus account for some cases of thought transference. On the other hand, there is evidence of telepathy acting at a distance where subconscious whispering and hyperesthesia are obviously out of the question.

Unusual Kinds of Telepathy

An example of audibly received telepathy is recorded in an early issue of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 1, p. 6): "On September 9, 1848, at the siege of Mooltan, Major-General R______, C. B., then adjutant of his regiment, was severely wounded, and thought himself to be dying, and requested that his ring be taken off and sent to his wife. At the same time she was in Ferozepore (150 miles distant), lying on her bed between sleeping and waking, and distinctly saw her husband being carried off the field, and heard his voice saying 'Take this ring off my finger and send it to my wife.' " The facts of the case were verified and all the names were obtained by the SPR.

The journalist and pioneer Spiritualist William T. Stead often received automatic writing from the living. Thinking of a lady with whom he was in such communication more than once, his hand wrote:

"I am very sorry to tell you that I have had a very painful experience of which I am almost ashamed to speak. I left Haslemere at 2:27 P.M. in a second-class carriage, in which there were two ladies and one gentleman. When the train stopped at Godalming, the ladies got out, and I was left alone with the man. After the train started he left his seat and came close to me. I was alarmed, and repelled him. He refused to go away and tried to kiss me. I was furious. We had a struggle. I seized his umbrella and struck him, but it broke, and I was beginning to fear that he would master me, when the train began to slow up before arriving at Guildford Station. He got frightened, let go of me, and before the train reached the platform he jumped out and ran away. I was very much upset. But I have the umbrella."

Stead sent his secretary to the lady with a note that he was very sorry to hear what had happened and added, "Be sure and bring the man's umbrella on Wednesday." She wrote in reply: "I am very sorry you know anything about it. I had made up my mind to tell nobody. I will bring the broken umbrella, but it was my umbrella, not his." The lady's decision not to tell of the painful evidence suggests that a telepathic message may not only be unconscious, but may directly counteract the desire of the conscious mind.

In many instances of cross-correspondence, where two or more people receive part of a message that only becomes clear when the parts are placed together, telepathy between the receivers would furnish an alternative to the spirit hypothesis.

The working of telepathy is apparently demonstrated in certain cases of suggestion. Hypnotization has been claimed to be effected at a distance. Myers called it telepathic hypnotism.

The Wave Theory

In his presidential address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in September 1898, Sir William Crookes said:

"If telepathy takes place we have two physical factsthe physical change in the brain of A, the suggester, and the analogous change in the brain of B, the recipient of the suggestion. Between these two physical events there must exist a train of physical causes. [and] with every fresh advance in knowledge it is shown that ether vibrations have powers and attributes abundantly equal to any demand even to the transmission of thought."

He believed that these ether waves were of small amplitude and greater frequency than x-rays and continually passed between human brains, arousing an image in the second brain that is similar to the image in the first.

Damaging to this theory is the fact that the intensity of wavesany wavesdiminishes with distance and that the telepathic image may not only be very vivid despite the remoteness of the agent, but that the picture is often modified or symbolical. A dying man may appear to the percipient in a normal state of health. As Myers noted: "Mr. L. dies of heart disease when in the act of lying down undressed in bed. At or about the same time Mr. N. J. S. sees Mr. L. standing beside him with a cheerful air, dressed for walking and with a cane in his hand. One does not see how a system of undulations could have transmuted the physical facts in this way."

In cases of collective reception, an added difficulty is presented. Why should only a few people in a room be sensitive to the waves and other strangers outside the room not at all receptive? Why should a crystal gazer get a telepathic message at the time of his own choosing, when he happens to look into the crystal? How can the pictures in the crystal sometimes be seen by others if they are only produced in his brain through telepathy?

In his book The Survival of Man (1909), Sir Oliver Lodge asserts that the experimental evidence was not sufficient to substantiate the nonphysical nature of thought transference. He had no doubt of its reality, and as early as 1903 he stated in an interview to the Pall Mall Magazine : "What we can take before the Royal Society, and what we can challenge the judgment of the world upon, is Telepathy."

