Book: "The Survival of Man"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- Section Two -

Experimental Telepathy of Thought-Transference

Chapter 6

Applied Telepathy - An Example of the Influence of Modern Thought on Ancient Superstitions


          IT is being made clear, I hope, how the fact of thought-transference, especially of the unconscious or subliminal variety-enables us to admit the possibility of the truth of a large number of occurrences which previously we should have been liable to stigmatise as impossible and absurd. For in truth not only apparitions of the dying and phantasms of the living may tentatively and hypothetically be thus explained, but a number of other phenomena seem likely gradually to fall into their place in an orderly and intelligible Universe when submitted to this rationalising treatment. I do not say that its success is universal. I hold that it may be pressed too far; there are some things which even the greatest extension of it will not explain. Nevertheless when we have a clue we are bound to follow it up to the utmost before abandoning it, and we will therefore enter upon a consideration of as many phenomena as at this stage we can see any chance of beginning rationally to understand. So let us contemplate the subject as reasonably and physically as we can.

By thought-transference I mean a possible communication between mind and mind, by means other than any of the known organs of sense: what I may call a sympathetic connexion between mind and mind; using the term mind in a vague and popular sense, without strict definition. And as to the meaning of sympathetic connexion, - let us take some examples:

A pair of iron levers, one on the ground, the other some hundred yards away on a post, are often seen to be sympathetically connected; for when a railway official hauls one of them through a certain angle the distant lever or semaphore-arm revolves through a similar angle. The disturbance has travelled from one to the other through a very obvious medium of communication - viz., an iron wire or rope.

A reader unacquainted with physics may think "transmission" in this case a misnomer, since he may think the connexion is instantaneous - but it is not. The connexion is due to a pulse which travels at a perfectly definite and measured pace-approximately three miles per second.

The pulling of a knob, followed by the ringing of a bell, is a similar process, and the transmission of the impulse in either of these cases is commonly considered simple and mechanical. It is not so simple as we think; for concerning cohesion we are exceedingly ignorant, and why one end of a stick moves when the other end is touched no one at present is able clearly to tell us.

Consider, now, a couple of tuning forks, or precisely similar musical instruments, isolated from each other and from other bodies, - suspended in air, let us say. Sound one of them and the other responds - i.e. begins to emit the same note. This is known in acoustics as sympathetic resonance; and again a disturbance has travelled through the medium from one to the other. The medium in this case is intangible, but quite familiar, viz., atmospheric air.

Next, suspend a couple of magnets, alike in all respects; pivoted, let us say, on points, at some distance from each other. Touch one of the magnets and set it swinging, - the other begins to swing slightly, too. Once more, a disturbance has travelled from one to the other, but the medium in this case is by no means obvious. It is nothing solid, liquid, or gaseous; that much is certain. Whether it is material or not depends partly on what mean by " material - partly requires more knowledge before a satisfactory answer can be given. We do, however, know something of the medium operative in this case, and we call it the Ether - the Ether of Spare.

In these cases the intensity of the response varies rapidly with distance, and at a sufficiently great distance no response would be perceptible.

This may be hastily set down as a natural consequence of a physical medium of communication, and a physical or mechanical disturbance; but it is not quite so.

Consider a couple of telephones connected properly by wires. They are sympathetic, and if one is tapped the other receives a shock. Speaking popularly, what ever is said to one is repeated by the other, and distance is practically unimportant; at any rate, there is no simple law of inverse square, or any such kind of law; there is a definite channel for the disturbance between the two.

The real medium of communication, I may say parenthetically, is still the ether.

Once more, take a mirror, pivoted on an axle, and capable of slight motion. At a distance let there be a suitable receiving instrument, say a drum of photographic paper and a lens. If the sun is shining on the mirror, and everything properly arranged, a line may be drawn by it on the paper miles away, and every tilt given to the mirror shall be reproduced as a kink in the line. And this may go on over great distances; no wire, or anything else commonly called " material - connecting the two stations, nothing but a beam of sunlight, a peculiar state of the ether.

