The Existence Of The Faculty Of Telepathy
( Originally Published 1904 )
I HAVE been asked to tell how I became convinced that man possesses the power to communicate thoughts to his fellowman otherwise than through the recognized channels of the senses. I could answer that question very easily and truthfully by saying that I am credulous enough to accept and believe human testimony. When thousands of reputable men and women declare that they have experienced the phenomenon and witnessed it in others ; and when hundreds of men, whose reputation for probity and scientific attainments is international, aver that they have experimentally reproduced the phenomena of telepathy, I confess that I am very much inclined to believe what they say. When a great society, the London Society for Psychical Research, is organized for the sole purpose of investigating such phenomena, and I find that its active workers comprise some of the ablest scientists and most careful and conscientious investigators in the civilized world, and when that society publishes two large volumes, Phantasms of the Living, containing more than thirteen hundred pages of testimony to the fact that telepathy exists as a power of the human mind. I admit that I am prone to be convinced of the truth of telepathy. I know that it is unscientific, very, to be so credulous; for I have been so informed by some very able scientists. I know that it is considered to be scientific heresy to believe human testimony on such subjects; and I have been informed by members of the Society for Psychical Research that I have been guilty of such heresy in that I have believed the testimony of that society, and have generalized from its published facts, instead of spending a lifetime in finding out whether they told the truth, or were engaged in a gigantic conspiracy to impose upon the credulity of mankind.
I do not mention this in any spirit of complaint or fault-finding, for I cannot but realize that in times past it was unsafe for any investigator of psychic phenomena to accept the testimony of men on that subject. The tales of devils, demons, ghosts, hobgoblins, witches, visions, dreams, and presentiments, with which old women and nurses were in the habit of entertaining the good children, and securing the obedience of the refractory, were fair samples of the material with which, at the threshold of scientific inquiry on the subject, the investigator of psychic manifestations had to deal ; and it is obvious that, under those circumstances, the old rule that human testimony should not be received was indispensable.
But when such world-renowned scientists as Professors Crookes, Wallace, James, Copes, Gates, Sidgwick, Myers, Podmore, Hodgson, and hosts of others of equal capacity for accurate observation — when such men declare that they have experimentally demonstrated the existence of that and cognate psychic powers, I am forced to the conviction that the old rule may now be somewhat relaxed. That is a question, however, which each investigator must determine for himself ; and I am not disposed to find fault with any one who chooses to adhere to the old rule and to waste years in reproducing phenomena which have been witnessed and verified by thousands of accurate and conscientious observers. But I do say, nevertheless, that as long as every student of experimental psychology adheres to the notion that in order to be considered " scientific " he must personally conduct every experiment from which he deduces a conclusion, there will be little progress made in psychic science. If the investigation of the physical sciences had been subject to that principle, we should still have been riding in stage-coaches, and nine-tenths of all the appliances of modern civilization would have been yet unknown. If the science of electricity, for instance, had been so studied, Edison would have commenced his studies by fumbling with lodestones, producing static electricity by rubbing sticks of sealing-wax upon the seat of his pants, and possibly by this time he might have reached the kite-flying experiment of Franklin. Certain it is that he would have reached the stage of senile decrepitude before he could have experimentally verified a one-hundredth part of the conclusions of his predecessors, and he would have died of old age and disappointed ambition before he would have dared to make an original experiment or generalization.
If substantial progress in psychology is ever to be made, it must be by adopting the same methods which prevail in the development of the physical sciences. That is to say, some credit must be attached to the declarations of competent observers. We must take something for granted. We must begin where our predecessors left off. We must take advantage of their discoveries and explore new domains, instead of perpetually travelling in their old pathways for fear that they may have been lying to us about the topography of the realms they have explored.
I must be understood now as giving fatherly advice to those who are just entering the field of psychic research. I confess that I did not dare to follow the advice I am giving, for the simple reason that I began before psychic phenomena had been scientifically investigated by competent observers who were known to be trustworthy. I did not, however, waste much time in repeating experiments after becoming satisfied of the verity of any particular class of phenomena; for I investigated for the sole purpose of satisfying my own mind, and not with a view of converting others. I investigated by classes of phenomena, and, having demonstrated to my own satisfaction that one particular class of phenomena could be produced without fraud or legerdemain, I dropped it and proceeded to another class, and so on, until the whole psychic repertory had been practically covered.
I may be pardoned by some of my readers for remarking, in passing, that when I began my investigations I had no theory of causation or hypothesis to sustain. I simply desired to know the truth as to the verity of the alleged phenomena; and if I know my own mind I was free from prejudice for or against any then existing hypothesis. I may remark, however, that, like every other honest investigator, I was hoping to be able to formulate a working hypothesis which would account for all the facts; and I early became conscious, in a vague, general way, that the phenomenon of telepathy, if it could be proven to exist, must be a factor of supreme importance in any theory of causation that could be formulated. To those who are acquainted with my subsequent writings it is superfluous to say that I found my conjectures to be correct, and that telepathy actually marks the border line between the realms of science and superstition.
