Nineteenth Century Evidence for Extrasensory Perception


In the twentieth century scientists such as Joseph Rhine accumulated overwhelming laboratory evidence for extrasensory perception (ESP), commonly called telepathy. Twenty-first century descriptions of such experimental investigations in mainstream books are typically very inaccurate, and their inaccuracy will be discovered by examining the source documents of investigators such as Rhine. One of the misstatements frequently made is that Rhine was the first scientist to seriously study the topic of ESP. The truth is that decades before Rhine, serious investigators began gathering weighty evidence for the existence of ESP.

Examples of such evidence may be found in Volume 1 of the classic parapsychology work Phantasms of the Living by Edmund Gurney, Frank Podmore and Frederic Myers. On page 21 we read the account of a Reverend Creery, who claimed astonishing successes with ESP tests done among his family. He stated, “I have seen seventeen cards, chosen by myself, named right in succession, without any mistake.” These were presumably playing cards, with a chance probablility of 1/52 of choosing the right card; for Zener cards with only five symbols had not been invented yet. 

We read on page 21 that a group of serious investigators was formed to investigate such claims: "In the course of the years 1881 and 1882, a large number of experiments were made with the Creery family, first by Professor Barrett, then by Mr., and Mrs. Sidgwick, by Professor Balfour Stewart, T.R.S.,and Professor Alfred Hopkinson, of Owens College, Manchester, and, after the formation of the Society for Psychical Research, by the Thought-transference Committee of that body, of which Mr. Myers and myself were members." After some successful object guessing experiments with members of the Creery family, the following occurred (as we read on page 24): 

The Committee, consisting of Professor Barrett, Mr. Myers, and the present writer, made a number of experiments under similar conditions, which excluded contact and movement, and which confined the knowledge of the selected object — and, therefore, the chance of collusion with the percipient- to their own group. In some of these trials, conducted at Cambridge, Mrs. F. W. H. Myers and Miss Mason also took part. In a long series conducted at Dublin, Professor Barrett was alone with the percipient. Altogether these scrupulously guarded trials amounted to 497 ; and of this number 95 were completely successful at the first guess, and 45 at the second.”

Skeptics have tried to dismiss these results, insinuating that a secret signal code may have been been used between the Creery daughters. But the statement above makes such an objection irrelevant. In the guessing trials the object selected (such as a number or a card) was known only to one of the investigators outside of the Creery family. So there is no code signal system or signal system that can account for the results.

The results achieved were the very impressive results shown below (from page 25 of the book).


A mathematician was consulted to calculate the chance of getting such a result by chance. The mathematician computed (based on the first guesses) that the likelihood was less than 1 chance in 999, 999, 999, 999, 999, 999, 999, 999. Using both the first guesses and the second guesses as data, the mathematician computed a probability of less than 1 in 10 to the thirtieth power.

On page 33 we read of 17,653 card guessing trials in which the number of successes was 4760, which exceeded by 347 the number expected by chance. This is a result with a chance likelihood far less than 1 in a million.

Far more impressive are the results described on page 34:

In another case, the choice lay between 4 things, but these were not suits, but simple colour — red, blue, green, and yellow. The percipient throughout was Mr. A. J. Shilton, of 40, Paradise Street, Birmingham ; the agent (except in one small group, when Professor Poynting, of Mason College, acted) was Mr. G. T. Cashmore, of Albert Road, Handsworth. Out of 505 trials, 261 were successes. The probability here afforded of a cause other than chance is considerably more than a trillion trillions to 1. And still more
remarkable is the result obtained by the Misses Wingfield, of The Redings, Totteridge, in some trials where the object to be guessed was a number of two digits — i.e., .one of the 90 numbers included in the series from 10 to 99 — chosen at random by the agent. Out of 2,624  trials, where the most probable number of successes was 29, the actual number obtained was no less than 275 — to say nothing of 78 other cases in which the right digits were guessed in the reverse order. In the last 506 trials, the agent (who sat some 6 feet behind the percipient) drew the numbers at random out of a bowl; the odds against the qccidental occurrence of the degree of success — 21 right guesses — obtained in this batch are over 2,000,000 to 1. The argument for thought-transference afforded by the total cannot be expressed here in figures, as it requires 167 nines — that is, the probability is far more than the ninth power of a trillion to 1.”

There follows in the chapter a discussion of drawing tests (in which one person sketched something, and another person who had not seen the sketch was asked to draw the same thing), and taste and smelling tests (in which one person smelled and tasted something, and some person elsewhere was asked to guess what the other person had smelled and tasted). These were highly successful, giving results very far above chance. But it is quite hard to quantify the improbability of the results.

