The existence of thoughtforms has been claimed by occult-ists, especially theosophists. The idea of thought-forms has supplied a realm for some interesting and curious speculations by psychical researchers as they investigated the substance of their designated study. The suggestion of psychical researcher Sir William F. Barrett that the operator may so stimulate the mind of the subject that he is able to see the thought-shape in the former's mind is similar to what theosophist A. P. Sinnett claimed in his book The Occult World (1882): "An adept is able to project into and materialize in the visible world the forms that his imagination has constructed out of inert cosmic matter in the visible world. He does not create anything new, but only utilises and manipulates materials which Nature has in store around him."
And there are other similarities. James H. Hyslop, in his book Psychical Research and The Resurrection (1908), quoted a curious communication from a private source. The communicator, while commenting on the peculiarities of his spiritual life, stated that he "sometimes saw, for instance, a man reading a book, but when he approached to talk with him he found it was only a thought." Hyslop, however, did not agree with the thought-form theory and suggested that the instance was a case of veridical, or subjective hallucination in the spiritual life.
James T. Fields in a lecture on "Fiction and its Eminent Authors," said: "Dickens was at one time so taken possession of by the characters of whom he was writing that they followed him everywhere and would never let him be alone for a moment. He told me that when he was writing The Old Curiosity Shop the creatures of his imagination haunted him so that they would neither let him sleep or eat in peace."
Vincent Turvey wrote in his book The Beginnings of Seership (1911; 1969) about a discussion that took place between him and a man from Christian Evidence Society on psychic matters. The man insisted that Turvey's psychic gifts were from the devil and prayed that the devils should leave him.
"On lying down in the afternoon in order to rest and meditate, I suddenly saw three or four 'devils' in the room—typical orthodox fiends. Men with goats' legs, cloven hoofs, little horns just over their ears, curly hair, … tails and clawlike hands. In colour they were entirely brown, like ordinary brown paper. I candidly profess that I was 'a bit shaken' … I pulled myself together and rose into the 'higher state of consciousness.' In this 'state' I was able to see not only their fronts, but also their backs. To my utter astonishment they were all hollow at the back, like embossed leather, or the ordinary papier maché mask. Then my guardians caused me to make a sign, say a word, or think a sentence—what I do not know; but directly it was done or said, these forms disintegrated or dissolved and vanished."
Thoughtforms are often perceived in the hypnotic state. Dr. Lindsay Johnson, the celebrated British ophthalmic surgeon, described in the May 21, 1921, issue of the Spiritualist journal Light an experiment of Professor Koenig of Berlin, in a Paris hospital at which he assisted. A peasant woman was hypnotized. It was suggested that she saw an imaginary picture on a plain sheet of paper. Twenty identical sheets of paper were produced and a picture was suggested for each; a record was kept of the picture and tiny identification marks added on the back of each sheet. Johnson added five more sheets, shuffled them, and handed them back one after the other to the subject. She described the suggested picture in every case, but saw nothing on Johnson's sheets.
A Russian investigator, Dr. Naum Kotik, made similar experiments in Wiesbaden with a fourteen-year-old girl Sophie and drew the following inference: "Thought is a radiant energy. This energy has physical and psychic properties. It may be called psycho-physical. Originating in the brain, it passes to the extremities of the body. It is transmitted through air with some difficulty, more easily through a metallic conductor and can be fixed on paper."
Koenig's and Kotik's experiments echo the experience of the engineer and psychical researcher René Warcollier. One evening, partially waking, he saw a large quadrangular corded package in a yellow packing paper on a chair. He inquired about the package. There was no package on the chair but it had been there some time before as described. If the image of a package can impress a chair it is no more improbable that thoughts may similarly impress a sheet of paper.
Hyppolite Baraduc informed the Academie de Médecine in May 1896 that he had succeeded in photographing thought. He experimented with many people. The subjects placed their hands on a photographic plate in the dark room and were asked to think intently of the object they wished to impress upon the plate. Many curious markings were obtained, some of them representing the features of persons and the outline of objects.
Baraduc also contended that thought photography was possible from a distance. He quoted the case of a Dr. Istrati who promised a friend of his that he would appear on a photographic plate at Bucarest on August 4, 1893, while he slept in Campana. The distance was 300 kilometers. Before closing his eyes, Istrati willed that his image should impress the plate with which his friend went to bed. The result was achieved. The plate showed a luminous spot, in the midst of which the profile of a man could be traced.
Commandant Darget, of Tours, France, obtained several good thought photographs in 1896. His procedure was to gaze attentively at a simple object for a few moments in order to engrave it firmly on the mind, then go into the dark room and (1) place a photographic plate with the glass side against the forehead for a quarter of an hour, mentally picturing the object decided upon and strongly desiring to make an impression on the plate, (2) Place the hand on a plate (or hold the plate in the hand) for a quarter of an hour, operating as before, (3) Put the plate into a developing bath, placing the fingers of one hand on the edge of the plate for ten minutes. There should always be the desire to imprint on the plate the picture of the object which is very strongly thought of.
An interesting case was quoted by James Coates from the November 1895 issue of the Amateur Photographer. W. Inglis Rogers, the experimenter, gazed for a minute at a postage stamp and then went into the dark room and gazed at a sensitive plate for twenty minutes. When the plate was developed two images of postage stamps were plainly visible.
Tomobichi Fukurai, a professor of Kohyassan University, carried out important experiments with Ikuko Nagao. If she concentrated on Japanese alphabetical symbols they were found printed on photographic plates.
