Telepathy: A Passing Note

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Telepathy: A Passing Note Reporting Progress in Telepathic Automatism

W. T. Stead, Borderland: a Quarterly Review and Index, vol I (October, 1894) pp. 506-508

As I every day receive communications from my friends by my automatic telepathic hand, it does not occur to me to say much about it in these pages, any more than it would occur to me to mention that I come up to town every day by the help of a steam engine. As, however, the Committee of the Census of Hallucinations are by no means up-to-date as to the latest developments of telepathy, it may be well to reproduce the following article on the subject which I contributed to the Westminster Gazette of September 10th.

The evidence as to telepathy, laboriously accumulated by the Psychical Research Society, is regarded by many who recoil from admitting the reality of the invisible world as affording an invaluable store of arguments and illustrations for combating the belief in the existence of the soul after the dissolution of the body. According to these thorough-going sceptics everything that was once esteemed supernatural can be accounted for by telepathy. A man sees, or thinks he sees, a ghost. What he does see is simply the visualisation of a thought transmitted to him telepathically by another mind. He hears the ghost speak in the very tone and accent of the deceased. This is again declared to be but the revival of memory due to the telepathic impact of another’s thought. He grasps the hand of his ghostly visitor, and feels a missing finger, a deformed thumb, or a peculiar ring. This also is explained as being a tactile impression suggested telepathically to the recipient. But when the ghost communicates information known solely to the dead, or utters predictions concerning things to come, the strain on telepathy becomes too great, and we have to fall back upon some other hypothesis to account for the facts.


Taking the Report of the Census of Hallucinations as my text, let me quote a few passages to indicate the significance of the evidence which, in the opinion of Professor Sidgwick’s committee, establishes the reality of telepathic communication.

The word Telepathy was brought into use by us to express the (scientifically speaking) novel conclusion—which several different lines of inquiry have tended to establish—that thoughts and feelings in one mind are sometimes caused by the influence of another mind, conveyed somehow otherwise than through the recognised channels of sense.

Now, there can be no doubt that the general acceptance of Telepathy, in this sense, as a fact of nature, must importantly modify the current scientific view of the relation of mind to matter. But it may conceivably modify this view in either of two different ways, respectively important in very different degrees.
(a) It may lead to the ultimate discovery of some physical process hitherto unknown, by which the psychical state of one human being (A) influences the psychical state of another human being (B) through the corresponding physical states of the two human organisms concerned.

Or (b) it may lead ultimately to the conclusion that the causal relation between the two psychical facts telepathically connected is independent of any such physical process.


Without attempting to decide which of these two conclusuions is the correct one, the Report proceeds to describe how images of persons dead or alive can be telepathically conveyed by the mind of one to the eye of another. The committee say:—

We refer to cases in which the percipient sees an apparition of some one who is trying to transfer an idea of himself —or of some other human being— to the percipient’s mind, without any previous knowledge on the part of the latter that such an attempt was being made. There are fifteen successful experiments of this kind already recorded by our Society, in which ten different experimenters have taken a part: the records are all at first-hand, and in every case the evidence of the percipient has been obtained, as well as that of the experimenter.


The cases recorded in the report do not, however, exclude the hypothesis of the apparition being not the mere exter-nalisation of a telepathically received idea as a sensory hallucination, but the Double or Astral second self of the experimenter. This certainly appears a possible explanation of the case on which Mrs. Rayleigh Vicars, on going to bed, willed with all her might that her friend in the adjoining room should see her, with the result that she did see Mrs. Vicars standing by her bedside, Mrs. Vicars meantime being in her own bed dizzy and half-conscious. That seems t be much more a projection of the Double than a mere externalisation of a telepathic idea.


But, waiving that question, the committee point out the significance of the recognition of the fact of telepathy in connection with the great question of the possibility of communications between the living and the dead. They say:—

If we arrived at the conclusion that telepathic communication between living men occurs independently of any physcal process through the intervening of space, we should certainly have taken an important step towards proving that the mind is not essentially dependent on the body; and we should thereby have got rid of an important argument for supposing that the death of the body carries with it the extinction of the mind, or at least the termination of its power of communicating with another mind.

At this point I venture to intervene with a reference to my own experience in telepathic communication. In another passage in the report the committee say, dealing, be it remembered, with no later evidence than 1892:—

For the most part—though, as will presently appear, not entirely—it has been only found possible to perform telepathic experiments successfully when the persons between -whom the telepathic influence operates are separated by a comparatively small interval of space.

This is no longer true. I have found no difficulty in obtaining most accurate and lengthy telepathic communications from friends who have been removed from me by intervals of space measured by hundreds of miles.


The evidence recorded by the Psychical Research Society is for the most part either occasional and spontaneous, or consists of experiments which, however interesting they may be, are of no practical use to the experimenters, who never seem to carry them further. In my case it is quite different. I constantly use my automatic hand for the purpose of receiving communications from my friends, nor when I have once established telepathic communication with anyone do I ever have any difficulty in securing messages from them, no matter where they may be, whether far or near, asleep or awake. These messages differ infinitely in importance, in length, and in accuracy. But, speaking broadly, in nine cases out of ten they are accurate, and when they are inaccurate, it is sometimes due to my own thought mixing itself up with the message, and sometimes to the telepathic message being a little too previous, and announcing as an event of to-day something that really will not occur till to-morrow or next week. When I am in ordinary working trim, not a day passes that I do not receive messages from distant friends.


