At last we are given a detailed and fully documented account of an experiment in telepathy of the highest evidential value and of a unique character, whose publication in book form has been eagerly awaited. (1) The standing and reputation of the persons concerned and the unusual nature of the case prohibit any suggestion of exaggeration or collusion, and "accidental" coincidence cannot possibly be strained to cover the mass of documented facts presented.
Sir Hubert Wilkins is the well known aviator and Arctic and Antarctic explorer who has taken part in ten Polar expeditions, commanding six of them; he holds the Military Cross of the British Empire and has been honored by leading scientific societies throughout the world. Mr. Harold M. Sherman is a successful author and scenario writer, now living at Hollywood. Both have long been interested in the possibilities of telepathy as a human faculty which might be developed in qualified persons and employed for human welfare.
Sir Hubert volunteered to conduct the perilous search by airplane during the winter of 1937-8 for the Russian aviators who were lost in their attempt to fly from Moscow to the United States across the Arctic Ocean. The story of his adventurous flights makes thrilling reading, but the main object of his portion of the book is to relate with scientific precision his efforts during the six months spent in the Arctic to report his doings by thought-transference to Mr. Sherman in New York. Mr. Sherman describes his experiences at the receiving end of the thought line, and the result is truly remarkable. A regular hour was set, three times a week, for Mr. Sherman to receive the communications, and it was religiously adhered to by him in spite of almost overwhelming difficulties, including severe sickness at times. Communication with Sir Hubert was kept up by mail when possible, but Mr. Sherman very rarely knew by that method in what part of the immense Arctic territory Sir Hubert might be exploring, though he was usually able to follow his movements day by day through the telepathic communications.
Thoughts Through Space is divided into three parts, the first being by Sir Hubert Wilkins, introducing the subject and presenting his side of the telepathic experiment to prove the possibility of regular communication between two persons at great distances. His descriptions of the preparations in Alaska for the search and of the flights themselves are so detailed that the reader can see for himself that Mr. Sherman could not normally have guessed the minute technical details which he saw at times telepathically, still less the exact times when various events took place; he has never been to the Arctic and is not technically familiar with airplanes.
The second part of the book contains Mr. Sherman's story as receiver of the communications, and his profound analysis of telepathy in general and of his own experiences. The third part is a complete record in parallel columns of the messages and thoughts as sent by Sir Hubert and as received by Mr. Sherman.
Immediately upon receipt of a telepathic impression, Mr. Sherman mailed a record to Mr. Samuel Emery of the City Club of New York, and another to Dr. Gardner Murphy, psychologist of Columbia University, who filed them for future comparison with Sir Hubert's notes and recollections, each with its postmark.
Sir Hubert had arranged to communicate by radio with the New York Times, but as Mr. Reginald Iversen, chief operator for that paper, writes, from October 1937 to March 1938 the intended schedule was almost completely disrupted by magnetic and sun-spot disturbances, and "Mr. Sherman had actually more accurate telepathic knowledge of what was happening to Wilkins in his search for the Russian fliers than I was able to gain in my ineffective attempts to keep in touch by short-wave radio." Only 13 successful radio contacts with the Arctic were made and Mr. Sherman did not hear of these until he had received and recorded his telepathic communications which always came first. We can leave it to the readers to study the detailed record with the assurance that they will agree that telepathy is the only sensible way to explain the facts.
Mr. Sherman's comments are worth careful reading. At first he had healthy doubts about success, but being determined to put the matter to the most complete test he wrote down all the impressions, mental or pictorial, that he received, quite improbable as some of them seemed. This was fortunate, for otherwise much valuable evidence would have been lost.
When the first receptions were found by Sir Hubert to be accurate in the main, Mr. Sherman was puzzled by finding that he had not only received communications consciously directed to him from the Arctic but also information about other events that had happened to Sir Hubert during the day, and even the intensive thoughts " about plans which only Sir Hubert knew. Writing to Mr. Sherman about this Sir Hubert says: ". . . You evidently have picked up quite a lot of thought forms. Strong thoughts emitted during the day, and some of which I would, if I had had time, have tried to pass on to you at night. . . . for I believe that the thought form does not necessarily fade with its first "spread," but keeps revolving in our atmosphere so that a sensitive mind may pick up the form some hours or even years after it has been emitted."
