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An experiment in sensory deprivation aiming to demonstrate TP
Coined by Fredric W. H. Myers (1882) [1]
Definition The ostensible transference of thoughts or feelings between two or more subjects through Psi
Signature One subject said to gain information from another that was shielded from their traditional senses by distance, time, or physical barriers.
See also Extra-sensory perception,
Anomalous cognition,
Ganzfeld experiment

Telepathy (from the Greek τηλε, tele meaning "distant" and πάθεια, patheia meaning "to be affected by"),[2] is the ostensible transfer of information on thoughts or feelings between individuals by means other than the five senses (See Psi).[1][3] The term was coined in 1882 by the classical scholar Fredric W. H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research,[1] specifically to replace the earlier expression thought-transference.[1][3] A person who is able to make use of telepathy is said to be able to read the thoughts and stored information in the brain of others. Telepathy, along with psychokinesis forms the main branches of parapsychological research, and many studies seeking to detect, understand, and utilize telepathy have been done within the field.

The scientific consensus, as expressed by the National Science Foundation, has identified and described ten subjects, including telepathy, and they consider belief in those subjects to be pseudoscientific beliefs.[4] Among the reasons the concept has not been accepted by the scientific community is that there is no accepted mechanism by which telepathy can work. As well, there is no definition which unambiguously distinguishes it from a number of other related concepts such as clairvoyance.[5]

Telepathy is a common theme in modern fiction and science fiction, with many superheroes and supervillains having telepathic abilities. Such abilities include sensing the thoughts of others.


Origins of the concept

According to Roger Luckhurst,[6] the origin of the concept of telepathy (not telepathy itself) in the Western civilization can be tracked to the late 19th century. In his view, science did not frequently concern itself with "the mind" prior to this. As the physical sciences made significant advances, scientific concepts were applied to mental phenomena (e.g., animal magnetism), with the hope that this would help understand paranormal phenomena. The modern concept of telepathy emerged in this historical context.

In addition, the notion of telepathy is similar to two psychological concepts: delusions of thought insertion/removal and psychological symbiosis. This similarity might explain how some people have come up with the idea of telepathy. Thought insertion/removal is a symptom of psychosis, particularly of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Psychiatric patients who experience this symptom falsely believe that some of their thoughts are not their own and that others (e.g., other people, aliens, or conspiring intelligence agencies) are putting thoughts into their minds (thought insertion). Some patients feel as if thoughts are being taken out of their minds or deleted (thought removal). Along with other symptoms of psychosis, delusions of thought insertion may be reduced by antipsychotic medication. Psychological symbiosis is a less well established concept. It is an idea found in the writings of early psychoanalysts, such as Melanie Klein. It entails the belief that in the early psychological experience of the child (during earliest infancy), the child is unable to tell the difference between his or her own mind, on one hand, and his or her experience of the mother/parent, on the other hand. This state of mind is called psychological symbiosis; with development, it ends, but, purportedly, aspects of it can still be detected in the psychological functioning of the adult. Putatively, the experience of either thought insertion/removal or unconscious memories of psychological symbiosis may have led to the invention of "telepathy" as a notion and the belief that telepathy exists. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists believe and empirical findings support the idea that people with schizotypal personality disorder are particularly likely to believe in telepathy.[7]

Telepathy in parapsychology

Within the field of parapsychology, telepathy is considered to be a form of extra-sensory perception (ESP) or anomalous cognition in which information is transferred through Psi. It is often categorized similarly to precognition and clairvoyance.[8] Various experiments have been used to test for telepathic abilities. Among the most well known are the use of Zener cards and the Ganzfeld experiment.

Zener cards are cards marked with five distinctive symbols. When using them, one individual is designated the "sender" and another the "receiver". The sender must select a random card and visualize the symbol on it, while the receiver must attempt to determine that symbol using Psi. Statistically, the receiver has a 20% chance of randomly guessing the correct symbol, so in order to demonstrate telepathy, they must repeatedly score a success rate that is significantly higher than 20%.[9] If not conducted properly, this method can be vulnerable to sensory leakage and card counting.[9]

When using the Ganzfeld experiment to test for telepathy, one individual is designated the receiver and is placed inside a controlled environment where they are deprived of sensory input, and another is designated the sender and is placed in a separate location. The receiver is then required to receive information from the sender. The exact nature of the information may vary between experiments.[10]

Types of telepathy

Parapsychology describes several different forms of telepathy, including latent telepathy and precognitive telepathy.[3]

Latent Telepathy, formerly known as "deferred telepathy",[11] is described as being the transfer of information, through Psi, with an observable time-lag between transmission and receipt.[3]

Retrocognitive, Precognitive, and Intuitive Telepathy is described as being the transfer of information, through Psi, about the past, future or present state of an individual's mind to another individual.[3]

Emotive Telepathy, also known as remote influence [12] or emotional transfer, is the process of transferring kinesthetic sensations through altered states.

