“Very Similar, Almost Identical”

In 1928, working as a general practitioner on Mt. Carmel in Palestine, I became interested in the problems of the unconscious. My own experience did not go beyond observations of behavior in several hysterical patients; but I spent time in reading and contemplating the problems of collective unconscious mind and the physical aspect of the mental processes. I wrote down my thoughts in a concise form in a paper, “Über die Energetik der Psyche und die Physikalische Existenz der Gedankenwelt ("On the Energetics of the Psyche and the Physical Existence of the World of Thought.”) In it I did not refer to any special case or occurrence; yet I thought to have found a new insight into the old problem.

The summer of 1930 I spent in Zurich, Switzerland. I gave the manuscript to Professor Eugen Bleuler; after reading it, he discussed it with me in detail and at my request wrote a foreword for it. In this foreword, dated July 18, 1930, he remarked:

I feel that I ought to comply with the desire of my colleague Velikovsky to write a preface to his work on the theory of the parapsychological phenomena. Out of a mass of superstition, illusion, and deceit, facts were retrieved for which the so-called natural explanations failed completely; these facts are numerous enough to compel science to make them the object of a very careful study. Therefore, an attempt to bring them into correlation with the known natural laws is very useful; it can not only stimulate the scientific thought, but also help to overcome the fear-incompatible with science-of entering a new and very unusual domain.

The ideas of the author appear to me very much worth attention. I by myself came upon very similar, in important parts-identical concepts, though I can’t subscribe to every detail. If the work (of Dr. V.) contributes only so much that one would be able to speak about these matters without being thought crazy or, at the least, inferior-it already serves science, independently of how much of its content will stand future research.

The paper was published in January 1931 in Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie.

The role of Bleuler in the early acceptance of Freud’s theory is well known: born in the same year as Freud, he was the first among the psychiatrists in an academic position to give a sympathetic hearing and testing to Freud’s ideas.

I mailed a reprint of my paper to Freud. He wrote me on June 24, 1931. The original text and English translation of his letter follow:(1)

Prof. Dr. Freud

Wien, IX, Berggasse 19 24.6. 1931

Geehrten Herr Kollege

Ich kann mich zum Inhalt ihres Aufsatzes (Energetik der Psyche) ganz übereinstimmend mit Bleuler äussern. Auch ich habe mir über den Gegenstand selbständing Meinungen gebildet die den ihren sehr nahe kommen, sich in manchen Stücken gradezu mit ihnen decken. Gegen eine energetische Auffassung der Denkprozesse hat grade der Analytiker am wenigstens einzuwenden. Eigene Erfahrungen haben mir die Vermutung nahe gelegt, dass die Telepathie der reale Kern der angeblichen parapsycholog. Phänomene ist und vielleicht der einzige. Aber etwas Zwingendes habe ich in diesen Dingen doch weder erlebt, noch irgendwo—auch in ihrer Schrift nicht—gefunden(2) und somit bleibt uns nichts übrig als die Klärung dieses im Grund physikalischen Problems von einer hoffentlich nicht fernen Zukunft zu erwarten!"

Mit kolleg. Gruss

Ihr Freud


Professor Dr. Freud

24, June, 1931 Vienna, IX., Berggasse 19

Dear Colleague:

I find myself in complete agreement with Bleuler on the contents of your paper (Energetics of the Psyche). Also, I have independently formed my own opinions on the subject which are very similar to yours and, indeed, quite coincide with them in some parts. The analyst, least of all, will object to an energetic interpretation of the processes of thought. My own experiences have led me to suppose that the real and perhaps the only core of the alleged parapsychological phenomena is telepathy. But in this matter I have neither experienced anything compelling nor have I found it anywhere else-not even in your paper.” Thus, nothing is left to us but to await clarification of this basically physical problem from the - I hope-not too distant future.


Your colleague Freud

The following year Freud wrote The New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. The Preface is dated “Summer 1932” and the book was published in 1933. In one of the chapters Freud dealt with the problem of telepathy. The “similarity or even identity” of our thoughts can be demonstrated by the following passages from our writings. In my paper I explained telepathy as an archaic process of thought exchange-a process preserved in some species of the animal kingdom. I wrote:

It transpires ever clearer that the autonomy of the mental domains of separate individuals must have developed as a more complicated and higher state in the origin of the species. In our concept, telepathy is an archaic form of thought-transmission. The more a species is developed, the more is the single creature separated as a thinking ego from the world around it.

The migration of the young birds that fly toward the homeland of their parents; the collective work of ants and bees that understand to execute a great work following a common plan and similar examples speak for a not sharp division of mental life of one animal from the others. . . . This archaic form of reciprocal influence shows itself in the animal herd and also in the human herd, the mass.

