WHETHER THE experimenter himself be the person cognized, or whether he be
supplementary to the mental couple who generate the metagnomic* output, he may
intervene as a disturbing factor in many ways; all, however, due to imperfect
knowledge of the faculty he is using and consequent inability to use the
percipients in the right manner. Ignorance of the general determining sequences
of metagnomic phenomena will lead to error and he will not know how to protect
percipients from it. The experimenter incites to error if he does not thoroughly
know the sensitives he is employing.
'Metagnomic' is a French word for awareness beyond normal knowledge, similar to
the term 'psychic' - webmaster.
Metagnomic subjects are persons adapted to live the ordinary life. They have
brains fitted to normal thought; their paranormal mental work, though
exercisable at will, is nevertheless an accident in their daily life even though
often repeated. This simultaneous normal and supernormal life renders such
subjects much more difficult to use satisfactorily than one would think.
In order to secure good output it is necessary to know both the mental processes
common to all of them, the causes of the information received, and the
psychological peculiarities of each sensitive employed. There are no two alike.
The experimenter must know and adapt himself to the mental habits, the defects,
and the possibilities of each.
Metagnomy is vitiated by asking from subjects what they are not able to give.
Because a percipient has shown ability to perceive the future of a human being
there are those who will ask for the future of a nation, the chances and the
issue of a war, the future price of stocks and so on. Because a sensitive shows
knowledge that does not come through the normal senses there are those who will
ask for information beyond this life. Such demands give rise to romances
elaborated in the subconscious mind of the sensitive or reflected in it.
The metagnomic faculty of a sensitive may also be vitiated by asking under
unfavourable conditions for what it can produce when conditions are good. Error
is produced in this way when a subject is made to hold public séances, or even
private séances at which several persons are present. Very few percipients can
accommodate themselves to this condition. Similarly error is produced by asking
a sensitive whose faculty only extends to delineating a person there present,
for details on those distant in space or time, contact with some intermediary
object not being a stimulus to him. Error will result if a subject with
spiritualist proclivities is opposed in his appeals to the inspiring
personification - the guide; or by opposition to any of the modes habitually
selected to induce the trance condition - laying the cards, contact and
inspection of the hands, touch, and appearance of writing, etc.
Metagnomy is also vitiated when its working is interrupted by questions or
exclamations whose tenor leads to mental representations of hallucinatory images
caused by verbal suggestions, which he may mistake for metagnomic information.
For instance, to say to a percipient, "I am thinking of taking a journey to
Africa; shall I go?" is to arouse images of the sea-voyage, African landscape,
and so on; and the subject is likely to think that what he sees is the
representation of things to be.
A simple instance of error arising from the interference of an experimenter in
metagnomic sequence is as follows:
In June, 1917, during one of the séances with reference to the disappearance of
his son, M. Louis M. had from Mlle de Berly the prediction:
"...very shortly you will be asked to undertake the sale of a large forest area
... the matter will be spun out at first, but will afterwards be conducted with
two men whom I clearly see coming to you; one a big fair man, and the other dark
and thin... The matter will be decided quickly and settled at once to the
satisfaction of the vendor.
"M. M., who had never before been asked to conduct a negotiation of this kind,
was surprised, and then as soon as two buyers were mentioned, he thought at once
of the brothers C― of Nevers, one of whom was a big man and the other slight in
person, but both were dark. His mind being busy writing down the words of the
sensitive he paid no attention to the colour of the hair named, and murmured -
'the brothers C―, no doubt.'"
Immediately Mlle de Berly resumed: "I see the two men you spoke of they live in a
little town, at the water's edge ... the thin one became widower very soon, etc
..." (All details given were correct.)
The premonition then took the form to the mind of M. M.; he would unexpectedly
be asked to undertake the sale of forest land, and that the buyers would be the
brothers C― of Nevers.
The years 1917 and 1918 passed without any such proposal being made, but in
1919, M. Louis M. received from M. de D. a letter asking him to find a buyer for
some woodlands in his neighbourhood, woods that he knew very well. M. M.
advertised the matter.
The brothers C― of Nevers did not visit him, but asked to see the woods. They
made an offer which was not accepted. Nothing more followed, and M. M. told me
of the prediction true as to the beginning and false in sequel. But in April,
1920, two representatives of the firm G― of Paris came in an automobile, one big
and fair, and the other dark and small. They visited the forest and bought it
very soon after.