When Miss X., my assistant editor on BORDERLAND, returned from her recent interesting expedition in search of the gifted seers of the Highlands, she wrote telepathically with my hand a long report covering three closely written quarto pages, describing the result of her visits, her plans and intentions in the future, reporting upon the condition of the office and its work, and discussing questions of practical business. All this was written out with my hand at Wimbledon, while Miss X. was in town. I had not seen her for nearly six weeks, during which time I had not once written to her. When I met her I read over to her her telepathic message. When I had finished, she said, “You’ve made one mistake. You say, ‘So-and-so is very painstaking but very stupid.’ That is not my opinion. So-and-so is very painstaking, but only occasionally stupid.” And that was the only error in three closely-written quarto pages!


It may be said that it was not more than ten miles from Wimbledon. But when I was at Grindelwald, I found no more difficulty in telepathic correspondence with London than when I was at Wimbledon. Of this I may perhaps be permitted to give an instance, where telepathic communication anticipated a telegram by three hours, in a case in which I was personally very deeply interested. Although the incident was comparatively slight, the evidence is so clear and so well attested, and, moreover, the telepathic commnnication followed immediately upon a message purported to come from a disembodied spirit, and was in turn followed by confirmatory letter and telegram, that it may be worth while simply reproducing them here.

When I was in Grindelwald in July, I was grieved to receive bad news as to the health of one of my nearest and dearest friends. Three days in succession I received letters from London, each more gloomy in its tidings, and when the third arrived I decided to return at once. I went to Dr. Lunn’s office, and asked him when I could get a reply from a London suburb to a telegram. It was then four. He said he did not think I could expect a reply before eight o’clock. I discussed the question of leaving that night, or of waiting till the morning. Ultimately I decided to adopt the latter course, and, going across to the telegraph office, I sent off a despatch, saying, “Grieved to hear of — —’s illness. Will return to-morrow. Telegraph doctor’s latest report.” Returning to the hotel to make all preparations for departure, I found a friend in my room to whom I told my had news.


Sitting down at the table, I determined to try whether or not I could, by the aid of my automatic hand, obtain news from London. I first asked the ever-faithful friend who some three years ago passed from our sight whether she could tell me how the patient was. My hand wrote without a moment’s hesitation:—

Your friend is better. You need not return. The proof of this is that about seven o’clock you will receive a telegram to this effect, when you will see that I am correct.

I then asked mentally if I should ask my friend’s son to use my hand telepathically to give me the latest news. The answer came at once as follows:—

No, you had better ask her daughter; she is at home, and can give you the latest news

I then asked the daughter to use my hand, and tell me how her mother was. My hand then, as always, unconscious of the least difference in the control of the embodied or disembodied, wrote as follows:—

Mother had a better sleep last night. There is no need for you to return earlier. “We have taken a house at the seaside at (name unintelligible). Mother thinks she will be all right after her visit.

I feared to believe the good news. I read the messages to my friend, who signed them as confirmation, and remarked that if this turned out right it would be a great score for the spooks, but that I feared my own strong desire for better news had vitiated the accuracy of the despatch. I then left the hotel, and went down to Dr. Lunn’s chalet, where I told Dr. Lunn, Mr. Clayden, Dr. Lindsay, and other friends that I must return to London next day.


At seven o’clock dinner is served at the Bar. I saw the head waiter, told him I was expecting an important telegram, and asked him to bring it me at table. This he promised to do. Dinner passed. Eight o’clock approached. “I am afraid,” I said to my friend, “the spooks are no go this time,” and set off for the church. I had not got half-way there when my boy Jack ran after me, shouting, ” Father, here’s your telegram; it was delivered by mistake in Uncle Herbie’s room.” I opened it, and found that it had arrived at 7.10. It ran as follows:—

___better. Don’t come back.

Two days later I received a postcard from the daughter, partly written before my telegram arrived. Here it is:—

Mother is rather better. We have taken a house at W—— Later: Your telegram has just come. There is no need for you to come back. [I quote from memory the contents of the letters and telegrams. I put them all together into an envelope for the Psychical Research Society, and I cannot lay my hands upon them at the moment of writing. I can swear, however, to the substantial accuracy of the above narratives.]

There was only one point left unconfirmed. Did the patient think she would be quite set up by a stay at the seaside? When I returned to London I put the question to her daughter. She replied, “I never heard mother say anything about that. But the doctor said so when he called that day.”


Now if I am asked to explain how my automatic hand got that message, I cannot explain it, excepting on the hypothesis that the mind, whether for the time being in or out of a body of flesh and blood, has the capacity of communicating directly with other minds without being in the least degree hampered by the limitations of space, or by the accident of its imbodiment or disimbodiment. The more I experiment with telepathy the more is the conviction driven in upon me that the mind uses the body as a temporary two-legged telephone for purposes of communication at short range with other minds, but that it no more ceases to exist when the body dies than we cease to exist when we ring off the telephone.