This is precisely the explanation that H. P. Blavatsky gives of certain communications received or images seen (but not all) apparently coming from the spirits of the departed, but which are really "hangovers" from strong thoughts or wishes thrown out before death. In connexion with the undirected thoughts received by Mr. Sherman he found that those with a strong emotional content were more likely to carry than cold-blooded numbers or symbols such as Dr. Rhine used in his experiments at Duke University, in which the preponderance of successes over failures was small, though sufficient to eliminate chance coincidence. Once when Sir Hubert Wilkins was flying under great tension Mr. Sherman actually saw an immense "lead" in the ice field which the aviator was carefully studying because it was quite unexpected. At the moment when a house was burning at Point Barrow he received a vivid impression of the event, and on another occasion when Sir Hubert was having trouble with one of the propellers he recorded that there was a difference between the pitch of the new propeller and that of the other though they ought to be the same. Sir Hubert remarks: "He saw the propeller in his mind's eye, and he might have recorded that fact alone — which in itself would have been remarkable — but he could not have seen the difference in the pitch of the propeller, because it was so slight that it could not have been noticed by the keenest eyesight. The difference in the pitch of the propellers could not be proved except by a delicate instrument or by a comparison of the fine markings on each, which were concealed beneath the hub. So to have known of my concern and discussion with the engineers about the pitch of the propellers, Sherman must have responded to the stimuli of either my thought or of our expressed words."
And Mr. Sherman was in New York while his friend was anxiously considering how to synchronize the motors of his two propellers at Atvalik, Alaska!
Still more paradoxical was the fact that on some occasions, again under conditions of anxiety or strain with Sir Hubert, Mr. Sherman had a "preview" or prevision of an accident which was hanging over but had not yet been precipitated. On January 27th, 1938 he recorded an impression that a bad accident had happened to the crankcase of the plane. Sir Hubert reported later that on February 6th he had serious trouble with the crankcase, "main bearing of one engine ground to powder that day." On March 7th and 8th Mr. Sherman saw an accident to the tail of the plane when landing on a sharp ridge of hard snow, the detail being exactly what was to occur several thousand miles away three days later on March 11! Such incidents as these aroused many speculations about Time and the nature of human consciousness, and he asks if we can learn to contact marvelous realms of intelligence of which our normal consciousness is ignorant. Theosophy would certainly answer, yes, but as Mr. Sherman himself says only "after we learn how to delve into the almost frightening and certainly awe-inspiring depths of our own selves." He believes, truly, that this knowledge of man's inner self "will do more eventually to bring about the centuries-old dream of universal brotherhood than any other intelligent force." His telepathic experiences convinced him that man possesses at least two forms of consciousness which he calls the "conscious" and the "subconscious" and that to obtain the best results the recipient must liberate the "subconscious" (which conveys the information to the "conscious mind') from extraneous impressions from the conscious mind. He must above all be free from hates, prejudices, fears and worries; and this applies to far higher matters than mere telepathic messages from another person. He speaks of "reinforcements" of strength and self-control arising from "the creative power within" when the destructive emotions have been overcome. He feels convinced that we are constantly creating our own future by the nature and character of our thought, projecting the inner self ahead of the conscious outer self, and attracting experiences which have lain in wait in response to our strong desires, ambitions or fears, and which transform themselves from a future possibility to a present fact. We might take this as a distinct reference to the law of karman under which we build the conditions of our future incarnations. On page 208 he speaks of the mind creating "in some mysterious way, the conditions and events with which the physical self is to become associated on this earthly plane, in future moments of time."
