Kahne Part 1
Harry Kahne: Multiple Mentality
Strand Magazine(October 1925) ~
"The Man With The Multiple Mind"
An Interview with Harry Kahne, Whose Brain can do Six Things at the Same Time
By Fenn Sherie
It is said that Mohammed and Caesar could, upon occasions, perform two distinct mental operations --- such as writing a letter and carrying on a conversation --- simultaneously. Not having interviewed either of them I am unable to confirm this. I can, however, vouch for the fact that the present generation has produced a remarkable young man who can make his brain do six different things at the same time --- involving, according to the psychologists, no fewer than 14 separate mental processes.
When I first heard of his existence I was (as the reader may be at present) a little dubious. However, now that I have witnessed his public performance, put him through several private tests and chatted with him regarding his remarkable talents, I am in a position to state the facts.
His name is Harry Kahne, his age is 28, and his native land is America. He has a charming personality, a nasal accent, and above all, a wonderful brain.
His demonstrations of multiple mind concentration have to be seen to be believed, but the reader will gather some idea of his remarkable abilities from a careful study of the accompanying photographs with their descriptive captions.
Whether he is performing before music hall audiences or learned professors of psychology, Mr Kahne has the happy knack of keeping his audiences amused as well as amazed. Even whilst jotting down rows of figures, writing them upside down and backwards, he manages to maintain a steady flow of amusing chatter.
"Will somebody please call out a number?" he asks. "You may call out your age if you like. Ladies may call out the age of their lady friends."
And whilst he is writing out news headlines backwards and doing difficult mathematical calculations at the same time, he continues to invite questions from members of the audience, to all of which he has a ready reply.
"Talk to me! Talk to me!" he pleads.
"What is the population of Manchester?" shouts a voice from the back of the hall.
"The population" --- he writes two letters and adds a figure --- "of Manchester" --- he writes two more figures and another letter --- "is 730,551. Anybody else? Talk to me!"
"Are you married?" shouts a girl in the gallery.
"No", he answers, promptly, jotting down a word as he talks; "It’s my work that makes me act like this."
And in his final demonstration of "word-juggling", clearly explained in the photograph on the next page, he maintains the interest by hanging upside down and reciting a poem!
"That boy will go mad", said a woman sitting behind me in the theater where I first saw Mr Kahne perform.
"He is a genius", exclaimed a gray-haired gentleman who looked like a medical man."Very wonderful, but he won’t live long", he added, shaking his head.
But to talk to Mr Kahne is to discover that, although he has exceptional abilities, he is not by any means a freak. If he displays genius, it is not the kind that is akin to madness, but rather of the more creditable variety, generally spoken of as "an infinite capacity for taking pains".
"It is all a matter of development and practice", he told me. "Just as the acrobat or juggler trains muscles and nerves that even an athlete overlooks, so have I trained brain cells which the average mental worker seldom attempts to being into use."
"But you must admit that you have been endowed with an exceptionally good brain", I said.
"Yes, it is a good brain --- call it a first class brain, if you like --- yet there are thousands of other brains in the world just as good as mine. There are thousands of pairs of legs in the world just as good as the champion sprinter, but they do not all win races. Mental development is very much like physical development --- it is mainly a matter of exercise."
"But to exercise the brain in the way that you do must surely exert a very severe strain upon it?" I ventured.
"So does an athlete exert a very severe strain upon his muscles when he runs a race", replied Mr Kahne, smiling.
"Agreed", I said, becoming argumentative, "but mental strain is surely far more dangerous than physical exertion?"
"Well, I suppose you’re right there", he replied. "When I first started this sort of thing the psychologists and mental specialists declared that I had better get myself measured for a padded cell or a coffin. At that time I was performing only four feats at once, and I think it was the strain of trying to do five that really upset me. Anyhow, at the age of 23 all my hair came out. I didn’t like that at all. It made me look so ridiculous. But I thought it over, and came to the conclusion that the trouble was due to nervous strain --- quite a temporary affair, like the stiffness an athlete feels when he starts to train a new set of muscles --- and I reckoned that if I kept on practising I should soon get into the way of performing feats without any serious strain at all. So I stuck to it, and as soon as I mastered the five feats my nerves quieted down and my hair came back again!"