In the next chapter of the book, on page 103, we have the following astonishing account:

One evening early last year, I resolved to try to appear to Z, at some -miles distance. I did not inform him beforehand of the intended experiment ; but retired to rest shortly before midnight with thoughts intently fixed on Z, with whose room and surroundings, however, I was quite unacquainted. I soon fell asleep, and awoke next morning unconscious of anything having taken place. On seeing Z a few days afterwards, I inquired, ‘ Did anything happen at your rooms on Saturday night ? ’ 'Yes,’ replied he, ‘a great deal happened. I had been sitting over the fire with M, smoking and chatting. About 12:30 he rose to leave, and I let him out myself. I returned to the fire to finish my pipe, when I saw you sitting in the chair just vacated by him. I looked  intently at you, and then took up a newspaper to assure myself I was not dreaming, but on laying it down I saw you still there. While I gazed without speaking, you faded away. Though I imagined you must be fast asleep in bed at that hour, yet you appeared dressed in your ordinary garments, such as you usually wear every day.' ‘Then my experiment seems to have succeeded,' said I...A few weeks later the experiment was repeated with equal success.”

Here is another similar account quoted in the book, on page 104, one just as astonishing as the previous account:

"On a certain Sunday evening in November, 1881, having been
reading of the great power which the human will is capable of
exercising, I determined with the whole force of my being, that I would be present in spirit in the front bedroom on the second floor of a house situated at 22, Hogarth Road, Kensington, in which room slept two ladies of my acquaintance, viz., Miss L. S. Y. and Miss E. C. V., aged respectively 25 and 11 years. I was living at this time at 23, Kildare Gardens, a distance of about 3 miles from Hogarth Road, and I had not mentioned in any way my intention of trying this experiment to either of the above ladies, for the simple reason that it was only on retiring to rest upon this Sunday night that I made up my mind to do so. The time at, which I determined I would be there was 1 o’clock in the morning, and I also had a strong intention of making my presence perceptible. On the following Thursday I went to see the ladies in question, and, in the course of conversation (without any allusion to the subject on my part), the elder one told me, that, on the previous Sunday night, she had been much terrified by perceiving me standing by her bedside, and that she screamed when the apparition advanced towards her, and awoke her little sister, who saw me also. I asked her if she was awake at the time, and she replied most decidedly in the affirmative, and upon my inquiring the time of the occurrence, she replied, about 1 o’clock in the morning. This lady, at my request, wrote down a statement of the event and signed it. This was the first occasion upon which I tried an experiment of this kind, and its complete success startled me very much."

On page 105 an L.S. Verity gave this account of the same incident:

"On a certain Sunday evening, about twelve months since, at our house in Hogarth Road, Kensington, I distinctly saw Mr. B. in my room, about 1 o’clock. I was perfectly awake and was much terrified. I awoke my sister by screaming, and she saw the apparition herself. Three days after, when I saw Mr. B., I told him what had happened ; but it was some time before I could recover from the shock I had received, and the remembrance is too vivid to be ever erased from my memory."

Her sister E.C. Verity stated:

I remember the occurrence of the event described by my sister in the annexed paragraph, and her description is quite correct. I saw the apparition which she saw, at the same time and under the same circumstances.”

Later on page 191 we have the following account of spontaneous telepathy:

When the Rev. John Drake was minister of the Wesleyan Church at  Aberdeen, Miss Jessie Wilson, the daughter of one of the principal lay office bearers in that church, sailed for India, to join the Rev. John Hutcheon, M. A., then stationed as a missionary at Bangalore, to whom she was under engagement to be married. Mr. Drake, one morning, came  down to Mr. Wilson’s place of business and said, ‘Mr. Wilson, I am happy to be able to inform you that Jessie has had a pleasant voyage, and is now safely arrived in India.’ Mr. Wilson said, ‘How do you know that, Mr. Drake?’ to which Mr. Drake replied. ‘I saw it.’ ‘But,’ said Mr. Wilson, ‘it cannot be, for it is a fortnight too soon. The vessel has never made the voyage within a fortnight of the time it is now since Jessie sailed.’ To this Mr. Drake replied : ‘Now you jot it down in your book that John Drake called this morning and told you that Jessie has arrived in India this morning after a pleasant voyage.’ Mr. Wilson accordingly made the entry, which Mrs. Hutcheson assures me she saw, when she returned home, and that it ran thus: ‘Mr. Drake. Jessie arrived India, morning of June 5th, 1860.’ This turned out to have been literally the case. The ship had fair winds all the way, and made a quicker passage by a fortnight than ever she had made before.”

