Book: "The Survival of Man"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- Section Three -

Spontaneous Telepathy and Clairvoyance

Chapter 7

Apparitions Considered in the Light of Telepathy


          THE fact of telepathy having been experimentally established by a large number of experiments conducted by different people, it remains to consider more fully its bearing and significance.

Telepathy means the apparently direct action of one mind on another by means unknown to science. That a thought or image or impression or emotion in the mind of one person can arouse a similar impression in the mind of another person sufficiently sympathetic and sufficiently at leisure to attend and record the impression, is now proved. But the mechanism whereby it is done, or even if there is anything that can be likened to physical mechanism at all, is still unknown. The appearance is as if it were a direct action of mind on mind, or possibly, but not probably, of brain on brain irrespective of the usual nerves and muscles and organs of sense.

This fact alone-once admitted, after having run the traditional gauntlet of scepticism-serves to explain, a least in a plausible and tentative manner, a number of puzzling phenomena; notably it furnishes a plausible key to the phenomena of apparitions and hallucination of every kind, whether of sight or of hearing or of touch It is of especial value in reducing the rudimentary difficulty about the clothes and accessories of so-called ghosts to absurdity; since of course a mental impression would represent a person under something like customary, though it may be unexpected, surroundings, - just as happens in an ordinary dream.

The word "hallucination" applied to phantasmal appearances in general has been objected to in connexion with some of these apparitions; as if it were intended to imply-as it is often mistakenly assumed to imply that there is no objective reality underlying the apparition whatever. It is, however, fully admitted that some hallucinations may be and indeed are veridical (i.e. truth-telling); inasmuch as they correspond with some real event, some strong emotion, - due perhaps to an accident or to the illness or decease of the distant and visualised person. They therefore do correspond with some objective reality, just as the image in a looking-glass corresponds with and is veridical evidence of some objective reality. But as to any substantiality about a phantasm-that must be regarded as demanding further investigation. Hypothetically it may differ in different cases; and in no case can it be safe to assume, without special evidence, that it has anything more than a psychological basis.

The question of photography applied to visible phantasms, and to an invisible variety said to be perceived by clairvoyants, is still an open one-at any rate no photographic evidence has yet appeared conclusive to me. If successful, photography could prove that the impression was not only a mental one, but that the ether of space had been definitely affected in a certain way also, so that the impression had probably become received by the optical apparatus of the eye, and had been transmitted in the usual way to the brain. It would not prove substantiality; since of course it is perfectly easy to photograph the virtual image formed by a looking-glass. Still, genuine photography would indicate a step in advance of telepathy: it would establish one variety of what are called "physical phenomena". There is, in truth, a vast amount of evidence for physical phenomena of this technically supernormal kind; but they have not yet made good their claim to clear and positive acceptance in the way that telepathy has done.

But we are at present not attending to physical phenomena. We need not assume that an apparition has any objective or physical reality. It may be only an impression on the mind of a percipient, analogous to the image or impression caused in one person while another is endeavouring to transfer the image of an object. That which experimentally is found to occur of conscious purpose we think may sometimes occur unconsciously too. We are not sure indeed that the consciousness or will-power of the agent has anything to do with it; the transfer is effected we know not how, and it may be wholly an affair of the subconsciousness. If so, a strong emotion even in a distant person may produce an echo or reverberation in the mind of a relative or even a sympathetic stranger, without the agent being in the least conscious of what is happening, and without the percipient in the least understanding the process. He may think that the impression in the mind is real, and may only be undeceived by trying to touch it, or he may perceive that it is no more real than the image in a looking-glass, - or not so real as that, and yet may feel certain that it corresponds to some sort of psychical reality somewhere.
In that case the impression is called veridical or truth-telling, because it does convey real information, though it does so in a phantasmal or unreal manner. Hallucinations need not necessarily be unreal or phantasmal in every case: that is a matter for further investigation, but it does assuredly clear the ground to treat them as such in the first instance.


