I would like nothing more than the proof of various cryptids, alien civilizations, even alien visitors to be found. But that proof will come only through rigorous science and objective analysis, and by holding evidence to the highest standards of scrutiny. Born in south eastern Pennsylvania, i have found myself at one time or another living in Chicago, Cleveland, Raleigh-Durham, on the island of Kaua'i and finally landed on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. I have turned my hand to various professions from early work in 3d graphics to historic building restoration, carpentry and log home building to working in a bronze art foundry on the WWII Veterans Memorial. Currently I am a writer, script writer and working for a non profit organization called Empowerment Through Connection which is involved in equine assisted therapy for veterans, at risk teens and women.

Yup, it’s a real word. If it is a real phenomenon is another matter.

I was watching the relatively new psychological thriller “Red Lights” the other night, and was reminded of a phenomenon of the psychic world that I have not seen addressed very much recently. Thoughtography was once a popular performance of psychic phenomena. Also called Projected Thermography.Spirit Photography and Nengraphy, from the Chinese Nensha which translates as “sense inception,” Thoughtography is the process of projecting mental imagery onto photographic film.

For a demonstration here is an excerpt from Arthur C Clarke’s World of Strange Powers:

But the history of Thoughtography goes back further than Ted Serios. Nikola Tesla believed there must exist some way for the imagery of the mind to be projected in the external world. His idea has a very appealing sense to it, but I fear is trying to force an understanding of physics to apply to the workings of biology.

“I became convinced that a definite image formed in thought must by reflex action produce a corresponding image on the retina, which might be read by a suitable apparatus. This brought me to my system of television which I announced at the time… My idea was to employ an artificial retina receiving an object of the image seen, an optic nerve and another retina at the place of reproduction… both being fashioned somewhat like a checker board, with the optic nerve being a part of the earth.”

Nikola Tesla

Tesla’s idea sounds shockingly like the research that is happening now in creating optical implants for the blind, so in a way he was not far off. But I guess the genius who conceived of AC electricity, remote control vehicles, radio and television had ideas that were so far on the fringe that even he could not make them reality in his time.

The serious, using a liberal interpretation, study of thoughtography dates back to 1910 when Professor of Psychology, Tomokichi Fukarai at Tokyo University began experiments with a group of women who claimed clairvoyant powers. While the idea of clairvoyance has pretty much always been part of human culture in one form or another, the early 20th century saw a surge in popularity for the practice, or at least a surge in its integration into popular culture. Heck, the early 20th century saw a surge in the idea of pop culture as communication began to span the globe at speeds that far outstripped the fastest steam ship or train.

Tomokichi Fukarai

Fukarai was a believer in psychic phenomena, and as such, perhaps not the most impartial observer to conduct related experiments and in the end his research led to his eventual resignation from his position but he did not give up his pursuit and in 1959 established the Fukurai Institute of Psychology to carry on with his research, as it does to this day.

Fukurai’s first success was with a woman named Ikuku Nagao

Ikuku Nagao

Nagao took ill soon after her work with Fukurai began to get results and she died. Her illness was attributed by some to the stresses exerted upon her by skeptics naming her a fraud. Fukurai carried on his research and in 1913 began to get positive results once more with a new subject, Sadako Takahashi.

Sadako Takahashi

Fukurai’s research at Tokyo University lasted another six years until his resignation under accusations of fraud in 1919. Ironically, the year after the birth of the next widely known practitioner of thoughtography, the earlier mentioned Ted Serios.

An alcoholic, Serios apparently was typically unable to produce results while sober, was prone to throwing demonstrative and animated fits during sessions, and always used a small cylinder that fit into the palm of his hand as a “focus.” Unless you speak German, the narration of the following video will not do you much good, but it does show Serios at work, and shows something else as well.

What I see in this video is absolutely no controls being enforced in this “experiment.” The men in the video are merely holding up cameras, no one is making certain that Serios could not be palming images as suggested in the Arthur C Clarke video. There is no control over the “exposed” film in evidence, and no actual evidence that the pictures shown in close up are the same taken by the cameras.

Following in the footsteps of Serios are two notably renown psychics, one you have probably heard of, Uri Geller and the other Geller’s equivalent in Japan, Masuaki Kiyota.