Finally, the metagnomic output may be falsified by unconscious alteration of the
words of the sensitive whether by trusting to memory before writing them down or
by attributing to them some particular meaning and paraphrasing them by words
judged equivalent and clearer. If one does not take down the exact words of the
subject, error will certainly be introduced in these phenomena which are already
liable to so many forms of error.
To the errors which the experimenter may induce must be added those that he does
not know how to guard against, but from which he might protect the sensitive if
he were well-informed on the determinism of metagnomic production. To enter into
this at length would be to repeat in brief what has already been analysed in
previous chapters. I will here therefore mention that among the errors that can
easily be avoided is error of direction: that is, when the subject
perceives details concerning another person than that given for delineation.
Knowledge of the function of an intermediary object will lead the experimenter
to provide himself with some simple and unsuggestive datum by which to eliminate
references to any person other than the proper objective. In seeking for traces
of Mr. Lerasle (p. 104) I was able to eliminate the image of Louis M―, from whom
I had received the neckerchief, and of the daughter-in-law of the missing man
from whom he had received it, by knowledge that the person to be cognized was a
very old man. Many errors of fabulation can be avoided in the same way.
The following is a curious instance how very easily error may arise and how a
little knowledge of the event to be delineated may transform the mental working
of the sensitive.
Passing through Bourges in the morning of January 10th, 1919 and on visiting my
sister-in-law, Mlle F. G., a member of the American organization for help to
refugees, I found great excitement in the Central Hotel where the offices of
administration were installed on the ground floor. Between midnight and 8 a.m.
the cupboard in the office had been opened by use of a tool whose traces were
visible, and a metal box, containing 5000 francs in money and 2000 francs in
cheques, had been stolen.
The French police suspected some employee of the hotel, thinking that the theft
could only have been committed by someone in the house, and because on searching
the servants' quarters they had found some packets of cigarettes of an uncommon
American brand (these having come from the same cupboard a few days before,
without its having been broken into), a ring, and a note for 1000 francs.
As I was leaving for Paris next day I thought this might be a good example for
testing metagnomy. I cut about fifteen inches of a thin string stretched between
two nails inside the cupboard. It was in these circumstances that I put the
string into the hands of Mme Morel on January 12th, asking her: "See what was
witnessed by this object on the night between the 9th and 10th of January."
"... I see a man, not very young, very grieved, anxious, and vexed not very
tall, his hair is light and thin, rather fresh complexion... I see something
shining over his eye..."
I then perceived that Mme Morel was referring to M. Louis M., for whose son she
had held so many séances. I said: "No, that is not the person. I want to know
what happened on the night of the 9-10th January in the room where I took this
"... Ah! I see a terrible drama ... a death passes before me someone asphyxiated
and stifled ... I see a person whose eyes are closed he does not breathe ... he
is dead ... it is not a voluntary death, sudden, not natural..."
The thin string suggested a vision of strangulation. If I had not known the
matter in hand I should have let this fabulation develop, although I should have
been much astonished that so thin a string could have served such a purpose. But
acting on what I knew and to put the subject on the right track without giving
any suggestive matter, and to avoid any further objectless mental working, I
said: "I took this string from a cupboard where there has been a theft. See the
scene of the theft."
" ... Yes, I see a cupboard... It has been forced ... I see two persons like two
shadows ... they are not strangers to the room, they know it... They do not go
back into the house by the door ... I do not see them go in ... they are in the
"They go out by an opening, close by the cupboard ... it is a large opening, a
window. It is in the morning, it is not yet daylight ... the cupboard was forced
in order to steal... Papers and money have been taken... He who did the active
part is a man with light chestnut hair, dark eyes, irregular features, a square
and rather flat face; his clothing is like unbleached serge ... he seems to have
a long cloak of the same colour... The other does not move, so to speak ... he
is quite young, or seems quite young, a mere youth, looks cunning. He has a
subordinate part; he touches nothing..."
On January 15th the American police, warned about the theft, took up the affair.
They arrested a young American chauffeur, J―, aged seventeen, who had
disappeared with his car a few days before, some days later they issued a
warrant against an American, Captain S., the suspected thief. He was arrested at
Brest at the end of January.
