Telepathy—Prophetic Visions

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Telepathy—Prophetic Visions


transcription of Ms. 1937, Max Nettlau Papers, IISH



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Max Nettlau Papers, Ms. 1937



It is obvious that no mechanical apparatus which may be invented, can produce anything essentially different from what exists already, effectively or potentially, in nature. From this we can infer that it is not impossible to see the most wonderful effects of artificial mechanism occurring also in quite an unsuspected way in animated being. Seeing how e. g. the nutritive organs of the most insignificant animals or plants can equal the effect of the most complicated chemical appliances,—of how the organs for locomotion, flying, etc. are superior to what mechanics can achieve until now, it is quite possible to suppose that phenomena like the penetrating x-rays and the wireless telegraph have their counterparts in animated beings—only the fact must be proved.—

On the other hand nothing warrants us to admit the possibility of facts which to the ordinary and scientific experience and reasoning of all times do not exist—such as upsetting our notions of time (which prophetic visions would require), the assumption of the existence of ghosts or spirits (which presume the existence of something not-material), etc.

Consequently if such phenomena are proved to exist, they must first be examined in view of their explanations according to the physical laws of which we have some experience.


I will limit myself here to telepathy and prophetic visions, presuming that of these sufficient evidence exists and shall try to sketch my conception of their origin and real character.


Before all I think that the fact that persons see things [using the word see for sake of shortness for : “are under the impression that they see”] is of secondary importance; it may have grown from a habit proper to those persons. We can all, with eyes open or closed, picture to ourselves any shape whatever standing before us, just as we like, at will. This conscious act may develop into an unconscious habit, occurring automatically—just as persons hearing this or that word may imagine, involuntarily, that they feel joy or terror or a certain smell, etc., all from habit.

Thus the essential fact of telepathy and visions is to me that an idea is suddenly sprung upon the brain—the fact of its apparent visualization is quite immaterial and secondary.


Telegraphing consists simply in sending an electric current through the best conductive medium that is should not deviate and lose itself, but reach the apparatus at the other end. All the means devised to use this current intermittently to transmit words are of course artificial contrivances which can have no counterpart in nature. Presuming then that a person in distress or excitement sends out an extraordinary stray current, this current may get lost in an infinite number of cases through mechanical abstractions (as actually happens)—and in a few instances it may reach the corresponding apparatus, viz. the brain of a person more or less closely associated;—here it would simply produce a shock at the corresponding fibers and the person in question would be suddenly recalled to memory: that is all. This is quite identical with the fact that we suddenly remember of this or that, from similar influence at a distance, possible, in some cases.

All the rest is done by ourselves: in most cases it will be but a passing thought, in some cases when we had previous anxiety on the subject (e.g. a sea voyage or a war) we may at once associate the person recalled suddenly to our memory with drowning or death in battle, etc.—and in cases where, unconsciously perhaps, the habit of exteriorizing sensations was acquired, we may see the person before us in dripping clothes or wounded mortally.

I believe thus that besides the shock, recalling a person to our memory, nothing else is transmitted at a distance.—The existing evidence ought to be [5] examined in this respect.


On prophetic visions I look in this way: as just set forth, the fact that something is seen appears to me secondary and the result of habit. There remains the apparent conception of something not yet existing—and this appears to me a wide field embracing things of quite different characters, which the secondary and accessory fact that the particular person sees them all, apparently makes identical but which must be separated as being of different origins.

Besides this as visions occur to so few people, the possibility of accident, chance, must be admitted as an element of explanation in many instance—whilst the fact that the same person has many visions may also mean that many things which other persons would keep separate are reckoned by the particular person under the head of visions.—

I divide the possible visions in the follow groups which occur to me now but which are certainly by no means complete and embracing all: [6]

(a) the person thinks energetically (though maybe unconsciously) of something—the energy being shown by the fact that with herself the thing takes the form of a vision;

this acts like a posthypnotic suggestion on the person concerned who may, just then, be in a state of passiveness, apt to undergo the suggestion coming from a distance.—In an infinite number of cases we also think of things which might occur [“I wish so and so would do this…”] but do not—because the persons of whom we thought to too strong at that moment for our influence. We succeed but in very few cases when, as the we see only then, shows, we may be particularly strong ourselves just then. (This may explain the doctor with the straw hat and his particular remark.).—s

         (third parties, so to speak]

(b) Some facts exist and they co on their way and occur—and we also think them out for ourselves and arrive at the same conclusion than [7] what actually happens some time later. This is what we practically do always, all our time—we always see ahead a short distance what the effect of our actions will be.—We arrive at such conclusions sometimes slowly, sometimes—when part of the reasoning process was unconscious, that it, so to speak happening in the background of our memory whilst we had a more pressing subject on hand,—sometimes, then, apparently quite suddenly.

(Thus we all read of the situation in Armenia; some consciously reasoned out this question and arrived at the conclusion that the existing factors were such and such and the matter only end, for the time, in outbursts and probably massacres;—others may have been suddenly struck with the idea that the unfortunate situation would end in massacres—and others finally, by habit, saw these massacres in the form of visions.—Thus visions of this kind would only be logic[al] conclusions from existing and known materials.)— [8]

(c) The so-called double occurrence of rare events, the mechanical fact that I notice an obsolete word today for the fist time and may find it again two or three days afterwards—and never before and scarcely ever afterwards—is in reality an illusion, a fact of no importance, an accident: it strikes us, whilst we pay no attention to the infinitely greater number of unique occurrences and to the equally large number of frequent repetitions (to use this general term.) But might not visions and their apparent realization be, in many cases, similar illusions? We think of so many things and some of them seem to happen really afterwards—we are apt to lay stress on this and not to think of the infinitely larger number of facts unexpected to us?

Again the apparent remembrance of things when they occur first, ascribed to the brain—this may occur to people so forcibly that they are sure to have had a vision before the moment they see the real thing.— [9]

Thus I conclude that there is something of almost every normal process of thinking in visions and if would be interesting for their study to keep them asunder.

I know that this does not quite embrace the case of e.g. an unknown face being seen and exactly the same face being met with some days later. This instance might fall under (c),—a striking face being imagined—and another striking face being seen and both being later on unconsciously assimilated under the suggestive influence of the conviction of the reality of visions. This class of visions requires the most acute observation—and to me the above sketched ways of explanation which remain entirely within the limits of mechanical experience and possibilities, are sufficient to suggest an approximate understanding of such phenomena as I have presumed to [10] have occurred in the beginning of these lines.

M. N.


[11] telepathy—prophetic visions


December 6, 1901


Written for Mrs. G. G. Schack and her theosophist acquaintances [Gertrud Guillaume-Schack]





Nettlau, Max, 1865-1944, “Telepathy—Prophetic Visions,” The Libertarian Labyrinth, accessed October 14, 2019,