In his The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1904), Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) had discussed several alleged supernormal occurrences and expressed a profound skepticism about prophetic dreams and telepathic phenomena. However, in 1922, he published his article "Dreams and Telepathy" and publicly proclaimed that he admitted the possibility of telepathic phenomena. He had written a much less cautious full-length essay, "Psycho-analysis and Telepathy," which he would have read to the International Psychoanalytic Congress of 1922 if Ernest Jones, founder of the British Psychoanalytical Society, had not persuaded him to consider the damaging repercussions his outspoken attitude might have on the whole fledgling psychoanalytic movement. Consequently, the article did not see print until 1941, after Freud's death.
In 1924 Freud wrote a letter to Jones in which he remarked how strongly he had been impressed with a report on telepathic experiments that Gilbert Murray had prepared for the Society for Psychical Research. Freud confessed that he was ready to give up his opposition to the existence of thought-transference and said that he would even be prepared to lend the support of psychoanalysis to the matter of telepathy. Once again, the skeptic Jones, fearful of the damage that such a public declaration might deliver to psychoanalysis, convinced Freud not to publish any such offer of support to parapsychological research.
Today psychiatrists and psychoanalysts vary greatly in their attitudes toward psi research. Those who profess nothing but an adamant skepticism say that the illustrations of ESP brought forward by their colleagues express nothing but the analyst's own desire to believe in their validity. Those who consider psi research to be a serious and valuable contribution to human understanding insist that paranormal activities, particularly those of telepathy and clairvoyance, are too numerous to be dismissed by an arched eyebrow and a cursory examination.
Many psychiatrists have developed a respect for psi research when, during the course of analysis, a close relationship that can only be described as psychic, has developed between a doctor and his or her patient. Some doctors have reported patients who have related dreams that have dramatized actual incidents that the analysts themselves have experienced that day or even the week before. In several cases, the key to a patient's mental disturbance has been located in a dream experience of the analyst. Reports have even been made of several patients of the same analyst sharing dreams or reenacting group or individual experiences, as if some strange circle of telepathic dreams had been established.
Parapsychologists have long contended that telepathy (and ESP in general) functions best between individuals who have a strong emotional link. This particular level of the human mind seems to operate best spontaneously, especially when a crisis situation makes it necessary to communicate through other than the standard sensory channels.
For quite some time, psi researchers have been aware that twins show unusually high telepathic rapport. A series of tests conducted by psychologists at the University of Alberta, Canada, confirmed this theory by establishing statistical evidence that identical twins, and to a lesser extent, fraternal twins, have remarkable ability to communicate with one another through ESP.
At the behest of Dr. J. B. Rhine of Duke University, Olivia Rivers, a psychologist at Mississippi State University, conducted tests with identical twins, Terry and Sherry Young. The Jackson, Mississippi, twins were able to pass entire sentences to each other via telepathy. The girls seemed to be in constant rapport; and even when separated, each knew if the other had turned an ankle, gotten a toothache, or developed a cold. Sherry was better as the receiver; Terry as the sender. Their schoolteachers despaired of ever receiving an accurate test from either girl. Even when placed in separate classrooms the girls still used similar phrases and got similar marks. They made no secret of the fact that they helped one another in their school work, but insisted that it was by telepathy alone. It was not cheating to them, nor could anyone consider it as being unfair or dishonest of the girls. It was not their fault if their minds functioned as one.
Remarkable experiments have been conducted with nontechnological traditional peoples to test the hypothesis that telepathy is an archaic means of communication, which, although remaining as a vestigial function of the mind, was once the sole method for conveying ideas. It has been observed that the bushmen in Australia can accurately transmit thoughts, feelings, and ideas to friends and relatives several miles away. They also use psi abilities to locate missing objects, straying cattle, and thieving enemies. In many cases, even today some bushmen live a virtual Stone Age existence. Their normal sensory abilities have been heightened by their struggle for survival. Their eyes can identify objects at great distances without the aid of field glasses. Their powers of smell are incredible. Their ESP talents are even more remarkable.
Dr. A. P. Elkin, an anthropologist from Sydney University, was forced to rearrange some of his scientific thinking after he conducted studies among the bushmen. In his Aboriginal Men of High Degree, Elkin writes that although his arrival was never announced by messenger, drums, or smoke signals, each village was prepared for his arrival, knew where he had just come from, and was aware of the purpose of his wilderness trek. Whenever the anthropologist heard of a case where a native claimed to have gained personal information telepathically from a faraway village, subsequent investigation proved the knowledge to be accurate. Whether the information concerned a dying parent, the birth of a nephew, or the victory of a successful hunt, the recipients' knowledge of the event was completely in accordance with the actual happening.