So far we have been dealing with mere physics. Now poach a little on the ground of physiology. Take two brains, as like as possible, say belonging to two similar animals; place them a certain distance apart, with no known or obvious means of communication, and see if there is any sympathetic link between them. Apply a stimulus to one, and observe whether the other in any way responds? To make the experiment conveniently, it is best to avail oneself of the entire animal, and not of its brain alone. It is then easy to stimulate one of the brains through any of the creature's peripheral sense organs, and it may be possible to detect whatever effect is excited in the other brain by some motor impulse, some muscular movement of the corresponding animal.

So far as I know the experiment has hitherto been principally tried on man. This has certain advantages and certain disadvantages. The main advantage is that the motor result of intelligent speech is more definite and instructive than mere pawings and gropings or twitchings. The main disadvantage is that the liability to conscious deception and fraud becomes serious, much more serious than it is with a less cunning animal.

Of course it by no means follows that the experiment will succeed with a lower animal because it succeeds with man; and I am not aware of its having been tried at present except with man.

One mode of trying the experiment would be to pinch or hurt one individual and see if the other can feel any pain. If he does feel anything he will probably twitch and rub, or he may become vocal with displeasure. There are two varieties of the experiment: First, with some manifest link or possible channel, as, for instance, where two individuals hold hands through a stuffed-up hole in a partition-wall; and, second, with no such obvious medium, as when they are at a distance from one another.

Instead of simple pain in any part of the skin, one may stimulate the brain otherwise, by exciting some special sense organ; for instance, those of taste or smell. Apply nauseous or pleasant materials to the palate of one individual and get the receptive person to describe the substance which the other is tasting.

Experiments of this kind are mentioned above, and they have had a fair measure of positive result. But I am not asking for credence concerning specific facts at present. A serious amount of study is necessary before one is in a position to criticise any statement of fact. What I am concerned to show is that such experiments are not, on the face of them, absurd; that they are experiments which ought to be made; and that any result actually obtained, if definite and clear, ought to be gradually and cautiously accepted, whether it be positive or negative.

So far I have supposed the stimulus to be applied to the nerves of touch, or more generally the skin nerves, and to the taste nerves; but we may apply a stimulus equally well to the nerves of hearing, or of smelling, or of seeing. An experiment with a sound or a smell stimulus, however, is manifestly not very crucial unless the intervening distance between A and B is excessive; but a sight stimulus can be readily confined within narrow limits of space. Thus, a picture can be held up in front of the eyes of A, and B can be asked if he sees anything; and if he does, he can be told either to describe it or to draw it.

If the picture or diagram thus shown to A is one that has only just been drawn by the responsible experimenter himself; if it is one that has no simple name that can be signalled; if A is not allowed to touch B, or to move during the course of the experiment, and has never seen the picture before ; if, by precaution of screening, rays from the picture can be positively asserted never to have entered the eyes of B ; and if, nevertheless, B describes himself as " seeing " it, however dimly, and is able to draw it, in dead silence on the part of all concerned ; then, I say, the experiment would be a good one.
But not yet would it be conclusive. We must consider who A and B are.
If they are a pair of persons who go about together, and make money out of the exhibition; if they are in any sense a brace of professionals accustomed to act together, I deny that anything is solidly proved by such an experiment; for cunning is by no means an improbable hypothesis.

Cunning takes such a variety of forms that it is tedious to discuss them; it is best to eliminate it altogether. That can be done by using unassorted individuals in unaccustomed rooms. True, the experiment may thus become much more difficult, if not indeed quite impossible. Two entirely different tuning forks will not respond. Two strangers are not usually sympathetic, in the ordinary sense of that word; perhaps we ought not to expect a response. Nevertheless, the experiment must be made; and if B is found able to respond, not only to A1, but also to A2, A3, and other complete strangers, under the conditions already briefly mentioned, the experiment may be regarded as satisfactory. I am prepared to assert that such satisfactory experiments have been made.