Examples of apparitions seen by relatives at or very near to the epoch of death are so common that it is hardly worthwhile to quote any here. The publications of the Society for Psychical Research and the book called Phantasms of the Living are full of them; and in most assemblages it will be found that a few of those present are aware of cases of this kind in their own family history.

Part of the scepticism which has surrounded the subject has been undoubtedly due to the difficult notions which are rendered necessary if those apparitions are to be supposed objective realities. Even supposing a human being could thus appear, the apparition of his clothes and simplest accessories are puzzling if the appearance were objectively real. Sometimes such figures are seen accompanied by animals, sometimes with their surroundings lightly sketched in as it were, - as for instance part of a ship in the case of a sailor.

All these difficulties sink into non-existence directly it is apprehended that the vision is a mental impression produced by a psychical agency, veridical in the sense of corresponding to reality more or less closely, but subjective in the sense of there being no actual bodily presence. This is the kind of rationalising theory on which the Society for Psychical Research started its existence: it must have been the hope of similarly detecting an element of common sense running through a great variety of popular legend that conferred on it pioneers the motive power necessary. Anyhow that was their adopted theory, and accordingly all such apparitions were in the first instance supposed to be due to telepathy from the dying person and were called Phantasms of the Living.

The following is an extract from a Report of one of Committees:- 
"There is a strong testimony that clairvoyants have witnessed and described trivial incidents in which they had no special interest, and even scenes in which the actors, though actual persons were complete strangers to them; and such cases 'seem properly assimilated to those where they describe mere Places and objects, the idea of which can hardly be Supposed to be impressed on them by any personality at all. Once more, apparitions at death, though the fact of death sufficiently implies excitement or disturbance in one mind, have often been witnessed, not only by relatives or friends, in a normal state but interested in the event - a case above considered-but by other observers who had no personal interest in the matter.

"To secure testimony on these topics we have had to depend on the co-operation of the public, and we have sought far and wide for trustworthy testimony, which we have tested in a stringent manner, never resting satisfied until by inquiry and pertinacious cross-examination, with an examination of contemporary records of various kinds, we have made as sure as is humanly possible that our witnesses were neither lying nor drawing unduly on their imagination, but that the event happened much as they have narrated or at the time recorded them."

"Phantasms of the Dying" might be a better name for these very numerous cases of apparition or veridical hallucination. Whatever the cause, the fact of their existence has been thoroughly established there is a concordance far beyond chance between apparitions which convey the impression of the unexpected death or illness of a distant person, and the actual fact;- the intelligence being, in this form, impressed on a percipient at a distance, by some apparently unconscious mental activity and by means at present unknown. 

Abbreviated Examples

As an instance of a vision with appropriate accessories I might take a case reported more fully in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. iii., page 97 - the case of a favour, and devoted Scottish workman who appeared to his employ in what is described as an extraordinarily vivid dream in the workman appeared with a face of "indescribable bluish pale colour and on his forehead spots like blots of sweat," earnestly said several times that he had not done the thing which he was accused of doing. When asked what this he replied impressively "Ye'll sune ken." Almost immediately afterwards the news of this man's suicide arrived. But the employer felt assured on the strength of his vision that, though dead, the man had not committed suicide; and said so. Before long it turned out that his assurance was correct, for the workman had drunk from a bottle containing nitric acid by accident. The employer moreover subsequently ascertained that the symptoms exhibited by the phantasmal appearance were such as are appropriate to poisoning by this liquid.

Another case of vision with more detailed accessories is in vol. vii., page 33, communicated by Dr. Hodgson, and may be abbreviated thus :
Mrs. Paquet on the morning of October 24th, 1889, after her husband had gone to work and the children to school, feeling gloomy, was making some tea for herself, when she saw a vision of her brother, Edmund Dunn, standing only a few feet away; and her report continues:

"The apparition stood with back toward me, or rather, partially so, and was in the act of falling forward-away from me - seemingly impelled by two ropes or a loop of rope drawing against his legs. The vision lasted but a moment disappearing over a low railing or bulwark, but was very distinct. I dropped the tea, clasped my hands to my face, and exclaimed, 'My God! Ed is drowned.'