Laboratory tests have indicated a number of interesting facts concerning the conditions under which telepathy—and, in general, all testable psi phenomena—work. Distance seems to have no effect on telepathy or clairvoyance. Equally remarkable results have been achieved when the percipient was a yard away from the agent or when the experimenters were separated by several hundred miles. Dr. S. G. Soal, the British researcher who has conducted extensive tests with "mind-readers," has written: "In telepathic communication it is personality, or the linkage of personalities, which counts, and not spatial separation of bodies. This is what we might expect on the assumption that brains have spatial location and spatial extension, but that minds are not spatial entities at all…we must consider brains as focal points in space at which Mind produces physical manifestations in its interaction with matter."
Parapsychological researchers have learned that the percipient's attitude is of great importance in achieving high ESP scores. Personalities do enter into psi testing even as they do into other aspects of human relationships. It has also been demonstrated that those who believe in their psi powers score consistently higher than those who are skeptics and who regard it all as a lot of nonsense.
Although the staff in a parapsychology laboratory must be careful to create and foster a friendly and cheerful atmosphere, spontaneous psi seems to work best under conditions that Dr. Jan Ehrenwald terms a "state of psychological inadequacy." Naming this state of psi readiness the "minus function," Ehrenwald believes that "a necessary condition for telepathic
The psi researcher faces another risk in the laboratory when he is engaged in the long-term testing of a percipient: the decline effects in ESP that can be brought on by sheer boredom in the method of testing. The exercise of psi ability does sap psychic energy and even excellent performers invariably score higher when they are fresh. Once the novelty of the test has worn off, the interests of the percipient wander elsewhere, and so, apparently, does his or her ESP. It is difficult to force psi into the laboratory for the controlled and repeatable experiments demanded by orthodox science.
It is interesting to note that, on the average, a man is more effective as an agent, a sender, and a woman is more effective as a percipient, a receiver. This seems to apply to spontaneous instances of telepathy and other functions of psi as well as to roles assumed under laboratory conditions.
In 1930 the novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) published a record of experiments in telepathically transmitted drawings, which had been conducted with his wife and his brother-in-law, R. I. Irwin. Mrs. Sinclair was always the percipient, the receiver, and when Irwin was the agent, the sender, he "transmitted" from more than 40 miles away. The agent would make a set of drawings of such simple items as a nest with eggs, a flower, or a tree, and enclose each sketch in an opaque envelope. At the agreed-upon time, or later, Mrs. Sinclair would lie down on a couch and allow her mind and body to enter a state of complete relaxation. Experience soon taught her that other levels of mind would attempt to "guess" the sketch and thereby often confuse the true information that would come from a deeper level of authentic knowledge.
Mrs. Sinclair commented that for best results in such tests, one must develop the ability to hold in consciousness, without any sense of strain, a single idea, such as the petal of a flower. Association trains must not be allowed to develop, and, above all, no thinking about the idea must take place. A completely relaxed state of body and mind must be achieved.
It is difficult to measure the success of such tests with drawings, because often an idea associated with the drawing would come across rather than the actual sketch. In the Sinclair experiments of 290 drawings, 65 were judged successes, 155 partial successes, and 70 were failures. Professor William McDougall (1871–1938), a fellow of the Royal Society, a brilliant British-American pioneer of parapsychology, said of the Sinclairs' experiments with their "mental radio," that the degree of success and the conditions of the experiment were such that they could not be rejected and should be accepted as evidence of "some mode of communication" not presently explicable in accepted scientific terms.
While acknowledging the existence of telepathy, many parapsychologists became interested in proving that far from simply being a "mental radio," telepathy must be some form of electromagnetic radiation that could be measured and understood. Russian parapsychologists, especially, seemed concerned with demystifying telepathy and ESP in general. In the 1920s, Vladimir M. Bekhterev worked with subjects who had been hypnotized and enclosed in an electromagnetically screened chamber known as a Faraday cage. The hypnotist, who was stationed in a separate room, mentally suggested that the subject perform certain tasks. This experiment was carefully planned so that the door to the screening chamber could be opened and closed without the knowledge of either the subject or the hypnotist. As long as the subject was screened electromagnetically from the hypnotist, none of the man's telepathic suggestions were followed. When the door was opened, the subject responded to his suggestions with a high degree of accuracy.