But the power of response in this way to the uninteresting impression of strangers does not appear to be a common faculty. The number of persons who can act efficiently as B is apparently very limited. But I do not make this assertion with any confidence, for so few people have as yet been seriously tried. It is most likely a question of degree. All shades of responsiveness may exist, from nearly 0 to something considerable.

More experiments are wanted. They are not difficult to try, and sufficient variety may be introduced to prevent the observations from being too deplorably dull. They are, I confess, rather dull.

Before considering them satisfactory or publishing them it would be well to call in the assistance of a trained observer, who may be able to suggest further precautions; but at first it is probably well to choose fairly easy conditions.

Relations are probably more likely to succeed than are strangers; persons who feel a sympathy with each other, who are accustomed to imagine they know what the other is thinking of, or to say things simultaneously, and such like vague traditions as are common in most families: such individuals as these would naturally be the most likely ones to begin with, until experiment shows otherwise. The A power seems common enough; the B power, so far as I know, is rather rare at least to a prominent extent.

It is customary to call A the agent and B the percipient, but there may be some objection to these names.

The name agent suggests activity; and it is a distinct question whether any conscious activity is necessary.

Sender and receiver are terms that might be used, but they labour under similar and perhaps worse objections. For the present let us simply use the terms A and B, which involve no hypothesis whatever.

A may be likened to the sending microphone or transmitter; B to the receiving telephone.

A to the sounded fork or quivering magnet, B to the responsive one.

A to the flashing mirror, B to the sensitive sheet.

But observe that in all the cases hitherto mentioned a third person is mentioned too, the experimenter, C. A and B are regarded as mere tools, instruments, apparatus, for C to make his experiments with.

Both are passive till C comes and excites the nerve of A, either by pinching him, or by putting things in his mouth, or by showing him diagrams or objects; and B is then supposed to respond to A. It may be objected that he is really responding to C all the time. Yes, indeed, that may sometimes be so, and it is a distinct possibility to remember. If something that C is unconsciously looking at is described by B, instead of the object which is set in front of A, the experiment will seem a failure. There are many such possibilities to bear in mind in so novel a region of research.

But now I want to go on and point out that C is not essential. He probably is not an assistance at all, very likely he is an obstruction, even if he is a serious and well-intentioned being. But if D, E, F are present too as irresponsible spectators, talking or fidgeting, or even sitting still and thinking, the conditions are bad. One can never be sure what F is doing; he may be simply playing the fool. An experiment conducted in front of a large audience is scientifically useless.

Whenever I use the term thought-transference I never mean anything like public performances, whether by genuine persons or impostors. The human race is so constituted that such performances have their value they incite others to try experiments; but in themselves, and speaking scientifically, public performances are useless, and except when of an exceptionally high order-as they were in the case of the Zancigs - they often tend to obscure a phenomenon by covering it with semi-legitimate contempt.

I fear that some hypnotic exhibitions in the past were objectionable; in so far as they were conducted, not to advance science, but to exhibit some well known fact again and again, not even to students, but to an idle gaping crowd. The obstructive incredulity of the medical profession-also in the past seemed to render such demonstrations unfortunately necessary.

To return, however, to A and B: let us suppose them left alone, not stimulated by any third person; it is quite possible for A to combine the functions of C with his own functions, and to stimulate himself. He may look at a picture or a playing card, or he may taste a substance, or he may, if he can, simply think of a number, or a scene, or an event, and, so to speak, keep it vividly in his mind. It may happen that B will be able to describe the scene of which A is thinking, sometimes almost correctly, sometimes with a large admixture of error, or at least of dimness.

The experiment is virtually the same as those above mentioned, and may be made quite a good one; the only weak part is that, under the circumstances, everything depends on the testimony of A, and A is not always believed.

