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"Gosh, I was just thinking about you"
Rupert Sheldrake
September 07, 2006

If you think telepathy is tosh, many scientists agree with you. But they ignore the evidence.

HAVE YOU EVER thought about someone for no apparent reason, and then that person rang on the telephone? Have you felt you were being watched, and turned round to find someone staring at you?

Recent surveys show that a majority of the population in Britain have had these experiences. If they are more than coincidences or illusions, they suggest that minds are more extensive than brains.

There is a growing body of evidence that telepathy and the sense of being stared at are real, with an active discussion of these topics in scientific journals — for example, last year a special issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies was devoted to the ability to detect stares, for which the scientific name is scopaesthesia, from the Greek words for viewing and feeling. This ability may have a long evolutionary history. Animals that were able to detect the looks of hidden predators may well have survived better than animals without this ability.

Telepathy may also have deep biological roots, acting as a means of communication at a distance between members of animal groups. It is still expressed in domesticated animals, many of which seem to be able to detect the feelings and intentions of their owners beyond the range of the usual senses. For example, many dogs seem to know when their owners are coming home, and go to wait at a door. In some cases they do this when the person is still miles away, long before the animal could have heard familiar footsteps or car sounds. In a series of videotaped tests, I found that dogs still went and waited at the door when the owners returned at times randomly selected by the experimenter, when no one at home knew when they were coming, and when they travelled in unfamiliar vehicles such as taxis.

Many mothers still seem to feel when their children need them, even if they are miles away. Children whose absent mothers responded to their distress telepathically and returned to them would be more likely to survive than children with unresponsive mothers; so telepathic traits may have been favoured by natural selection.

The commonest kind of apparent telepathy in the modern world takes place in connection with telephone calls. About 80 per cent of the population claim to have had experiences in which they think of someone for no apparent reason, then that person calls; or they know who is calling when the phone rings, before picking it up. Many people have had similar experiences with e-mails.

Is this just coincidence? An illusion of telepathy could be created if people remembered when someone called or e-mailed soon after they thought about that person, but forgot all the times that they thought about someone who did not contact them. An illusion of telepathy could also arise if someone had an unconscious expectation that someone they knew would call or e-mail, based on an implicit knowledge of that person’s behaviour. Until recently, there were no scientific investigations of telephone telepathy to test these possibilities.

Over the past few years, with the help of my research associate, Pam Smart, I have investigated telephone telepathy experimentally in hundreds of controlled trials. Volunteers were asked to give us the names and telephone numbers of four people they knew well. During the test session, the subject was videotaped continuously sitting by a landline telephone. We selected one of the callers at random by the throw of a die. We then asked that person to call the subject. When the telephone rang, the participant guessed who was calling before lifting the receiver. The guess was either right or wrong.

By chance, participants would have been right about one time in four. In fact, 45 per cent of the guesses were correct. This research has been replicated at the University of Amsterdam, again with positive results.

Tests in which some of the callers were near the Antipodes, in Australia and New Zealand, showed that the effect did not seem to fall off with distance. Emotional closeness, rather than physical proximity, seemed to be the most important factor.

However, some scientists are so strongly committed to a belief that the mind is confined to the head that they dismiss all such evidence as illusory. For example in yesterday’s Times, Professor Peter Atkins, a chemist, described telepathy as a “charlatan’s fantasy”. But no one understands very much about the nature of our minds. The very existence of consciousness is unexplained. The conventional idea that mental activity is nothing but brain activity is only an assumption, not a proven fact.

Instead, I suggest that our minds may extend far beyond our brains, stretching out through fields that link us to our environment and to each other. Fields are more extensive than material objects: magnetic fields extend around magnets, and electromagnetic fields around mobile phones. Likewise, mental fields are rooted in brains but extend beyond them. The directions depend on our attention and intention.

Mental fields could help to explain telepathy, the sense of being stared at and other widespread but unexplained abilities. Of course this hypothesis is controversial. But science progresses not through dogma and polemic, but by exploring new possibilities and by paying attention to the evidence.

The author, Rupert Sheldrake, is director of the Perrott-Warrick project for research on unexplained human abilities, funded by Trinity College, Cambridge.  www.sheldrake.org


Further Thoughts on Telepathy

Animals exhibit dimensions of telepathic ability. It is inarguable that birds and fish display some form of it when they, as flocks or schools,  turn as a unit. Dogs that develop a close relationship to their caretakers--sometimes mistakenly referred to as owners or masters--know things that would be impossible for them to know otherwise.

Besides my beloved little dog always knowing the exact time that I decided to return home, here is even a more dramatic example incident: A close college friend of mine became a dentist, and about 10 years ago, I went to his office with an appointment, and decided to take my little dog along to introduce him to her. We parked next to the sidewalk adjacent to and downhill from the the dental/medical complex parking lot. When I let Annie out of the passenger seat, she turned right and trotted up the slope with me following, When she came to the short stairwell leading up to the parking lot, she turned left and went up. She crossed the parking lot and went to the correct door of the three, and waited for me. When I opened the door to a stairwell landing, she turned right and went down the stairs to the lower level, and picked out the correct one of four doors. I was trailing all the way in amazement because she had never been there before, and I hadn't been there in a long time, and had never parked away from the parking lot before. This was an unprompted series of six correct decision, two of which involved multiple options. What is the explanation for this if it isn't a form of telepathy?

It should be well understood that the aborigines of Australia have a fair degree of telepathy. One anthropologist was among some Indigenous Australians, and he had been noticing how they stay in communication without words, i.e. that they have some degree of telepathy. He asked one of them how they are able to do that, and got the response, “We have no secrets and tell no lies”. It seems we’ve chosen the path of psychological privacy or seclusion instead.

This implies a host of syndromes that are not all that complimentary for "civilized man." Is not modern, civilized man pretentious, competitive, conflicted with the plethora of psychological neuroses and psychoses? Do we not swim in waters polluted with frenetic spiritual noise hype, exaggeration, self-promotion, supremacy ambition, false advertising, hypocrisy, etc? Are we not fragmented into nations, classes, religions and cults, political parties, and social strata?

For all their primitivism, the Australian aborigines do not suffer from most or any of this. For all its vaunted "brotherhood", the Christian community is not free from these social disorders that are not found in brothers of a normal loving` family.

It should also be well known that there is a higher incidence of telepathy between close family members, especially twins, mothers and daughters, and sisters. Given that men or males are obviously more competitive, doesn't this imply that our competitiveness is one of the factors that preclude the return of telepathic capability for us? Many more such questions may be asked.

Does telepathic ability have to be associated to primitivism, or is it not really related to this factor? Is it possible that telepathic empowerment could be awakened and return to us naturally, without any special endowment from God? Is it possible that this could be engendered by following the simple exhortations given to us by the master teacher? Do not his directives for brotherly love, service, community, forgiveness, and his emphatic and eloquent call for unity make pragmatic sense in this context? Does his statement "Except as you become as a little child..." relate to becoming completely unpretentious, open, and non-competitive?

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