"Do you not mean to infer that your present demonstrations are carried out without your feeling any strain?" I said.
"No sir --- I do not", replied Mr Kahne, emphatically. "The strain is still there, but the worry has gone. You must bear in mind that, apart from the fact that I do six things at once, the words and figures are given me by members of the audience, and the questions they ask range anywhere between baseball and the Einstein theory. So, you see, my performance is practically extemporaneous."
"You have compared your training to that of an athlete", I said. "Does that mean that you have to diet yourself in any way --- taking ‘brain food’ in the form of fish, for example?"
Mr Kahne laughed.
"Oh, no! I just live naturally and eat what I like. All the same, I have to keep my body fit, or my brain gets tired, and I cannot work well if my stomach is overloaded. But here’s an interesting point. Strange though it may seem, I can concentrate better hanging head downwards than when in an upright position. The rush of blood to the head stimulates the brain. Do you know that when people lie awake at night, thinking and worrying, unable to get to sleep, it is often due to a rush of blood to the head, caused by indigestion or something of that sort? If they were to prop themselves up with pillows they would probably manage to get to sleep without further trouble."
"Tell me", I asked "what do the psychologists think of your performance?"
"Oh gosh --- don’t talk to me about psychologists! They‘re good fellows and very interesting to talk to, but when a bunch of those scientists get me under observation it generally means that I have to sit up half the night while they argue over me. They tell me that the six mental operations I perform simultaneously involve no fewer than 14 separate processes of the brain. They tabulate these as: Hearing questions, answering questions, reading newspaper, transposing what is read, transposing spelling, writing with right hand, writing with left hand, writing upside down, carrying six different thoughts in mind, retaining questions, retaining figures for addition, retaining figures for division, proving previous work, and controlling physical actions (writing, stooping, walking, etc.)
"Then they start in to measure my head, put me through all kinds of queer psychiatric tests, and usually finish up by asking me how I do it!"
"And you attribute your ability entirely to mind training?" I said. "Your powers are not inherited?"
"Well, my father certainly had a good memory --- he spoke 16 languages --- but he displayed no mental abnormality. I certainly did not inherit my ability to do six things at once any more than Cinquevalli inherited his ability to keep 8 or 9 balls in the air at the same time."
"When did you first discover your ability to direct your mind into several channels of thought simultaneously?"
"At the age of 14, when I was at school. In most lessons, excepting mathematics, I was rather backwards --- not because I hadn’t the ability to learn, but because I did not pay attention. I was an absent-minded youth, a daydreamer --- always letting my mind wander, thinking out little mechanical inventions, planning new forms of code writing, or evolving plots for short stories. One day my teacher fired a sudden question at me, and finding that I was not paying attention, hauled me out for corporal punishment. It was really the feeling of his cane that first turned my thoughts in the direction of multiple mind concentration. I did not want to give up my daydreams, but on the other hand, I had a distinct aversion to corporal punishment. So after a while I got into the habit of letting one part of my brain wander into the realms of inventive fancy whilst I kept the other alert for an enfilade fire of questions from the teacher.
"One of the tricks with which I used to amused myself was writing backwards. The first words I tackled were ‘Never again’. Why I chose them I don’t know --- unless I was thinking of that cane! --- but I practiced writing them backwards and upside down at every conceivable opportunity. N-I-a-g-a r-e-v ---
"’Harry Kahne’, the teacher would shout suddenly, ‘go straight ahead from where Jimmy Wilson left off’. Instantly I would jump to my feet and recite my lines of poetry without the slightest hesitation.
"Later, finding that this faculty for writing words backwards whilst keeping my mind occupied in quite a different direction became quite natural to me, I began to entertain my friends at home with a few parlour tricks on similar lines. When I left school I went into the jewellery business, but I continued to practice my mental gymnastics --- partly for fun, and partly because I felt that it kept my brain in good trim.
