False Argument #15: The Telepathy Tropes

Posted in Consciousness, False Arguments, Parapsychology, Thinking Critically on  | 5 minutes | 1 Comment →

There are two opposite polarities of misinformation surrounding the phenomenon of telepathy. The first erroneously dismisses the entire gamut of legitimate evidence, and the second erroneously bolsters what little legitimate evidence actually exists. That no scientifically acceptable, persuasive evidence exists and that telepathy is a scientifically proven phenomenon are both equally false arguments. Although the phenomenon is inherently difficult to test systematically and is by no means proven, significant telepathic experiments have been conducted resulting in published works and peer-reviewed papers.

Although it does not require a sender, telepathy is generally described as mind-to-mind transference of information. As with all psychic phenomena, at least some forms of telepathy are said to represent disparate breaches of space and time, and the phenomenon is also purported to occur between humans and animals, or between animals such as whales.

The word itself came to replace the more commonly-used axioms of ‘thought-transference’ and ‘thought-reading’ used in the late nineteenth century. English poet and essayist Frederic William Henry Myers is credited with coining the term in 1882. Myers was a founding member of both the general science of psychology and the London-based Society for Psychical Research (SPR). There is also significant interest in the phenomenon expressed in pop culture. The screenplay Telepathy written by Stephen Volk is currently in production and deals with identical twins subjected to long-range experiments in Earth’s orbit.

Notable researchers and thinkers have made varying statements on telepathy throughout history. Democritus proposed corpuscle-wave theories about the possible material nature of the phenomenon, Freud considered it a regressive faculty naturally de-selected, Jung considered the phenomenon significantly significant, James was enthusiastic towards further research, Russell felt the experiments of his day were acceptable, and Rhine considered telepathy and clairvoyance as potentially mutual expressions of a singular phenomenon.

I find that persuasive anecdotes exist of mothers who received a message about a child in danger that turned out to be correct, but these don’t count as science. The central problem with evaluating telepathy scientifically is similar to the paradox of judging miracles scientifically: Both are said to indicate disparate breaches of space and time, which by default are not empirically accessible. How can one cause a disparate breach of space and time? In a similar vein, if telepathy is caused or even accentuated by the fight or flight instinct, which would be in accord with the phenomenon’s purported prevalence in times of familial distress, the totality of our experiments with it are confounded and flawed from the beginning.

Incidentally, Albert Einstein wrote the forward to Upton Sinclair’s Mental Radio in 1930. One of the first published reports on telepathy was the two-volume 1886 Phantasms of the Living by the Society for Psychical Research. In 1974, Puthoff and Targ published their Information Transfer Under Conditions of Sensory Shielding, and in 1995 researchers Utts and Hyman also published a series of significant peer-reviewed papers. Early experiments typically took place in Britain or the United States and dealt with a series of cards where the sender and percipient attempt to transfer mental images. Many early experiments were outright trash science, others represented legitimate frontier studies worthy of further exploration.

At least one telepathic experiment has been conducted from space with over 150,000 miles between sender and receiver. Perhaps the most significant contemporary work on the subject is the program on “Anomalous Mental Phenomena” carried out at SRI International (formerly the Stanford Research Institute) from 1973 through 1989, and continued at SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) from 1992 through 1994. While not conclusive proof, a fair and balanced analysis of the latter does permit the conservative statements that inexplicable statistical departures from chance occur, and that the argument for psychic faculty is undeniably stronger than it has ever been.

One false argument against telepathy claims if the phenomenon were real, natural selection would have insured it existed in all of us by now. This presumes that the trait is beneficial, but this an issue of legitimate debate. The reader should also note that ‘real’ is not synonymous with ‘biological’ or ‘genetic,’ and of many reasonable objections to this idea is the question of whether telepathy even represents a genetically transferable trait, and if it does, whether this trait is newly emergent, and if it is not, then we must account for its disparity.

Conversely, one false argument used to support telepathy is the peculiar fact that genes apparently engage in a similar process. The work of Baldwin, Leikin, Seddon, Kornyshev et al. shows that homology recognition between nucleotides occurs in the complete absence of physical contact, over gaps larger than one nanometer, and indeed DNA strands placed in water are about twice as likely to gather together correctly. However, this experiment speaks nothing on mind-to-mind transfer of information unless one posits that nucleotides have mind.

There is much more we could discuss in the debate over telepathy, but for now let’s just say the field is awash in misinformation, embellishment and false arguments, and anyone who argues an open-and-shut-case on either side is not presenting all the facts.

Caveat emptor!

One comment

  1. navagitor


    jason gould has been here

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