This is, after all, a disability which he shares with C; and, at any rate, he is able to convince himself by such experiments, provided they are successful.
But now go a step further. Let A and B be not thinking of experimenting at all. Let them be at a distance from one another, and going about their ordinary vocations, including somnolence and the other passive as well as active occupations of the twenty-four hours. Let us, however, not suppose them strangers, but relatives or intimate friends. Now let something vividly excite A; let him fall down a cliff, or be run over by a horse, or fall into a river; or let him be taken violently ill, or be subject to some strong emotion; or let him be at the point of death.

Is it not conceivable that if any such sympathetic connexion between individuals as I have been postulating exists, - if a paltry stimulus supplied by a third person is capable in the slightest degree of conveying itself from one individual to another, - is it not conceivable or even probable that a violent stimulus, such as we have supposed A to receive, may be able to induce in B, even though inattentive and otherwise occupied, some dim echo, reverberation, response, and cause him to be more or less aware that A is suffering or perturbed. If B is busy, self-absorbed, actively engaged, he may notice nothing. If he happen to be quiescent, vacant, moody, or half or whole asleep, he may realise and be conscious of something. He may perhaps only feel a vague sense of depression in general; or he may feel the depression and associate it definitely with A; or he may be more distinctly aware of what is happening, and call out that A has had a fall, or an accident, or is being drowned, or is ill; or he may have a specially vivid dream which will trouble him long after he wakes, and may be told to other persons, and written down; or he may think he hears A's voice ; or, lastly, he may conjure up an image of A so vividly before his " mind's eye " that he may be able to persuade himself and others that he has seen his apparition:- sometimes a mere purpose - less phantom, sometimes in a " setting " of a sort of vision or picture of an event not unlike what is at the time elsewhere really happening.
The Society for Psychical Research have, with splendid perseverance and diligence, undertaken and carried forward the thankless labour of receiving and sifting a great mass of testimony to phenomena such as I have hinted at. They have published some of them in two large volumes, called Phantasms of the Living. Fresh evidence comes in every month. The evidence is so cumulative, and some of it is so well established, as to bear down the dead wall of scepticism in all those who have submitted to the drudgery of a study of the material. The evidence induces belief. It is not yet copious enough to lead to a valid induction.

I cannot testify to these facts as I can to the simple experiments where I have acted the part of C. Evidence for spontaneous or involuntary thought-transference must obviously depend on statements received from A and from B, as well as from other persons, some in the neighbourhood of A, others in the neighbourhood of B, together with contemporary newspaper reports, Times obituaries, and other past documents relating to matters of fact, which are available for scrutiny, and may be regarded as trustworthy.

I am prepared, however, to confess that the weight of testimony is sufficient to satisfy my own mind that such things do undoubtedly occur; that the distance between England and India is no barrier to the sympathetic communication of intelligence in some way of which we are at present ignorant; that, just as a signalling key in London causes a telegraphic instrument to respond instantaneously in Teheran, - which is ail every-day occurrence, - so the danger or death of a distant child, or brother, or husband, may be signalled, without wire or telegraph clerk, to the heart of a human being fitted to be the recipient of such a message.

We call the process telepathy - sympathy at a distance; we do not understand it. What is the medium of communication? Is it through the air, like the tuning forks; or through the ether, like the magnets; or is it something non-physical, and exclusively psychical? No one as yet can tell you. We must know far more about it before we can answer that question, - perhaps before we can be sure whether the question has a meaning or not.

Undoubtedly, the scientific attitude after being forced to admit the fact, is to assume a physical medium, and to discover it and its processes if possible. When the attempt has failed, it will be time enough to enter upon fresh hypotheses.

Meanwhile we must say plainly that telepathy strikes us as a spontaneous occurrence of that intercommunication between mind and mind, which for want of a better term we at present style thought-transference.
The transmission does not appear to me to be a physical process between brain and brain. I think it a psychical one between mind and mind: and that the excitation of the brain of the percipient is indirect.