Walter Franklin Prince reported in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (April 1925) the case of the Japanese artist Mikaye. Microscopic symbols were projected by some capillary action from the tip of his brush filled with fluid pigment. The artist simply held the brush downwards and he made a mental image of the intended symbol to a large scale.
In his researches with Stanislawa Tomczyk, Julien Ochorowicz was deeply puzzled to find that in several of his radio-graphs the medium's ring appeared on the finger of her "etheric" hand. This seemed to indicate to him: (1) That there is a kind of link between the organism and the object it wears, (2) That the occult notion that material objects have an astral body is not limited to living bodies. The ring, however, did not always appear on the radiographs. Ochorowicz tried to find out whether objects frequently worn by the sensitive were more easily produced on the plate than others. He chose a thimble that she rarely used. The medium suggested that he should himself retain the thimble on the finger of his left hand, holding her with his right hand. "Perhaps," she added, "the thimble will pass from your body on to my finger."
The experiment appeared absurd, but he was willing to try it. He took a plate from his box, marked it, and laid it on the medium's knees. She was seated on his right; with his right hand he held up her left hand about sixteen inches above the plate, the thimble being on the middle finger of his left hand, which he kept behind his left knee. After a minute had elapsed, the medium said that she felt a sort of tingling in the direction of her forearm, where their hands met. She exclaimed: "Oh, how strange. Something is being placed on the tip of my finger … I do not know if it is the thimble; I feel something keeps pressing the end of my finger."
When the plate was developed, it showed the hand of the medium, and on the middle finger was what he called, jokingly, "the soul of her thimble." Ochorowicz asked in some bewilderment if the image was a double of the thimble, or was it a photograph of the idea of the thimble. A close examination of the photograph and comparison with the thimble showed that the two corresponded exactly, the one "was a true copy of the other, precise in details and in dimension."
This exactness supported the idea of a direct impression from some object rather than merely a thought-image. The finger supporting the thimble was the palest of all the fingers, probably, as Ochorowicz suggests, because the light by which the radiograph was taken, proceeded from it. He inclined to the conclusion that an etheric hand wearing an etheric thimble produced the image, and that mental desire gave the direction to the light that was necessary in order to make the details of the thimble visible on the plate.
When he proceeded to test his conclusion, however, a strange thing happened. Unknown to the medium, he held in his left hand an Austrian five-crown piece. Presently she exclaimed: "I see behind you a white round object … it is the moon." "At the same instant," wrote Ochorowicz, "I saw a faint but distinct light pass near my left hand, which held the coin; it was not round, nor a flash, it was like a little meteor, like a thin ray, lighting up the space round my hand on the side away from the medium." When the plate was developed it showed an image of a full moon.
He considered it evident that this time a photograph of thought obtained the existence of a quasi-physical intermediary, since the image represented the medium's conception of something that existed outside her mind.
The image of the moon was once obtained previous to the experiment. On the night of September 7, 1911, the medium was much impressed by the superb sight of the starry heavens, and particularly by the full moon, which she looked at for some time with admiration. On the following day, instead of the little hand, which was desired, a full moon appeared on the plate against a background of white cloud. The cinematograph representations of the eclipse of the moon on April 17, 1912, showed the image of the moon slightly flattened in the direction of the axis of rotation. This characteristic appeared in the radiograph of September 7. The impression was double and it looked as if the cloud had not been duplicated.
Some have suggested that the psychic extras obtained by spirit photographers may be the thoughts of the sitters (though most now agree that they were more likely the product of fraud). Hereward Carrington offered some curious evidence out of his experiences with Mrs. A. E. Deane as did Frederick Bligh Bond, who experimented with the same medium. Bond prepared a diagram of four by three squares and made, in one of the twelve squares, a cross of two diagonal lines and drew a small circle over the crossed lines. After he deposited this diagram with the principal of the British College of Psychic Science, he went to meet Deane. She drew upon a blackboard a similar diagram and asked for a perfect circle over the center of the two intersecting lines.
The camera was loaded by Carrington and he did the development himself; Deane simply placing her hand during the exposures on the camera top. The first plate showed the diagram alone; the second had a sort of localized fog over the square in question; the third, possessed a circular spot of intense blackness, exactly over the intersection.
In a second trial, Bond hung a small picture frame upon the wall of the studio and asked that an image, the exact character of which he did not specify, might be recorded on the space within the frame. The idea was to preclude any successful pre-exposure of a plate for the purpose of fraud. He obtained a cloud of small size that on the first two plates was not quite rightly centered, but was well within the center of the third plate.
A Mr. Warrick, a manufacturing chemist, repeated the experiments but used no camera, only sheets of paper that he had specially sensitized. By impressing upon Deane the exact nature of the image he wanted, and placing the paper beneath Deane's hands or feet, he obtained circles, squares, triangles, or more complex images. Bond believed that his part in the success was dependent upon a power of mental visualization that he had special opportunities to cultivate.
Darget, Commandant. Exposé des différentes methodes pour l'obtention des photographies fluido-magnétiques et spirites. Paris, 1909.
Eisenbud, Jule. The World of Ted Serios: "Thoughtographic Studies of an Extraordinary Mind." New York: William Morrow, 1967.
Fukurai, Tomobichi. Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. London: Rider, 1931. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Joire, Paul. Psychical and Supernormal Phenomena. New York: F. A. Stokes, 1916.
Kotie, Naum. Die Emanation der psycho-physichen Energie. Wiesbaden, 1908.
Ochorowicz, Julien. De la suggestion mentale. N.p., 1887. English edition as Mental Suggestion. N.p., 1891.
Schatzman, Morton. The Story of Ruth. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1980.