Does Telepathy Conflict With Science?

Many are starting to think not

By Chris Carter Created: March 26, 2012 Last Updated: June 17, 2012
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Parapsychological phenomena may not be at odds with conventional science. (

Parapsychological phenomena may not be at odds with conventional science. (

Recently, journalist Steven Volk was surprised to discover that leading skeptical psychologist Richard Wiseman has admitted that the evidence for telepathy is so good that “by the standards of any other area of science, [telepathy] is proven.” Mr. Volk goes on to write, “Even more incredibly, as I report in Fringe-ology, another leading skeptic, Chris French, agrees with him.”

Mr. Volk might even be more surprised to learn that back in 1951 psychologist Donald Hebb wrote this:

“Why do we not accept ESP [extrasensory perception] as a psychological fact? [The Rhine Research Center] has offered enough evidence to have convinced us on almost any other issue … Personally, I do not accept ESP for a moment, because it does not make sense. My external criteria, both of physics and of physiology, say that ESP is not a fact despite the behavioral evidence that has been reported. I cannot see what other basis my colleagues have for rejecting it … Rhine may still turn out to be right, improbable as I think that is, and my own rejection of his view is—in the literal sense—prejudice.”

Four years later, George Price, then a research associate at the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, published an article in the prestigious journal Science that began:

“Believers in psychic phenomena … appear to have won a decisive victory and virtually silenced opposition. … This victory is the result of careful experimentation and intelligent argumentation. Dozens of experimenters have obtained positive results in ESP experiments, and the mathematical procedures have been approved by leading statisticians. … Against all this evidence, almost the only defense remaining to the skeptical scientist is ignorance.”

But Price then argued, “ESP is incompatible with current scientific theory,” and asked:

“If, then, parapsychology and modern science are incompatible, why not reject parapsychology? … The choice is between believing in something ‘truly revolutionary’ and ‘radically contradictory to contemporary thought’ and believing in the occurrence of fraud and self-delusion. Which is more reasonable?”

So, here we have two skeptics in effect admitting that if this were any other field of inquiry then the experimental data would have carried the day by 1950.

Like Price and Hebb before them, both Wiseman and French hold that the claim of telepathy is so extraordinary that we need a greater level of evidence than we normally demand. Why should this be so? Most people believe in the reality of telepathy based on their own experiences, and are puzzled by the description of telepathy as “extraordinary.”

It is even more puzzling when surveys show that a large proportion of scientists accept the possibility that telepathy exists. Two surveys of over 500 scientists in one case and over 1,000 in another both found that the majority of respondents considered ESP “an established fact” or “a likely possibility”—56 percent in one and 67 percent in the other.

Polls such as this suggest that most scientists are curious and open-minded about psi. This, however, does not seem to be the case in one field: psychology. In the former study, only 3 percent of natural scientists considered ESP “an impossibility,” compared to 34 percent of psychologists.

In fact, the most prominent skeptics of psychic abilities today—such as Wiseman, French, James Alcock, Susan Blackmore, and Ray Hyman—are psychologists. An exception is biologist Richard Dawkins, but like Wiseman and French, he is also on record as saying that the existence of telepathy would “turn the laws of physics upside down.”

Failure to Jibe With Other Areas of Science?

Psychologist James Alcock recently wrote that the claims of parapsychology “stand in defiance of the modern scientific worldview. That by itself does not mean that parapsychology is in error, but as the eminent neuropsychologist Donald Hebb pointed out, if the claims of parapsychology prove to be true, then physics and biology and neuroscience are horribly wrong in some fundamental respects.”

But neither Alcock, Hebb, Wiseman, nor French ever bother to explain how the claims of parapsychology “stand in defiance” of science, or how “physics and physiology say that ESP is not a fact.”

Indeed, it is rare for a skeptic to ever back up this claim with specific examples. As I show in my new book “Science and Psychic Phenomena,” on those rare occasions that they do, they invariably invoke the principles of classical physics, which have been known to be fundamentally incorrect for more than three-quarters of a century.

Continued on the next page: Leading physicists have pointed out that what’s known of quantum mechanics doesn’t disqualify psi phenomena …

However, a number of leading physicists such as Henry Margenau, David Bohm, Brian Josephson, and Olivier Costa de Beauregard have repeatedly pointed out that nothing in quantum mechanics forbids psi phenomena. Costa de Beauregard even maintains that the theory of quantum physics virtually demands that psi phenomena exist. And physicist Evan Harris Walker has developed a theoretical model of psi based on von Neumann’s formulation of quantum mechanics.

