Telepathy-A Psychoanalytic View
By Emilio Servadio
TOMORROW vol.4,n°2, 1956
She had seen the ring in her dream, a ring which her fiancé had bought at the International Fair-not for her, but for his dominating mother
The incident upon which this article is very largely based is an example of what are generally called “spontaneous” psychic phenomena a recent, very clear-cut case of telepathy. It will be interesting of itself, I believe, to those concerned with parapsychology. In addition, however, I consider it particularly instructive because conclusions drawn from it may lead to fruitful exploration.
Although the case did not occur in the course of my psychoanalytic practice, I had an opportunity to assess several interesting-and in my opinion quite important-psychological features of the phenomenon.
In the night between the twenty-third and twenty-fourth of April, 1955, a sixteen-year-old girl, whom I shall call Luisa, dreamed that the mother of her fiancé Guido had on her finger a strange silver ring. On the ring’s surface there were strange signs, resembling hieroglyphics. The ring itself could be opened, and could therefore, as she thought, contain a scent.
On awakening, Luisa related her dream to her mother. A few hours later, she phoned Guido, and began telling him of her dream. Guido, in great excitement, said that he had just come back from Milan, where he had bought, for his mother, a silver ring at the Somaliland pavilion of the International Fair. The ring, he added, had a surface that could be opened, and on which strange writings of unknown meaning were engraved. Hearing this, Luisa dropped the phone, and frantically called her mother to testify that all these details had also appeared in her dream.
I may add that Luisa and Guido are well known to me personally. (I am not using their actual names because I wish to save them embarrassment.) All the circumstances were related to me immediately after the telephone call, and I at once took very accurate notes. I also asked Luisa and Guido to check these notes, which they found perfectly correct.
A Ring for Mother
In my opinion, there is little doubt that we have here an unusually well-witnessed example of spontaneous telepathic communication. The odds against chance can hardly be calculated, but I suppose they would be extremely high.
Let me now try to reflect on the psychological setting. As I have pointed out, Luisa and Guido were engaged to be married, and very much in love. Their engagement, however was still unofficial,. owing to their youth, and to the fact that Guido had not reached a convenient social and financial position. Luisa was very eager to become formally engaged to Guido, and looked forward to the day when he would present her with an engagement ring.
Luisa’s father had died when she was still an infant. She was brought up by her mother, and was also cared for by her mother’s three sisters. No prominent male figure had any role in her childhood. Her mother remarried in 1951, when Luisa was eleven years old.
In psychoanalytic terms, it is quite obvious that her Oedipus complex was very little elaborated.
Luisa still had strong enthusiasms and passive-masochistic fantasies about outstanding adult men (among others, a famous Italian actor, very well known as a handsome and unscrupulous “wolf”). Of these enthusiasms and fantasies she spoke, of course, in an outspoken, jocular way.
Luisa also showed ambivalent attitudes toward her own mother and other maternal figures. These included her prospective mother-in law, whom she hardly knew and whom she refused to meet socially. She was consciously jealous of Guido’s attachment to, and respect for, his mother.
The fact of Guido’s trip was known to Luisa. She also knew that he would visit the International Fair. Possibly, she expected that Guido would bring her a presentwhich he actually did. However, the present he bought for Luisa was not a ring; it was a pair of earrings. Probably owing to some residual Oedipal attachments of his own, Guido actually selected a ring for his mother, but not for Luisa! One might say that, being emotionally attached to two women at the same time, Guido showed a meaningful preference for his mother, buying her a ring; whereas he selected for Luisa a nice, but much less significant, ornament.
He probably had no intention of concealing from Luisa the fact that he had bought a ring for his mother. However, at this point we might say that the psychological situation of Luisa and Guido presented a very typical “dove-tailing,” due to the interweaving of their own patterns of relation. The idea of the ring had become the focus of the relation itself, whereas distance, and psychological obstacles, prevented it from becoming the actual object of a conscious interpersonal communication.
Through telepathy, then, these obstacles were somehow overthrown. Through telepathy, Luisa was able to establish a temporary syntony between herself and Guido, and to merge into a configuration à deux-better still, into ai unconscious, unitarian psychic world which comprised them both.
She was thus able to express in a dream her unsurmounted rivalry toward a motherly figure, and, possibly, a retrospective hostility related to the fact that her own mother, and not she, had been the subject of an experience involving engagement and marriage. She was also able to tell her mother, and then Guido, that she was “informed” of what had been going on, of Guido’s “preference” for his mother, and of the “wrong” he had thus done to his sweetheart. In fact, Luisa did tell Guido of the occurrence before he could even mention it, as if the wanted to let him know that he could not evade the issue, even had he wanted to.
