An Odd Episode

In April 1909, Carl Jung asked Sigmund Freud his opinion on precognition and parapsychology. As Freud was dismissing them, Jung felt “a curious sensation”:

It was as if my diaphragm was made of iron and was becoming red-hot — a glowing vault. And at that moment there was such a loud report in the bookcase, which stood right next to us, that we both started up in alarm, fearing the thing was going to topple over us. I said to Freud: ‘There, that is an example of a so-called catalytic exteriorisation phenomenon.’

‘Oh come,’ he exclaimed. ‘That is sheer bosh.’

‘It is not,’ I replied. ‘You are mistaken, Herr Professor. And to prove my point I now predict that in a moment there will be another loud report!’ Sure enough, no sooner had I said the words than the same detonation went off in the bookcase.

“To this day I do no know what gave me this certainty,” Jung said later. “But I knew beyond all doubt that the report would come again. Freud only stared aghast at me. I do not know what was in his mind, or what his look meant. In any case, this incident aroused his mistrust of me, and I had the feeling that I had done something against him. I never afterwards discussed the incident with him.”

Freud was not impressed. In a letter to Jung he wrote, “At first I was inclined to ascribe some meaning to it if the noise we heard so frequently when you were here were never again heard after your departure. But since then it has happened over and over again, yet never in connection with my thoughts and never when I was considering you or your special problem.”

A fuller account is here. It’s not clear that they ever discovered the source of the sound, but note that Freud’s letter was written in the same month as the experience, where Jung’s recollection was made in an interview half a century later — when (perhaps among other things) he had misremembered the location of the bookshelf.


In the 1930s Colgate University psychologist Harvey Fitz-Gerald interviewed 254 “men and women of eminence,” asking them to describe memories that had been evoked by scent. One recalled:

On the train once, in the midst of happy conditions, I suddenly felt discouraged, awkward, unhappy. As soon as I recognized the perfume used by a fellow traveler, I saw very vividly a large dancing class, a French dancing master, and felt again my girlish dismay at his attitude toward my poor attempts to learn the steps he was trying to teach me. As soon as the memory picture came I knew why I had suddenly felt unhappy, and, of course, came back to normal. This experience occurred some fifteen or twenty years after the last time I had seen the dancing master.

Another recalled a strange feeling of loneliness that had come over her while reading a book at the age of 25. She found that it had been printed in England, whence all of her childhood books had come. Laird wrote, “It will be found interesting, the next time an unexpected memory or thought ‘pops into your head,’ … to think back over the air-borne fragrances and odors which may have given these changes their start.”

(Donald A. Laird, “What Can You Do With Your Nose?”, The Scientific Monthly 41:2 [1935], 126-130.)


Irish physician Henry Marsh addressed an odd phenomenon in 1842: patients who glow in the dark. Shortly after one of his patients had died of tuberculosis, he’d received a letter from her sister:

‘About an hour and a half before my dear sister’s death, we were struck by a luminous appearance proceeding from her head in a diagonal direction. … The light was pale as the moon; but quite evident to mamma, myself, and sister, who were watching over her at the time. One of us at first thought it was lightning, till shortly after we fancied we perceived a sort of tremulous glimmer playing round the head of the bed; and then recollecting we had read something of a similar nature having been observed previous to dissolution, we had candles brought into the room, fearing our dear sister would perceive it, and that it might disturb the tranquillity of her last moments.’

A colleague, Dublin heart specialist William Stokes, described a breast cancer from which “a quantity of luminous fluid was constantly poured out”:

‘Upon being asked whether she suffered much pain, [the patient] answered, “Not now, Sir, but I cannot sleep watching this sore which is on fire every night.” I directed that she should send for me whenever she perceived the luminous appearance, and on that night I was summoned between ten and eleven o’clock. The lights in the ward having been then extinguished, she was sitting leaning forward, the left hand supporting the tumour, while with the right she every now and then lifted up the covering of the ulcer to gaze on this, to her, supernatural appearance. The whole of the base and the edges of the cavity phosphoresced in the strongest manner.’

