The Fourth DimensionTeleportation -a word coined by Charles Fort to describe the instantaneous transport of a person or object from one place to another-is best known to readers of science fiction. While many have dreams of easily being transported to exotic Cancun hotels or Jamaica vacations many teleportation reports are far less appealing. Less known is the fact, or allegation, that it takes place in real life. Though there is no shortage of stories attesting to these occurrences, convincing reports are rare. There are, moreover, a number of unambiguously fraudulent claims of teleportation.
The last of these appear not infrequently in accounts from nineteenth-century Spiritualist circles. There physical mediums of dubious reputation plied their trade to mostly credulous seance sitters and from time to time persuaded them that they had moved through space in some inexplicable manner. Because psychic claims are outside the scope of this book, these episodes will not be reviewed here. (A comprehensive overview appears in the "teleportation" entry of Volume Two of Leslie A. Shepard's Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsycliology, third edition, Gale Research, 1991, pages 1675-79.) Our discussion will concentrate on those incidents said to have occurred spontaneously in a natural setting.
Into the Jourth dimension. Of all teleportation tales perhaps none has been so widely told as that of Tennessee farmer David Lang, who one afternoon in 1880, while crossing a field, vanished in full view of full witnesses, including three members of his family. Most chroniclers have speculated that Lang, in common with other persons who have disappeared mysteriously, fell into the "fourth dimension." (Or, as Charles Fort remarked in Lo! , "Oh, yes, I have heard of 'the fourth dimension,' but I am going to do myself some credit for not lugging in that particular way of showing that I don't know what I'm writing about.") In the 1970s an investigation by writer Robert Schadewald determined that neither David Lang nor any of the "witnesses" had ever existed and that the narrative bore a suspicious resemblance to the plot of Ambrose Bierce's latenineteenth-century short story "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field." (See David Lang disappearance.)
A more credible-sounding story, this one about a presumed near-disappearance into another dimension figures in several December 1873 articles in the Bristol Daily Post and the London Times, where it is treated more as an unusual court case than as a brush with the unknown. On December 8 Mr. and Mrs. Thomas B. Cumpston, two elderly, respectable residents of Leeds, arrived in Bristol, signed themselves into the Victoria Hotel, and some hours later found themselves under arrest for disorderly conduct. At the railway station where they were arrested, a terrified Cumpston told the night superintendent, "My wife and I have escaped from a den of thieves and rogues. We had to defend ourselves with a pistol." Cumpston had fired twice, once into the roof and later into the street. Suspecting them of insanity, the superintendent notified police.
In police court the couple said that early in the evening they had heard strange, loud sounds in or near their room. They complained to the landlady, who also heard them but shrugged them off. The sounds ceased, and the Cumpstons went to bed. At three or four o'clock in the morning the sounds resumed, this time accompanied by an alarming sensation that the floor was giving out. The couple's shouted words echoed weirdly or else were repeated by unseen presences. The floor "opened," and Mr. Cumpston felt as if he were being dragged into it. His wife pulled him out, and the two jumped out a window. In their panic and confusion they thought criminals had attempted to kidnap them and were following them as they ran to the station.
The landlady testified that she had indeed heard unusual sounds, though she proved unable to provide any meaningful description of them. The police said they had checked out the room and seen nothing out of the ordinary. The court concluded that the Cumpstons had suffered a "collective hallucination" and discharged them into the company of someone from Leeds.
Though the true nature of the couple's experience will never be known, the event, unlike the David Lang disappearance, undoubtedly happened. Those unsatisfied with the hallucination solution prefer another, more fantastic answer. Eighty years later Harold T. Wilkins would suggest:
The strange noises and the hole in the floor described by the Cumpstons are impossible to explain unless one assumes that under certain conditions an unknown force operates which is able to create a vortex in solid matter.... Matter is "solid" only relative to human perceptions; on the atomic level it may be described as mostly empty space. A human being drawn into such a vortex, or whirlpool, in matter may be deposited in some spot dozens and even thousands of miles from his starting point. On occasion, in fact, it seems that a vortex could operate over astronomical distances so as to teleport a being from one planet to another.
Teleported people: Teleportations of human beings are not hard to find in folkloric and religious contexts. One early example of the former, recorded by the Rev. Robert Kirk in his classic work on seventeenth-century Scottish fairy traditions, The Secret Comnion-Wealth (1692), remarks on one unfortunate man's plight:
His neighbours often perceaved this man to disappear at a certane Place, and about one Hour after to become visible, and discover himself near a Bowshot from the first Place. It was in that Place where he became invisible, said he, that the Subterraneans [fairies] did encounter and combate with him.
Another seventeenth-century story, known to us through an affidavit signed by Swedish clergyman Peter Rahm, recounts a troll's appearance at the Rahms' doorstep late one evening in 1660. After repeated entreaties Mrs. Rahm agreed to accompany the little man to his residence where his wife was giving birth. On her return Mrs. Rahm told her husband, according to his account, "it seemed to her as if she was carried along in the wind" on her way both to and from the fairy realm.