Hereward Carrington suggested that telepathic manifestations may take place through a superconscious mind, that there may be a "mentiferous ether," as some writers have suggested, that carries telepathic waves, and that there is a species of spiritual gravitation uniting life throughout the universe, as physical gravity binds together all matter.

In the 1920s the Italian researcher Prof. F. Cazzamali of the University of Milan conducted experiments that appeared to show that the human brain emits short waves of high frequency under the stress of emotion. In an insulated all-metal room, he carried out a number of experiments inducing, by means of suggestion, an emotional crisis in his subjects. Delicate receivers placed in the room registered cerebral radiation in the form of waves, which were also recorded on photographic plates. The reports were published in the Revue Métapsychique, but were severely criticized. The wave theory of telepathy remains unproven, and psychical researchers have now largely discarded it, although a few modern Soviet investigators suggested an electromagnetic theory of telepathy.

Animals and Telepathy

There is some evidence indicating that telepathy is not restricted to humans. Among the better cases of telepathy from animal to man is one furnished by the novelist H. Rider Haggard in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (October 1904). Mrs. Haggard heard her husband groaning and emitting inarticulate sounds like the moaning of a wounded animal during the night of July 7, 1904. She woke him and her husband told her his dream. It consisted of two distinct parts:

In the first, the novelist only remembered having experienced a sense of grievous oppression, as though he were in danger of suffocation. Between the moment when he heard his wife's voice and that in which he regained full consciousness, the dream became much more vivid. He states: "I saw good old Bob [his dog] lying on his side among brushwood by water. My own personality seemed to me to be arising in some mysterious manner from the body of the dog, who lifted up his head at an unnatural angle against my face. Bob was trying to speak to me, and not being able to make himself understood by sounds, transmitted to my mind in an undefined fashion the knowledge that he was dying."

Bob was found dead four days later, floating in the river, his skull crushed in, and his legs broken. He had been struck by a train on a bridge and thrown into the water. His bloodstained collar was found on the bridge the morning after the dream.

William J. Long, in his book How Animals Talk (1922), produces many examples of a telepathic faculty in animals. He notes that if a mother wolf cannot head off a runaway cub because there is too much distance between them, she simply stops quiet, lifts her head high, and looks steadily at the running cub. He will suddenly waver, halt, whirl, and speed back to the pack. The famous case of the Elberfeld horses also suggests that telepathy may operate between animals and humans, and Edmund Selous, in his book Thought Transferenceor What?in Birds (1931), records many observations on the subject from bird life.

Telepathy vs. Survival

Obviously the role of telepathy is of some importance to any understanding of the paranormal, but those who tried to find in it an all-inclusive solution to paranormal manifestations faced great difficulties. If a telepathic message is followed by motor movementsfor instance, the announcement of a death in automatic writingthe question is, Who executes the move-mentsthe subconscious self or the agent who sends the message? Similar uncertainty applies if the reception of a telepathic message is accompanied by telekinetic movements.

Frank Podmore, the author of Apparitions and Thought Transference (1894)which deals with the accumulated evidence for telepathybecame the great exponent of the theory that all apparitions could be explained as "telepathic hallucinations. " F. W. H. Myers, on the other hand, was among the first to argue that telepathy was an insufficient explanation for apparitions. Being forced to concede that collective perception of phantasmal appearances called for something objective, he worked out a theory of "psychical invasion"the creation of a "phantasmogenetic" center in the percipients' surroundings.

The theory was midway between telepathic and spirit explanations, and it accounted for many freakish phantasmal manifestations for which no satisfactory solution had yet been offered.

Early in the twentieth century, the problem of whether to admit telepathy could occur in both the living and the dead plagued researchers. Apparitions of the dying border between telepathy with the living and telepathy from the dead. A similar phenomenon that lacks all the conditions for evidence of telepathy is visions of the dead appearing to the dying.