I therefore applied myself to the task of investigating that phenomenon, with a firm determination to know the fact of the existence of that power if it existed. To my surprise and gratification I found the task to be a comparatively easy one when I came to know something of the conditions necessary to be observed.
I have not space to devote to the recital of the many failures which I encountered, nor of the partial successes which might be relegated to the domain of coincidence, nor of the complete successes where the element of human veracity constituted a factor. I will, therefore, state briefly, not how I became convinced, but how I came to know of the existence of the faculty of telepathy.
The first conclusive test obtained was through the instrumentality of a lady whose husband is a professional hypnotist, — Professor Carpenter of Boston. Professor Carpenter is a careful, conscientious operator, and had trained his wife's psychic powers to a high state of proficiency. I had frequently seen exhibitions of her powers at private entertainments before I obtained her consent to give me an opportunity to conduct the experiments myself in the absence of her friends. I invited two eminent scientists of the ultra skeptical variety to be present and assist.
Having partially hypnotized the lady, I procured from a store nearby a pack of common playing-cards. One of the gentlemen present opened the pack, thoroughly shuffled the cards, and handed them to me. Previously to this, however, I had thoroughly blindfolded the lady by folding a pair of kid gloves into pads of convenient size, placed them over her eyes, and drawn a folded silk handkerchief over the pads and around her head, tying it, tightly and securely in place. Each of the gentlemen present carefully examined the condition of the pads and handkerchief, and each declared himself perfectly satisfied that it was utterly impossible for her to see either through or under the dozen or more thicknesses of material with which her eyes were bound. It was, in fact, a physical impossibility for her to open her eyes. En-joining strict silence on the part of all present, I then shuffled the cards without looking at them, and standing partly behind her chair, so as to be out of the range of her vision even if she had not been blindfolded, I drew a card from near the centre of the pack, and after having exhibited it to the gentlemen present, placed it in her hand. She immediately pressed it against her forehead and at once correctly named the card. I then handed her a dozen others in rapid succession, and she made not a single mistake. One of the others then took the pack and repeated the test until he was satisfied that there was no collusion discoverable, at least, between the lady and myself. Half the pack had then been exhausted, and so was the lady by that time, and the seance was closed.
After this I had many seances with her, sometimes with only one or two assistants, and sometimes in the presence of a large party. But I do not remember more than one or two failures, and these occurred after she had become weary.
I should remark, in this connection, that when I first began my experiments with her, she was credited with possessing " clairvoyant " powers. That is to say, no distinction had then been clearly drawn between clairvoyance and telepathy ; and every phenomenon involving the perception of a fact not cognizable by the senses was called " clairvoyance." I soon discovered, how-ever, that there was a clearly marked distinction between clairvoyance, that is, independent clairvoyance, and telepathy. In conversation with Professor Carpenter I learned that his wife sometimes made a mistake in describing the first card or picture handed to her, and that upon receiving a second card or picture, she would accurately describe the first ; and on receiving the third, she would correctly name the second, and so on through a long series. Having witnessed several such performances, I discovered that when she made a mistake it was when no one had seen the card previously to its having been handed to her. I also noted that she would some-times place the face of the card against her forehead, no one having seen it, and would fail' to recognize its character ; and then she would turn the card over, the back to her head and the face to the audience, and immediately name it with accuracy. I then made a series of tests with this lady and other persons, and found that in no case could the card be correctly designated when no one in the audience had seen it. If I was alone with the percipient, and handed him or her a card without looking at it, the experiment always resulted in failure; whereas the same percipient would instantly give the correct answer when she could read it in my mind.
It was thus that I learned to doubt the existence of the faculty of clairvoyance, properly so called ; and after the lapse of many years of patient observation, I have still to witness the first phenomenon that will have a tendency to convince me of the existence of the power of independent clairvoyance. I do not say that it does not exist. I do not know. But I do say that I have seen nothing that cannot be referred to telepathy for a full and complete explanation.
Having concluded the series of experiments above mentioned, I determined, if possible, to develop the faculty in my own mind, at least far enough to resolve any lingering doubt that might be unconsciously entertained. Accordingly, I caused myself to be securely blindfolded in presence of my family and two or three trustworthy friends, and instructed them to draw a card from the pack, place it upon a table, face up, and in full view of all but myself. I enjoined absolute silence, and re-quested them to gaze steadily upon the card and patiently await results. I determined not to yield to any mere mental impression, but to watch for a vision of the card itself. I endeavored to become as passive as possible, and to shut out all objective thoughts. In fact, I tried to go to sleep. I soon found that the moment I approached a state of somnolency I began to see visions of self-illuminated objects floating in the darkness before me. If, however, one seemed to be taking definite shape it would instantly rouse me, and the vision would vanish. At length I mastered my curiosity sufficiently to enable me to hold the vision long enough to perceive its import. When that was accomplished, I saw — not a card with its spots clearly defined, but a number of objects arranged in rows and resembling real diamonds. I was finally able to count them, and finding that there were ten, I ventured to name the ten of diamonds. The applause which followed told me that I was right, and I removed the bandage and found the ten of diamonds lying on the table. The vision was symbolical, merely, but no other possible symbol could have conveyed a clearer idea of the fact as it existed.
