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A Ganzfeld experiment in which external stimuli are minimized in order to demonstrate telephathic abilities.

Telepathy ( old Gr. Τῆλε tēle "far", "far" and πάθος páthos "experience", "influence") is a term coined by Frederic WH Myers for an ability attributed to some people, thoughts, drives, sensations or feelings in a kind of distance effect transfer from yourself to another person or from another person to yourself; sometimes referred to as mind reading or thought transference .

So-called parapsychology tries, among other things, to find evidence of telepathic perceptions.

Word origin

Telepathy is a word created by the British author, poet, critic and essayist Frederic WH Myers, which he first published in December 1882 before the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in London. The previously common term thought transference (German: "thought transference") for the phenomenon was replaced by Myers' creation of words.

Myers' word creation took place in England during the Victorian Age , in which belief in spiritualism and special psychic powers had been widespread since around 1850 and séances were a common pastime in wealthy bourgeois circles. At the time, this movement was also supported by well-known scientists such as William Crookes , who was convinced that he had experimentally proven a new psychic force by investigating the then famous media Daniel Home and Florence Cook. The electrical engineer Cromwell Fleetwood Varley and the biologist Alfred Russel Wallace were also convinced of the possibility of thought transmission, which, however, was rejected as ridiculous by the leading scientific representatives such as the members of the X-Club . The concept of telepathy was originally more an attempt to detach and objectify the concept of thought transmission from its connection with spiritualism, media and spirits. The scholars of the newly founded Society for Psychical Research, mainly affiliated with Cambridge University, of which Myers was one of the founding members, looked down on the goings-on at the séances customary at the time and resolved to purify the underlying phenomena of dizziness and gullibility and scientifically to explore. For them, telepathy was a descriptive term that should not be confused with assumptions about the forces behind it. In particular, it is not imperative to assume forces or effects that contradict scientific physics. The physician Charles Richet even proposed some of the first randomized controlled trials to investigate the phenomenon in 1884 , when this concept was still completely new and uncommon in science (although most parapsychologists are disappointed by the low probabilities determined by Richet for it were).

Scientific investigations

Zen cards


Investigations according to scientific methodological standards have been carried out by psychologists, but mostly by parapsychologists, for more than a hundred years. A major goal of these investigations from the beginning was to provide scientific evidence that telepathy exists. This evidence has not yet been provided, at least according to the assessment of the majority of scientists.

In order to increase the statistical significance of the results, standardized test protocols were soon introduced instead of free questions that allow numerous possible interpretations of the answers . For this purpose, for example, the so-called " Zener maps " were developed. The name comes from Joseph Banks Rhine , who named the cards after his colleague Karl Zener . Five different symbols are depicted on the cards: a circle, a cross, three wavy lines, a square and a five-pointed star. A common set consists of 25 cards (five cards of each symbol). If a test person (the "recipient") is to be tested to see whether, for example, they can see the sequence in which cards of another person (the "sender") are revealed by "psi forces" , their guessing probability is five cards, at 20 percent. If she can correctly state a significantly higher proportion, this would be an indication of telepathy. Standardization makes it possible to repeat the experiment later (scientifically called replication ), which would be crucial for scientific recognition. These simple guess tests were introduced in the early 20th century and later refined. The peak of their use was in the 1940s. In the 1970s and 1980s, the so-called Ganzfeld experiments became increasingly popular.

Parapsychologists claim to have achieved statistically significant test results with these tests and methods , which point to - causally inexplicable - telepathic abilities of at least some test subjects, and believe that they can also confirm this through meta-analyzes . Psychologists and other scientists vehemently contradict this claim. In doing so, the parapsychologists are generally assumed to have good will and methodologically very high-quality experimental design (although some researchers have also come under suspicion of fraud). The representatives of "orthodox" science, however, accuse them of methodical errors in implementation or data analysis. Important sources of error, which often affect scientific psychology in the same way and possibly represent an equally big problem there, are, for example: Carrying out the test until the desired result is significant, and then terminating it immediately (before the possibly only random effect can disappear again ), Carrying out numerous tests, of which only those with desired or significant results are published , measurement of numerous variables and their combination, whereby those without the desired result are concealed. In addition, studies with very small amounts of data (few test subjects and trials) are very often published, which do not allow a meaningful answer to the question (due to insufficient power ). In individual studies, this often shows an apparently very large, in itself significant effect, which, however, appears to become smaller and smaller with the replications and ultimately disappears.

