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Unimagined Sensitivities—Series Conclusion

Death—and its close relative, trauma—may trigger extraordinary perceptions.

A pair of terms has been developed to categorize the kinds of extraordinary experiences presented in the last post: telesomatic (‘tele’ as in distance, ‘somatic’ as in body) and clairsentience (as in ‘clairvoyant’ but with the emphasis on literally feeling another’s pain). (Dossey, p. 253; Schulz, p. 75)

We can all appreciate, more prosaically, how such dynamics might register. Begin with the fact that, the more vividly felt an experience is, the clearer the memory. Think where you were at the time of the Challenger space shuttle explosion…the 9/11 attacks…or (much more happily) when you either proposed or accepted an offer of marriage from your beloved. You probably remember a plethora of details that you wouldn’t recall if the events weren’t so stunning, thrilling or meaningful.

Such memories are not merely cognitive; their strength owes to being simultaneously visceral. This, I propose, is the key—both to prodromal dreaming and telesomatic perceptions. The more significant the physical and emotional experience, the more likely it is to be ‘telegraphed’ to oneself and to others. In the case of a true emergency, when one’s life is on the line (or perceived to be on the line), the nature of the distress may subvert the normal bounds of time and space.

The general concept is outlined by Michael Shallis, the British researcher who I cited earlier:

"Bodies do not stop at the skin but extend outwards into the space around them. Human senses reach out into the world, some farther than others, but even apart from the five senses man extends outwards…When feeling happy and expansive I extend out in some way, I feel bigger. When I feel insecure I shrink down both psychologically and in the space around me…If people extend in space why not in time as well?…When lives suddenly become involved in extreme drama and emotional tension then the extended selves may well reach out dramatically in space and time, and thereby be 'detected' by people sufficiently aware of their own sensitivity to these things." (Shallis, pp. 174-5)

This blog series has now come full circle to where we started: by alighting on the phenomenon of death. While death tends not to be welcomed by any animal, it is a natural and inescapable part of life. On its face, it appears to represent the end of sensitivity—since a dead animal is manifestly non-sensate. Death, however (and its close relative, trauma) may trigger unimagined forms of sensitivity in human beings as well as in other perceptive, feeling creatures. The evidence, seriously investigated, offers a fascinating pathway to new and exciting knowledge.


Dossey, Larry. Healing Beyond the Body. Boston: Shambhala, 2001.

Schulz, Mona Lisa. Awakening Intuition. New York: Harmony Books, 1998.

Shallis, Michael. On Time: An Investigation Into Scientific Knowledge and Human Experience. New York: Schocken Books, 1982.

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