Last updated
An alleged "thought photograph" obtained by Tomokichi Fukurai. Tomokichi Fukurai psychic photography.png
An alleged "thought photograph" obtained by Tomokichi Fukurai.

Thoughtography, also called projected thermography,psychic photography,nengraphy, and nensha(Japanese: 念写), is the claimed ability to "burn" images from one's mind onto surfaces such as photographic film by psychic means. [1] While the term "thoughtography" has been in the English lexicon since 1913, the more recent term "projected thermography" is a neologism popularized in the 2002 U.S. film The Ring , a remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film Ring . [2]



Thoughtography (also known as psychic photography) first emerged in the late 19th century due to the influence of spirit photography. [1] Thoughtography has no connection with Spiritualism, which distinguishes it from spirit photography. [3] One of the first books to mention "psychic photography" was the book The New Photography (1896) by Arthur Brunel Chatwood. In the book Chatwood described experiments where the "image of objects on the retina of the human eye might so affect it that a photograph could be produced by looking at a sensitive plate." [4] The book was criticized in a review in Nature . [5]

The psychical researcher Hereward Carrington in his book Modern Psychical Phenomena (1919) wrote that many psychic photographs were revealed to be fraudulent produced by substitution and manipulation of the plates, double-printing, double-exposure and chemical screens. However, Carrington also stated he believed some of the photographs to be genuine. [6] The term "thoughtography" was first introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century by Tomokichi Fukurai. [3]

Skeptics, among them professional photographers, consider psychic photographs to be faked or the result of flaws in the camera or film, exposures, film-processing errors, lens flares, flash reflections or chemical reactions. [7] [8] [9] [10]


Tomokichi Fukurai

Around 1910, during a period of interest in Spiritualism in Japan, Tomokichi Fukurai, an assistant professor of psychology at Tokyo University began pursuing parapsychology experiments using Chizuko Mifune, Ikuko Nagao, and others as subjects. Fukurai published results of experiments with Nagao that alleged she was capable of telepathically imprinting images on photo plates, which he called nensha. When journalists found irregularities, Nagao's credibility was attacked, and there was speculation that her later illness and death was caused by distress over criticism. [11] In 1913, Fukurai published Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. The book was criticized for a lack of scientific approach and his work disparaged by the university and his colleagues. Fukurai eventually resigned in 1913. [12]

Eva Carrière

Carriere with fake ectoplasm made from the French magazine Le Miroir. Eva C fake ectoplasm made from newspaper.gif
Carrière with fake ectoplasm made from the French magazine Le Miroir.

In the early 20th century the psychical researcher Albert von Schrenck-Notzing investigated the medium Eva Carrière and claimed her ectoplasm "materializations" were the result of "ideoplasty" in which the medium could form images onto ectoplasm from her mind. [13] Schrenck-Notzing published the book Phenomena of Materialisation (1923) which included photographs of the ectoplasm. Critics pointed out the photographs of the ectoplasm revealed marks of magazine cut-outs, pins and a piece of string. [14] Schrenck-Notzing admitted that on several occasions Carrière deceptively smuggled pins into the séance room. [14] The magician Carlos María de Heredia replicated the ectoplasm of Carrière using a comb, gauze and a handkerchief. [14]

Donald West wrote that the ectoplasm of Carrière was fake and was made of cut-out paper faces from newspapers and magazines on which fold marks could sometimes be seen from the photographs. A photograph of Carrière taken from the back of the ectoplasm face revealed it to be made from a magazine cut out with the letters "Le Miro". The two-dimensional face had been clipped from the French magazine Le Miroir. [15] Back issues of the magazine also matched some of Carrière's ectoplasm faces. [16] Cut out faces that she used included Woodrow Wilson, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, French president Raymond Poincaré and the actress Mona Delza. [8] :520

After Schrenck-Notzing discovered Carrière had taken her ectoplasm faces from the magazine he defended her by claiming she had read the magazine but her memory had recalled the images and they had materialized into the ectoplasm. [13] Schrenck-Notzing was described as credulous. [14] Joseph McCabe wrote "In Germany and Austria, Baron von Schrenck-Notzing is the laughing-stock of his medical colleagues." [17]

Ted Serios

In the 1960s, it was claimed that Chicago resident Ted Serios, a hotel bellhop in his late forties, used psychokinetic powers to produce images on Polaroid instant film. [18] Serios's psychic claims were bolstered by the endorsement of a Denver-based psychiatrist, Jule Eisenbud (1908–1999), who wrote a book, The World of Ted Serios: "Thoughtographic" Studies of an Extraordinary Mind (1967), arguing that Serios's purported psychic abilities were genuine. [19] However, professional photographers and skeptics found that Serios was employing simple sleight of hand. [20] [21]