"One day a vaudeville manager happened to see me and asked if I thought I could give a public performance. I said I would try --- and that very same evening I appeared at his theatre as deputy for a performer who had failed to put in an appearance. I have been in the show business ever since. When I first appeared I did four things at once. Now I do six. Maybe, in time, I shall be able to do seven or eight."
"But surely there is quite enough strain in your present demonstration without your wanting to add to it?" I exclaimed.
Mr Kahne smiled.
"Perhaps you’re right", he said. :It is very hard work. In the two shows of ten minutes duration which I give every evening I calculate that I use up as much mental energy as the average brain worker expends in an 8-hour day. But I soon recover. I spend all the rest of my time in play and relaxation and never allow myself to worry. It’s worry that kills --- not mental effort. I attribute my clarity of thought not so much to a good memory, but to what I call a good ‘forgettery’. In my daily life I erase all unpleasant thoughts from my mind. And on the stage my ability to forget is an equally important asset. Unless I were able to wipe out from my memory the words given me at the first performance, I might easily confuse them with those called out at the second house. Then where should I be?"
I said that I did not know. Then I asked Mr Kahne if he could explain the method by which he has trained his memory.
"Well, in the first place, most people have a wrong idea of the faculty commonly called memory. Some regard it as a sort of adhesive jelly upon which facts will stick and remain until called for. Others look upon it as sort of card index where thoughts are sorted, to be retrieved at will by pulling a sort of mental ‘tag’ --- the ‘tag’ being what is commonly called ‘the association of ideas’. But such methods of memorizing are automatic rather than systematic."
"Then what is the secret of remembering several things at a time?" I asked.
"Focus", replied Mr Kahne promptly. "If you take a camera with a new roll of film and expose it five times at random, you get five blurred images. But if you focus the camera carefully upon a given object and then make the sixth exposure, you get a distinct image. So it is with the brain.
"It is often said that half of us go about with our eyes shut. It would be more correct to say ‘with our eyes unfocused’. And the same applies to our ears. We see without observing and we hear without listening. Most people could, if they tried, train their brains to hold five times as many impressions as they do at present. When they are forced to focus their senses, they do so with the greatest ease. For example, of you carry on a conversation in a crowded room there may be several people talking at the same time, yet you will have no difficulty in fixing your attention upon the words of the one person who is talking to you. That is what is generally called concentration."
"But that does not explain multiple concentration", I said.
"I am coming to that" answered Mr Kahne. "Do you play the piano?"
A little startled at the apparent irrelevancy of the question --- for even in conversation Mr Kahne’s brain works so rapidly that it is difficult to keep pace with it --- I stammered out something to the effect that I strummed a little for my own amusement.
"And have you ever accompanied a vocalist, reading the music from sight?"
I admitted that I had done so.
"Do you realize, then, that you were doing several things at once? You were reading the treble and the bass as well as the words of the lyrics, listening to the singer, playing with both hands, and occasionally using your feet on the pedals!"
There was no answer to that argument. Mr Kahne had made his point.
"The trouble with most ‘brainy’ people", he went on, "is that they usually develop their retentive powers in one direction only. The learned professor who knows the names of all the insects in the world and cannot remember his own; the schoolmaster who knows the dates of the accession of all the Kings and Queens and of every important event, yet forgets the date of his wife’s birthday, are common examples of what I call ‘one cylinder memories’."
"But what astonishes me", I said, "is not only the ease with which you retain words and figures, but the rapidity with which you grasp them in the first place."
"Again, that is a matter of practice. I catch words and sentences just as easily and just as firmly as a wicket-keeper catches a ball. When a sentence is hurled at me it sticks as soon as ever I receive it. Sometimes a dozen or more people will be shouting at once, yet I am able to grasp what most of them are calling.
"But here is a curious fact. If somebody calls to me from behind the stage --- in other words, from the direction in which my mind is not focused --- the words will either make no impression on my brain at all, or, if they do, they will throw me entirely out of tune and upset my demonstration."
