Oct 05, 2011 I Micah Hanks

The Art of Thoughtography: Creating Visual Impressions with the Mind

The mind is perhaps the most wonderful, mysterious element to our human existence. Like a disembodied cosmic centrifuge, its workings dictate not only our actions, attitudes, and interaction with others, spreading our intentions and ideas throughout the world around us, but also functions a great deal in terms of shaping our very reality on an individual basis.

From within its many mysterious alcoves, subtle hints at even greater hidden powers that may exist within the mind have can be glimpsed as well. For centuries, psychics and mentalists have claimed to be able to access some of these clandestine abilities; a few individuals even claim to be able close their eyes, focus on a particular event or occurrence in their lives, and manifest aspects of it physically.

This sort of thought-projection can occur in a variety of ways. In the Hindu tradition, the notion of a tulpa involves physical manifestations--even supernatural beings--whose manifestation erupts from the intense, focused meditation of the yogi initiate. However, another attempt at manifesting the thoughts of others had its genesis a little further East during the early part of the twentieth century. In 1910, Tokyo University psychology Professor Tomokichi Fukarai began an odd series of experiments with various women claiming to have clairvoyant abilities, in which attempts were made at recording their mental images directly onto film. The first of these women (barring a series of failed experiments with an earlier subject) was Ikuko Nagao, and the two undertook attempts at developing what Fukarai called nensha, meaning "spirit photography."

Poor Nagao's fate would end up turning for the worst, however. Soon after she and the Professor had undertaken their experiments, she began to develop a fever, which would eventually take her life. It was speculated at the time that pressure from the skeptical public, among which were a number of individuals accusing her of being a fraud, may have contributed to her declining health. Nonetheless, with her passage, Tomokichi remained vigilant in his belief that direct transfer of thought onto film could be achieved; within a few months, he had begun to seek other psychics by whom his work might be supplemented. By 1913, he had become acquainted with psychics Sadako Takahashi and Mita Koichi, which resulted in the publication of a book detailing his findings, titled simply Clairvoyance and Thoughtography.

In years since, a number of other alleged "thoughtographers" have come and gone, among them famous mentalist Uri Gellar, who claimed to have procured his unique achievements by pressing the lens of a camera, with cap closed over the aperture, against his forehead and "projecting" the images forth onto the film within the camera (and of course, Gellar's claims, admittedly rather outrageous, were decried profusely by skeptics).

Is it indeed possible to project “images” that stem solely from within the mind onto the photographic medium? If so, how exactly might this occur? One theory put forth by researcher John Joe McFadden of the University of Surrey, UK, deals with the idea that consciousness itself may in fact exist within an electromagnetic field produced by the brain. Sense traditional film cameras work by allowing light through an aperture onto photosensitive paper, and light is one portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, the notion that electromagnetism may have something to do with such claims--especially in terms of conscious thought projections being focused and imprinted onto film--might at least garner some consideration, though speculation along these lines still does little to explain exactly how it might occur.

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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