The Peculiar Truth about Mark Twain and ‘Mental Telegraphy’
- Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, believed in a concept he called “mental telegraphy” — but he was reluctant to write about it.
- He believed human beings from distant lands could unknowingly arrive at the same thoughts at the same relative time and maybe divinely communicate those thoughts unconsciously.
- Putting aside the metaphysical aspect of Twain’s belief, scientists have long known about the occurrence of multiple discovery.
- Here’s a modern example from 1958 (long after Twain had died):
- A low-level engineer at Texas Instruments named Jack Kilby invented the first integrated circuit, which evolved into today’s computer chip. At virtually the same time in Northern California, Robert Noyce, the founder of Fairchild Semiconductor, also invented an integrated circuit.
- The two inventors did not know one another or the existence of one another’s work. Both of their creations changed the world. The timing of their feats was deemed purely coincidental.
- Other multiple discoveries include: the invention of the crossbow, which occured in several countries at the same time; likewise the blast furnace; Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin independently conceived evolution; and Sir Isaac Newton and German scientist Gottfried Liebniz both conceived calculus at roughly the same time.
- Mark Twain not only believed that great minds think alike but that they can subconsciously interact across the world.
- He gave a name to the phenomenon. He called it “mental telegraphy.”
- An excerpt from his article in Harper’s magazine, 1891:
- “If one should question that this is so, let him look into the encyclopedia and consider once more that curious thing in the history of inventions which has puzzled everyone so much. That is, the frequency with which the same machine or other contrivances being invented at the same time by several persons in different quarters of the globe. The world was without an electric telegraph for several thousand years. Then Professor Henry, the American, Wheatstone in England, Morse on the sea, and a German in Munich all invented it at the same time. The discovery of certain ways of applying steam was made in two or three countries in the same year. Is it not possible that inventors are constantly and unwittingly stealing each other’s ideas whilst they stand thousands of miles asunder?… Minds telegraph thoughts to each other… It is the same thing around the outer edges of which the Psychical Research Society of England began to grope four or five years ago, and which they named telepathy… mind can act upon mind in a quite detailed and elaborate way over vast stretches of land and water.”
- Twain pondered the notion of mental telegraphy 20 years prior to that publication but was wary of writing about it for fear the public would receive it as satire, for which he was famous.
Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five. He publishes ‘The Peculiar Truth’ every Tuesday.
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