"But you are able to concentrate upon thoughts as well as upon words and figures?" I asked.
"Sure. Give me a piece of paper and I will show you. Now suggest any subject you like and I will write you a sentence upon it."
"The Strand Magazine", I suggested.
"Right", replied Mr Kahne, and instantly he began to write a string of jumbled letters. "You can talk to me whilst I’m doing this if you like", he said.
"I will leave it to you to do the talking", I said. "Suppose you recite something."
"Sure. Anything you like."
"Kipling’s ‘Gunga Din’", I suggested, naming the first popular poem that came to my mind.
Instantly Mr Kahne commenced to recite, still writing without a moment’s pause, at the steady rate of about one letter per second. He managed somehow to make the finish of the poem coincide with the end of the sentence he was writing.
"You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din", he declaimed, handing me the sheet of paper with a flourish. "Now look. First of all, starting from the first letter on the left, I want you to read every third letter", he said.
I spelt it out aloud.
"T-h-e S-t-r-a-n-d M-a-g-a-z-i-n-"
"The letter ‘e’ is upside down", said Mr Kahne. "Turn the paper over."
"Now start with the capital ‘I’ and take every third letter."
"I-s T-h-e L-e-a-d-i-n-g"
"Now turn the paper over again and you will find, near the end, a letter ‘B’ written backwards. Read on from there, backwards --- or, if you prefer, hold the paper up to the mirror --- and you will get the rest of the sentence."
"B-r-i-t-i-s-h M-o-n-t-h-l-y", I read.
Mr Kahne had written the letters in one long string from left to right, jumbling their order, turning some upside down and others backwards, yet he had not omitted a single letter or added a superfluous one!
"Well", I said, "Gunga Din may be a better man than you are in some respects, but certainly not in matters of mental gymnastics. Nobody is in the same street with you there!"
"Oh, shucks!" he replied, with picturesque modesty. "You could do the same yourself if you tried."
"Thanks very much", I answered, "but I’d rather not try."
Figure 1: Doing Six Things At Once ~Mr Harry Kahne demonstrating his ability to read, write, invert, add, divide, and converse, all at the same time. The figures on the smaller boards are provided by members of the audience. Those on the larger board are written intermittently by Mr Kahne whilst he is copying the headlines from a newspaper held upside down. He writes the figures and letters alternately, thus carrying out two distinct mathematical calculations whilst he is performing the four other mental feats, not the least difficult of which is the answering of questions as to the populations of various towns!
Figure 2: Juggling With Long Words Whilst Reciting A Poem ~Three long words are suggested by members of the audience and written on the smaller board. Mr Kahne memorizes them; then, hanging head downwards, he proceeds to jumble them into an apparently meaningless scrawl, at the same time reciting any popular poem requested. A careful examination of the writing --- taking every third letter --- will reveal that he is in the act of writing "Indianapolis" correctly (as seen from the reader's point of view), "Idiosyncracies" upside down, and "Constantinople" upside down, backwards, and reversed (legible when viewed in a mirror).
Figure 3: Writing with Both Hands, Both Feet, and Mouth Simultaneously ~A demonstration of multiple concentration of both mind and muscle which Mr Kahne frequently gives before doctors and psychologists. Note: the right hand is writing backwards and reversed, whilst the mouth is writing backwards but correctly).
Figure 4: Solving A Crossword Puzzle While Suspended Head Downwards ~Mr Kahne recently performed this feat in response to a challenge, and completed the puzzle correctly in 13 minutes.
Figure 5 ~To demonstrate his mental alertness and prove that his feats are not prearranged, Mr Kahne agreed to write a complicated sentence upon any subject whilst reciting a poem. The subject suggested was "The Strand Magazine", and the result is shown below. To read the sentence, first take the letters underlined, then turn the page upside down and read the letters marked with a cross, and, finally, hold the page to a mirror and, commencing with the capital B, read the remaining letters.