In addition to these considerations, a remark could be made about the unconscious meaning of the ring, and its importance in this occurrene. It is well known to psychoanalysts that the ring is a feminine symbol, and that the mutual exchange of rings in wedding, and the passing of a finger through a ring, have an obvious sexual meaning. The idea of the ring was, therefore, charged with the usual sexual emotions, with Luisa’s unsolved Oedipal claims, and with the particular, actual significance it had assumed in the relations between Luisa and Guido.
One is reminded here of what Sigmund Freud wrote since 1922 about the opportunity of looking for telepathic factors in the latent as well as in the manifest content of a dream. In the telepathic dream considered here, the manifest content is directly related to deeper emotional content. This has found a suitable expression in a symbol, which in this case has also a practical, conscious value.
This episode seems to give further support to a trend of research begun before the last war with some contributions by Freud, Istvan Hollos and myself, and which has been pursued in recent years by other psychologists and psychoanalysts who have shown interest in psi phenomena; among them Jan Ehrenwald, Jule Eisenbud, and Nandor Fodor.
The main theme of this research could be summarized this way: spontaneous phenomena involving extra-sensory perception are much less “spontaneous” than one might have thought, say, thirty years ago; so much so, that in several cases it has been possible to ascertain that ESP was “conditioned” if not actually provoked by the fact that the subjects of the experience had been involved in a very definite pattern of inter-personal relations.
This “conditioning” has been observed more than once by several researchers within the limits of situations which concern analyst and patient; that is, under conditions which are particularly suitable to a detailed evaluation of psychological nuances and unconscious emotional premises belonging to a dual relationship.
In a paper which I presented to the International Psycho-Analytical Congress at Geneva in July 1955, I developed the idea that the main features of such “conditioning”-what we call, in psychoanalytic terms, a “transference-countertransference relationship”- should not be considered as being restricted to the analytical situation.
In my opinion, analytical transference-countertransference relations reveal conditions that are, to use Freud’s terms, “a universal phenomenon of the human mind,” phenomenon which “in fact domnates the whole of each person’s relations to his human environrjent.” My idea is that the preconditions of a “spontaneous” psychic phenomenon in interpersonal relations should be the following:
(1) a general emotional link between the two or more people involved;
(2) the occurrence of an experience, or event, which would be of importance for them;
(3) a “dove-tailing” of their motions;
(4) a state of impaired awareness in one or more of the participants (such as sleep, trance, hypnoid states), or in different terms, what Ehrenwald has called a “minus function” in the personality;
(5) the experience of physical or psychological obstacles which prevent more progressive means of communication: that is, a frustration of some kind;
(6) conversely, the feeling that these obstacles should be overcome, and that communication is needed.
If such conditions are present, we may expect a re-establishment of what, according to Freud, may have been “the original archaic method by which individuals understood one another, and which has been pushed into the background in the course of phylogenetic development by the better method of communication by means of signs apprehended by the sense organs.”
In the episode which I have reported, all these conditions were fulfilled. The episode is, however, one of the very few extra-analytical Psi occurrences which could be investigated using a depth-psychological approach-to an extent seldom possible or convenient. In my opinion, researchers should try to use this approach with many more spontaneous phenomena, in order to ascertain, as far as possible, whether the hypotheses I have outlined are more generally valid.
Proceeding along these lines, we may get closer to the day when, to use Ehrenwald’s words, it will be possible to predict the occurrence of such phenomena “with the same degree of probability with which an experienced psychiatrist can predict the emergence of a particular type of dream, the reactivation of a delusional trend or of an anxiety sympton in his patients.”
Psychology of the Sensitive
Anyone may have remarked that my considerations on the psychological aspect of spontaneous phenomena have, so far, been unilateral-a fact which, of course, I fully acknowledge. I have limited my observations to telepathy, and I have so far neglected, in this very field, to examine the problem from a more individualized angle; I have not considered the psychological features of men and women who have been more or less frequently the subjects of similar phenomena (particularly, sensitive subjects, trance mediums, or other exceptional individuals).
There is no doubt that a psychological, personalized study of such people, such as has already been attempted or planned on several occasions is promising and should give significant results. If my main assumptions are well-founded, we may expect that such people should present an unusual psychological disposition to relinquish their own “singleness,” as pertaining to the conscious level of their personalities, in favor of a submersion into a less-individualized, or a non-individualized, unconscious psychic world. In more usually accepted psychological terms, they should belong to the unstable-dissociative personality-type.