Although statisticians have attested to the parapsychologists that some of their studies correspond to the standards accepted in psychology, none of their studies on telepathy has so far reached a level that could convince scientists, because none of the initially promising findings could ultimately be replicated.

Another problem is probably that parapsychologists have so far not been able to offer a conclusive explanatory model for their findings, or even openly speculate about effects and phenomena that would refute the physical worldview or at least make it incomplete. For such far-reaching conclusions, science demands particularly well-established reasons that must go beyond the standards accepted for “average” and expected results.

Research projects at universities

At some universities research is being carried out on telepathy as part of parapsychology as a sub-area of psychology , including, since 2001, no German or German-speaking university. From 1954 to 1998, the University of Freiburg had the Frontier Areas of Psychology Department headed by Hans Bender , whose research work is being continued by the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Hygiene in Freiburg, founded by Bender in 1950 .

Misjudgments of perceptions

Allegedly telepathic phenomena are often attributed to incorrect assessments of perceptions. There are studies that have come to the conclusion that people who consider paranormal phenomena possible also attribute more paranormal explanations to scientifically describable phenomena, and that belief in paranormal phenomena is associated with an increased ability to fantasize, a lower level of critical thinking ability and a reduced ability to estimate probabilities. In some of these people an increased activity of the right brain hemisphere was found, which supposedly allows conclusions to be drawn about strengths in the emotional, creative area and weaknesses in solving logical tasks.

Cold reading is a method that can suggest that an allegedly clairvoyant person has information that he can only have obtained supernaturally.

Since 1922, various organizations have advertised prizes for the demonstration of parapsychological skills. There are currently more than 20 different organizations worldwide that have advertised prize money. The highest prize money for demonstrating psychic abilities such as telepathy was awarded by the James Randi Educational Foundation with one million US dollars until 2015 . Since 1922, not a single paranormal ability test conducted by these organizations has been successful.


Authors who believe telepathic abilities to exist despite the lack of generally accepted evidence and the skepticism of the scientific community based on their own research, impressions and circumstantial findings include the biologist Rupert Sheldrake ( Morphic Fields ), the social psychologist Daryl J. Bem and Charles Honorton ( Ganzfeld experiments ), the systems theorist Ervin László , the ethnologist Adolphus Peter Elkin (considered telepathy to be quite common among so-called primitive peoples because of his studies in Australia ) or the psychologist Hanna Rheinz (dream suggestion in the sleep laboratory at New York's Maimonides Medical Center; telepathic communication identical twins).

Media implementation

Within the science fiction -literature there are numerous stories and novels that deal with the subject of telepathy. In his novel Psi-Patt , the American science fiction author Lester del Rey described the psychological dangers and torments associated with the gift of telepathy for those affected. The writer Marion Zimmer Bradley ( The Mists of Avalon ) created a world in her Darkover novels whose history, culture and technology are largely based on the inheritable telepathic abilities of aristocratic families.

In addition to literary processing, there are a number of cinematic implementations of the topic. One of the oldest is The Village of the Damned (1960, original title Village of the Damned ) by Wolf Rilla . The film is based on the novel Kuckuckskinder (original title The Midwich Cuckoos ) by John Wyndham and describes, using the example of twelve children born for inexplicable reasons, how an extraterrestrial power tries to control people by means of telepathic influence. The horror film of the same name, The Village of the Damned (1995) by John Carpenter is a remake of the film by Wolf Rilla. In the movie Ghostbusters (1984), an experiment with Zener cards is carried out at the beginning. In the film Scanners - Your Thoughts Can Kill (1981) by David Cronenberg and the two sequels, telepathy is the central theme.