"At about half-past ten a.m. my husband received a telegram from Chicago announcing the drowning of my brother. When he arrived home, he said to me, 'Ed. is sick in hospital at Chicago; I have just received a telegram,' to which I replied 'Ed. is drowned; I saw him go overboard.' I then gave him a minute description of what I had seen. I stated that my brother, as I saw him, was bareheaded, had on a heavy, blue sailor's shirt, no coat, and that he went over the rail or bulwark. I noticed that his pants' logs wore rolled up enough to show the white lining inside. I also described the appearance of the boat at the point where my brother went overboard.

I am not nervous, and neither before nor since have I had any experience in the least degree similar to that above related.

My brother was not subject to fainting or vertigo."


Mr. Paquet's Statement

"At about 10 30 o'clock a.m., October 24th, 1889, I received a telegram from Chicago announcing the drowning of my brother-in-law, Edmund Dunn, at 3 O'clock that morning. I went directly home and wishing to break the force of the sad news I had to convey to my wife, I said to her: 'Ed. is sick in hospital at Chicago; I have just received a telegram.' To which she replied. 'Ed. is drowned; I saw him go overboard.' She then described to me the appearance and dress of her brother as described in her statement, also the appearance of the boat, etc.

"I started at once for Chicago, and when I arrived there I found the appearance of that part of the vessel described by my wife to be exactly as she had described it, though she had never seen the vessel; and the crew verified my wife's description of her brother's dress, etc., except that they thought he had his hat on at the time of the accident. They said that Mr. Dunn had purchased a pair of pants a few days before the accident occurred, and as they were a trifle long, wrinkling at the knees, he had worn them rolled up, showing the white lining as seen by my wife."

Statement of Accident

"On October 24th, 1889, Edmund Dunn, brother of Mrs. Agnes Paquet, was serving as fireman on the tug Wolf, a small steamer engaged in towing vessels in Chicago harbour. At about three o'clock a.m., the tug fastened to a vessel, inside the piers, to tow her up the river. While adjusting the tow-line Mr. Dunn fell, or was thrown overboard by the tow-line, and drowned."
In this case, if 3 a.m. signifies Chicago time, the vision must have followed the accident very closely; but it has gradually become clear that some of these cases do not coincide precisely with the epoch of death, but follow it sometimes at so long an interval that another group has to be classified as "Phantasms of the Dead." (See Mrs. Sidgwick's Memoir on the subject in Proceedings, vol. iii.)

Again occasionally the hallucinations are collective, so that several people present see the same vision. It is possible to consider these as cases of contagious hallucination; and it is not usually necessary to suppose that the distant person whose image was being seen knew anything about it or was making any conscious effort to communicate.

If indeed he were conscious of the attempt, still more it he knew of its success and reception, it would be a feature of greatly added interest; it would then fall into the class of reciprocal cases - which are rarer.

Experimental Apparitions

The fact that such visions can also be produced through the agency of living people - even in health - was proved by the experiments conducted by Mr. S. H. B., as recorded in Phantasms of the Living, vol. i., pp 104-9, and in Human Personality, vol. i. p. 293. This gentleman willed himself or rather his phantom to appear to two ladies without their knowing of the experiment; and he succeeded in his intention. They both saw him simultaneously, though he did not see them; and his appearance was as of one in evening dress wandering aimlessly about their room, after the traditional manner of "ghosts." This experimental production of a ghost is a particularly instructive case; and many ghostly appearances belong to living people, who are usually unconscious that they are producing any such effect. There appears to be no reason why an apparition should always be of a deceased person. But whether every apparition is of this unsubstantial and purely subjective order, or whether a few proceed to a further degree of reality and belong to what are sometimes spoken of as incipient materialisation, I do not at this stage even discuss. It is sufficient to indicate that a true hypothesis does not close the door to other and more extended theories, if the first working hypothesis is found incompetent to explain all the facts.

