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View Sympsychography

Type: Hoax.
Summary: A scientific article describes a new photographic process that is able to capture thoughts on film.

A sympsychographic image of a cat. From Popular Science Monthly (Sep., 1896): 601.
An article by the famous scientist David Starr Jordan (president of Indiana University and Stanford University) appeared in the September, 1896 edition of Popular Science Monthly. It detailed the exciting discovery of a new form of photography called sympsychography.

Jordan wrote that sympsychography was based on the finding that brain waves were able to produce a visible image on a photographic plate, just as the recently discovered invisible rays known as x-rays were. In other words, the thoughts of a man could be transferred directly to a photograph. Jordan claimed that this phenomenon had been demonstrated by the experiments of a man named Cameron Lee, who had burned an image of a cat onto a photographic plate merely by thinking of the cat.

According to Jordan, the Astral Camera Club, which met on April 1, had then taken this concept one step further. Seven of its members simultaneously concentrated their minds on a photographic plate while thinking of a cat. What emerged was not one man’s image of a cat, but rather a joint “impression of ultimate feline reality.” The resulting picture was displayed in the article. Starr wrote:

“It will be noticed that this picture is unmistakably one of a cat. But it is a cat in its real essence, the type cat as distinguished from human impressions of individual cats.”

Jordan thought that the educated readers of Popular Science Monthly would immediately recognize his article as a spoof. Instead he received numerous letters from people who took the article at face value. One clergyman even confided to Jordan that he had prepared six sermons on “the Lesson of the Sympsychograph.”


  • David Starr Jordan, “The Sympsychograph: A Study in Impressionist Physics,” Popular Science Monthly 49 (Sep., 1896): 597-602.