The strain on the telepathic theory grew with instances that made the acquisition of certain knowledge by telepathic process wildly improbable but were easily understood on the basis of the survival theory. The question was not only how certain information could have been acquired, but also why it was associated with definite personalities or disclosed in a personified form.

In the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. 35, 1926), S. G. Soal tells how, in a séance with Blanche Cooper, a voice came through, claiming to be his deceased brother. As proof of identity the voice told him that a year before in a playhut at home he had buried a lead disk which he would probably find if he dug there. Soal was satisfied that none of his brother's surviving acquaintances knew of the incident, and dug and found the disk.

Nevertheless, he argued that this might have been a case of telepathic transmission in his brother's earthly life, the knowledge having remained latent in his own subconscious mind. If yet another person had figured in the telepathic chain it would have been an example of the so-called three-way telepathy first advanced by Andrew Lang in his discussion of the case of the medium Leonora Piper (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 15, pp. 48-51).

Hugh J. Browne's book The Holy Truth (1876) contains the story of his two sons, who drowned. One, in a communication through the medium George Spriggs, told the detailed story of their fatal pleasure cruise and added that his brother's arm had been torn off by a great shark. This information could not have been telepathically conveyed by anyone living, except by the shark, yet it was found to be true. The shark was caught two days later, and a man testified to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that he cut the shark open and found an arm, part of a waistcoat, and a watch, which were identified as belonging to the dead youth. The watch had stopped at the exact hour at which the brothers were engulfed by the sea.

There are many cases on record in which missing wills and other lost property were found through alleged spirit intervention. F. Bligh Bond 's in The Gate of Remembrance (1920) records an incident in which an entire chapel was found. The Glastonbury Abbey was in ruins; every trace of the Edgar Chapel was lost, and very little was known about its location and precise dimensions. Nevertheless, in automatic writing a series of communications came through, giving detailed information. When excavations were undertaken in 1908, a year after the communications were received, the chapel was found. (For a critical view of this case see G. W. Lambert's "The Quest of Glastonbury" in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, June 1966).

The personal element puts insurmountable obstacles in the way of telepathic explanation in the following case recorded by the psychical researcher Ernesto Bozzano in notes on the July 14, 1928, sitting at Millesimo Castle, Italy. An unknown voice, in Genoese dialect, addressed sitter Gino Gibelli, saying, "I am Stefano's father. You must tell my son that I insist on his giving the message to Maria with which I entrusted him. He has not carried out my request in the slightest degree." Signor Gibelli explained that he had been in Genoa a month before. In a séance there the father had communicated with the son and charged him with a message to his mother. Very probably the young man had not dared to carry out this request. Gibelli stated that he had completely forgotten the incident, that it had nothing to do with him personally and did not interest him in the slightest degree. He was not thinking of Stefano's father, whom he did not know in life, and was unaware that the request that the father had made to his son had not been carried out.

Some aspects of spirit communication strongly suggest that telepathy was not the means by which the medium gained knowledge. Telepathy makes no allowance for false or confused information, and it does not explain the communicator's loss of the concept of time, nor the individual style of the different spirit controls (i.e., the biblical manner of "Imperator," or "George Pelham's" impatience as he spoke through Leonora Piper). In spirit communications, names are often spelled inaccurately, giving, for instance, "Margaret" instead of "Maggie." Telepathy cannot reveal coming events, and it cannot explain how the spirits of children, if recently dead, ask for their toys and act childishly, yet behave years later as adults although no such memory of them is retained in any living mind.

If a medium operated by means of telepathy, he would have to be omniscient. There is no need for the supposition of omniscience if a telepathic message may originate as well from the dead as from the living. Once this admission is made one can well understand the futility of the "brain wave" theory. A discarnate spirit has no physical brain. The message must come from the spirit and not from the percipient. If it may come from the spirit as an agent, it may be received by the medium's spirit and transmitted to his brain.

