Cryptomnesia and paranormal investigating

16th February 2021. Reading Time: 9 minutes General, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know. 1753 page views. 0 comments.

Cryptomnesia is essentially a memory or information that you know, but you are not aware that you know it. A forgotten memory. Can this impact the information we believe we are receiving during our paranormal investigations?

Cryptomnesia is essential a memory or information that you know, but you are not aware that you know it.  A forgotten memory.     
Can this impact the information we believe we are receiving during our paranormal investigations?


an implicit memory phenomenon in which people mistakenly believe that a current thought or idea is a product of their own creation when, in fact, they have encountered it previously and then forgotten it. Cryptomnesia can occur in any creative enterprise, as for example when an investigator develops a research idea that he or she believes is original whereas in actuality it can be documented that he or she saw or heard the idea at some earlier point in time. Also called inadvertent plagiarism; unconscious plagiarism.

The term cryptomnesia was first used by psychiatrist Théodore Flournoy in his book From India to the Planet Mars: A Case of Multiple Personality with Imaginary Languages (1901/1994).  He discussed it as a rational explanation for a lot of the messages spiritualist mediums were receiving.

In the communications or messages provided by mediums, the first (but not the only) question that arises is always whether, where spiritualists see the influence of disembodied spirits or some other supranormal cause, one is not simply dealing with cryptomnesia, with latent memories on the part of the medium that come out, sometimes greatly disfigured by a subliminal work of imagination or reasoning, as so often happens in our ordinary dreams.

From India to the Planet Mars: A Case of Multiple Personality with Imaginary Languages by Théodore Flournoy (1901/1994)

It is an area that is also commonly discussed in the creative world as an act of unintended plagiarism.  You will often hear songs that may be similar or read stories or books which seem very familiar.  It is likely the creator has been 'inspired' by previous work that is deep in their subconscious.  It is not a deliberate act of plagiarism, although it may seem like it.  Carl Jung has discussed this psychological trait in more detail in his book Man and His Symbols (1964).  He goes on to list examples such as Friedrich Nietzsche's book Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1883) being an almost word for word account of a book written half a century earlier.  It was admitted by Nietzsche's sister that it was a book her brother had read.  It wasn't obvious or deliberate plagiarism, but an example of how the human mind works.  

We can find clear proof of this fact in the history of science itself. For example, the French mathematician Poincaré and the chemist Kekulé owed important scientific discoveries (as they themselves admit) to sudden pictorial 'revelations' from the unconscious. The so-called 'mystical' experience of the French philosopher Descartes involved a similar sudden revelation in which he saw in a flash the 'order of all sciences.' The British author Robert Louis Stevenson had spent years looking for a story that would fit his 'strong sense of man's double being,' when the plot of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was suddenly revealed to him in a dream.

Carl Jung

Man and His Symbols (1964)

Cryptomnesia and mediumship

Cryptomnesia is a term well known by psychical researchers and parapsychologists.  The first documented case of this being discovered in mediumship was in 1874.  English medium William Stainton Moses made contact with two deceased brothers during a seance.  They had died in India and their deaths were verified.  It turned out that 6 days earlier, their deaths and obituary had been published in the newspaper.  In fact, when the information was compared, Moses did not communicate any information about the brothers beyond what was communicated in the obituary. 

Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson did extensive work investigating different claims in his paper Cryptomnesia and Parapsychology (1983) where he found numerous examples of information being absorbed on an unconscious level which influenced mediums and their readings.  One such case examined was that of Mrs. Southey and Mrs. Crowson who claimed to have made contact with deceased people through an Ouija (Talking Board) with the information received later verified to be true.  Upon investigation, the information received relating to the deceased had been published in obituaries however both women claimed they did not read the Daily Telegraph newspaper in which the obituaries appeared.  Mrs. Crowson later added however that her husband would read this paper and complete the crossword puzzles which she sometimes finished.  The obituaries happen to appear on the very same page as the crosswords puzzles.  Given that the only information communicated matched exactly that of the obituary, it was concluded that Mrs. Crowson had unknowingly subconsciously absorbed this information.

It was impossible to also overlook the close similarity between some of the drop-in communicators' statements about themselves and the brief obituary notices of the Daily Telegraph.  Like the communicators of Abraham Florentine and Bertie Henry D'Oyly Jones, those of this type with Mrs. Southey usually gave no more and no less information than the verifying obituary provided.

