Mental Floss

Picture This: Thoughtography

Ransom Riggs

There are more inexplicable phenomena and strange systems of belief out there -- occult, extra-terrestrial and otherwise -- than we'd care to name, but an especially fascinating one I just recently heard about is thoughtography. Now, if you're a Fortean Times subscriber or an X-Files geek (yep, there was an episode about this), you might give thoughtography a little more credence than most scientists; it's at best a controversial technique, at worst a total hoax. The basic concept is this: that the minds of some adept people are powerful enough to "burn" images onto surfaces -- usually photographic negative -- or even the minds of other people.

Our story begins and ends in Japan. The progenitor of the "art" of thoughtography was Tomokichi Fukurai, an assistant professor of psychology at Tokyo University, who first called it "nensha," or "spirit photography." He created an institute for paranormal studies and began working with a series of supposedly clairvoyant women who would meditate and go into trances to create thoughtographs of Japanese alphabet characters, simple shapes and, most (in)famously, the dark side of the moon. His efforts were mostly dismissed as fraudulent bunk, but if he had a success, it was that he had added something to the specious arsenal of psychics and mystics the world round; people would continue to claim they could make thoughtographs long after Fukurai's death in 1952.

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So for our purposes, thoughtography begins with a turn-of-the-century Tokyo professor and ends with a turn-of-the-millennium Japanese novel (and attendant film adaptations, sequels and remakes). But ... you never know. We'll keep you posted.