These and other experiments (one of which even attempted to direct the telepathic signals with the use of a metal mirror) seemed to confirm the hypothesis that telepathy was basically electromagnetic in character. This school of Russian parapsychology was under the influence of the Italian neurophysiologist F. Cazzamalli, whose conclusions also pointed to an electromagnetic wave character for telepathic signals. Cazzamalli's experiments have been criticized several times since the 1920s when they were performed, since they were not conducted under rigid controls.
Even while these experiments were being carried out, one of Bekhterev's pupils, Leonid L. Vasiliev (1891–1966), was disturbing this pet theory with some astounding results of his own. Vasiliev's original experiments were also conducted with volunteer subjects and hypnotists, but his concern was not to solicit responses from the suggestion of the hypnotists via telepathic means, but to induce the trance state itself by the use of telepathy.
The subject was given an inflated rubber ball that was attached by a hose to a pressure-sensitive recording device. He was then instructed to squeeze the ball with his hand. These contractions were recorded as notches on the moveable graph. When the subject was hypnotized, the rhythmic contractions would stop, and the notches would no longer appear on the graph. The subject and the hypnotist were separated by two intervening walls. The room between housed the recording equipment and those in charge of monitoring it. Time for each attempt of this telepathic hypnosis was determined by the use of a roulette wheel, and was thus completely random.
In 1932, Vasiliev was fortunate enough to find three very sensitive subjects with whom the goal of long-distance hypnosis was attainable. When the hypnotist was instructed to induce a trance on the person he could not see, he was able to perform the feat. Later, when instructed to bring the subject out of the trance, the hypnotist was again able to accomplish this by the force of his will, without once coming in contact with the subject during the entire course of the test.
As work in this series of experiments continued, a few unforeseen problems began to develop. After a number of trials, the subjects became so accustomed to the surroundings and the preparations for the tests, that they would automatically fall into trance. Such auto-hypnosis is not uncommon, even when the hypnotist is not trying to induce the trance state via telepathy. But even when this occurred, the effect of a telepathic impulse was striking. A subject could be put in a trance state two or three times faster when the hypnotist attempted to send a telepathic signal than when the auto-hypnosis was allowed to occur. As these tests with the same subject continued, it became more difficult to bring the subject out of the trance state with the use of telepathy. Yet telepathy was still a factor as the hypnotist could revive the subject momentarily before he would fall back into a trance.
Because these results were consistently good, Vasiliev was able to devise even more interesting tests. He placed the subjects within chambers that were heavily sealed from all forms of electromagnetic radiation. In this test the subjects responded exactly as they had without the shielding, contradicting the results of the other Soviet experimenters. Vasiliev's rigidly controlled experiments showed that there was more to telepathy than electromagnetic waves. A Russian physicist, V. Arkadev, supported Vasiliev's contention by saying that the intensity of the waves that could be spawned by the electric currents in the brain is so low that dissipation occurs very close to the skull. Even though it has been proven that electromagnetic radiation can affect the central nervous system, the electromagnetic waves generated by the electric currents that are constantly surrounding modern men and women are of a much higher intensity than any kind of electromagnetic radiation the brain could muster.
These contradictory results have not yet been explained, but former Soviet scientists and psi researchers have since leaned away from the theory that telepathic signals are electromagnetic waves. Even more than in other scientific endeavors, parapsychologists must be certain to eliminate all prejudice from their minds. It is possible that a researcher's brain state may have as much effect on a subject as an intended telepathic signal. The early Soviet experiments may have shown that telepathy was electromagnetic in character because the investigators, under the heavy influence of the Italian Cazzamalli, wanted or expected them to show it. A prejudice that cannot be separated from the mind may be a decisive factor in any experiments involving psychic phenomena. These possibilities only add to the difficulty of conducting experiments, but they cannot be ignored.
Research into the nature of telepathy continues in parapsychological laboratories around the world. While telepathy is commonly thought of as mind-reading, psi researchers have commented that instances of telepathy in the laboratory seldom involve the actual perception of another's actual thoughts. And sometimes the information that the percipient receives from the agent does not really seem to have been an instance of mind-to-mind communication, but rather an example of clairvoyance. Once again it must be recalled that there is a great deal of "bleed-through" from one parapsychological phenomenon to another.