The insufficiency of the telepathic explanation has also been demonstrated by hundreds of strange cross correspondences and newspaper and book tests.

Many post-mortem letters have been preserved by the Society for Psychical Research and will not be opened until after a communication revealing their contents comes through a medium after the writer's death. It is unlikely that this evidence will ever be conclusive, since in one instance the content of the letter was revealed, apparently through telepathy, by the medium while the writer was still living. The telepathist may always argue that the contents of the letter were subconsciously transferred into another brain while the writer was preparing it.

As proof of survival, cross correspondences are far more conclusive, since the partial messages coming through several mediums are by themselves nonsensical and can only be explained away by the supposition of a conspiracy between several subconscious minds.

The Arguments of James H. Hyslop

Telepathy became a rival of the spirit theory because, according to James H. Hyslop, early twentieth-century head of the American Society for Psychical Research, of the word transmission in the original definition of telepathy. He preferred to define telepathy as "a coincidence excluding normal perception, between the thoughts of two minds." It was the word transmission, Hyslop said, that gave telepathy the implication that "it is a process exclusively between living people and not permitting the intervention of the dead, if the discarnate exist and can act on the living."

Hyslop's definition permits the employment of the term to describe the action of discarnate as well as incarnate minds. Hy-slop further concluded, "We are not entitled to assume the larger meaning of telepathy to be a fact because we are not sure of its limitations. Here is where we have been negligent of the maxims of scientific methods and the legitimate formation of convictions."

"Mediumistic phenomena," he writes in his book Contact with the Other World (1919), "too often suggest the action of spirits, to be cited as direct evidence for telepathy. The possibility of spirits and the fact that an incident is appropriate to illustrate the personal identity of a deceased person forbids using it as positive evidence for telepathy. One can only insist that one theory is as good as the other to account for the facts."

About selective telepathy, he argues:

"No evidence has been adduced. and I do not see how it would be possible to adduce such evidence. Every extension of the term beyond coincidences between the mental states of two persons is wholly without warrant. The introduction of the assumption that this coincidence is due to a direct transmission from one living mind to another has never been justified, and as there is no known process whatever associated with the coincidences we are permitted to use the term only in a descriptive, not in an explanatory sense.

"There is no scientific evidence for any of the following conceptions of it: (1) Telepathy as a process of selecting from the contents of the subconscious of any person in the presence of the percipient; (2) Telepathy as a process of selecting from the contents of the mind of some distant person by the percipient and constructing these acquired facts into a complete simulation of a given personality; (3) Telepathy as a process of selecting memories from any living people to impersonate the dead; (4) Telepathy as implying the transmission of the thoughts of all living people to all others individually, with the selection of the necessary facts for impersonation from the present sitter; (5) Telepathy as involving a direct process between agent and percipient; (6) Telepathy as explanatory in any sense whatever, implying any known cause.

"The failures in experiments to read the present active states of the agent and the inability to verify any thoughts outside those states, in the opinion of science is so finite that its very existence is doubted, while the extended hypothesis requires us to believe in its infinity without evidence.

"As a name for facts, with suspended judgment regarding explanation, it is tolerable, but there can be no doubt that spirits explain certain facts, while telepathy explains nothing. At least as a hypothesis, therefore, the spiritistic theory has the priority and the burden of proof rests upon the telepathic theory."

Dr. Richard Hodgson similarly concluded in his second report on the Piper phenomena: "Having tried the hypothesis of telepathy from the living for several years, and the spirit hypothesis also for several years, I have no hesitation in affirming with the most absolute assurance that the spirit hypothesis is justified by its fruits, and the other hypothesis is not."

TelepathyThe Result of Spirit Agency?