Masuaki Kiyota
Masuaki Kiyota

Masuaki has admitted to fraud in certain instances of his performances, and in many cases was insistent upon being given privacy while in possession of the cameras and film to be used in his demonstrations offering him ample opportunity for fraud. He is thus easily dismissed.

Uri Geller was, in his day, probably the best known psychic in the world. As such he drew the attention of perennial debunker James Randi who made Geller a special project of his, as shown in this video:

And while this video does not deal specifically with thoughtography, it does demonstrate that as soon as a few simple controls are put in place the psychics ability to produce results is significantly reduced to the point of vanishing completely.

Recently Geller is quoted in a German magazine Magische Welt (Magic World), as offering just short of an admission of fraud:

I’ll no longer say that I have supernatural powers. I am an entertainer. I want to do a good show. My entire character has changed.

And that about wraps him up.

Project questions or comments to:

[email protected]

  • Rmon

    Nice article Henry. I always watched A.C. Clarke back then!
    This Serios guy, hehe, clearly fakery..

  • alanborky

    Henry you’ve just explained the inspiration behind the Japanese Ringu films for me.

    Serios may’ve been an alocholic but in the pic you provide he looks like a deranged Popeye impressionist who’s just discovered his last tin of spinach was empty.

    I was unaware of Geller’s remark but it strikes me the key to it’s his observation his character’s changed then it becomes a matter of is he admitting to being a fraud or to having developed sufficient humility to no longer aggrandise his ‘mysterious’ ability as supernatural [which for a devout Jew has all kinds of implications]?

    As for fraudulent behaviour If there really are such things as psychics then isn’t it possible they have off days like people with other kinds of talents? Watch any English Premiership footy match and you’ll always see at least a few normally good players playing completely crap not to mention the odd lazy bastard who just can’t be arsed going through the motions to guarantee their wages and I’m sure every now and then Pope Julius II must’ve wandered in on a hungover Michelangelo hurriedly try’n’o plaster over some earlier botched scrawl or daub.

    None of which is to excuse fraudulent psychics but merely to point out most people having any kind of talent put under such intense scrutiny’d almost certainly fail to live up to their billing viz all those singing skating cooking dancing fools paraded across our screens almost every night who soon as they’re home probably find they’re able to sing dance skate cook like a dream again.

  • Rmon

    We are not talking about a “day off” here.. As soon as the so called “phsychic” powers are placed under controlled conditions, they completely evaporate.. If someone has powers, you would assume at least some of these powers would still work, even though you’re in a laboratory.
    Also, is it not very remarkable that the powers that they claim to have, are repeatable by magicians? Makes you wonder..

  • jamesrav

    back in my earlier ‘unskeptical’ life, I was fascinated with the book by Eisenbud regarding Serios. Some of the pictures simply seemed not reproducible by fakery, especially one of a building whereby the brickwork had morphed into mottled stone in Serios’ version. I even ‘confronted’ (haha) Randi at a lecture he gave at UCSD after his talk with that picture, but he was too busy signing autographs to give me more than the following quip “if you believe that, you must believe in the Easter Bunny”. As time went by, and more evidence come to light that it was simply fraudulent, I had to finally throw in the towel regarding Serios.

  • Fluidizer

    So, Serios was not serious I assume?

  • fruitcake555

    It’s a good thing that Doug Henning wasn’t there with one of his trademarked satin shirts … he had it all, the hair, she really big chompers, a really great mustache… he could wave his arms and say …mmmaaaaaaaagic

  • Jonathan Strauss

      Uri Geller’s “admission” could ALSO be as a result of an agenda of secrecy relating to an issue of National Sekurity involving intelligence agencies which with he purportedly has connections.  Just like UFOs, there are many conceivable reasons the military and related intelligence agencies would want to squash this issue and keep it a secret. Does someone have an explanation on how and then demonstrate how he bent the spoons?

  •  “Does someone have an explanation on how and then demonstrate how he bent the spoons?”

    Pretty much any stage magician.

  • Morgan Grimheart

    Red Lights brought me here. I guess the sceptics always find each other 🙂

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