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, Edmund 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 thought-transference 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 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.
Braddon, Russell. The Piddingtons. London: Werner Laurie, 1950.
Gurney, Edmund, F. W. H. Myers, and Frank Podmore. Phantasms of the Living. 2 vols. London: Trubner, 1886. Reprint, Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles, 1970. Abridged edition, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1962.
Myers, F. W. H. Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. 2 vols. London: Longmans, Green, 1903. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975. Abridged Edition, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1961.
Ostrander, Sheila, and Lynn Schroeder. Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Reprint, New York: Bantam, 1971. Reprinted as Psi: Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. London: Abacus 1973.
Podmore, Frank. Apparitions and Thought Transference. London: Scott; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895.
Rhine, J. B. Extrasensory Perception. Boston: Boston Society for Psychical Research, 1934. Reprint, Boston: Branden, 1964.
Schmeidler, Gertrude R., ed. Extrasensory Perception. New York: Atherton, 1969.
Schwarz, Berthold Eric. Parent-Child Telepathy: Five Hundred and Five Possible Episodes in a Family; A Study of the Telepathy of Everyday Life. New York: Garrett Publications, 1971.
Sinclair, Upton. Mental Radio. Pasadena, Calif.: The Author, 1930. Revised edition, Springfield, Ill.: C. C. Thomas, 1962.
Thomas, N. W. Thought Transference: A Critical and Historical Review of the Evidence for Telepathy. London: De La More Press, 1905.
Warcollier, René. Experimental Telepathy. Boston: Boston Society for Psychical Research, 1938. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.
——. Mind to Mind. Creative Age Press, 1948. Reprint, New York: Macmillan, 1963.