Spontaneously occur-ring impressions can be artificially and experimentally imitated by conscious attempts to produce them. Individuals are known who can by an effort of will somehow excite the brain or sensorium of another person at a moderate distance, - say in another part of the same town, or even in some distant place, so that this second person imagines that he hears a call or sees a face.

These are called experimental apparitions, and appear well established. These experiments also want repeating. They require care, obviously; but they are very valuable pieces of evidence, and must contribute immensely to experimental psychology.

What now is the meaning of this unexpected sympathetic resonance, this syntonic reverberation between minds? Is it conceivably the germ of a new sense, as it were, - something which the human race is, in the progress of evolution, destined to receive in fuller measure? Or is it the relic of a faculty possessed by our animal ancestry before speech was?

I have no wish to intrude speculations upon you, and I cannot answer these questions except in terms of speculation. I wish to assert nothing but what I believe to be solid and verifiable facts.

Let me, however, point out that the intercommunion of minds, the exciting in the brain of B a thought Possessed by A, is after all a very ordinary and well known process. We have a quantity of well-arranged mechanism to render it possible. The human race has advanced far beyond the animal in the development of this mechanism; and civilised man has advanced beyond savages. Conceivably, by thus developing the mechanism, we may have begun to lose the spontaneous and really simpler form of the power; but the power, with mechanism, conspicuously exists.

I whisper a secret to A, and a short time afterwards I find that B is perfectly aware of it. It sometimes happens so. It has probably happened in what we are accustomed to consider a very commonplace fashion; A has told him. When you come to analyse the process, however, it is not really at all simple. I will not go into tedious details; but when you remember that what conveyed the thought was the impalpable compressions and dilatations of a gas, and that in the process of transmission it existed for a finite space of time in this intermediate and curiously mechanical condition, you may realise something of puzzlement in the process. I am not sure but that we ought to consider some direct sympathy between two minds, without this mechanical process, as really a more simple and direct mode of conveying an idea. Pass on to another illustration.

Tell a secret to A, in New Zealand, and discover that B, in Petrograd, is before long aware of it, neither having travelled. How can that happen? That is not possible to a savage; it would seem to him mysterious. It is mysterious in reality. The idea existed for a time in the form of black scrawls on a bit of paper, which travelled between the two places. A transfer of material occurred, not an aerial vibration; the piece of paper held in front of B's eyes excited in him the idea or knowledge of fact which you had communicated to A.

Not even a material transfer is necessary however; no matter flows along a telegraph wire, and the air is undisturbed by an electric current, but thought-transference through the etherial medium (with, or indeed without, the help of a telegraph or telephone wire) is an accomplished fact, though it would have puzzled our ancestors of last century. And yet it is not really new, it is only the distance and perfection of it that is new. We all possess an etherial receiving instrument, in our organ of vision. The old semaphore system of signalling, as well as the heliograph method, is really a utilisation of the ether for this kind of thought-transference. Much information, sometimes of momentous character, may be conveyed by a wink or nod; or even by a look. These also are messages sent through the ether. The eye is affected by disturbances arriving through the ether, and by those alone.

Now, then, I say, shut the eyes, stop the ears, transmit no material substance, interpose distance sufficient to stop all pushing and pulling. Can thought or ideas still be transmitted? Experiment answers that they can. But what the medium is, and how the process occurs, it remains for further investigation to ascertain.

We reduced our initial three individuals to two; we can reduce the two to one. It is possible for the A and B functions to be apparently combined in one individual. Some practice seems necessary for this, and it is a curious state of things. It seems assisted by staring at an object such as a glass globe or crystal - a slight amount of self-hypnotism probably. Then you see visions and receive impressions, or sometimes your hand works unconsciously, as if one part of your brain was signalling to another part, and your own identity was dormant or complexed for a time. But in these cases of so-called automatic writing, crystal vision, trance-utterance, clairvoyance, and the like, are we quite sure whether it is a case of A and B at all; and, if so, whether the subject before us is really acting as both? I am not sure; I distinctly doubt it in some cases. It is possible that the clairvoyant is responding to some unknown world-mind of which he forms a part: that the real agent is neither himself nor any other living person. This possibility must not be ignored in ordinary cases of apparent thought-transference, too.