Hyslop was not averse to the possibility that spirits might furnish the explanation of telepathy between the living. He stated that Myers saw this implication at the very outset of his investigations into telepathy. Hyslop said that only part of the story was told in the report on the experiments of Miss Miles and Miss Ramsden in long-distance telepathy (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. 21, pp. 60-93). Miles was an all-round psychic, and in her correspondence with Hyslop she disclosed that she could always tell when her telepathy was successful by the raps that she heard. She said she concentrated on the object Ramsden was to perceive until she heard raps. Raps are not telepathic phenomena, however, and carry an entirely different connotation.

Further, Hyslop stated that in communications through the medium Mrs. Willis M. Cleveland (also known as Mrs. Smead ), the deceased Frank Podmore purported to say that telepathy was actually messages carried by spirits and that they could perform it instantly. Had Smead known Podmore, such a misstatement could not have occurredPodmore always pressed the theory of telepathy between the living to the exclusion of spirits.

The purported spirit of F. W. H. Myers also made a strange allusion through the medium Minnie Meserve Soule ("Mrs. Chenoweth"), saying telepathy "all depended on the carrier." When Hyslop asked for an explanation, the answer was: "Telepathy was always a message carried by the spirits."

A more interesting and elaborate statement reportedly came from the spirit of Margaret Verrall :

"I said yesterday that I would write more about the telepathic theory as I now understand it. I am not sure of the passage of thought through space as I was once, and I had begun to question the method by which thought was transferred to brains before I came here, but you will recall that I had some striking instances of what seemed telepathy tapping a reservoir of thought direct, and the necessity for an intervening spirit was uncalled for; but there were other instances when the message was transposed or translated and the interposition of another mind was unquestionably true. I tried many experiments and I think you must know about them. I will say that I found more people involved in my work than I had known and there seemed more reason to believe that I was operated upon than that I operated, in other words, the automatic writing was less mine than I had supposed."

The dividing line between clairvoyance and telepathy is vague. The telepathic message may take the form of visual or auditory sensation. If the content indicates future events, clairvoyance should be suspected. Past events may be both telepathic communications and the result of a reading by psychometry.

A constructive and evidential resumé of experiments in telepathy is given by Walter Franklin Prince in an appendix to the sixteenth Bulletin of the Boston Society for Psychical Research, published under the title "The Sinclair Experiments Demonstrating Telepathy" (1932).

Parapsychology and Telepathy

From the 1920s on, psychical researchers in both Great Britain and the United States investigated telepathy through intensive laboratory experiments. Card guessing was a favored testing tool, but it was not until the 1930s, after J. B. Rhine popularized the Zener Cards, a pack of five simple symbols (star, cross, circle, rectangle, and wavy lines), that statistical evaluation of experiments was simplified.

Using the Zener cards, experimenters attempted to obtain significant quantitative tests under laboratory conditions. In the experiments by C. W. Olliver with playing cards over some twenty thousand trials, a distinction was made between telepathy (between agent and percipient) and clairvoyance (perception without an agent).

In the modern period of parapsychological research, many aspects of telepathy have been investigated, including such questions as expectation, emotional incentives, and dream telepathy, in addition to the completion of many quantitative and qualitative experiments. So far researchers have not summarized their findings in a way that will definitely establish telepathy as a scientific fact, repeatable on demand. There is reasonable evidence that some telepathy has occurred under laboratory conditions, however.

Certain basic problems remain, such as the disparity in telepathic faculty between different percipients, and the problem of assessing spontaneous telepathy. In the former Soviet Union there was considerable interest in telepathy because of its possible practical applications, and experimenters gave special attention to methods of intensifying visualization on the part of the agent sending impressions to a percipient. In the United States researchers like Andrija Puharich have experimented with high-speed strobe lights on the closed eyes of subjects in order to heighten telepathic impressions.


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views updated May 23 2018


"The process of telepathy is said to occur when a psychic act by one person results in the same psychic act in another person" (1933a [1932]). Sigmund Freud developed several hypotheses about the direct transmission of thought, or telepathy, seeing it as an archaic mode of communication between individuals and possibly a physical process that had become mental at the two ends of the communications sequence.

