Telepathy from the Greek τηλε, tele, "distant", and πάθεια, patheia, "feeling", is 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.
Because current science has no plausible explanation for claims of telepathic phenomena, "telepathy" resides in the realm of metaphysics, and cannot itself technically be called a theory of telepathy since the varied explanations have various unbridgeable gaps to current science. The term "extrasensory communication" has had some use for describing telepathy, as using senses other than the 5 basic human senses, though because of the apparent logical paradox that a claimed "sense" may have no organ for its sensing, the term is often dismissed as misnomer.
However, because human observation of "strange currencies" and similar extraordinary phenomenon have long endured, similar or related explanations have resonance in contemporary history, fiction, and belief. The concept of telepathy has been connected to a number of different similar metaphysical phenomena such as precognition, clairvoyance and empathy, and has some important bearing within religious concepts of connectivity between human beings (love, bonding) and related ritual development.
Much of formal religious discourse since the inception of civilization has dealt with the apparent disparity between religious truth (which may refer to the "truth" of "extrasensory" communication) and emerging human rationality and empirical-based belief. Nearly all religions (almost by definition) embody aspects of metaphysicality within their spheres of understanding, and some argue that the consistent threads between these apparent and "witnessed" metaphysical events and experiences have a plausible, (though not scientific) explanation in the idea of telepathic communication; both between individuals and even between larger collective groups. For example, the aspect of human ethnicity as having an apparent bearing on the development of a "collective psyche," which itself has bearing in defining an enemy, or otherwise "understood" divisions within and between societies.
Proponents of telepathy argue that the difficulty in rationalizing or "proving" the concept is equivalent to the difficulty in bringing dreams to conscious awareness; human beings are finite creatures living within temporal, physical, and psychic mediums. I.e. 'just as a fish may be unaware of the importance of water to their being, so too do humans and other animals exist in a psychic medium which many are not consciously aware of.'
Proponents of the telepathy theory claim that empirical observation points to an unexplainable connection between all animal species, that it accounts for a great number of yet-unexplainable phenomenon, such as how a various kinds animals and insect are able function as part of a collective whole. To some degree, they claim, this psychic connection is not limited by culture, or species, but by the sensor's own ability to relate to and perceive the "signals" they may be receiving.
When Carl Jung posed his theory of the collective unconscious, it symbolized an emerging rift between his theories and those of his colleague Sigmund Freud, whom had instead chosen to reject metaphysical explanations, opting for more "rational" explanations for apparently unexplainable phenomena. To this day, the terms "psyche" "psychic" have dual use in both the science of psychology and in metaphysics, depending on whether the discussion may provide for the possibility (either declared or implied) of explanations and ideas outside of current science.
Perhaps the most interesting contemporary developments lie in those explanations which attempt to tie naturally developed aspects of human sensitivity (by some accessible medium) to the realm of current theoretical quantum physics, which has radically changed the formal understanding (Classical physics) about the nature of time and space, energy and matter and the relationships between each. The most evolved concepts of telepathy draw from both ideas in psychology and physics; that any mind can be conceived of as a naturally-formed matrix of electrical signals grown and suspended within a physical scaffold, and that all similar minds have evolved similar capabilities for influencing and receiving fluctuations at the quantum levels, where the normal laws of time and space do not apply. They further claim that psychological concepts of personal and collective identity, sanity, boundaries, self, emotions, etc. all are as much (if not more so) aspects of a "psychic medium" as they of the physical structure (brain). In essence, proponents claim that telepathy is not "extrasensory," rather that the brain is the telepathic organ; its connections to other brains are not physical but psychic, and the very definition of the psychic medium is the localized inertial frame of reference which is affected by the mind. This new, and scientifically grounded, approach provides the context for the amateur theory of neurokinetic telepathy.
Telepathy in history
Very few anecdotal accounts of telepathy have been noted in many ancient cultures since historical records have been kept. In the Bible, some prophets appear to have the ability to see into the future (precognition). This seems to be a common claim from ancient and primitive peoples. But the sending and receiving of messages from individual to individual by mind alone is never mentioned at all. As with all psi phenomena, there is wide disagreement and controversy within the sciences and even within parapsychology as to the existence of telepathy.
Western scientific investigation of telepathy is generally recognized as having begun with the initial 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 participants 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 (See also Zener Cards). These involved more rigorous and systematic experimental protocols than those from the 19th century, used what were assumed to be 'average' participants 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 participants after many repetitions of monotonous card-guessing and refusing the suggestion by magicians of adding cards that were totally blank, partly because of the observed "decline effect" where the accuracy of card guessing would decrease over time for a given participant, 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" participant 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. Among them are the so-called ganzfeld experiments, which have been most closely followed in recent times and that some people believe 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.
- There have been rare claims of shared of visual hallucinations in folie a deux - shared psychotic disorder. These are beyond the scope of science at this time. The phenomena cannot be produced or reproduced on demand.
Telepathy and technology
Some, for example the science-fiction writer Spider Robinson in the book Deathkiller, have envisioned neurological research leading to technologically assisted telepathy. As of 2004 scientists have demonstrated that brain imaging can be successfully used to recognise distinct thought patterns, and tell, for example, whether experimental monkeys thought about juice or water and whether a human participant thought about a rotating cube or moving his paralised arm. Both implanted electrodes recording neurons' activity and outside electrodes recording electromagnetic activity of the brain can be used.
Technologically assisted telepathy achieved so far is thus a very real phenomenon and is significantly more accurate in tests than "natural" telepathy.
There are several schools of thought on how far technologically assisted telepathy (Type II Telepathy, as opposed to Type I where technology plays no part) has gotten with modern technology. There are some theories that the technology was mastered as back as 1986, but its essential control elements were not known or perfected until the early 1990s. It is speculated that Type II is very selective in its effect, the technology being based upon neural engram interception and retransmission.
Telepathy and harmonics
Based heavily on theories by Maturana and Francisco Varela in the 1980's, a recent theory has been suggested focusing on the stable and powerful Delta and Gamma wavelength EEG emissions brains produce during states of intense emotion. The theory focuses the principle of neurokinetic harmonics into a rough framework called neurokinetic telepathy. It emphasises the practice of 'telepathy game', which is similar to ganzfeld type experiments except that it is more energetically efficient, and treats the Sender/Receiver as a single unit. The theory posits that experts in this type of telepathy game could learn telepathy by co-adapting to their counterpart's specific neurosynaptic reflexes.
Telepathy in fiction
Comic books and role-playing games 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.
Last updated: 10-11-2005 05:47:06