Later in the book (on page 194) we have this account from a Mrs. Bethany who gave her address:

I was reading geometry as I walked along, a subject little likely to produce fancies or morbid phenomena of any kind, when in a moment, I saw a bedroom known as the White Room in my home, and upon the floor lay my mother, to all appearance dead. The vision must have remained some minutes, during which time my real surroundings appeared to pale and die out ; but as the vision faded, actual surroundings came back, at first dimly, and then clearly. I could not doubt that what I had seen was real, so, instead of going home, I went at once to the house of our medical man and found him at home. He at once set out with me for my home, on the way putting questions I could not answer, as my mother was to all appearance well when I left home. I led the doctor straight to the White Room, where we found my mother actually lying as in my vision. This was true even to minute details. She had been seized suddenly by an attack at the heart, and would soon have breathed her last but for the doctor’s timely advent.”

On page 45 of Volume I of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we have the following pair of accounts.  In the first a Miss C. has a vivid dream about Miss E.  In the second, dating from the same day and time, Miss E. has a dream about Miss C. matching the dream that Miss C. had.  The account by Miss C. is below:

"On June 10th, I had the following dream. Some one told me that Miss E. was dead. I instantly, in my dream, rushed to her room, entered it, went to her bedside and pulled the clothes from off her face. She was quite cold ; her eyes were wide open and staring at the ceiling. This so frightened me that I dropped at the foot of her bed, and knew no more until I was half out of bed in my own room and wide awake. The time was 5 o'clock a.m. Before leaving my room I told this dream to my sister, as it had been such an unpleasant one."

The account by Miss E., describing the same hour of five o'clock on the same day, is below:

"I awoke on the morning of June 10th, and was lying on my back with my eyes fixed on the ceiling, when I heard the door open and felt some one come in and bend over me, but not far enough to come between my eyes and the ceiling ; knowing it was only C. I did not move, but, instead of kissing me, she suddenly drew back and going towards the foot of the bed, crouched down there. Thinking this very strange, I closed and opened my eyes several times, to convince myself that I was really awake, and then turned my head to see if she had left the door open, but found it still shut. Upon this a sort of horror came over me and I dared not look towards the figure which was crouching in the same position, gently moving the bedclothes from my feet. I tried to call to the occupant of the next room, but my voice failed. At this moment she touched my bare foot, a cold chill ran all over me  and I knew nothing more till I found myself out of bed looking for C, who must, I felt, be still in the room. I never doubted that she had really been there until I saw both doors fastened on the inside. On looking at my watch it was a few minutes past 5." 

On pages 35-38 of Volume 7 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, we have an account of extrasensory perception. A woman had a striking "mind's eye" vision of a friend of hers falling while walking up the stairs of her house,  dropping some papers at the time. She wrote a letter to the friend describing what she saw in this "mind's eye" vision, dating the letter the same day as the fall. The friend receiving the letter reported that the description of the fall (which the letter writer did not visually observe) was exactly accurate. 

The evidence for the reality of extrasensory perception is overwhelming, and has been gathered for more than 140 years.  One way to examine such evidence is to go to www.archive.org and search for online volumes of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research and volumes of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.  Open up the online volumes, and search for "telepathy" or "thought transference" to find evidence for extrasensory perception gathered over decades.  Additional stunning examples of evidence for ESP from the nineteenth century can be read here.  For some very convincing results from the twentieth century, see here and here.  For equally compelling results from the current century, see here.  Very compelling results from the past 100 years can be read in the Journal of Parapsychology articles here. Those who deny such evidence for extrasensory perception do so because they have an incorrect theory of mind, the idea that the mind is merely the product of neural activity.  Such psi skeptics are typically people who have never seriously studied the evidence for extrasensory perception.  Their opinions on a topic they haven't studied are no more relevant than the opinions of a cab driver regarding some topic he hasn't studied, such as quantum chromodynamics. 


Postscript:  On page 57-58 of Volume 12 of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, we have the account below suggesting ESP or telepathy. 

"We had spent the winter 1896-7 in Egypt for C.'s [her husband's] health, and we went to Hyeres about a fortnight before Easter. There I left him, being obliged to come to London, and I intended to stay over Easter in town, if he continued as well as when I had left him. He wrote cheerfully, describing his daily walks, and telling me that he felt very well. I was therefore not feeling anxious about him.About 1 a.m. on Easter Monday I awoke thinking I heard him call me. I sprang up in great anxiety, feeling sure that he was ill. After a time I persuaded myself that I had only been dreaming, and fell asleep again, only to wake a second time in
the early morning with the impression again that he was calling me. This time I got up, dressed and packed my things, and when my maid came in with a telegram she found me almost ready to start. The telegram was 'Come at once.' Hemorrhage had come on about midnight, and all that night C. had been thinking of me and wondering how quickly I could get to him."