Ray Hyman’s 1996 argument (in the Skeptical Inquirer) that the acceptance of psi would require that we “abandon relativity and quantum mechanics in their current formulations” is thereby shown to be nonsense. Contrast Hyman’s statement with that of theoretical physicist Costa de Beauregard, who has written “relativistic quantum mechanics is a conceptual scheme where phenomena such as psychokinesis or telepathy, far from being irrational, should, on the contrary, be expected as very rational.”

As mentioned earlier, adherence to an outmoded metaphysics of science seems much more prevalent among psychologists than physicists. Skeptics such as psychologist Susan Blackmore are fond of saying that the existence of psi is incompatible “with our scientific worldview”—but with which scientific worldview?

Psi is certainly incompatible with the old scientific worldview, based on Newtonian mechanics and behaviorist psychology. It is not incompatible with the emerging scientific worldview based on quantum mechanics, the neurosciences, and cognitive psychology.

But even before quantum mechanics began to supersede classical mechanics in the 1920s, many physicists were much more open to investigating psi phenomena than most psychologists seem today. An astonishing number of the most prominent physicists of the 19th century expressed interest in psychic research, including William Crookes, inventor of the cathode ray tube, used today in televisions and computer monitors; J.J. Thomson, who won the Nobel Prize in 1906 for the discovery of the electron; and Lord Rayleigh, considered one of the greatest physicists of the late 19th century, and winner of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1904.

Of course, for their efforts in investigating these and other unusual phenomena, these men were often criticized and ridiculed mercilessly by their colleagues.

But modern physics is very different from the classical physics of the 19th century, and it is time the skeptical psychologists realized this. The great psychologist Gardner Murphy, president of the American Psychological Association and later of the American Society for Psychical Research, urged his fellow psychologists to become better acquainted with modern physics.

Murphy wrote in 1968: “… the difficulty is at the level of physics, not at the level of psychology. Psychologists may be a little bewildered when they encounter modern physicists who take these phenomena in stride, in fact, take them much more seriously than psychologists do, saying, as physicists, that they are no longer bound by the types of Newtonian energy distribution, inverse square laws, etc., with which scientists used to regard themselves as tightly bound.… psychologists probably will witness a period of slow, but definite, erosion of the blandly exclusive attitude that has offered itself as the only appropriate scientific attitude in this field. The data from parapsychology will be almost certainly in harmony with general psychological principles and will be assimilated rather easily within the systematic framework of psychology as a science when once the imagined appropriateness of Newtonian physics is put aside, and modern physics replaces it.”

Chris Carter was educated at Oxford University and is the author of “Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics” (Inner Traditions).

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Alcock, J.E., 1981.  Parapsychology: Science or Magic? New York: Pergamon.

Alcock, J.E., 1985.  “Parapsychology: the Spiritual Science”.  Free Inquiry, 5 (2), p. 25-35.

Costa de Beauregard, Olivier, 1975. “Quantum Paradoxes and Aristotle’s Twofold Information Concept,” in Laura Oteri, editor, Quantum Physics and Parapsychology (New York: Parapsychology Foundation, 1975), pages 91 – 102.

Costa de Beauregard, Olivier, 1979.  “The Expanding Paradigm of the Einstein Theory”, in A. Puharich, editor, The Iceland Papers (Amherst: Essentia Research Associates, 1979), pages 161-191.

Evans, Christopher, 1973.  “Parapsychology – what the questionnaire revealed”, New Scientist, 25, January 1973, page 209.

Hyman, R. 1996b.  The Evidence for Psychic Functioning: Claims vs. Reality Skeptical Inquirer, March/April 1996, pp. 24-26.

Price, George, R. 1955.  “Science and the Supernatural”, Science Volume 122, number 3165, August 26, pages 359-367.

Wagner, Mahlon, and Mary Monet, 1979. “Attitudes of College Professors Toward Extra-Sensory Perception,” Zetetic Scholar, 1979, 5, pages 7 – 16.

Walker, E.H. 1979.  “The Quantum Theory of Psi Phenomena”, Psychoenergetic Systems, Vol. 3, pages 259 – 299.