Cryptomenesia and Parapsychology by Ian Stevenson

Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 52 (1983) 1-30

Cryptomnesia and paranormal investigating

While we have explored this from a perspective of plagiarism and even looking at it being a way psychic mediums could unknowingly access information, again it is important to emphasize that these are not deliberate acts of deception.  People are genuine in their claims and intentions.  It is something that can happen to anyone, even to your everyday paranormal investigator.  There is often debate within the paranormal community about whether or not you should research before investigating a location.  The arguments for and against are often that you should have at least one person know the history so that information can be validated but also so you have some purpose to your investigation - otherwise you are essentially just ghost hunting.  On the other hand, if you know too much information, others believe it can lead you and you can interpret experiences or even answers to questions the wrong way.  What is not thrown into this discussion however is the impact that cryptomnesia can have here.  You may think that you are going into a location blind, but there is likely information about the location you have retained on a subconscious level.  It could be something as little as seeing a spot on a reality ghost-hunting television show or reading a social post.  It is a spot that may have appeared in a book you have read about the most haunted locations in your country.  All of this information is buried deep in there waiting to come out.  You may have read about a particular room where people get headaches.  You enter the room and suddenly you get a headache.  Noting it down to research later you come to find that yes that is the room people get headaches and you did as well so there must be something to it.  While there could be many different factors at play, cryptomnesia is usually not considered.  You may go to the location and feel like you are picking up on some information.  You may feel like there has been a death in a certain room or area.  You may even know some specific information which you later check with historical records.  You are surprised to find that yes someone did die in the exact way you detected.  While it is possible that you did somehow retrieve this information by paranormal means, it is also possible that you had read a story, an article, seen it on tv, and forgotten about it. Even just having the tv playing in the background means you are absorbing information.  You could be hearing things on the news.  You aren't paying attention, but you are still unknowingly absorbing this information.

The benchmark here is to be able to obtain information that isn't readily available publicly.  In the age of the internet, this is now increasingly difficult.  Everything is at the tip of our fingers.  In fact, a term called The Google Effect which is a form of digital amnesia is now a thing. Because we know how accessible information is to us and that we can simply look it up at any time, we are less likely to retain and remember the information because we are used to just 'googling' something we want to know.  You may simply just forget that you have read something.  So how do we conquer this as it seems no one is immune?  Helen Keller wrote:

I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own. For a long time, when I wrote a letter, even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling, and I would spell the sentences over and over, to make sure that I had not read them in a book… It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own thoughts from those I read, because what I read becomes the very substance and texture of my mind.

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life (1903)

As it is something that is more connected to the writing community, I have been looking through different author blogs looking for tips on how to deal with cryptomnesia.  I found these 4 points posted by Stand Out Books to be ones we can also apply to the paranormal world

  • Know it’s possible
  • Know the form it’s likely to take
  • Seek outside opinions
  • Accept that minor cryptomnesia will happen

Like any kind of cognitive bias, we have to accept that we are not immune.  It is possible that the information you have received on a paranormal investigation is not paranormal at all. This is why we seek the opinion of others.  Peer review is such an important element.  Peer review means different things to different people and while you may think of it just on an academic level, at a base level, talking to your fellow paranormal researchers is a good start.  Be aware of what can happen and when.  It is pretty unlikely we are truely going into a location 'blind' of knowledge.  Even if you have avoided researching a location, you likely know a lot more about it than you think you do.  Maybe the way around this is to actively research it.  If it is information you are aware of and is at the front of your mind, then it isn't going to come as a surprise if it suddenly comes up.  It means you won't think it is paranormal automatically because it is information you already know.  Knowledge is power, don't let your knowledge work against you!

I have read people describe cryptomnesia as a ghost of the personality so in some ways you have found the ghost you were looking for .......  but this time it us who is the ghost.


From India to the Planet Mars: A Case of Multiple Personality with Imaginary Languages by Théodore Flournoy (1901/1994)

Man and His Symbols, Carl Jung (1964)

The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Rosemary Ellen Guiley (2007)

Cryptomnesia and Parapsychology by Ian Stevenson, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 52 (1983) 1-30

Helen Keller, The Story of My Life (1903)

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