Portrait of Eugene Osty

Eugene Osty (1874-1938)

French doctor and Director of the Institut Métapsychique International from 1924 until 1938. He organised, animated and supervised experiments, in particular with Jean Guzik, then with Rudi Schneider. Osty undertook his experiments in a purely scientific manner, rejecting both the popular but dogmatic views of orthodox science and also the uncritical attitude of spiritualism. He wrote his widely known book Supernormal Faculties in Man in 1923.

Errors Originating with the Experimenter

 - Eugene Osty -

           WHETHER THE experimenter himself be the person cognized, or whether he be supplementary to the mental couple who generate the metagnomic* output, he may intervene as a disturbing factor in many ways; all, however, due to imperfect knowledge of the faculty he is using and consequent inability to use the percipients in the right manner. Ignorance of the general determining sequences of metagnomic phenomena will lead to error and he will not know how to protect percipients from it. The experimenter incites to error if he does not thoroughly know the sensitives he is employing.

* 'Metagnomic' is a French word for awareness beyond normal knowledge, similar to the term 'psychic' - webmaster.

Metagnomic subjects are persons adapted to live the ordinary life. They have brains fitted to normal thought; their paranormal mental work, though exercisable at will, is nevertheless an accident in their daily life even though often repeated. This simultaneous normal and supernormal life renders such subjects much more difficult to use satisfactorily than one would think.

In order to secure good output it is necessary to know both the mental processes common to all of them, the causes of the information received, and the psychological peculiarities of each sensitive employed. There are no two alike. The experimenter must know and adapt himself to the mental habits, the defects, and the possibilities of each.

Metagnomy is vitiated by asking from subjects what they are not able to give. Because a percipient has shown ability to perceive the future of a human being there are those who will ask for the future of a nation, the chances and the issue of a war, the future price of stocks and so on. Because a sensitive shows knowledge that does not come through the normal senses there are those who will ask for information beyond this life. Such demands give rise to romances elaborated in the subconscious mind of the sensitive or reflected in it.

The metagnomic faculty of a sensitive may also be vitiated by asking under unfavourable conditions for what it can produce when conditions are good. Error is produced in this way when a subject is made to hold public séances, or even private séances at which several persons are present. Very few percipients can accommodate themselves to this condition. Similarly error is produced by asking a sensitive whose faculty only extends to delineating a person there present, for details on those distant in space or time, contact with some intermediary object not being a stimulus to him. Error will result if a subject with spiritualist proclivities is opposed in his appeals to the inspiring personification - the guide; or by opposition to any of the modes habitually selected to induce the trance condition - laying the cards, contact and inspection of the hands, touch, and appearance of writing, etc.

Metagnomy is also vitiated when its working is interrupted by questions or exclamations whose tenor leads to mental representations of hallucinatory images caused by verbal suggestions, which he may mistake for metagnomic information. For instance, to say to a percipient, "I am thinking of taking a journey to Africa; shall I go?" is to arouse images of the sea-voyage, African landscape, and so on; and the subject is likely to think that what he sees is the representation of things to be.

A simple instance of error arising from the interference of an experimenter in metagnomic sequence is as follows:

In June, 1917, during one of the séances with reference to the disappearance of his son, M. Louis M. had from Mlle de Berly the prediction:

"...very shortly you will be asked to undertake the sale of a large forest area ... the matter will be spun out at first, but will afterwards be conducted with two men whom I clearly see coming to you; one a big fair man, and the other dark and thin... The matter will be decided quickly and settled at once to the satisfaction of the vendor.

"M. M., who had never before been asked to conduct a negotiation of this kind, was surprised, and then as soon as two buyers were mentioned, he thought at once of the brothers C― of Nevers, one of whom was a big man and the other slight in person, but both were dark. His mind being busy writing down the words of the sensitive he paid no attention to the colour of the hair named, and murmured - 'the brothers C―, no doubt.'"

Immediately Mlle de Berly resumed: "I see the two men you spoke of they live in a little town, at the water's edge ... the thin one became widower very soon, etc ..." (All details given were correct.)

The premonition then took the form to the mind of M. M.; he would unexpectedly be asked to undertake the sale of forest land, and that the buyers would be the brothers C― of Nevers.

The years 1917 and 1918 passed without any such proposal being made, but in 1919, M. Louis M. received from M. de D. a letter asking him to find a buyer for some woodlands in his neighbourhood, woods that he knew very well. M. M. advertised the matter.