I continued, saying that “the better developed way of thought-transfer is through the sense organs by employing signs of (mimic and script) and sounds (language, intonation, music).

In his chapter on “Dreams and the Occult” in The New Introductory Lectures, Freud wrote:

It is not known how the collective will works in the great insect states. Possibly it acts by the way of a direct mental transfer. One is led to the surmise that this is the original and archaic mode of communication among the simple creatures; in the course of the phylogenetic development it is repressed in favor of better methods of thought-transfer with the help of signs which are perceived by the sense organs. Yet the older method could survive in the background and reappear under certain conditions, for instance, in the highly excited masses.(3)

The spring of 1933 I spent in Vienna; I visited Freud-it happened to be his seventy-seventh birthday. In the April or May meeting of the Psychoanalytical Society of Vienna, Freud’s chapter on dreams and telepathy was discussed. Freud was not present; Anna Freud was. Freud’s approach to the problem caused visible and audible consternation among his followers; among those who participated in the discussion only two-Dr. Paul Federn, who occupied the chair, and myself-sided with Freud on this controversial issue. (That evening saw the beginning of my friendship with Paul Federn which was renewed in 1940 in America and which lasted till his death in 1950.)

One confirmation of the concept of the physical nature of the world of thoughts and the energetic component present in mental processes came up rather dramatically and without delay. On the last page of my paper printed in the Zeitschrift fuer die gesamte Neurologie I had declared:

At an excitation of a peripheral sense organ, for instance, an eye by a strong light, there appears a current oscillation in the opposite optical region. See Hans Berger, Elektronencephalogramm des Menschen (Arch. Psychiatr. 1929) I think that it would be worthwhile to apply the experiments of Berger on the epileptics. The lightning start of an epileptic seizure reminds me strongly of the action of a short circuit. . . . Then it would be proper also to experiment with the possibility of relieving the too strong oscillations ("Stromschwankungen” ) of the current in the brain of the epileptics. This should be regarded as a preliminary communication.

I wrote to Professor Berger of my idea to apply his new method of electroencephalography to the epileptics and sent him my paper. The results are well known. This part of the story requires separate treatment.


  1. Ed. note: The transcript and translation were prepared by Hugo Knoepfmacher and reviewed by the author and editors.
  2. It was not the purpose of my paper to present extensive case materials.
  3. The above rendering, which is my own, varies slightly from that given in the published English translation; cf. New Introductory Lectures, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1933), pp. 79-80. Comparison of the German texts of my essay and this statement of Freud’s have introduced italics to simplify this task- may help the critical reader to follow the point broached above:


    Es erhellt immer mehr, dass die Abgeschlossenheit der geistigen Bereiche der verschiedenen Individuen als ein komplizierterer und höherer Zustand in der Entwicklung der Arten entstehen müsste. Die Telepathie ist dann nach unserer Auffassung eine Urform der Gedankenvermittlung. Je mehr sich eine Art entwickelt, desto mehr sondert sich das einzelne Lebenwesen als geistiges Ich von der Urnwelt ab.

    Die Migration der jungen Vögel, die in die Heimat der Eltern fliegen; die Gesamtarbeit der Ameisen oder Bienen, die ein mächtiges Werk nach gemeinsamen Plan auszuführen verstehen und ähnliche Beispiele sprechen für nicht scharfe Absonderung des geistigen Lebens eines Tierexemplares vom anderen . . . Diese Urform der Gegenseitigen Wirkung zeigt sich, wie in der Tierherde, so auch in der Menschenherde, d.h. in der Masse.

    "Über die Energetik der Psyche und die physikalische Existenz der Gedankenwelt” , Zeitschrift für die gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie, Vol. CXXXIII (Jan. 14, 1931), p. 428.



    Mann weiss bekanntlich nicht, wie der Gesamtwille in den grossen Insektenstaaten zustande kommt. Möglicherweise geschieht es auf dem Wege solch direkter psychischer Übertragung. Man wird auf die Vermutung gefuhrt, dass dies der Ursprüngliche, archäische Weg der Verständigung unter den Einzelwesen ist, der im Lauf der phylogenetischen Entwicklung durch die bessere Methode der Mitteilung mit Hilfe von Zeichen zurückgedrangt wird, die man mit den Sinnesorganen aufnimmt. Aber die ältere Methode konnte im Hintergrund erhalten bleiben und sich unter gewissen Bedingungen noch durchsetzen, Z..B. auch in leiden-schaftlich erregten Massen.

    Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einfahrung in die Psychoanalyse. Vienna : Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag, 1933.