Superconscious Telepathy, involves tapping into the superconscious [13] to access the collective wisdom of the human species for knowledge.

Skepticism and controversy

Although not a recognized scientific discipline, people who study certain types of paranormal phenomena such as telepathy refer to the field as parapsychology. Parapsychologists claim that some instances of telepathy are real.[14][15] Skeptics say that instances of apparent telepathy are explained as the result of fraud, self-delusion and/or self-deception and that telepathy does not exist as a paranormal power.[16]

Parapsychologists and skeptics agree that many of the instances of more popular psychic phenomena, such as mediumism, can be attributed to non-paranormal techniques such as cold reading.[17][18][19] Magicians such as Ian Rowland and Derren Brown have demonstrated techniques and results similar to those of popular psychics, but they prefer psychological explanations instead of paranormal ones. They have identified, described, and developed complex psychological techniques of cold reading and hot reading.

A technique which shows statistically significant evidence of telepathy on every occasion has yet to be discovered. This lack of reliable reproducibility has led skeptics to argue that there is no credible scientific evidence for the existence of telepathy at all.[20] Skeptics also point to historical cases in which were discovered flaws in experimental design and occasional cases of fraud.[20] Parapsychologists such as Dean Radin, president of the Parapsychological Association, argue that the statistical significance and consistency of results shown by a meta-analysis of numerous studies provides evidence for telepathy that is almost impossible to account for using any other means.[10]

Telepathy in popular culture

Telepathy is commonly used in fiction, with a number of superheroes and supervillains, as well as figures in many science fiction novels, etc., use telepathy. Notable fictional telepaths include the Jedi in Star Wars. The mechanics of telepathy in fiction vary widely. Some fictional telepaths are limited to receiving only thoughts that are deliberately sent by other telepaths, or even to receiving thoughts from a specific other person. For example, in Robert A. Heinlein's 1956 novel Time for the Stars, certain pairs of twins are able to send telepathic messages to each other. Some telepaths can read the thoughts only of those they touch, such as Vulcans in the Star Trek media franchise. Star Trek science consultant and writer André Bormanis, has revealed that telepathy within the Star Trek universe works via the "psionic field." According to Bormanis, a psionic field is the "medium" through which unspoken thoughts and feelings are communicated through space.[21] Some humanoids can tap into this field through a kind of sense organ located in the brain; in the same manner that human eyes can sense portions of the electromagnetic field, telepaths can sense portions of the psionic field. In the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, telepathy is a magical skill known as Legilimency. In Anthony Horowitz's Power of Five series twins Jamie and Scott Tyler were born with telepathic powers that enable them to read people's minds and, ultimately, control them. They always know what each other are thinking, which earns them money doing tricks at a circus in Reno, Nevada, USA.

Some writers view telepathy as the evolutionary destiny of humanity. In Tony Vigorito's novel, Just a Couple of Days, telepathy emerges across the entire human species as a result of the Pied Piper Virus, which inadvertently eliminated humanity's symbolic capacity. In this instance, telepathy is seen as a latent ability that emerges only when the distractions of language are bypassed.

Some fictional telepaths possess mind control abilities, which can include "pushing" thoughts, feelings, or hallucinatory visions into the mind of another person, causing pain, paralysis, or unconsciousness, altering or erasing memories, or completely taking over another person's mind and body (similar to spiritual possession). Examples of this type of telepath include the Carpathians from the novels in the Dark Series, Professor Xavier and the White Queen from Marvel Comics. Characters with this ability may or may not also have the ability to read thoughts.

The Urdu novel "Devta" is based on the character of Farhad Ali Taimur, a telepath involved in the fight of good and evil.

Technological telepathy is also present in science fiction, typically involving the usage of neural implants of some description. A good example is the Conjoiners in the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds. Conjoiners rely on their technological telepathy (referred to by them as "Transenlightenment") to the extent that they no longer actually speak. Certain Conjoiners are able to read, attack and control the minds of other Conjoiners and machines (though not standard humans) using digital attacks, often having similar effects to other telepaths in fiction.

See also a composite list of fictional characters with telepathy.

Technologically enabled telepathy

Converging Technologies, a 2002 report exploring the potential for synergy among nano-, bio-, informational and cognitive technologies (NBIC) for enhancing human performance.

Some people, occasionally referred to by themselves or others as "transhumanists", believe that technologically enabled telepathy, coined "techlepathy", "synthetic telepathy", or "psychotronics", will be the inevitable future of humanity. Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading, England is one of the leading proponents of this view and has based all of his recent cybernetics research around developing practical, safe technology for directly connecting human nervous systems together with computers and with each other. He believes techno-enabled telepathy will in the future become the primary form of human communication. He predicts that this will happen by means of the principle of natural selection, through which nearly everyone will have the need for such technology for economic and social reasons (low-self esteem).[22][23]

See also

Origin of the brain's magnetic field.


