Why You Can't Read My Mind
We had no idea that
intended to write this article.
Much attention is given in the populist media to explaining theunexplained; every month new books, magazines, and websitesdevoted to the paranormal make their appearance. In an attempt tocounter-balance the prevalent climate of credulity,
The Skeptical Inquirer
has offered cogent and sober analyses of claims made aboutalien abductions, after-death communication, Biblical Creationism, andother peculiar pseudo-scientific theories. However, it is rather unusualfor paranormal claims to be subjected to explicitly
scrutiny, perhaps partly because it is more common to think thatreported incidents are simply highly unlikely, implausible or garbled.But some claims made about some types of paranormal phenomena,such as ghosts, psycho-kinesis, and telepathy are more than justimprobable: they are basically confused at the conceptual level. At thesame time that cognitive scientists articulate more and more complexmaterialist theories of the mind, reducing the mental domain to theoperations of neuro-chemical computations, paranormalists postulatean immaterial mind with significant occult powers. This article is anattempt to sort out some of the serious conceptual problems involvedwith claims made about the paranormal phenomenon of telepathy.
What is Telepathy?
The word `telepathy' (from the root
) seems to convey thesense of remote-
not remote-thinking; `telepathy' is thusclosely related to `sympathy' and `empathy'. Now, on one hand,remote-feeling or feeling-at-a-distance is not such a strange or
-normal notion that one needs special guidance to appreciate itsmeaning. Let us suppose that you are in a crowded café, chatting withfriends and watching the action. You happen to notice the rapid andabrupt movement the waiters make through the swing door into thekitchen. You think that it’s remarkable that there aren’t more collisionsnear this unpredictable portal. One of the diners bends over to pick upsomething in front of the swing door at the very moment it burstsopen, striking the diner on the head with an audible thump. You wince,as do the other diners who witness this incident, and turn to yourfriends and say that you
that. This is a perfectly intelligiblestatement and requires no paranormal explanation about feeling-at-a-distance, but paranormalists assert something more mysterious aboutthe overcoming of psychic distance in some not-so-normalexperiences.It may help to draw some distinctions between various sorts of feeling(or affective) experiences with respect to one's physical or mentalproximity. In a sym-pathetic experience (`feeling-with'), your intimateknowledge of another person's situation allows you to feel how you