  • Sanjoy Das

    Although it’s from a different context, this issue reminds me of Carl Sagan’s quote:”Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

  • Cal Harris

    There are quite a few references to statistics in this article that I’ve never heard before. What are their sources please? re: 

    Two surveys of over 500 scientists in one case and over 1,000 in another both found that the majority of respondents considered ESP “an established fact” or “a likely possibility”—56 percent in one and 67 percent in the other”

    Who did these surveys and where are they published?

  • Alan Borky

    Chris I suggest some of the flaws in the demand for extraordinary telepathic proof might become more apparent if we take the ‘logic’ behind it and apply it to gravity.

    If I demanded you prove gravity to me by making a pea exert sufficient gravitational force on a lentil to visibily draw it across a table you’d know I was asking for the equivalent of selectively altering the gravitational constant.

    You’d also probably guess not only was I devoid of any comprehension of what gravity actually is but I also didn’t understand the only reason why the universe exists at all is precisely because gravity is so monumentally weak – increasing it even slightly’d be utterly catastrophic (to say the least).

    My point being instead of studying telepathy according to its actual manifestational characteristics its detractors’re effectively say until you can show us ‘gravity’ behaving at the strength of ‘nuclear strong force’ we consider your evidence meaningless.

    I’m suggesting therefore telepathy may be as monumentally misunderstood as gravity’d be if we thought it did no more than make apples fall off trees.

  • jamesrav

    I wonder where psychic research will be 100 years from – the results in the last 100 years have not been very dramatic.  Still doing simple ‘guessing’ tests to try to even show there’s something ever-so-slightly beyond pure chance involved.  ‘Applications’ such as remote viewing are viewed with ridicule.  Maybe science should just admit there is some inconsequential ability to glean the very near future at above chance levels (an advance warning in the range of miilliseconds, as the recent Bem tests may show), and move on.  But the idea that psychic phenomena is some ‘game-changer’ shows no signs of being true, I’m afraid the hope that it can be exploited usefully will always rely on anecdotal cases, not repeated, controlled experiments.

  • patwa

    Could quantum entanglement also explain psychic phenomena?

    • rsanchez1

      Incidentally, quantum entanglement was one aspect of quantum theory that Einstein refused to believe because it was just so far out of his normal experience, even stranger than relativity.

  • rsanchez1

    We should stop wasting time proving it, and use that time to develop exercises to reinforce our native telepathic ability instead.

  • Erich Oliphant

    The funny part is the glaring lack of actual evidence for actual telepathy presented here.  ”Is there any scientific evidence for telepathy” would have been a more useful question.  Though apparently we already know the answer

  • Alex John

    This whole article is a joke. All the sources are 30+ years old, except one The writer consistently demands that critics prove a negative, which is illogical. Can the writer prove that Sasquatch doesn’t exist or that the orbiting teapot doesn’t exist? The burden of proof is upon those who make the claim, not the skeptics.
    The fact that the author consistently makes the wrong assumption that, that which occurs on the quantum level is true for the macro-level, which is not true. Many strange, mysterious and wonderful things occur on the molecular, nano and quantum scale that only have effects on that same scale, it does not correlate to the human scale. X=/=Y.
    Furthermore, who cares if 100 out of 100 scientists believe in parapsychology, unless there is a significant body of evidence to prove something their opinions matter not, otherwise everything is an argument from a authority, not from evidence, proof or plausibility.
    The way you talk about Quantum mechanics makes you sound like the Prophet of Woo himself, Deepak Chopra.

  • Alexander Lőrincz

    If these phenomena do exist, I think it’s best the majority continue to belittle it as nonsense. :)

  • Julia Assante

    I suggest to everyone, read Dean Radin’s Conscious Universe to understand the biases against psi research and the over-the-top demands for proof it is burdened with, more than in any other field of research. Telepathy has been proved over and over in clinical trials. Even I have been a test subject. Telepathy is hardly an extraordinary claim. What is extraordinary is despite incredible statistical proof, it is still ignored by frightened, narrow minded “experts.” Truthfully, we really don’t understand the physics behind electricity. Yet we use it. And we don’t understand telepathy, or thought for that matter, but we use it. 

  • Dr.

    Way too many assumptions and way too few (and old) sources. Also, there is no mention of actual proof of telepathy in this article. A peer reviewed study would be nice. The research, critical thinking, and unbiased journalism doesn’t seem to reach professional standards in this article, I suggest it is removed from the site so as not to make The Epoch Times look as bad as the author of it. 

