From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Telepathy (literally “distant perception/feeling”) comes from the Greek tele, “distant”, and pathe, “feeling”, and refers to the supposed ability to communicate information from one mind to another, and is one form of extra-sensory perception or anomalous cognition. This information is generally reported as being “received” in the same form as that from the conventional senses.
Anecdotal accounts of such perception have been noted in many cultures since historical records have been kept. As with all psi phenomena, there is wide disagreement and controversy within the sciences and even within parapsychology as to the existence of telepathy.
Scientific investigation of telepathy is generally recognized as having begun with the inital program or research of the Society for Psychical Research. The apex of their early investigations was the report published in 1886 as the two-volume work Phantasms of the Living. It was with this work that the term “telepathy” was introduced, replacing the earlier term “thought transference”. Although much of the initial investigations consisted largely of gathering anecdotal accounts with followup investigations, they also conducted experiments with some of the those who claimed telepathic abilities. However, their experimental protocols were not very strict by today’s standards.
In 1917, psychologist John E. Coover from Stanford University conducted a series of telepathy tests involving transmitting/guessing playing cards. His subjects were able to guess the identity of cards with overall odds against chance of 160 to 1, however Coover did not consider the results to be significant enough to report this as a positive result.
Perhaps the most well-known telepathy experiments were those of J. B. Rhine and his associates at Duke University beginning in the 1927 using the distinctive ESP Cards of Karl Zener. These involved more rigorous and systematic experimental protocols than those from the 19th century, used what were assumed to be “average subjects” rather than those who claimed exceptional ability, and used new developments in the field of statistics to evaluate results. Results of these and other experiments were published by Rhine in his popular book Extra Sensory Perception, which popularized the term “ESP”.
Another influential book about telepathy in its day was Mental Radio, published in 1930 by the Pulitzer-prize winning author Upton Sinclair (with foreword by Albert Einstein). In it Sinclair describes the apparent ability of his wife at times to reproduce sketches made by himself and others, even when separated by several miles, in apparently informal experiments that are reminiscent of some of those to be used by remote viewing researchers in later times. They note in their book that the results could also be explained by more general clairvoyance, and they did some experiments whose results suggested that in fact no sender was necessary, and some drawings could be reproduced precognitively.
By the 1960s many parapsychologists had become dissatisfied with the forced-choice experiments of J.B. Rhine, partly because of boredom on the part of test subjects after many repetitions of monotonous card-guessing, partly because of the observed “decline effect” where the accuracy of card guessing would decrease over time for a given subject, which some parapsychologists attributed to this boredom. Some parapsychologists turned to free response experimental formats where the target was not limited to a small finite predetermined set of responses (e.g. zener cards), but rather could be any sort of picture, drawing, photograph, movie clip, piece of music, etc. As a result of surveys of spontaneous psi experiences which reported that more than half of these occurred in the dreaming state, researchers Montaque Ullman and Stanley Krippner at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, undertook a series of experiments to test for telepathy in the dream state. A “receiver” subject in a soundproof, electronically shielded room, would be monitored while sleeping for EEG patterns and rapid eye movements (REMs) indicating dream state. A “sender” in another room would then attempt to send an image, randomly selected from a pool of images, to the receiver by focusing on the image during the detected dream states. Near the end of each REM period, the receiver would be awakened and asked to describe their dream during that period. The data gathered suggested that sometimes the sent image was incorporated in some way into the content of the receiver’s dreams.
While the dream telepathy experiments results were interesting, to run such experiments required many resources (time, effort, personnel). Other researchers looked for more streamlined alternatives. These led to the so-called ganzfeld experiments, which have been most closely followed in recent times and have provided perhaps the strongest experimental evidence of telepathy to date.
To date there has not yet been any satisfactory experimental protocol designed to distinguish telepathy from other forms of ESP such as clairvoyance.
Some, for example Spider Robinson in the book Deathkiller, have envisioned neurological research leading to technologically assisted telepathy.
The controversial British academic Professor Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading claims that his research into implanted radio transmitters is the first step towards a kind of telepathy. Others view Warwick as a self-publicist, and regard his claims with extreme skepticism.
Comic books take greater liberties with telepaths, giving them the ability to not only control minds (through hypnosis-like capabilities, illusion, etc..) but actually turning telepathy into an offensive weapon by overloading the mental communication channel with a “mind-blast” which causes great pain, unconsciousness, and sometimes even death. More broadly, telepathy has been the subject of much other science fiction and particularly soft science fiction.