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Telepathy (Greek τηλε, tele meaning "distant" and πάθεια, patheia meaning "to be affected by", Following the model of sympathy and empathy) describes the purported transfer of information on thoughts or feelings between individuals by means other than the five classical senses (See Psi). 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.2 A person who is able to make use of telepathy is said to be able to read the minds of others. Telepathy, along with psychokinesis forms the main branches of parapsychological research, and many studies seeking to detect and understand telepathy have been done within the field.

Telepathy is a common theme in fiction and science fiction, with many superheroes and supervillains having telepathic abilities. Such abilities include sensing the thoughts of others. Transhumanists believe that technologically enabled telepathy, called "techlepathy", will be the inevitable future of humanity, and seek to develop practical machines for this.


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 franchise. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some telepathic characters continuously sense the thoughts of those around them and may control or dampen this ability only with difficulty, or not at all. In such cases, telepathy is often portrayed as a mixed blessing or as a curse.

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 possession). Examples of this type of telepath include the Carpathians from the novels in the Dark Series, and the White Queen Emma Frost from Marvel Comics. Characters with this ability may or may not also have the ability to read thoughts.

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.

Technologically enabled telepathy

Some people, occasionally referred to by themselves or others as "transhumanists", believe that technologically-enabled telepathy, coined "techlepathy", 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 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.

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.3 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%. If not conducted properly, this method can be vulnerable to sensory leakage and card counting. 4

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.5

Types of telepathy

Parapsychology describes several different forms of telepathy, including latent telepathy and precognitive telepathy.2

Latent Telepathy, formerly known as "deferred telepathy", 6 is described as being the transfer of information, through Psi, with an observable time-lag between transmission and receipt.2

Precognitive Telepathy is described as being the transfer of information, through Psi, about the future state of an individual's mind.2

Emotive Telepathy, also known as remote influence7 or emotional transfer, is the process of transferring kinesthetic sensations through altered states.

Superconscious Telepathy, involves tapping into the superconscious8 to access the collective wisdom of the human species for knowledge.

Skepticism and controversy

The field which studies certain types of paranormal phenomena such as telepathy is called parapsychology. There is a consensus among parapsychologists that some instances of telepathy are real.910 Skeptics say that instances of apparent telepathy are explained as the result of fraud or self-delusion and that telepathy does not exist as a paranormal power.1

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.111213 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 that 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.14 Skeptics also point to historical cases in which were discovered flaws in experimental design and occasional cases of fraud.14 Parapsychologists such as Dean Radin, president of the Parapsychological Association, argues 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.5

See also


  1. on ESP, Retrieved February 22, 2007 

  2. Glossary of Parapsychological terms - Telepathy - Parapsychological Association, Retrieved December 19, 2006 

  3. Glossary of Parapsychological terms - ESP, Parapsychological Association, Retrieved December 19, 2006 

  4. Carroll, Robert (2006-02-17). "Zener ESP Cards". The Skeptic's Dictionary. Retrieved on 2006-07-18. 

  5. The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean I. Radin Harper Edge, ISBN 0-06-251502-0 

  6. Rennie, John (1845), "Test for Telepathy", Scientific American, V3 #1 (1847-09-25) 

  7. Plazo, Dr. Joseph R., (2002) "Psychic Seduction." pp.112-114 ISBN 0-9785922-3-9 

  8. St. Claire, David., (1989) "Instant ESP." pp.40-50 

  9. "What is parapsychology?" From the FAQ of the website of the Parapsychological Association, Retrieved February 3, 2007 

  10. "What is the state-of-the-evidence for psi?" From the FAQ of the website of the Parapsychological Association, Retrieved February 3, 2007 

  11. Eberhard Bauer: Criticism and Controversy in Parapsychology - An Overview. European Journal of Parapsychology (1984), 5, 141-166, Retrieved February 09, 2007 

  12. O',Keeffe, Ciarán and Wiseman Richard: Testing alleged mediumship: Methods and results. British Journal of Psychology (2005), 96, 165–17. 

  13. Rowland, Ian: The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading 

  14. See for examples, Randi, James. Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. Prometheus Books (June 1982) ISBN-10: 0879751983 or<br>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-10: 0801878675