  1. ^ a b c d Carroll, Robert Todd (2005). "The Skeptic's Dictionary; Telepathy". Retrieved 2006-09-13. 
  2. ^ Following the model of sympathy and empathy.
  3. ^ a b c d e Glossary of Parapsychological terms - TelepathyParapsychological Association. Retrieved December 19, 2006.
  4. ^ Science and Engineering Indicators 2006, National Science Board, National Science Foundation. Belief in Pseudoscience. See Note 29. The 10 items are: extrasensory perception (ESP), that houses can be haunted, ghosts, telepathy, clairvoyance, astrology, that people can communicate mentally with someone who has died, witches, reincarnation, and channelling.
  5. ^ Telepathy at The Skeptic's Dictionary
  6. ^ Luckhurst, R. (2002). The Invention of Telepathy, 1870-1901. Oxford University Press.
  7. ^ Pickup, G. (2006). Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, Volume 11, Number 2, Number 2/March 2006 , pp. 117-192
  8. ^ Glossary of Parapsychological terms - ESP, Parapsychological Association. Retrieved December 19, 2006.
  9. ^ a b Carroll, Robert (2006-02-17). "Zener ESP Cards". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved 2006-07-18. 
  10. ^ a b The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean I. Radin Harper Edge, ISBN 0-06-251502-0
  11. ^ Rennie, John (1845), "Test for Telepathy", Scientific American,V3#1 (1847-09-25)
  12. ^ Plazo, Dr. Joseph R., (2002) "Psychic Seduction." pp.112-114 ISBN 0-9785922-3-9
  13. ^ St. Claire, David., (1989) "Instant ESP." pp.40-50
  14. ^ "What is parapsychology?" From the FAQ of the website of the Parapsychological Association. Retrieved February 3, 2007.
  15. ^ "What is the state-of-the-evidence for psi?" From the FAQ of the website of the Parapsychological Association. Retrieved February 3, 2007.
  16. ^ on ESP. Retrieved February 22, 2007.
  17. ^ Eberhard Bauer: Criticism and Controversy in Parapsychology - An Overview. European Journal of Parapsychology (1984), 5, 141-166. Retrieved February 9, 2007.
  18. ^ O',Keeffe, Ciarán and Wiseman Richard: Testing alleged mediumship: Methods and results. British Journal of Psychology (2005), 96, 165–17.
  19. ^ Rowland, Ian: The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading
  20. ^ a b See for examples, Randi, James. Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. Prometheus Books (June 1982) ISBN 0879751983 or
    Charpak, Georges and Henri Broch. Translated by Bart K. Holland. Debunked!: ESP, Telekinesis, and Other Pseudoscience. The Johns Hopkins University Press (March 25, 2004), ISBN 0801878675
  21. ^ André Bormanis discusses telepathy in Star Trek
  22. ^ Dvorsky, George (2004). "Evolving Towards Telepathy". Retrieved 2006-10-24. 
  23. ^ TakeAway Media (2000). ""Leviathan: Back to the Future: An interview with Kevin Warwick"". BBC Two. Retrieved 2006-10-24. 

External links

Study guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiversity

Welcome to the Wikiversity learning project for telepathy. This project guides participants towards scientific research concerning the possible existence of telepathic communication between humans. Participants summarize and provide links to past research results that have been published in scientific journals. Other "learn by doing" projects concern the exploration of telepathy through fiction as part of the Science Fiction Challenge.

Scientific research

Rupert Sheldrake has published results from several experiments that tested for telepathic communication. For example, see Testing for telepathy in connection with e-mails.

Learn by doing. Read a published research report describing an experiment testing for telepathy. Summarize the results of the experiment in a page section, below.

Telepathy in fiction

Is telepathy possible by means of known physics such as electromagnetic signals or is some type of new physics needed to account for telepathic communication of the type studied by Rupert Sheldrake?

Learn by doing. Help research and write a science fiction story about telepathic communication. Examples:

  • Mnemtronium - set in an imagined future after dark matter is fully understood. It is discovered that dark matter provides a way to account for some forms of Extra-sensory perception.
  • The search for Kalid (external link): a futuristic story which explores the boundaries of mind and machines with respect to telepathy and matter hiding devices.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Simple English

[[File:|right|thumb|256px|An experiment with taking away someone's senses to demonstrate telepathy.]]

Telepathy, taken from the Greek τηλε, tele meaning "distant" and πάθεια, patheia meaning "to be affected by",[1], is the ability that is believed to allow people to speak to other people through thought.

Other pages


  1. Following the model of sympathy and empathy.

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