Sir Henry speculated that the luminescence might have been caused by phosphorous, but “elemental phosophorous is far too reactive to be produced naturally by the human body,” writes Thomas Morris in The Mystery of the Exploding Teeth, his 2018 exploration of medical curiosities. He speculates that luminous bacteria, while also unlikely, might offer one explanation.

(Henry Marsh, “On the Evolution of Light From the Living Human Subject,” Provincial Medical Journal and Retrospect of the Medical Sciences 4:88 [1842], 163.)

Time Traveler

Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals hit his first major league home run five days before he played his first major league game.

On June 18, 2018, he hit a two-run homer that was logged as occurring on May 15. That’s because the June 18 game was a continuation of a May 15 game that had been suspended due to rain. When such a game is resumed, all the statistics are recorded with the date of the original game.

So Soto is credited with his first major league hit and his first major league home run on May 15, five days before he made his major league debut.

(Thanks, Larry.)

Nobody Home
Image: Wikimedia Commons

For centuries, the town of Plymouth was the only port of entry to the island of Montserrat, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom in the Lesser Antilles.

The town was evacuated in 1995 when the nearby Soufrière Hills volcano began erupting, and the burned and buried remainder was abandoned permanently in 1997.

But the town is still the de jure capital city of Montserrat … which makes Plymouth the only ghost town in the world that serves as the capital of a political territory.

Lightning Rod Fashion

In 1778, shortly after Benjamin Franklin introduced the lightning rod, Paris saw a fad for umbrellas and hats that made use of the new technology. A chain ran from the accessory down to the ground and would (in principle) carry the electricity from a lightning strike harmlessly into the ground.

I can’t find any record that such a strike ever happened. Lightning rods didn’t become popular in the United States, even to protect structures, until the 19th century.

(Thanks, Jon.)

Public Health

According to local folklore, the village of Nigg, Scotland, vanquished cholera in a singularly direct way:

In a central part of the churchyard of Nigg there is a rude undressed stone, near which the sexton never ventures to open a grave. A wild apocryphal tradition connects the erection of this stone with the times of the quarantine fleet. The plague, as the story goes, was brought to the place by one of the vessels, and was slowly flying along the ground, disengaged from every vehicle of infection, in the shape of a little yellow cloud. The whole country was alarmed, and groups of people were to be seen on every eminence, watching with anxious horror the progress of the little cloud. They were relieved, however, from their fears and the plague by an ingenious man of Nigg, who, having provided himself with an immense bag of linen, fashioned somewhat in the manner of a fowler’s net, cautiously approached the yellow cloud, and, with a skill which could have owed nothing to previous practice, succeeded in enclosing the whole of it in the bag. He then secured it by wrapping it up carefully, fold after fold, and fastening it down with pin after pin; and as the linen was gradually changing, as if under the hands of the dyer, from white to yellow, he consigned it to the churchyard, where it has slept ever since.

From Hugh Miller, Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland, 1835.

Westward Ho

In 2018, “GeoWizard” Tom Davies set out to cross the width of Wales, 33 miles, in a straight line. Part 1 is above, and the rest followed in four parts (2, 3, 4, 5).

It looks incredibly difficult.

(Via MetaFilter.)

A Closer Look

Michael Snow’s 1967 experimental film Wavelength consists essentially of an extraordinarily slow 45-minute zoom on a photograph on the wall of a room. William C. Wees of McGill University points out that this raises a philosophical question: What visual event does this zoom create? In a tracking shot, the camera moves physically forward, and its viewpoint changes as a person’s would as she advanced toward the photo. In Wavelength (or any zoom) the camera doesn’t move, and yet something is taking place, something with no analogue in ordinary experience.

“If I actually walk toward a photograph pinned on a wall, I find that the photograph does, indeed, get larger in my visual field, and that things around it slip out of view at the peripheries of my vision. The zoom produces equivalent effects, hence the tendency to describe it as ‘moving forward.’ But I am really imitating a tracking shot, not a zoom. … I think it is safe to say that no perceptual experience in the every-day world can prepare us for the kind of vision produced by the zoom.”

“What, in a word, happens during a viewing of that forty-five minute zoom? And what does it mean?”

(From Nick Hall, The Zoom: Drama at the Touch of a Lever, 2018.)