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Telepathy (from the Greek τῆλε, tele meaning “distant” and πάθος/-πάθεια, pathos or -patheia meaning “feeling, perception, passion, affliction, experience”) is the purported vicarious transmission of information from one person to another without using any known human sensory channels or physical interaction. The term was first coined in 1882 by the classical scholar Frederic W. H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and has remained more popular than the earlier expression thought-transference.

Telepathy experiments have historically been criticized for lack of proper controls and repeatability. There is no convincing evidence that telepathy exists, and the topic is generally considered by the scientific community to be pseudoscience.


Scientific reception

A variety of tests have been performed to demonstrate telepathy, but there is no scientific evidence that the power exists. A panel commissioned by the United States National Research Council to study paranormal claims concluded that “despite a 130-year record of scientific research on such matters, our committee could find no scientific justification for the existence of phenomena such as extrasensory perception, mental telepathy or ‘mind over matter’ exercises… Evaluation of a large body of the best available evidence simply does not support the contention that these phenomena exist.” The scientific community considers parapsychology a pseudoscience.There is no known mechanism for telepathy. Philosopher and physicist Mario Bunge has written that telepathy would contradict laws of science and the claim that “signals can be transmitted across space without fading with distance is inconsistent with physics”.

Physicist John Taylor has written that the experiments that have been claimed by parapsychologists to support evidence for the existence of telepathy are based on the use of shaky statistical analysis and poor design, and attempts to duplicate such experiments by the scientific community have failed. Taylor also wrote the arguments used by parapsychologists for the feasibility of such phenomena are based on distortions of theoretical physics as well as “complete ignorance” of relevant areas of physics.

Psychologist Stuart Sutherland wrote that cases of telepathy can be explained by people underestimating the probability of coincidences. According to Sutherland, “most stories about this phenomenon concern people who are close to one another – husband and wife or brother and sister. Since such people have much in common, it is highly probable that they will sometimes think the same thought at the same time.”Graham Reed, a specialist in anomalistic psychology, noted that experiments into telepathy often involve the subject relaxing and reporting the ‘messages’ to consist of colored geometric shapes. Reed wrote that these are a common type of hypnagogic image and not evidence for telepathic communication.

Outside of parapsychology, telepathy is generally explained as the result of fraud, self-delusion and/or self-deception and not as a paranormal power. Psychological research has also revealed other explanations such as confirmation bias, expectancy bias, sensory leakage, subjective validation and wishful thinking. Virtually all of the instances of more popular psychic phenomena, such as mediumship, can be attributed to non-paranormal techniques such as cold reading. Magicians such as Ian Rowland and Derren Brown have demonstrated techniques and results similar to those of popular psychics, albeit without claiming paranormal skills. They have identified, described, and developed psychological techniques of cold reading and hot reading.