The addition of the strenuous work of controlling the restless mind to receive the communications — a technique he devised for himself — to the constant strain of an extremely active life with many anxieties, undermined Mr. Sherman's health so seriously that his life was threatened, and he warns all who do not possess a well-balanced nervous system against extensive experimentation in telepathy. He also mentions a peculiar and rather startling affection of his breathing during one of his reception periods which may serve as a corroboration of the warnings given to unprepared dabblers in the occult. All genuine Occult Teachers agree that ignorant interference with the subtil currents of prana in the body by means of breath control is very dangerous and is not countenanced in the higher yoga, or spiritual discipline. In regard to the facility with which telepathic communication is conducted between an adept and his chelas we must not forget that the latter have to pass through a severe training under a spiritual Teacher to become worthy of such an attainment.
But it is a different matter to study the cases of spontaneous telepathy which occur both in sleeping and waking, usually in regard to deaths or accidents. Thousands of records are available and nearly everyone has had a personal experience or knows some one who has. We can very profitably employ this weapon for breaking down the barriers which mechanistic science has raised against anything savoring of the occult. Telepathy is free from many of the objections brought against other forms of psychic research and a book like Thoughts Through Space is admirably qualified to attract the attention of critical minds. Researchers in the better-known fields of psychic phenomena such as clairvoyance, materialization and alleged communication with spirits, have been sickened by a mass of charlatanry and vulgar fraud that obscures the small nucleus of truth, but telepathy is by its very nature difficult to imitate and offers no financial reward to impostors. Judging by the animated controversy aroused by Dr. Rhine's academic experiments in telepathy at Duke University it may be that a sufficient number of scientists will insist before long that the official philosophers, psychologists, and physiologists in the universities take up its study as a duty, for they can hardly deny that an excellent prima facie case has been made out for it. Here is the open door into a field of study that may — the Theosophist would say, will — revolutionize the whole science of man, by proving the existence of uncharted human powers, astonishing in themselves and still more important because of the boundless prospect of spiritual evolution which they suggest. Dr. Rhine lately warned his scientific colleagues that telepathy must be faced as a fact in nature even though the (accepted scientific) heavens fall. His experiments (and of course thousands of observations by other persons) show that it obeys laws which are utterly unfamiliar and apparently impossible from our standpoint: perhaps we might say they border on the "spiritual" to use an ambiguous term in default of a better. For instance, ordinary radiation like that of light from a source, spreads out and weakens in intensity as its distance increases according to the well known law of inverse squares. But Dr. Rhine's laboratory experiments and the experiences of thousands of persons who have had telepathic communication by vision, or verbally, from friends about the time of death, show that the telepathic impressions are just as clear and strong at a thousand miles as they are at ten feet! Mr. Sherman saw many of the Alaskan events as vividly as though he were physically present, though only in flashes as a rule. In radio we use an amplifier to render the message audible, but it is not necessary in telepathy.
All this, of course, suggests that telepathy is on the borderland of subtil planes or states of being which we may properly call "occult," or inaccessible to normal sense perception; not "supernatural," which is a word without meaning. The occult has been accepted by the commonsense of the majority of mankind for thousands of years, but in modern times the scientists, believed by so many to be the arbiters of knowledge, have contemptuously ignored or condemned it without adequate study. On physical lines they gladly follow the smallest hint of new knowledge within their self-drawn boundary, and with incredible labor and marvelous devotion make world-shaking discoveries, but there they insist upon halting, oblivious of the fact that just beyond that borderline far more significant worlds are waiting to be conquered. Perhaps they feel a vague, indefinable dread that to win onward in that great quest they must "delve into the almost [?] frightening and certainly awe-inspiring depths of our own selves" as Mr. Sherman admirably expresses one of the profoundest teachings of the ancient God-Wisdom, Theosophy.
However that may be, this book, a dignified and sober presentation of a tentative approach toward things unseen but enduring, is well qualified to render first aid in serious cases of crude materialism.
1. Thoughts Through Space. By Sir Hubert Wilkins and Harold M. Sherman. Creative Age Press, New York. pp. 421. $4.50. (return to text)