It is interesting to cite here the report by W. D. Rasch at the International Conference of Parapsychological Studies in Utrecht, 1953. In his paper on “The Psychodiagnostic Examination of the Mediumistically Gifted,” those people who were thought to have presented the soundest evidence as subjects of spontaneous cases were classified in the unstabledissociative group. The sensitive subjects examined “showed them-selves to be predominantly lively, extraverted, reproductive and affect-unstable personalities.”
The process, which I have defined as a submersion into a lessindividualized, or a non-individualized, unconscious psychic world, has been described from many different viewpoints by researchers belonging to various psychological schools of thought, and it has been considered at various levels of profundity.
The phenomena of “empathy” in Harry Stack Sullivan’s sense; of “regression and identification” in Freudian psychology; of “participation mystique” which the French philosopher Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857-1939) expressed in La Mentalité Primitive (1922) of a “community of all that is living,” and direct participation with it, in Ernst Cassirer’s description-all these refer to deindividualization, to more or less spontaneous attempts to eliminate distances, to fill gaps, to reunite the self with the whole.
I am quite aware that I am now moving into a field of speculation which goes beyond the boundaries of the scientific psychological realm. Nevertheless, I think that we cannot completely avoid such extrapolations once we start examining Psi phenomena. And I am certainly not ashamed to align myself in these speculations-though preserving my purely naturalistic approach-with people like F. W. H. Myers or C. G. Jung.
Dr. Ehrenwald has given a tentative outline of a psychologically broaded conception of human personality [See TOMORROW, Spring 1955, condensation of New Dimensions of Deep Analysis] indicating that the latter may be thought of as functioning at three different levels-the Ego, the Id and the Psi levels.
I fully subscribe to his main contentions: that there should be no strict demarcation between the unconscious level in the Freudian sense (the Id), and the Psi level; that post-Freudian conceptions, such as some of Jung’s elaborations, give us a more balanced picture of the unconscious, considered as “the soil from which all the creative forces of the mind have evolved”; and that “psi can be conceived of as occupying an ‘interpersonal’ field, like gravitational forces are thought to be occupying the gravitational field.”
The areas of “tension” on the psi level as Ehrenwald sees it, “are not confined to individual ‘selves.’ They cut across the boundary lines of strictly isolated and detached personality units, much in the same way as they transgress the conventional categories of time and space. Nor do we have to assume that there exists anything like empty psychological ‘space’ between person and person.”
It would be very tempting to consider more spontaneous phenomena, and to try to evaluate their psychological features along the lines which, in my opinion, have proved to be of value when we deal with telepathy. Spontaneous clairvoyance, and precognition, would come under our scrutiny. They might be followed by an examination of psycho-kinesis, telepathic phenomena, apparitions, and poltergeist.
However, I personally have very little direct experience of these occurrences. Such working concepts as the idea of regressive attempts towards communication, implying a descent into a spaceless, timeless and ‘unconscious psycho-physiological world, might well be applied to them also. In several phenomena, aside from telepathy, the subject of the experience seems to fluctuate between the categories of objectual (paranormal) “knowledge” and subjectual (paranormal) “coexistence” and “identification.”
In psychometric clairvoyance, the sensitive subject partly describes, partly actually acts out his experience. In clairvoyant automatic writing, or in clairvoyant trance, the subject often feels as if he were part and parcel of the events, to the point of impersonating someone and saying “I am he” -to the point even of establishing an identification with an inanimate object!
As a subject of an experience of a similar order, Aldous Huxley writes [TOMORROW, Spring 1954, excerpts from Doors of Perception] that his mind “was primarily concerned, not with measures and locations, but with being and meaning.” He also writes that his “actual experience had been, was still of an indefinite duration or alternatively of a perpetual present made up of one continually changing apocalypse.”
Here our discussion of the psychology of spontaneous phenomena may come to a provisional stop. In fact, I am little inclined to speculate about phenomena that I could not so far bring into a field of observation which would allow remarks and reconstructions more or less similar to those with which I have started this article. It may possibly be of heuristic value to proceed using general concepts such as communication, regressive communion of thoughts, and Mind at Large. They might give us the courage, from a certain point onwards, to overstep the limits which divide what we are accustomed to call the psychological and the somatic levels, or even the limits that separate the organic from the inorganic state of existence. Thus, we may find a better frame of reference for the comprehension of spontaneous psycho-somatic, psycho-plastic and psycho-kinetic occurrences.