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I've Got My Mind on You: Pondering Thought Correspondences for Easter

April 20, 2019

People occasionally tell of moments in which they find themselves suddenly having a particular thought or image come to mind, and then later learn that someone else they know had had that same (or a related) thought/image on their mind at roughly the same moment. While chance coincidence may account for a number of these seeming thought correspondences, there are certain instances where the correspondence appears to be so close that one begins to wonder about telepathy possibly being at work. One such instance seemed to be focused around a particular object: eggs (which, given their close association with the holiday, seems rather fitting for Easter). It was described by Mr. J. G. Keulemans, and appeared in the pages of the classic 1886 anthology Phantasms of the Living by psychical researchers Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Frank Podmore:

One morning, not long ago, while engaged with some very easy work, I saw in my mind's eye a little wicker basket, containing five eggs, two very clean, of a more than usually elongated oval and of a yellowish hue; one very round, plain white, but smudged all over with dirt; the remaining two bore no peculiar marks. I asked myself what that insignificant but sudden image could mean. I never think of similar objects. But that basket remained fixed in my mind, and occupied it for some moments. About two hours later I went into another room for lunch. I was at once struck with the remarkable similarity between the eggs standing in the egg-cups on the breakfast table, and those two very long ones I had in my imagination previously seen. "Why do you keep looking at those eggs so carefully?" asked my wife; and it caused her great astonishment to learn from me how many eggs had been sent by her mother half an hour before. She then brought up the remaining three; there was one with the dirt on it, and the basket, the same I had seen. On further inquiry, I found that the eggs had been kept together by my mother-in-law, that she had placed them in the basket and thought of sending them to me; and to use her own words, "I did of course think of you at that moment." She did this at 10 in the morning, which (as I know from my regular habits) must have been just the time of my impression. [1, Vol. I, pp. 255 - 256]

Another instance described in the pages of Phantasms that seems suggestive of telepathy, and which took place during the Easter holiday, was given by a woman known as Mrs. Fagan:

I was residing in England, while my son...was a chaplain in India. I one day experienced a prayerful and earnest desire, in going up to the altar one Easter Day, that somehow - I knew not how - my son might be permitted to communicate me; and as I received [Communion] without raising my eyes to the celebrant, I felt my desire granted. In due course of post, my son asked me if I could explain what had occurred to him at about the time when he knew I must have been making my Easter Communion. While preparing for the evening service, and not thinking of me or home, he heard me call him by name, not as though in any distress, but with a tone of great urgency. Instantly remembering how I was then occupied, he was with me in spirit, and though unconsciously, was permitted to satisfy my longing. After this, though he knew there was no one in the house, he made diligent search to prove to others that it was no delusion. [1, Vol. II, p. 564]

Mrs. Fagan later added that she had taken her Easter Communion sometime between 12:00 noon and 1:00 P.M. in England, which was 6:00 - 7:00 in the evening in India where her son was located.

Case surveys indicate that although most ostensible telepathic experiences between people tend to occur during serious events (like those involving death and crisis), there is known to be a relatively small proportion of them (around 18%) that have taken place under more trivial (i.e., non-serious) circumstances. [2] The two instances described above would seem to fall into the latter category.

Of course, one may continue to wonder: Could telepathy be a way to possibly account for some of the more striking thought correspondences that people describe? To find out, parapsychologists have conducted an extensive number of experiments designed to test for telepathy using a sensory reduction technique known as ganzfeld. Typically in these experiments, two volunteer participants are isolated from each other in separate rooms that are sound-proofed (and/or are spaced far apart from each other). One participant, acting as the telepathic "sender," sits in front of a monitor screen and focuses their attention on viewing a randomly selected picture or video clip (which serves as the telepathic "target').

Meanwhile, the other participant (acting as the telepathic "receiver") reclines back in a comfortable chair and is placed in a state of sensory reduction (the ganzfeld state) by having their eyes covered over with translucent eyeshields (usually made from the cut halves of a ping-pong ball) and having soft static noise (like the kind heard between radio stations) fill their ears through thick headphones. This covering of the eyes and filling of the ears has the effect of reducing the amount of visual and auditory input regularly coming in, and it is thought that by having these two senses reduced in this manner, perhaps there will be a greater chance for telepathic information (which is ordinarily "drowned out" by our primary senses) to enter into our consciousness. [For a broader overview of the ganzfeld technique, see Ref. 3.]

While in this ganzfeld state, the "receiver" is asked to describe any mental impressions which happen to come into mind. Ideally, it is hoped that a good amount of the impressions described by the "receiver" will closely correspond in some way to the details of the telepathic target being viewed by the "sender" in the other room.

Statistical evaluations of these ganzfeld telepathy experiments generally find that the description provided by the "receiver" is often close enough to the details of the telepathic target that the target is correctly identified around 30% of the time (whereas 25% percent would be expected by chance - see the graph below).
 

Summary graph of the results from experimental tests of telepathy using the ganzfeld technique that have been conducted from 1987 to 2012. The red horizontal line at 25% indicates the average success rate that would be expected by chance. As can be seen, the actual success rate of the tests (jagged, dotted line with bars) averages out to around 30% over time.

Although this is a relatively small percentage, it is also highly significant by statistical standards, being associated (conservatively) with odds of over a million to one against chance. [4-5] This seems to suggest that telepathy may not be out of the realm of consideration when it comes to seemingly striking instances of thought correspondence.

The PRF wishes everyone a happy Easter!

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References:

[1] Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the Living (2 vols.). London: Trubner & Company.

[2] Stevenson, I. (1970). Telepathic Impressions: A Review and Report of Thirty-Five New Cases. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia.

[3] Wackermann, J., Putz, P., & Allefeld, C. (2008). Ganzfeld-induced hallucinatory experience, its phenomenology and cerebral electrophysiology. Cortex, 44, 1364 - 1378.

[4] Storm, L., Tressoldi, P. E., & Di Risio, L. (2010). Meta-analysis of free-response studies, 1992 - 2008: Assessing the noise reduction model in parapsychology. Psychological Bulletin, 136, 471 - 485.

[5] Williams, B. J. (2011). Revisiting the ganzfeld ESP debate: A basic review and assessment. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 25, 639 - 661.

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