Carl Jung and, later, Sándor Ferenczi, were, along with Freud, interested in the question of telepathy. Freud's attitude toward it was simultaneously one of openness, because of its proximity to the unconscious, and reserve, fearing that psychoanalysis might find itself compared to occultism. His interest was essentially personal and longstanding, since he believed that he was able to communicate remotely with his fiancée Martha by thought alone when he was in Paris (Jones, 1957, vol. 3). Later, he attempted to conduct experiments of this kind, which is reflected in his correspondence with Ferenczi in 1910 and with his daughter Anna in 1925. But Freud maintained that the notion of telepathy was outside psychoanalysis, which was only interested in using a scientific, not a mystical, approach in the investigation of psychic activity. In fact, in discussing the telepathy performed by mediums, he recommended that we investigate their psychology, as well as that of their customers. Nonetheless, he felt that the phenomenon in question, namely the transmission of thought, was at least probable even if it was not demonstrable.

Freud advised Jung, and especially Ferenczi, to be cautious about revealing their attitudes about telepathy, which might have risked jeopardizing the status of psychoanalysis. He expressed this sentiment publicly on several occasions, the first time in 1921, in a short text entitled "Psychoanalysis and Telepathy," which was read during a scientific meeting with his followers (1941d [1921]), the second time in an essay, "Dreams and Telepathy" (1922a), and then in 1925 in a note on "The Occult Meaning of Dreams" (1925i), published in the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933a).

In fact Freud couched his own interest in the occult, in the form of a critique of a skeptical and limited rationalism, in rather sharp terms: "Not for the first time would [psychoanalysis] be offering its help to the obscure but indestructible surmises of the common people against the obscurantism of educated opinion" (1941d [1921], p. 178). However, this interest did not lead him to accept telepathy as such, but to examine with greater attention the examples of premonitions or of premonitory dreams, which led him to question the after-the-fact reconstruction of narratives of partially falsified acts.

The value of Freud's investigation, therefore, extends well beyond telepathy, touching upon the epistemological justification of the interpretative process used for dreams and analytic constructions. At the same time, as a question, telepathy is most certainly related to that of the unconscious through the hypothesis of telepathic communication in primitives and animals. Animism, the occult, and the uncanny, therefore, form a field that is neither inside nor outside psychoanalysis, but which psychoanalysis attempts to approach using its own methods.

Sophie de Mijolla-Mellor

See also: Latent; New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis ; Occultism; Omnipotence of thought; "Recommendations to Physicians Practicing Psychoanalysis"; "'Uncanny', The."


Freud, Sigmund. (1922a). Dreams and telepathy. SE, 18: 195-220.

. (1933a [1932]). New introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. SE, 22: 1-182.

. (1941d [1921]). Psycho-analysis and telepathy. SE, 18: 173-193.

Granoff, Wladimir, and Rey, Jean-Michel. (1983). L 'Occulte, objet de la pensée freudienne. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Jones, Ernest. (1953-1957). Sigmund Freud. Life and work, London: Hogarth Press.


views updated Jun 08 2018

te·lep·a·thy / təˈlepə[unvoicedth]ē/ • n. the supposed communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses.DERIVATIVES: tel·e·path·ic / ˌteləˈpa[unvoicedth]ik/·e·path·i·cal·ly / ˌteləˈpa[unvoicedth]ik(ə)lē/ adv.te·lep·a·thist / -[unvoicedth]ist/ n.


views updated Jun 27 2018

telepathy the supposed communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses; the term was coined in the late 19th century by the poet and essayist Frederic William Henry Myers (1843–1901), who in 1882 became one of the founding members of the Society for Psychical Research.


views updated May 23 2018

telepathy Form of extrasensory perception (ESP) involving the transmission and reception of thoughts without using the usual sensory channels. Such transference has never been proved although claims to telepathy have been extensively investigated.