The brothers C― of Nevers did not visit him, but asked to see the woods. They made an offer which was not accepted. Nothing more followed, and M. M. told me of the prediction true as to the beginning and false in sequel. But in April, 1920, two representatives of the firm G― of Paris came in an automobile, one big and fair, and the other dark and small. They visited the forest and bought it very soon after.

Finally, the metagnomic output may be falsified by unconscious alteration of the words of the sensitive whether by trusting to memory before writing them down or by attributing to them some particular meaning and paraphrasing them by words judged equivalent and clearer. If one does not take down the exact words of the subject, error will certainly be introduced in these phenomena which are already liable to so many forms of error.

To the errors which the experimenter may induce must be added those that he does not know how to guard against, but from which he might protect the sensitive if he were well-informed on the determinism of metagnomic production. To enter into this at length would be to repeat in brief what has already been analysed in previous chapters. I will here therefore mention that among the errors that can easily be avoided is error of direction: that is, when the subject perceives details concerning another person than that given for delineation. Knowledge of the function of an intermediary object will lead the experimenter to provide himself with some simple and unsuggestive datum by which to eliminate references to any person other than the proper objective. In seeking for traces of Mr. Lerasle (p. 104) I was able to eliminate the image of Louis M―, from whom I had received the neckerchief, and of the daughter-in-law of the missing man from whom he had received it, by knowledge that the person to be cognized was a very old man. Many errors of fabulation can be avoided in the same way.

The following is a curious instance how very easily error may arise and how a little knowledge of the event to be delineated may transform the mental working of the sensitive.

Passing through Bourges in the morning of January 10th, 1919 and on visiting my sister-in-law, Mlle F. G., a member of the American organization for help to refugees, I found great excitement in the Central Hotel where the offices of administration were installed on the ground floor. Between midnight and 8 a.m. the cupboard in the office had been opened by use of a tool whose traces were visible, and a metal box, containing 5000 francs in money and 2000 francs in cheques, had been stolen.

The French police suspected some employee of the hotel, thinking that the theft could only have been committed by someone in the house, and because on searching the servants' quarters they had found some packets of cigarettes of an uncommon American brand (these having come from the same cupboard a few days before, without its having been broken into), a ring, and a note for 1000 francs.

As I was leaving for Paris next day I thought this might be a good example for testing metagnomy. I cut about fifteen inches of a thin string stretched between two nails inside the cupboard. It was in these circumstances that I put the string into the hands of Mme Morel on January 12th, asking her: "See what was witnessed by this object on the night between the 9th and 10th of January."

"... I see a man, not very young, very grieved, anxious, and vexed not very tall, his hair is light and thin, rather fresh complexion... I see something shining over his eye..."

I then perceived that Mme Morel was referring to M. Louis M., for whose son she had held so many séances. I said: "No, that is not the person. I want to know what happened on the night of the 9-10th January in the room where I took this thing."

"... Ah! I see a terrible drama ... a death passes before me someone asphyxiated and stifled ... I see a person whose eyes are closed he does not breathe ... he is dead ... it is not a voluntary death, sudden, not natural..."

The thin string suggested a vision of strangulation. If I had not known the matter in hand I should have let this fabulation develop, although I should have been much astonished that so thin a string could have served such a purpose. But acting on what I knew and to put the subject on the right track without giving any suggestive matter, and to avoid any further objectless mental working, I said: "I took this string from a cupboard where there has been a theft. See the scene of the theft."

" ... Yes, I see a cupboard... It has been forced ... I see two persons like two shadows ... they are not strangers to the room, they know it... They do not go back into the house by the door ... I do not see them go in ... they are in the house...

"They go out by an opening, close by the cupboard ... it is a large opening, a window. It is in the morning, it is not yet daylight ... the cupboard was forced in order to steal... Papers and money have been taken... He who did the active part is a man with light chestnut hair, dark eyes, irregular features, a square and rather flat face; his clothing is like unbleached serge ... he seems to have a long cloak of the same colour... The other does not move, so to speak ... he is quite young, or seems quite young, a mere youth, looks cunning. He has a subordinate part; he touches nothing..."

On January 15th the American police, warned about the theft, took up the affair. They arrested a young American chauffeur, J―, aged seventeen, who had disappeared with his car a few days before, some days later they issued a warrant against an American, Captain S., the suspected thief. He was arrested at Brest at the end of January.