Masuaki Kiyota

Masuaki Kiyota is a Japanese psychic who was claimed to possess psychokinetic powers. [22] [7] :198 Kiyota was tested by investigators in London by Granada Television and the results were negative. It was discovered that with tight controls, Kiyota was unable to project mental images onto film. He could only achieve success when he had the film in his possession without any control for at least 2 hours. [7] :198

According to magician and skeptic James Randi "Kiyota's Polaroid photos were apparently produced by preexposing the film, since it was noted that he made great efforts to obtain a film pack and spend time with it in private." [23] [24] In a 1984 television interview, Kiyota confessed to fraud. [25]

Uri Geller

In 1995, famed psychic Uri Geller began to use a 35 mm camera in his performances. The lens cap left on the camera, Geller would take pictures of his forehead and then have the pictures developed. Geller claimed that subsequent images had come directly from his mind. [10] :313 James Randi claimed Geller had performed the trick by using a "handheld optical device" or by taking photographs on already exposed film. [10] :313

Related Research Articles

James Randi Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic

James Randi was a Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic who extensively challenged paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. He was the co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi began his career as a magician under the stage name The Amazing Randi and later chose to devote most of his time to investigating paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims, which he collectively called "woo-woo". Randi retired from practicing magic at age 60, and from his foundation at 87.

Kirlian photography

Kirlian photography is a collection of photographic techniques used to capture the phenomenon of electrical coronal discharges. It is named after Semyon Kirlian, who, in 1939, accidentally discovered that if an object on a photographic plate is connected to a high-voltage source, an image is produced on the photographic plate. The technique has been variously known as "electrography", "electrophotography", "corona discharge photography" (CDP), "bioelectrography", "gas discharge visualization (GDV)", "electrophotonic imaging (EPI)", and, in Russian literature, "Kirlianography".

Uri Geller Israeli-British illusionist and self-proclaimed psychic

Uri Geller is an Israeli-British illusionist, magician, television personality, and self-proclaimed psychic. He is known for his trademark television performances of spoon bending and other illusions. Geller uses conjuring tricks to simulate the effects of psychokinesis and telepathy. Geller's career as an entertainer has spanned more than four decades, with television shows and appearances in many countries.

Charles Richet

Professor Charles Robert Richet was a French physiologist at the Collège de France known for his pioneering work in immunology. In 1913, he won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "in recognition of his work on anaphylaxis". Richet devoted many years to the study of paranormal and spiritualist phenomena, coining the term "ectoplasm". He also believed in the inferiority of blacks, was a proponent of eugenics and presided over the French Eugenics Society towards the end of his life. The Richet line of professorships of medical science would continue through his son Charles and his grandson Gabriel. Gabriel Richet was one of the great pioneers of European nephrology.

Materialization (paranormal) Alleged creation or appearance of matter from unknown sources

In spiritualism, paranormal literature and some religions, materialization is the creation or appearance of matter from unknown sources. The existence of materialization has not been confirmed by laboratory experiments. Numerous cases of fraudulent materialization demonstrations by mediums have been exposed.

Spoon bending

Spoon bending is the apparent deformation of objects, especially metal cutlery, either without physical force, or with less force than would normally seem necessary. It is a common form of stage magic, and a variety of methods are used to produce the illusion.

Nina Kulagina

Nina Kulagina, Ninel Sergeyevna Kulagina was a Russian woman who claimed to have psychic powers, particularly in psychokinesis. Academic research of her phenomenon was conducted in the USSR for the last 20 years of her life.

Mediumship Purportedly mediating communication between spirits of the dead and living human beings

Mediumship is the practice of purportedly mediating communication between spirits of the dead and living human beings. Practitioners are known as "mediums" or "spirit mediums". There are different types of mediumship or spirit channelling, including seánce tables, trance, and ouija.

Ted Serios

Theodore "Ted" Judd Serios was a Chicago bellhop known for his production of "thoughtographs" on Polaroid film. He claimed these were produced using psychic powers. Serios' psychic claims were bolstered by the endorsement of a Denver-based psychiatrist, Jule Eisenbud (1908–1999), who published a book named The World of Ted Serios: "Thoughtographic" Studies of an Extraordinary Mind (1967) arguing that Serios' purported psychic abilities were genuine. However, professional photographers and skeptics have argued that Serios and his photographs were fraudulent.