In June, 1919, an American court-martial tried both men at Never, Captain S. was
sentenced to two years' imprisonment for the theft at Bourges. According to the
evidence he had passed most of the night enjoying himself in the hotel, and must
have gone into the office about 3 a.m., forced the cupboard, and left by the
window, which was found partly open by the night porter, at daybreak.
The chauffeur, J―, was acquitted of the theft, but had to avow that on the
morning of the 11th he had taken Captain S. to Paris and had received 1000
francs for so doing.
The physical characteristics of these two men were as given by Mm. Morel.
It was stated in evidence that Captain S. was assiduous in attendance at the
American Red Cross. No one would have thought of suspecting him. When Mlle G.
received the account of the séance on January 14th she held the visions of the
sensitive to be an error.
Here, then, is a séance which began with imaginary matter and ended with exact
cognizance of an event, because I was able to give a slight indication enabling
the subject to perceive the facts by a clue leading to the source of
If an experimenter does not wish to give passive encouragement to error he
should avoid working on the entirely unknown and acquire some datum
which, without leading him to any knowledge of the end to be reached, will give
him a clue whether the sensitive is making a good or a bad start.
To let a sensitive go on with verified error, or not to place oneself in a
position to guard against it, is to show ignorance of the psychology of
percipients and will always result in inferior output.
It is unnecessary to do more than allude passim to fraud. This can take
but two forms - conscious fabulation, or previous collection of information.
Nothing is easier than to keep the sensitive in absolute ignorance of the
objects given for their cognizance. As to romances that they might consciously
invent, such are for practical purposes, the same as error and could not
Among all the phenomena of Metapsychics*, these, subjective in their origin,
furnish the best evidence and the most convincing proof of the reality of
metapsychic faculty. The words of the sensitive are objectified in writing and
verified by comparison with the realities to which they refer. There is no room
for that doubt with which ectoplasmic phenomena and those of movement without
contact are received by different minds despite all the means of registration
devised to convince of their reality.
* Metapsychics, from the French métapsychiques, was
invented by Charles Richet and is sometimes used as a synonym for psychical
research - webmaster.
Will it now be understood, after this review of causes of error, under what
difficult conditions professional metagnomic subjects work, given over to their
own mentalities and worked upon by all kinds of ignorant curiosity.
It is among professionals, however, that I have found the best subjects.
Apparently, persistent use gives their faculty all the development of which it
is capable to a growing number of personalities.
By reason of the defective conditions under which they work, they are of
necessity liable to many errors, yet their faculty becomes more acute by use,
and they can furnish abundant supernormal knowledge of a quality such as to
compel conviction in anyone who will submit his own personality to delineation
by three or four good sensitives.
All the various kinds of error considered one by one above, and correlated with
their causes, are mingled and combined in practice. One subject may fabulate
because he is working on a personality that does not much influence him, and
because the experimenter insists on pressing him.
So numerous are the causes of error in the practice of metagnomy in which
several functional planes of two or more psychisms are in simultaneous activity,
that it would be marvellous that any impeccable metagnomic subject should be
found. Metagnomy is a human faculty and therefore always imperfect, sometimes
much more so, sometimes less.
With some excellent percipients available to-day, error is generally restricted
to details of a life, and to the circumstances representing the episodes of its
course. It is rare that they do not give correctly the general course of a life
in a first séance, unless there should be some irreducible psycho-physical
disharmony with the personality to be cognized.
Moreover, with well-endowed subjects, errors usually last a very short time. The
human personality that serves as objective presents itself at each successive
séance slightly changed by its senses and by other unknown means as the stream
of its life flows on. That which has been learned by the means called "normal"
and by those that are hidden, brings it about that earlier errors are rectified
and are replaced by knowledge conformable to facts, even when that knowledge
deals with a future just as inaccessible to conscious thought in the second as
in the first case.
The reader will now understand how essential the study of errors is to a
comprehension of metagnomy. It confirms what experimental practice suggests as
to the means of producing uncontaminated metagnomic output. Seen as a whole,
metagnomic cognition is an occult collaboration between two or more human beings
which is stimulated when one is presented to the other for delineation.
The nature of the collaboration and how it is effected is still to be
discovered. But the first step to that end is to verify the existence and the
various modes of the faculty. This is the purpose of the present work.
The above article was taken from Eugene Osty's "Supernormal Faculties in Man"
(London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1923).