  • Stephanie Lam
    • Dr.

      And Richard Wiseman’s own response to the quote you’ve chosen is apparently “It is a slight misquote, because I was using the term in the more general sense of ESP — that is, I was not talking about remote viewing per se, but rather Ganzfeld, etc as well.  I think that they do meet the usual standards for a normal claim, but are not convincing enough for an extraordinary claim.”

  • SteveButler

    The article theme is actually the peculiar behaviour of a small faction of contrarians French, Wiseman, Randi, Blackmore etc  who generate their entire public profile  solely via contrarianism. Without this odd dissent in the face of  evidence, they would vanish from the public eye. Their only desire is to bathe in the limelight, for what is essentially a fake career  obtained by the simple mechanism of denialism. (Lying) Their pseudoskeptic following online  display numerous literacy defects, even here, with their comments. They only demand references, to imply that the Epoch Times is lying.  Their literary failure to pick the historic theme of the article is revealed by their perrenial  robotic demands for evidence to be presented, spoon fed to them, in this article.They repeat that ludicrous demand ad nauseaum all over the NET, to imply their opponents are lying. Everyone is lying and deluded except them. That the article was not meant to be a complete expose of all the evidence for telepathy, escapes them utterly.
    Truth, is evidence for Telepathy has been accumulating into libraries for 100yrs and is available in free weekly emails from Victor Zammit. More than you can handle. A   veritable blizzard of knowledge. Peer reviewed studies by eminent scientists for 100yrs. Modern Quantum Physicists going right back to Alfred Wallace co-inventor of Evolution, all verify telepathy ! But the psuedoskeptics here, always posing as scientists,  really only  want to be  disputatious and to disparage other people online. Everything they write is disparaging. Just read their entries. Look for sneering, dismissal, ridicule. Its a defect that springs from narcissism, which all continues, despite the numerous keywords in the article, inviting readers to search via google, without abrading anyone online.
    Which never occurrs to these  pseudoskeptics posing as scientists LOL. for they really only  want to villify others. Its never about the evidence, or peer reviewed studies.

  • Dave Glover

    We should stop thinking that only machines can prove the existence of something and actually trust our direct spiritual perception, not allowing doubting Thomas’s to psyche us out and make us believe that psychic experiences are merely some weird mental process that is not reality. 

    When I did TM, I experienced many incredible things, like seeing coloured spheres floating through my room, even after coming out TM mediation sessions. I experienced leaving my body so that I was situated just above and behind my head, and meeting ‘dead’ relatives who were still fully conscious but who no longer needed to express themselves through a gross material body, which apparently is only required to experience the gross material level of consciousness in a certain way, though discarnate souls can still perceive this level with perfect clarity as well as their own.

    Through practicing siddhi techniques, with prayer, I was also permitted to perceive a divine being who is Krishna, and have been developing my relationship with that being ever since, accepting Him as God. Doing any mystical technique of meditation, one can begin to perceive what matter actually is, a non-particulate substance in accordance with quantum theory, such that external material form can be like a rolling wave, with form being transmitted from one location to another, and modern experiments in laboratories using equipment are correlating this, by transmitting DNA form from one location into another, using RNA as the material to take on the manifestation of DNA. The soul within the external material form is eternal, and does not require DNA to be conscious. Soul is ultimate reality, and the highest level  is comprised of nothing but a multitude of souls throughout infinity.

  • Jonathan Philip Shearman

    It is interesting to reflect that in Buddhist philosophy, the development of psychic abilities as a corollary to meditative discipline has been recognized from the start. (This is also the case in other schools of yoga and Eastern wisdom.) However the disciples of the Buddha were always discouraged from using these powers, and certainly from exploiting them, which was an offense punishable by expulsion from the order.

  • Tom

    The reason why certian phenomena are not studied is because of a tradition started in the late 19th Century at the APEX of “Classical Physics” where phenomena that appeared to conflict with current theories or seemed “impossible” were either ignored or simply ascribed to “superstition”, as far as Science was concerned.
    Of course this was before Relativity, parallel universes, Quantum mechanics, etc., were conceived.–Which today leives the possibilities wide open.——
    Those who ignore stuff like Telepathy. and other so called “paranormal” phenomena need to move their Science and Physics into the 21st Century.



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