Well, now, take a further step. Suppose I discover a piece of paper with scrawls on it. I may guess they are intended for something, but as they are to me illegible hieroglyphics, I carry it to one person after another, and get them to look at it; but it excites in them no response. They perceive little more than a savage would perceive. But not so with all of them. One man to whom I show it has the perceptive faculty, so to speak; he becomes excited; he begins to sing; he rushes for an arrangement of wood and catgut, and fills the air with vibrations. Even the others can now faintly appreciate the meaning. The piece of paper was a lost manuscript of Beethoven!

What sort of thought-transference is that? Where is the A to whom the ideas originally occurred? He has been dead for years; his fossilised thought has lain dormant in matter; but it only wanted a sympathetic and educated mind to perceive it, to revive it, and to make it the property of the world. Idea, do I call it? but it is not only idea: there may be a world of emotion too, thus stored up in matter, ready to be released as by detent. Action of mind on matter, reaction of matter on mind - are these things, after all, commonplaces too?

If so what is not possible?

Here is a room where a tragedy occurred, where the human spirit was strung to intensest anguish. Is there any trace of that agony present still and able to be appreciated by an attuned or receptive mind? I assert nothing, except that it is not inconceivable. If it happens, it may take many forms; vague disquiet, perhaps, or imaginary sounds or vague visions, or perhaps a dream or picture of the event as it occurred. Understand, I do not regard the evidence for these things as so conclusive as for some of the other phenomena I have dealt with, but the belief in such facts may be forced upon us, and you perceive that the garment of superstition is already dropping from them. They will take their place, if true, in an orderly universe, along with other not wholly unallied and already well-known occurrences.

Relics again: is it credible that a relic, a lock of hair, an old garment, retains any trace of a deceased friend represents any portion of his personality? Does not an old letter? Does not a painting? An "old master" we call it. Aye, there may be much of the personality of the old master thus preserved. Is not the emotion felt on looking at it a kind of thought-transference from the departed? A painting differs from a piece of music in that it is constantly incarnate, so to speak. It is there for all to see, for some to understand. The music requires incarnation, it can be "performed" as we say, and then it can be appreciated. But in no case without the attuned and thoughtful mind; and so these things are, in a sense, thought-transference, but deferred thought-transference. They may be likened to telepathy not only reaching over tracts of space but deferred through epochs of time.(1)

Think over these great things and be not unduly sceptical about little things. An attitude of keen and critical inquiry must continually be maintained, and in that sense any amount of scepticism is not only legitimate but necessary. The kind of scepticism I deprecate is not that which sternly questions and rigorously probes, it is rather that which confidently asserts and dogmatically denies; but this kind is not true scepticism, in the proper sense of the word, for it deters inquiry and forbids inspection. It is too positive concerning the boundaries of knowledge and the line where superstition begins.

Phantasms and dreams and ghosts, crystal-gazing, premonitions, and clairvoyance: the region of superstition? Yes, hitherto, but possibly also the region of fact. As taxes on credulity they are trifles compared to things with which we are already familiar; only too familiar, for our familiarity has made us stupidly and inanely inappreciative of them.

The whole of our knowledge and existence is shrouded in mystery: the commonplace is itself full of marvel, and the business of science is to overcome the forces of superstition by enlisting them in the service of genuine knowledge. And when this is done I do not doubt that some of these forces will be found auxiliary to the sacred cause of religion itself.

(1) They are not technical telepathy, as defined, of course because they occur through accustomed ways and processes' technical telepathy is the attainment of the same result through' unaccustomed ways and processes.



Contents / Preface / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 1 7 / Chapter 18 / Chapter 19 / Chapter 20 / Chapter 21 / Chapter 22 / Chapter 23 / Chapter 24 / Chapter 25

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