I saw Penn & Teller's show about ESP last night. Besides being hilarious, a throwaway comment (by Penn, of course) made me think.
Here's what he said (give or take a word):
Telepathy is communicating your thoughts directly to someone else's brain. Because it seems talking is too much work.
And it got me thinking... why would anyone want to be a telepath? What's the practical purpose of telepathy?
In this anecdote I see one of the two problems with telepathy. The fact that it's not necessary.
It's supposed to be a mechanism for communication. Well, as Penn said, you can talk, so there are alternatives. There must be a compelling reason why telepathy would be better. Let's consider some parameters of communication quality!
- Reliability of connection
I don't expect anyone will tell me telepathy is more reliable than a cell phone. At least not in the forms ESP research has any hope of finding.
If there were a really reliable telepath, he would have been found already. Unless he knows he's been sought, and uses his telepathy to hide himself ;-)
Well... let's look at the alternative! Satellite phones. They work (worked?) anywhere on earth. Surely telepathy's advantage over that would be marginal? And Iridium went bankrupt, so there was not much demand for that, either.
- Reliability of signal
By this I mean the odds of getting what the other guy is sending.
I suppose if telepaths transmit the thought in its raw form, interpreting it on the other side is going to be quite hard.
Take me, for example. As a side effect of how I learnt english, almost every conscious thought I have is in my head in spanish and in english. At the same time.
I literally have english dubbing running fulltime in my head. That's gotta be annoying!
Even without that, it takes me some effort to understand what I'm thinking. And I really know me!
Please suggest other paramenters in the comments if you want!
Now, I have a strong suspicion about why people want to believe in telepathy, and I think they fall in two camps.
- Those who want to read what you think without you knowing it (or intentionally sharing it).
This is some sort of puerile voyeuristic fantasy, like dreaming of being invisible (you know why they want that, right? ;-)
Probably the reason why the US government used to throw away money paying ESP researchers.
- The pathologically shy
They want you to really understand what they think, so you will understand and like and love them.
Well, that's all find and dandy, but it's perhaps easier to actually express yourself instead of dreaming about having a ESP capability you will never have?
I feel some tenderness for these maladjusted guys, mostly because I used to be one, and I still am in some ways.
But I have learned a few things since then. No, they will not like you if they understand you. Or maybe yes. But it's not guaranteed. So, be a nicer guy instead of dreaming of telepathy. Start understanding them, even!
Warning, silly pseudo-buddhist anecdote:
The Buddha saw one of his disciples cross a river walking over the water. He congratulated him, then gave the disciple a coin and told him: use this to pay the ferryman next time.
A miracle that only does the same you get for a coin is a miracle that's worth a coin.
Telepathy is a miracle worth 20 bucks a month for 500 minutes or whatever your cell plan is.