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Telepathy. Why?

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 ;-)

  • Range

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.

Caspian / 2006-04-04 13:21:

Why telepathy? Because it's cool, just line any other superpower. Duh!

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-04 13:22:

Why is it cooler than a cellphone?

Because the others don't have one?

What if it's a **really** cool cellphone? ;-)

dec0ding / 2006-04-04 13:22:

Have you mistaken the pills this morning?



Gusar / 2006-04-04 13:23:

There are situations where telepathy would be a very good thing to have. For instance you can't have a private conversation in a crowded elevator. Using telepathy however, nobody else would hear the conversation. Another thing - cheating at exams. Someone could just tell you the answers telepathically and nobody would know. This is just off the top of my head, there are probably many more examples one could think of.

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-04 13:24:


Gusar: The biggest problem with both scenarios you propose is that you assume telepathy has some very specific characteristics:

1: only the cheater and his helper has it and not the teacher. Or only you and not the rest of the elevator people.


2: everyone has it but it acts like a phone call, where only the intended recipient gets it.

Since no natural communication method works that way (everything is broadcasted in nature, right?), it has to be 1.

So, not only would you have to have telepathy. You need that almost noone else has it.

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-04 13:24:

As for the pills: nope, took my enalapril like every other day ;-)

Cheating at exams: the best way you can think of is having telepathy? Bribe the damn teacher. Easier and more likely.

Or even the ultimate cheat: study! It's easier than becoming a telepath!

Private conversations on crowded elevators:

text messaging? ;-)

Marcos Dione / 2006-04-04 13:26:

About the pathological shy: a shy person fears to express themselves for some reason. they don't want you to know what they think. they would find a way to hide their thoughts. telepathy is no fun for them.

Diederik van der Boor / 2006-04-04 13:27:

Sometimes it's really hard to express/talk about or idea, like explain a design. This is because you translate your thoughts into words, most of the time in a language where you can't express certain feelings or ideas directly/easily. The other side needs to pick this up, translate it back to their idea's and thoughts to get the message.

That's the point where you get differences in interpretation, especially when the other person has a different view or opinion. If the conversion to talking could be removed, and you could just 'stream' your thoughts it could make conversations a lot easier. :-)

Lord Darth Tux / 2006-04-04 13:46:

I think that we are evolving into kinda super humans. But, do you really know what is telepathy? I don't know the list of features, but what if it's only sending mental messages, maybe there is another ability to hack into these messages, maybe. I'd like to have it, imagine your cell phone has empty battery and you want to tell your girl you're going to get later to the date, supposs it. Yes, if you are in a city, no problem, what if you live on a mountain or someplace like that.

Finally I just have to say something:

"If you have a cell phone, that's great, you can talk, send and receive messages, photos, sounds, great. But if you have both, telepathy and a cell phone, that's really better. That's is like learn another language, it is better to learn than having a translator where you type the word you don't understand!!"

Challarao Abvk / 2011-07-15 06:22:

 first of all,is telepathy real?

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