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Observations placeholder

Professor William James’ paper in the Proceedings of the American S. P. R. on phantom limbs



Type of Spiritual Experience


Number of hallucinations: 140


A description of the experience

Professor Ernest Bozzano Les phénomènes de bilocation Traduit de l’italien par Gabriel Gobron and translated further into English by Serge Patlavskiy

First category -"Senses of integrity" in amputees and impressions of "doubling" in hemipleges.

Professor William James published a lengthy paper … (Proceedings of the American S. P. R., 1885-1889, p. 249) based on an investigation conducted by himself. He had sent questionnaires to a large number of amputees, whose addresses he had obtained by contacting dealers in artificial limbs. He thus managed to enter into epistolary, and very often personal, relationships with 185 amputees.

[He says] that while the conclusions of the comparative analysis provide him with interesting and useful information for future investigators, there is little or nothing definitive in terms of causes. With that said, he continues in these terms:

"With regard to the relative frequency of "sensations of integrity in amputees", I note that at the time of my survey these sensations were still felt by almost 3/4 of the patients interviewed... Those who experienced them were the most numerous, but by the time they answered my questionnaire, they had stopped experiencing them.

For some, the "feeling of integrity" had ceased almost suddenly; for others, an hour or two after the amputation but for many mutilated people, it had lasted for weeks, months, years. The most persistent case was that of a man who had had his leg amputated up to the thigh at the age of 13, and who, at 70, still felt his foot, and this was as real as the other foot...

Only the amputated hands and feet are clearly felt, which means that the sensation of the middle part of the limb seems to have disappeared. For example, a man with one arm amputated told me that he could feel his own hand immediately protruding from his shoulder.

This feeling of shortening is not widespread, however.... Many patients report the misfortunes that happened to them for walking too fast, believing they still have their legs, or for jumping off the bed as a result of the same illusion. Others add that they have sometimes automatically extended their hands to scratch the missing foot that caused them to itch. One of them wrote to me that he had mechanically taken the scissors to carve his nails on his missing foot, as the feeling was so strong... There is one who writes to me constantly experiencing the action of the blister that was applied to the heel during the surgery, and another who informs me that he still feels the pruritus and swelling of the frostbite from which he was suffering when his arm was amputated....

"Apparent temperature changes in absent limbs are also often felt. Thus, for example, if the stump cools or warms up, many mutilated people experience the sensation of cold or hot in the foot that does not exist. A cold air current passing over the stump causes the same sensation on the missing foot. And the missing foot sometimes connects with the remaining foot, in the sense that if the former suffers from the cold, the latter suffers from it too. An amputee writes to me that if he happens to cross a puddle of water and get his remaining foot wet, he also feels with his missing foot that it is in contact with the water".

The source of the experience

James, William

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps