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While John Michell has a brief break from this page,another living legend will be taking his place. Dr Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist and the author of The Sense of Being Stared at: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind (Hutchinson, £17.99). His website is Jonathan Cainer

Archive for Thursday 4th March 2004 - Phantom limbs by Rupert Sheldrake

Rupert Sheldrake image Often when people have lost arms or legs, the missing limb feels as if it is still there. Bill, in Southport, had his leg amputated below the knee in 1995, yet is still aware of its presence, especially when it is painful or when his missing foot seems to itch.

When Jane, in Macclesfield, lost her left leg in because of bone cancer, it felt so real that about a year after the operation she forgot that it was not there. When she got out of bed she tried to put her weight on it and fell over. People who have had an arm amputated often try to reach out and pick up the telephone or other objects.

These non-material limbs are called phantoms. They feel real, but people can push them through solid objects like beds and tables. They are a nuisance when they are painful, as many are, but they can also be very useful. They enable people to use a false limb, or prosthesis. Doctors speak of the phantoms ‘animating’ the lifeless false arm or leg. As one doctor put it: “The phantom usually fits the prosthesis as a hand fits a glove.”

Most people can experience a phantom without having an amputation if their arm is anaesthetised. But of course the phantom vanishes when the anaesthetic wears off.

The standard medical theory is that phantoms are all in the brain, and are somehow ‘referred’ to where they seem to be. But I think phantoms may be just where they seem to be, as fields of the missing limbs.

Lord Nelson had a phantom after losing his limb in a sea battle in 1797. He said that he thought his phantom arm was proof of the existence of the soul. Perhaps he meant that the whole body can be like a phantom, feeling real from within, but non-material at the same time. This is indeed what happens in an out-of-the-body or near-death experience. The eminent neurologist Ronald Melzack commented that his research on phantom limbs showed that ‘we don’t need a body to feel a body’.

Rupert Sheldrake would like to know if readers with phantom limbs have found that other people, or pets, ever seem to ‘feel’ their phantom. Email Rupert Sheldrake's researcher, with subject heading: Rupert Sheldrake.
Rupert's website:

Rupert Sheldrake

John Michell would love to hear about your experience of any unusual or unexplained phenomena.
If you have a favourite mystery subject - from spontaneous human combustion to ancient Celtic ritual sites, write to John, suggesting a theme. And if you have any answers or theories about the mysteries John will be highlighting, he would particularly like to hear from you.

Email mystery@cainer.comwith subject heading: John Michell
Please note, we regret that due to time restrictions personal replies may not be available.

John Michell is a prolific author. Below are just two of John's books which might interest you:

The Rough Guide to Unexplained Phenomena
John Michell and Bob Rickard - A fascinating collection. Look up anything from urban legends to recorded unexplained phenomena - to the existance of ghosts. All presented in an organised, easy to follow manner, in related categories. A complete index and accompanying pictures with each entry. Excellent reference - excellent read.
Who Wrote Shakespeare?
Was the most famous poet and writer of all time a fraud and a plagiarist? Was Shakespeare the "upstart crow" described by Greene as strutting in borrowed feathers, or Jonson's "Poet-Ape" who patched plays together from others' work? John Michell's witty investigation of the theories and claims reads like a series of detective stories. By the end of the book even the most faithful disciples of the Bard will find themselves asking, "Who Wrote Shakespeare?"

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