Spirit photography

Spirit photography is a type of photography whose primary attempt is to capture images of ghosts and other spiritual entities, especially in ghost hunting and has a strong history dating back to the late 19th century. During the 1850's photographers were experimenting with stereoscopic images and double exposure, both of which were completely new camera effects. It didn’t take photographers long to realize that they could use this ghostly camera effect for profit, and spirit photography really took off in the United States after the Civil War as many families longed to have some connection to their dead relatives. William Mumler was the main character behind the act of “capturing” the dead standing side by side with the living in photographs. Spirit photography became more and more popular as cameras became more common and easier to obtain. This increase in supposed evidence of spiritual encounters led many mediums, priests, and psychics to research the photos and study how they captured spirits. Though camera experts were widely fooled in the first trial of Mumler’s famed photos, skeptics and researchers soon began to discover the truth about double exposure when Mumler began to use more and more recognizable people as his ghosts. In 1869, Mumler moved from Boston to New York as people were beginning to see Mumler’s scam. He was arrested in New York and put on trial. Though prosecutors tried to show the jury how Mumler created his photographs by reusing an old negative of Abraham Lincoln and placing it in a new photograph, the jury was not convinced of the accusation that Mumler was a scammer and he was therefore acquitted. Peter Manseau argued that photographs were able to do things that would have been considered magic just a hundred years prior, so it seemed completely possible to many that Mumler could capture a spirit on camera that could not be seen with the naked eye. Among the people who were fooled by spirit photography was Arthur Conan Doyle, who was fascinated by spiritualism and would defend spiritualist photographers when they were outed as a fraud. By 1926 30 mediums claimed to have captured actual ghosts on camera.

Ghost hunting Investigating reportedly haunted locations for ghosts

Ghost hunting is the process of investigating locations that are reported to be haunted by ghosts. Typically, a ghost-hunting team will attempt to collect evidence supporting the existence of paranormal activity. Ghost hunters use a variety of electronic devices, including EMF meters, digital thermometers, both handheld and static digital video cameras, including thermographic and night vision cameras, as well as digital audio recorders. Other more traditional techniques are also used, such as conducting interviews and researching the history of allegedly haunted sites. Ghost hunters may also refer to themselves as "paranormal investigators."

Ectoplasm (paranormal) Substance in spiritualism

Ectoplasm is a term used in spiritualism to denote a substance or spiritual energy "exteriorized" by physical mediums. It was coined in 1894 by psychical researcher Charles Richet. Although the term is widespread in popular culture, the physical existence of ectoplasm is not accepted by science and many purported examples were exposed as hoaxes fashioned from cheesecloth, gauze or other natural substances.

Albert von Schrenck-Notzing

Albert Freiherr von Schrenck-Notzing was a German physician, psychiatrist and notable psychical researcher, who devoted his time to the study of paranormal events connected with mediumship, hypnotism and telepathy. He investigated Spiritualist mediums such as Willi Schneider, Rudi Schneider, and Valentine Dencausse. He is credited as the first forensic psychologist by Guinness World Records.

Rudi Schneider

Rudi Schneider, son of Josef Schneider and brother of Willi Schneider, was an Austrian Spiritualist and physical medium. His career was covered extensively by the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, and he took part in a number of notable experiments conducted by paranormal researchers/debunkers, including Harry Price, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing and Eric Dingwall. Some of these researchers declared him to be a fraud while others were unable to find evidence of trickery.

Eva Carrière

Eva Carrière, also known as Eva C, was a materialization medium in the early 20th century.

Gustav Geley was a French physician, psychical researcher and director of the Institute Metapsychique International from 1919 to 1924.

Psychokinesis Psychic ability allowing a person to influence a physical system without physical interaction

Psychokinesis, or telekinesis, is an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to influence a physical system without physical interaction.

Jack Webber

Jack Webber (1907-1940) was a Welsh spiritualist medium.

Masuaki Kiyota is a Japanese psychic known for his alleged ability of thoughtography.

Stanisława P.

Stanisława Popielska most well known as Stanisława P. was a Polish spiritualist medium who was alleged to have produced ectoplasm and the psychokinetic movement of objects.