In June, 1919, an American court-martial tried both men at Never, Captain S. was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for the theft at Bourges. According to the evidence he had passed most of the night enjoying himself in the hotel, and must have gone into the office about 3 a.m., forced the cupboard, and left by the window, which was found partly open by the night porter, at daybreak.

The chauffeur, J―, was acquitted of the theft, but had to avow that on the morning of the 11th he had taken Captain S. to Paris and had received 1000 francs for so doing.

The physical characteristics of these two men were as given by Mm. Morel.

It was stated in evidence that Captain S. was assiduous in attendance at the American Red Cross. No one would have thought of suspecting him. When Mlle G. received the account of the séance on January 14th she held the visions of the sensitive to be an error.

Here, then, is a séance which began with imaginary matter and ended with exact cognizance of an event, because I was able to give a slight indication enabling the subject to perceive the facts by a clue leading to the source of transcendental cognition.

If an experimenter does not wish to give passive encouragement to error he should avoid working on the entirely unknown and acquire some datum which, without leading him to any knowledge of the end to be reached, will give him a clue whether the sensitive is making a good or a bad start.

To let a sensitive go on with verified error, or not to place oneself in a position to guard against it, is to show ignorance of the psychology of percipients and will always result in inferior output.

It is unnecessary to do more than allude passim to fraud. This can take but two forms - conscious fabulation, or previous collection of information.

Nothing is easier than to keep the sensitive in absolute ignorance of the objects given for their cognizance. As to romances that they might consciously invent, such are for practical purposes, the same as error and could not deceive.

Among all the phenomena of Metapsychics*, these, subjective in their origin, furnish the best evidence and the most convincing proof of the reality of metapsychic faculty. The words of the sensitive are objectified in writing and verified by comparison with the realities to which they refer. There is no room for that doubt with which ectoplasmic phenomena and those of movement without contact are received by different minds despite all the means of registration devised to convince of their reality.

* Metapsychics, from the French métapsychiques, was invented by Charles Richet and is sometimes used as a synonym for psychical research - webmaster.

Will it now be understood, after this review of causes of error, under what difficult conditions professional metagnomic subjects work, given over to their own mentalities and worked upon by all kinds of ignorant curiosity.

It is among professionals, however, that I have found the best subjects. Apparently, persistent use gives their faculty all the development of which it is capable to a growing number of personalities.

By reason of the defective conditions under which they work, they are of necessity liable to many errors, yet their faculty becomes more acute by use, and they can furnish abundant supernormal knowledge of a quality such as to compel conviction in anyone who will submit his own personality to delineation by three or four good sensitives.

All the various kinds of error considered one by one above, and correlated with their causes, are mingled and combined in practice. One subject may fabulate because he is working on a personality that does not much influence him, and because the experimenter insists on pressing him.

So numerous are the causes of error in the practice of metagnomy in which several functional planes of two or more psychisms are in simultaneous activity, that it would be marvellous that any impeccable metagnomic subject should be found. Metagnomy is a human faculty and therefore always imperfect, sometimes much more so, sometimes less.

With some excellent percipients available to-day, error is generally restricted to details of a life, and to the circumstances representing the episodes of its course. It is rare that they do not give correctly the general course of a life in a first séance, unless there should be some irreducible psycho-physical disharmony with the personality to be cognized.

Moreover, with well-endowed subjects, errors usually last a very short time. The human personality that serves as objective presents itself at each successive séance slightly changed by its senses and by other unknown means as the stream of its life flows on. That which has been learned by the means called "normal" and by those that are hidden, brings it about that earlier errors are rectified and are replaced by knowledge conformable to facts, even when that knowledge deals with a future just as inaccessible to conscious thought in the second as in the first case.

The reader will now understand how essential the study of errors is to a comprehension of metagnomy. It confirms what experimental practice suggests as to the means of producing uncontaminated metagnomic output. Seen as a whole, metagnomic cognition is an occult collaboration between two or more human beings which is stimulated when one is presented to the other for delineation.

The nature of the collaboration and how it is effected is still to be discovered. But the first step to that end is to verify the existence and the various modes of the faculty. This is the purpose of the present work.


The above article was taken from Eugene Osty's "Supernormal Faculties in Man" (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1923).


Related articles

Introduction to the Practical Study of Mediumship: Gustave Geley
The Possibility of Deception in Psychical Research
: Hans Driesch
Precautions in Experiment
: Hans Driesch
Test Conditions that Affect Performance
: Duke experimenters (Rhine, Pratt, etc)
Mediums and Metapsychics
: Charles Richet

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