I then suffered myself to be blindfolded again, and in a very few moments saw a vision of a single heart spot floating before me. I named the ace of hearts, and was right. Another card selected was the five of spades, but I named the five of clubs. The mistake arose from my own obtuseness in not being able to interpret the element of symbolism in the vision. I saw five spots arranged as on a card, but could see only the stem end of each spot, the other end being thrust into the darkness, so to speak, leaving a little less than half of each spot visible. Now, the stem end of the club spot is precisely the same as the corresponding end of the spade spot ; and I was stupid enough not to be able to see that the fact that the point of each spot was concealed was obviously a symbolical representation of spades thrust partly into the earth. This was the only mistake that I made out of five cards selected for my individual benefit. Others of the company tried the same experiment in the same way, and each one scored a sufficient number of successes to demonstrate the fact of telepathy.
Since that time I have seen hundreds of experiments tried, neither more nor less wonderful and conclusive than those I have mentioned. I will relate one more, merely because it is a little outside of the beaten track of experimental telepathy, although the principle involved is exemplified in thousands of instances where it is not generally recognized. Those of my readers who are familiar with my published works will understand the full significance of the remark when I say that I have held, and still hold, that telepathy between relatives and friends is constant; and that a telepathic message can be conveyed from one to another through an in-definite number of persons, just as an oral communication can be transmitted from mouth to mouth, until the origin of the message is lost sight of. Telepathy, be it remembered, is the means of communication between subjective minds, and hence the content of a telepathic message is rarely elevated above the threshold of normal consciousness. That happens only when the percipient is a psychic, or is temporarily in a partially subjective state or condition. Hence it is that a telepathic message may be conveyed from the subjective mind of A to the subjective mind of B, and from B to C, and so on, unconsciously to all concerned, until some one of the number comes in contact with a psychic —a mind reader — when the message will for the first time rise above the threshold of the normal consciousness of the latter, and thus become known to all concerned. In other words, to reduce the proposition to its lowest terms : If A can communicate a telepathic message to B, it follows that B can communicate the same message telepathically to C, and by the same means C can communicate it to D, and so on indefinitely. It was to confirm this proposition that I made the experiment which I am about to relate, although its truth is all but self-evident.
Two or three years ago a travelling telepathist visited Washington, and gave a series of public exhibitions of her powers. I did not attend the performances until after the experiment, and I had never seen or heard of the company before their visit to Washington. A friend of mine, a leading lawyer in the city, attended the first performance, and came to me the next morning full of wonder and astonishment, and requested me to go with him the next night. I refused, but proposed a test which would eliminate all possibility of trickery, legerdemain, or collusion. I learned from him that the husband of the telepathist hypnotized and blindfolded her, placed her upon the stage, and then distributed tablets among the audience, requesting them to write questions and sign their names, and then fold the slips of paper, place them in their pockets, and await results. This having been done, the lady called the name of each one in turn, stated the question asked, and answered it. The husband then asked for the slip containing the question and read it to the audience ; and in each case the telepathist was found to be right as to the name and the contents of the message. Of course, all this might be accounted for on the supposition that the lady was in collusion with the writers of the messages, or that the tablets bore the impression of the writing and a confederate had some means of conveying the information to her. To remove all such possibilities, I requested my friend to attend the next performance and write, on a leaf of his own notebook, the following :
"A friend of mine has given me the name of a playing-card. Please tell me what it is." (Signed.)
I then said to him : " I am now going to give you the name of the card by means of telepathy only. I will not state its name to you or to any one else, by any objective means whatever, until you obtain the lady's answer."
My instructions were followed to the letter, with this result: The telepathist called the name of my friend and stated the question correctly, and then said : " I cannot see the card clearly, but it is red. I feel sure that it is a diamond," or words to that effect. She tried faith-fully to ascertain the exact denomination, and finally her husband explained that she was very tired and in that state could not see clearly. He then promised to hypnotize her again when she was rested, and to send the answer by mail. He kept his promise and stated in his letter that his wife still had some difficulty in seeing the card clearly, but was under the impression that it was the nine of diamonds.
When the letter was received and before it was opened, I divulged to my friend the name of the card of which I had thought. It was the ten of diamonds.
I have little to add to the above recital. It is obvious, however, that the evidential value of the lady's answer is fully as great as if she had said that it was the ten of diamonds instead of the nine. When one cannot see a card quite clearly enough (either objectively or subjectively), to distinguish between the nine and the ten spot, the evidential value of the answer is manifestly of the highest order if either one of the two is named.
In conclusion, I desire to say that telepathy is, all things considered, the most important factor in psychic science; for it affords a full and complete explanation of the great bulk of all that is mysterious in psychic phenomena. It is not too much to say that if this factor should ever be eliminated from experimental psychology, the observable phenomena which have puzzled the brains of mankind from time immemorial will again be relegated to the domain of doubt and superstition.