  1. 1 2 Krauss, Rolf H. (1995). Beyond Light and Shadow: The Role of Photography in Certain Paranormal Phenomena: An Historical Survey. Munich: Nazraeli Press. p. 57. ISBN   9783923922383.
  2. Lowenstein, Adam (2015). Dreaming of Cinema: Spectatorship, Surrealism, and the Age of Digital Media. Columbia University Press. pp. 124–. ISBN   9780231538480 . Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  3. 1 2 Chéroux, Clément (2005). The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 155. ISBN   9780300111361.
  4. Arthur Brunel Chatwood. (1896). The New Photography. Downey. p. 93
  5. Norman Lockyer. (1896). Nature. Volume 53. p. 460
  6. "Modern psychical phenomena, recent researches and speculations". Internet Archive. 2010-07-21. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
  7. 1 2 3 Nickell, Joe (2005). Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. p. 195. ISBN   9780813191249.
  8. 1 2 Stein, Gordon (1996). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal (2nd ed.). Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 517. ISBN   9781573920216.
  9. Brugioni, Dino A. (1999). Photo Fakery: A History of Deception and Manipulation (1st ed.). Dulles, Virginia: Brassey's. p.  160. ISBN   9781574881660.
  10. 1 2 3 Carroll, Robert Todd (2003). The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley. ISBN   9780471272427 . Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  11. Kristen Lacefield (1 April 2013). The Scary Screen: Media Anxiety in the Ring. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 34, 37–. ISBN   9781409476191 . Retrieved 11 February 2017. Later that year Fukurai began to study another psychic, Ikuko Nagao, who possessed a talent he called "nenagraphy" or simply nensha. Fukurai coined this term from the Japanese nen, meaning "thought" or "idea," and the Greek graphein, meaning "writing" or "representation," intending it to refer to the power of inscribing images directly onto photographic plates by sheer force of will. This phenomena was known among western psychical researchers as "psychography" or "thoughtography," a practice that first emerged with the discovery of so-called "N-rays" around the turn of the century.
  12. David B. Baker (13 January 2012). The Oxford Handbook of the History of Psychology: Global Perspectives. Oxford University Press. pp. 354–. ISBN   9780195366556 . Retrieved 11 February 2017.
  13. 1 2 Brower, M. Brady (2010). Unruly Spirits: The Science of Psychic Phenomena in Modern France. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 120. ISBN   9780252077517.
  14. 1 2 3 4 "Spiritism and common sense". 2010-07-21. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
  15. West, Donald. (1954). Psychical Research Today. Chapter Séance-Room Phenomena. Duckworth. p. 49
  16. McHargue, Georgess (1972). Facts, Frauds, and Phantasms: A Survey of the Spiritualist Movement. Doubleday. p. 187. ISBN   0385053053.
  17. Harris, Frank (1993). Debates on the Meaning of Life, Evolution and Spiritualism. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books. p.  77. ISBN   9780879758288.
  18. Nickell, Joe (2010). Camera Clues: a Handbook for Photographic Investigation. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky. p. 197. ISBN   978-0813138282 . Retrieved 11 February 2017. Psychokinetic Photographs. In 1967 the world learned of a Chicago man with apparently remarkable powers: he could merely think of pictures and cause them to appear on photographic film -- a supposedly psychokinetic (PK) process called "thoughtography." The man, an often unemployed bellhop named Ted Serios, was the object of a sensational article in Life magazine and even an entire book written by Denver psychiatrist Jule Eisenbud, The World of Ted Serios. To accomplish his marvelous feat, Serios looked through a paper tube that he pressed against the camera's lens. A Polaroid model was used . . .
  19. Kripal, Jeffrey J. (2011). Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press. p. 285. ISBN   9780226453897 . Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  20. Hines, Terence (2002). Pseudoscience and the paranormal (2nd ed.). Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 77. ISBN   9781573929790.
  21. "'Psychic Projections' Were a Hoax - The Chronicle of Higher Education". Retrieved 2016-12-17. Anyone who knows anything about this issue knows that Mr. Serios was long ago exposed and thoroughly debunked as a fraud. This was done with absolute certainty by professional photographers Charlie Reynolds and David Eisendrath in the October 1967 issue of Popular Photography. Serios was observed, when he thought no one was looking, sticking pictures into his "gizmo," a tube he held between his head and the camera lens. That some claim he produced images without the tube, and at some distance from the camera, is easily attributed to double exposure or use of previously made exposures, followed by the fake snapping of a picture.
  22. Paul Kurtz (1985). A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 348. ISBN   9780879753009.
  23. "K - Encyclopedia of Claims". James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  24. Randi, James (1995). An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN   0312151195.
  25. Melton, J. Gordon; Shepard, Leslie (2001). Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology (5th ed.). Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company. p. 865. ISBN   081039488X. Randi's point was driven home in 1984 when Masuaki Kiyota, hailed as the Japanese Uri Geller, revealed in a television interview that he had faked the phenomena that had been verified by both American and Japanese researchers. Alt URL

Further reading