For the convenient analogy of conscious and purposed Thought-transference must not be pressed too far. Our phenomena break through any attempt to group them under heads of purposely transferred impression; and the words Telaesthesia and Telepathy were introduced by Mr. Myers to cover all cases of impression received at a distance without the normal operation of the recognised sense organs.

These general terms are found of permanent service but as regards what is for the present included under them, we must limit and arrange our material rather with an eye to convenience, than with any belief that our classification will ultimately prove a fundamental one. No true demarcation, in fact, can as yet be made between one class of those experiences and another; we need the record of as many, and as diverse phenomena as we can get, if we are to be in a position to deal satisfactorily with any one of them.

The popular term "ghost" may cover a wide range of essentially different phenomena, and the hallucinatory but veridical kind of apparition, which has no close connexion with any particular place, is the best-established and most common variety.


The kind of ghost associated with a place - say a room, - and seen by any one who happens to sleep in that room, provided he is fairly wakeful and not too case-hardened against weird influences, constitutes a difficult and at present somewhat unsatisfactory region of in of inquiry; the evidence for the existence of this "fixed local" kind of apparition is strong, but hardly conclusive; and this kind is not included among those called "phantasms of the living" nor among hallucinations due to telepathy from the injured or dying.
The Society has not had the opportunity of investigating so-called haunted houses in any considerable number; and many of such cases - even when reported resolve themselves merely into uncanny noises such as may be accounted for in one of a great many different ways, I would not be understood as expressing arty negative opinion as to the actual occurrence of this class of phantom - our study of it as vet has been insufficient, though it is growing, - but of the occurrence of visions which coincide fairly in time with some severe shock to the person represented, it is impossible for me to entertain a doubt. The evidence must certainly depend human testimony, but immense trouble has been taken to collect such testimony over a wide range of persons, to sift and examine and test it by every means in our power, and then to record it in volumes accessible to the public. Those who have been chiefly occupied for years in this work are able to testify concerning it as follows:-

"We have thus accumulated a great body of testimony which it is impossible to overlook or to discard. These facts form a foundation for the beginning of knowledge concerning them.

"Our evidence is no shifting shadow, which it may be left to individual taste or temperament to interpret, but more resembles a solid mass seen in twilight which men may indeed avoid stumbling over, but only by resolutely walking away from it. And when the savant thus deserts the field, the ordinary man needs to have the nature and true amount of the testimony far more directly brought home to him, than is necessary in realms already mastered by specialists to whose dicta he may defer. Failing this direct contact with the facts, the vaguely fascinated regard of the ordinary public is, for all scientific purposes, as futile as the savant's determined avoidance. Knowledge can never grow until it is realised that the question 'Do you believe in these things?' is puerile unless it has been preceded by the inquiry, "What do you know about them?'

"For, in fact, this subject is at present very much in the position which zoology and botany occupied in the time of Aristotle, or nosology in the time of Hippocrates. Aristotle had no zoological gardens or methodical treatises to refer to; he was obliged to go down to the fish-market, to hear whatever the sailors could tell, and look at whatever they could bring him. This spirit of Omnivorous inquiry no doubt exposed him to hearing much that was exaggerated or untrue; but plainly the science of zoology could not have been upbuilt without it. Diseases afford a still more striking parallel to the Phenomena of which we are in quest. Men of science are wont to make it an objection to this quest that phenomena cannot be reproduced under our own conditions or at our own time. The looseness of thought here exhibited by men ordinarily clear-headed is surely a striking example of the prepotence of prejudice over education. Will the objectors assert that all aberrations of function and degenerations of tissue are reproducible by direct experiment? Can physicians secure a case of cancer or Addison's disease by any previous arrangement of conditions? Our science is by no means the only one concerned with phenomena which are at present to a large extent irreproducible: all the sciences of life are still within that category, and all sciences whatever were in it once."



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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