Telepathy between man and machine

In January 2018, four scientists from the Japanese University in Kyoto presented an artificial intelligence that can roughly recognize from the measured brain activities (magnetic resonance scans) of a person which image the person is currently looking at or even just thinking about. The AI ​​then visualizes the images on a screen. The images are not accurate, but shapes and colors are dim. The AI ​​can also identify symbols and letters in this way. The AI ​​was trained over 10 months with three test persons and 1000 images that were viewed repeatedly. This represents the first approaches to "telepathy" between man and machine, which can be useful for machine control. The methodology is based on an automated evaluation of the physical correlates of brain activities ( electroencephalography ) and is therefore, unlike classical telepathy, easily compatible with the scientific worldview.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Thought transfer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Telepathy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Mark Pilkington: Telepathy . In: The Guardian . September 18, 2003
  2. "This word, coined by FWH Myers, has come into general use in place of the former term thought transference. Hereward Carrington : Story of Psychic Science. Kessinger, Whitefish 1997, ISBN 1-56459-259-6 (reprint of 1930 edition), p. 250.
  3. ^ Roger Luckhurst: The Invention of Telepathy, 1870-1901. Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-19-924962-6 .
  4. ^ Ian Hacking (1988): Telepathy: Origins of Randomization in Experimental Design. In: Isis, Vol. 79, No. 3 (Special Issue on Artifact and Experiment): 427-451.
  5. a b c Paul D. Allison (1979): Experimental Parapsychology as a rejected Science. In: Roy Wallis (editor): On the margins of science. The social construction of rejected knowledge. In: Sociological Review Monograph No. 27. University of Keele, Keele, Staffordshire 1979.
  6. Joseph P. Simmons, Leif D. Nelson, Uri Simonsohn (2011): False-Positive Psychology: Undisclosed Flexibility in Data Collection and Analysis Allows Presenting Anything as Significant. In: Psychological Science vol. 22 no. 11: 1359-1366. doi: 10.1177 / 0956797611417632 (open access)
  7. Leslie K. John, George Loewenstein Drazen Prelec (2012): Measuring the Prevalence of Questionable Research Practices With Incentives for Truth Telling. In: Psychological Science vol. 23 no. 5: 524-532. doi: 10.1177 / 0956797611430953
  8. cf. for example for the Ganzfeld experiments Julie Milton & Richard Wiseman (1999): Does Psi Exist? Lack of Replication of an Anomalous Process of Information Transfer. In: Psychological Bulletin Vol. 125, No. 4: 387-391.
  9. Jeff Galak, Robyn A. LeBoeuf, Leif D. Nelson, Joseph P. Simmons (2012): Correcting the Past: Failures to Replicate Psi. In: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology Vol. 103, No. 6: 933-948. doi: 10.1037 / a0029709
  10. Jessica Utts (1991): Replication and Meta-Analysis in Parapsychology. Statistical Science Volume 6, Number 4: 363-378.
  11. ^ University Education in Parapsychology. The Parapsychological Association. accessed on June 21, 2015
  12. ^ Richard Wiseman, Caroline Watt: Belief in psychic ability and the misattribution hypothesis: A qualitative review. (PDF; 151 kB) In: British Journal of Psychology. 97, 2006, pp-323-338, PMID 16848946 .
  13. ^ Eberhard Bauer: Criticism and Controversy in Parapsychology - An Overview. ( Memento of the original from April 13, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 56 kB) In: European Journal of Parapsychology. 5, 1984, pp. 141-166.
  14. ^ Ciarán O'Keeffe, Richard Wiseman: Testing alleged mediumship: Methods and results. (PDF; 174 kB) In: British Journal of Psychology. 96, 2005, pp. 165-179.
  15. Rupert Sheldrake: The one with the seventh sense . In: ZEIT Knowledge No. 03/2012.
  16. ^ Christian Stöcker: Frontier research: Telepathy test with high tech . In: of July 21, 2006.
  17. Ervin László: Cosmic Creativity. 1st edition, Insel, Frankfurt / M. 1995, ISBN 3-458-33808-X . Pp. 145-146.
  18. Hanna Rheinz: The manipulated soul. (TRIAS) Thieme, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 978-3-89373-303-3 . Pp. 85, 113.
  19. Artificial intelligence: AI system sees images in the brain and reconstructs them , from January 12, 2018
  20. Japanese AI makes thoughts visible , of January 16, 2018