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- Chapter 4c -

Psychometry or Diagnosis


"We have obscure and novel facts to explain, and before we confidently assign them to psychical and transcendental causes, we must try and think of everything which the human body might conceivably discern or discover… It is surely conceivable, then, that all our known sensibilities may form merely a kind of bull’s eye; — the place where outer and inner influences oftenest touch our central sensorium; — whilst round this bull’s eye all kinds of unclassified obscure sensations probably scatter."

F. W. H. Myers, "Human Personality," II, 269.

          THE illustration I select of the third class of incident, namely psychometry or diagnosis from an object, is too long to give in detail, except in the Proceedings of a Society such as the S.P.R., and I must be content with a summary. The experiment which yielded this incident was conducted during the spring and summer of 1901, the year after the crown had appointed me Principal of the then newly chartered University of Binningham, so that I had left Grove Park, Liverpool, and taken another house at Edgbaston. Thus it happened that the case was managed by my skilled and confidential assistant in Liverpool, Mr. Benjamin Davies, who had for many years helped me efficiently in many ordinary physical researches. (1) The medium concerned was a certain Mrs. Thompson, who lived in a Liverpool back street and whose clientele consisted mainly of poor people, to whom she gave sittings and advice. I had reason to suppose that her powers were genuine; and, accordingly, Mr. Davies had some test sittings with her, going alone and anonymously. He managed to calm her apprehension as to his object in coming, while still maintaining anonymity; and as soon as she was confident that he was not a police spy or a press agent, she gave him some remarkable sittings, in which, among other things, he records about eleven small anticipations of what was likely soon to occur in his life, seven of which he ultimately marked as being correct, while the remaining four he could not say were wrong. This, however, is beside the point. Suffice it to say that his preliminary sittings gave him confidence in her powers.

It so happened that among the Welsh community at Liverpool Mr. Davies had some friends or acquaintances, including one family which was troubled by having as one of its members a paralysed invalid, whom I will call David Williams. This man lay helplessly on a sofa, doing little more than toss a cloth rag aimlessly from one hand to the other. It seems he had been a Welsh miner in the Transvaal, and when the Boer War broke out, he and other miners escaped from Johannesburg, took ship, and came to England. He was more or less ill all the voyage, and gradually got worse. Some accident must have happened to him while coming up the pit-shaft in the crowded cage. The general practitioner treated him as a case rather difficult to understand, a rather curious case of paralysis.

Anxious to help his friends, Mr. Davies proposed to take some object belonging to the patient to the medium, Mrs. Thompson. The patient’s brother went with him, bringing two objects, one of them being the bit of rag or cloth which had been so thoroughly handled. The brother was not introduced in any way, and no information was given; but the objects were handed to the medium when she was ready to receive them. She immediately perceived that it was a serious case, and was rather chary of giving information. She was encouraged, however, because they really wanted to know what was the matter, and asked her if there had been an accident. Yes, she said, he got an accident in a deep, dark place, that the skull ,had been pressed in — at a spot which she clearly indicated by touching the back of the sitter’s (Mr. Davies’s) head; and she said there must be an operation. She located also a clot of blood near this spot. None of this had been located by the general practitioner, but I thought it a good opportunity for a test. So I wrote to an eminent consulting surgeon, Mr. Robert Jones, now the well-known Sir Robert, who then practised in Liverpool, asking him if, as a favour, he would see the patient whose address I gave, and ascertain what was the matter — without of course saying anything about the wholly unauthorized and unofficial "diagnosis" suggested by the medium. Though very busy he kindly went, found an injury to the skull, at the place which had been previously specified unknown to him, and after another visit decided on an operation. A diagram would show the locality of the wound, as specified in absentia by the medium, also the near-by spot where the trepanning took place, and the position of the asserted clot of blood. But when the operation was performed the surgeon did not find a clot, though on being asked, he said that there was nothing contrary to the idea that a clot had been there and been absorbed.

The patient partially recovered for a time, and was able to give some account of his accident. It is believed now that he hung over the edge of the cage and that his head received a blow from some iron projection as it came up the pit shaft at the Johannesburg mines, when the miners were hurriedly escaping at the outbreak of war. The surgical report is appended:—

30th May, I902.

I did operate on David Williams, making an opening from near where I bad felt what seemed to me to be a depression in the skull. I noticed that there was some thickening and roughening of the bone removed and some adhesion of the dura mater to the bone itself. If there had been a blood clot it had practically all been absorbed although the appearance of the dura mater was quite consistent with the theory of a blood clot. On opening the dura mater one noted that the pia mater below seemed quite normal, and the pulsation of the brain was pronounced, negativing any theory of marked intra cranial pressure. He was very bad indeed when I operated, and the operation apparently made very little difference in his condition. For the last fortnight or three weeks I have not seen him, but on my arrival from France about the 11th of June I shall call upon him again and see as to his condition.

Yours, etc.signed (ROBERT JONES).

P.S. I forgot to mention that there undoubtedly had been an injury to the skull as shown by its inner plate. A little later on I may fed inclined to take a larger piece of bone away.

Many similar cases of mediumistic diagnosis are to be found in a book by Dr. Eugene Osty, translated by Mr. Stanley de Brath, and entitled "Supernormal Faculties in Man."

(1) See for instance Phil. Trans. Royal Society, 1893 and 1897



Contents / Foreword / Chapter 1  / Chapter 2  / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 4a / Chapter 4b / Chapter 4c / Chapter 4d / Chapter 4e / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7

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