Mrs. Rahm's description of the physical sensation associated with teleportation is echoed in the Old Testament, wherein the prophet "Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (11 Kings 2:1).
The great first-century pagan philosopher and physician Apollonius of Tyana, for example, was said to have transported himself instantaneously to Ephesus to treat sufferers from a plague. Many Christian saints, according to legend, removed themselves, often carried by angels, from one location to another with similar swiftness. Early in his career, though for some reason no longer, Sathya Sai Baba, a modern Indian religious teacher said to have miraculous supernatural powers, teleported himself in full view of others. "As we were approaching the river and passing a hill on our right-hand side," one witness told Icelandic psychologist Erlendur Haraldsson, Baba "would sometimes suddenly disappear. He would, for example, snap his fingers and ask those around him to do the same. And hardly had we snapped our fingers when he had vanished from amongst us and we could see him on the top of the hill waiting for us." Haraldsson devotes an entire chapter of his book-length investigative report on Baba, Modern Miracles (1987), to similar accounts.
In 1901, shortly after the Pansini family moved into a large house in Ruvo, Italy, poltergeist phenomena of various kinds erupted. Seven-year-old Alfredo Pansini fell into trances, during which "angels" spoke through him and he had clairvoyant visions. He also took to vanishing suddenly from the house and reappearing in a dazed state elsewhere in town or in nearby towns. These alleged teleportations occurred frequently for three years, ending when he reached puberty in 1904. Just before then, however, Alfredo's younger brother Paolo began teleporting as well, and on one occasion both disappeared from their house and appeared aboard a fishing boat a few miles out at sea from the port of Baletta.
Joseph Lapponi, a medical advisor to Popes Leo XIII and Pius X, interviewed witnesses and wrote a book on the case. Once, according to Lapponi, Bishop Bernardi Pasquale locked the two boys in their room, sealing all doors and windows; yet within a few minutes the youths disappeared. Even so, one cannot help suspecting that a couple of clever boys were having fun at their elders' expense.
Tcleported objects. The noted psychical researcher Hereward Carrington, who was interested in the common human experience of misplaced objects, thought that something other than absent-mindedness and inattention may underlie some such episodes. Carrington wrote of one incident:
Miss K., a nurse and a Most Methodical person, had the habit of invariably placing her bunch of keys on the dining room table the moment she entered her flat. One day she did this as usual (so she declares) and, a short time afterwards, looked for them as she was about to leave the apartment, on another "case." Her keys had disappeared. She looked for them everywhere; they were not to be found. She finally had to have other keys made for the front door, etc. Several days later, she wished to get a cork for a medicine bottle, having broken the old one. These corks were kept in a tin box, in the bottom partition of a trunk, standing in the hall. She does not (she says) have occasion to open this drawer on the day in question, nor subsequently until she looked for the cork. Nevertheless, her keys were there, peacefully reposing in the tin box.
Raymond Bayless, a Los Angeles artist with parapsychological interests, has reported a 1957 experience which took place while he was holding a long-handled brush and speaking with a student. The room was empty except for two stools and an easel, and there was no rug or carpet on the floor. A large northern window brought in abundant Sunlight. Suddenly the brush slipped from his hand. Both he and the student heard a clicking sound as it hit the floor. When Bayless reached down to retrieve it, he was astonished to find it nowhere to be found. A thorough search of the stark room uncovered no sign of it. "It had just vanished into thin air," Bayless concluded.
Where an instance like the first is concerned, one is free to speculate that the woman suffered a brief spasm of amnesia and herself placed her keys in the bottom of a trunk. Of course no evidence supporting such speculation exists, but such off-the cuff explanations appeal to us for the simple reason that it is easier to believe in memory lapses than in teleportation. Nonetheless Bayless's experience does not seem to lend itself to easy accounting.
Besides Carrington, the late D. Scott Rogo was the only serious anornalist to collect cases of "spontaneous dematerialization" in any systematic way. Rogo believed he had experienced it on a number of occasions in his own life. After he wrote about his and other people's possibly paranormal thefts in Fate, he was inundated with mail from readers with their own stories.
As random events subject to other interpretations (valid or invalid), incidents like these do not constitute serious evidence for extraordinary claims about teleportation and other dimensions-though one cannot help being attracted to the implicit argument that such phenomena are part of the common experience of all of us.
Some theorists have suggested that teleportation is responsible for falls from the sky and for appearances of animals far from their native habitats (see kangaroos, errant). Ivan T. Sanderson, a trained zoologist and an imaginative anomalist, even wrote that it is "reasonable to suspect" that ants have "developed teleportation as a system of moving precious stuff around in an emergency."