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What Is Mental Telepathy?

Telepathy is defined as "communication through means other than the senses," so add the "mental," and you have the concept of minds directly sending and receiving information without the senses. This might be by using something like radio waves, "thought waves," or whatever the various theories claim.

A True Story

When we were children, my mother and father left one day, to visit relatives in another city an hour or two away. They went to play bingo at a church. My brother Andy, meanwhile, was thrown to the ground by a bully, and his collar bone was broken. Around that same moment, my mother stood up in the middle of the game, and announced to my father, "Andy has been hurt!" They immediately left and stared driving home.

Mental telepathy? It certainly seemed like it at the time, but is there another explanation? Possibly, but more on that in a moment.

Evidence for Telepathy

If we review the evidence for mental telepathy, it should take about a minute, because there isn't much evidence. However, if we review what passes as evidence, we find a common pattern. The tests that "prove" this phenomenon are usually done in some way that is very flawed.

Some "researchers" in ESP (extrasensory perception) and related areas have less of an interest in finding the truth than in proving that these things are real (in my opinion). This affects their experiments. Often it isn't a matter of dishonest intentions, but due to unconscious factors. The most common procedural error made in this type of research is that of "selecting" results.

If you guess what suit a playing card is, you would - by the odds - be right about 25% of the time, because there are 4 suits to choose from. Suppose a "sender" concentrates on the card while you guess. Suppose you try this in 10 trials of 20 cards each, and repeat this with 30 subjects, for a total of 300 trials. Even without telepathy, test subjects will do better than the odds dictate in some trials, and worse in others, right?

This is entirely normal. For example, a coin flipped many times doesn't alternate systematically between heads and tails, but flip it enough times, and it will average about 50% heads and 50% tails. At least it will if you tally all the flips. On the other hand, if you concentrate your mental powers on heads, and then don't count 100 of the flips that came up tails, and you have a test that "proves" you can affect the coin using the power of your mind alone.

Would real scientists (or those that claim to be) do this? Sometimes perhaps, but it's usually more subtle. Consider those card experiments. If a researcher believes strongly in mental telepathy, he might unconsciously find reasons to exclude non-confirming trials (the subject wasn't ready, the "sender" wasn't concentrating). Count trials with the results you want, and leave out "bad" trials, and you make it look like the subjects are indeed psychic.

Explaining Telepathy - Or Not

Getting back to the story with my mother, here's a scenario: She knew Andy was having trouble with this bully. Earlier in the day she was nearby when Andy mentioned he was worried, because he had to deliver newspapers near the house where this bully lived. She wasn't listening, but the words registered subconsciously. Once finally relaxing at the bingo game, her mind processed the information, and she suddenly "sensed" that her son was in danger. We can call this mother's intuition - but this wouldn't be mental telepathy, right?

Is that what happened? No, it is an explanation I just invented as a possibility. A rational approach is to leave questions open if there is no good evidence one way or the other. We might hypothesize, and test those hypothesis, but it makes no sense to accept an answer before there is good evidence.

That being said, if I could consistently "predict" what was going on in other places, or other minds, I would use such a skill. But I've seen little evidence of anyone doing this consistently, and as far as how they might work if such skills did exist, it is more useful to leave things unexplained than to invent causes which we want to be true. Maybe we'll never have a good explanation of what is called telepathy, but that's better than having a false understanding.

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