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I would like to create a sentient creature with telepathy and/or telekinesis.

  • Can either (or both) of these concepts exist biologically?
  • If yes, what would the biological mechanism be?
  • Would a specialized organ of some sort be needed and how would it interact with the rest of the body?
  • How strong could it potentially be? (range, lifting power)
  • If this is possible would there be any adverse affects to having the skill and using it?
  • Would it be more or less energy efficient that the old fashioned way?

Clearly I would prefer a biologically plausible solution as opposed to...yep...we have telekinetic powers...just accept it.

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    $\begingroup$ Telepathy might be possible between animals of the same species, but I don't think telekinesis exists in any form anywhere, either biological or man-made. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Mar 19 '15 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ related: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/8392/… $\endgroup$ – Telastyn Mar 19 '15 at 17:25
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    $\begingroup$ Telepathy and telekinesis are two completely unrelated properties. I think you should ask the two questions separately. $\endgroup$ – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 19 '15 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ Not really "telekinesis" but from answering a recent question about electric-generating plants, I've learned that Electric Eels send out electro-pulses when they hunt to cause nearby fish to convulse, giving the fish away and possibly forcing them out of hiding. Also, you might be able to consider gravity or magnetism as a form of telekinesis if you could somehow control it with your body? - It wouldn't be caused just by the mind though. $\endgroup$ – DoubleDouble Mar 20 '15 at 16:17
  • $\begingroup$ define telepathy. are my neurons telepathic to one another? Must it be at a distance? etc. $\endgroup$ – tox123 Mar 27 '16 at 14:36

15 Answers 15

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Telepathy

There are many ways to handle telepathy. In fact, talking is a form of telepathy - forming a path between two brains - by using an actuator and a sensor on each end. If we could sense and change electromagnetic fields, or quantum couplings, or something similar, we wouldn't consider it a form of telepathy - it would simply be a method of communication. Just like we can see farther than we can hear, and can hear around and through solid objects, being able to communicate at longer distances through, say, electromagnetic waves would simply be another sense - a sixth sense, so to speak. In the same way that some animals have built in magnetic compasses, the biology of detecting such fields isn't impossible - it's just never been selected for. Of course it's easy to understand because we've built machines to do it for us.

Telekinesis

Telekinesis is more difficult, and I think you'd have extend your story into the realm of fiction unless you allow that robots or other creatures being communicated with and performing your commands counts.

However, there's a lot we don't know about particle physics, fields, and interactions, such that you might be able to write fiction that is plausible based on what we already know with only a little extension into fantasy.

We know atoms are made up of even smaller discrete or measurable particles called elementary particles. These interact with each other and create the fields and forces that attract or repel. A recent proof of one of these is the well publicized Higgs Boson. Advancements in this area have been accelerating - for instance we didn't have proof of the atom's existence until 1910 - only 100 years ago - and the electron and proton weren't proven until 1930. We are learning more and more about our universe at a staggering pace.

Graviton

One particle that is theorized but not yet proven is the graviton. It is expected to be a massless spin-2 particle.

If we were able to manipulate particle spin biologically from a distance, maybe proposing some sort of biological quantum transceiver, then we could manipulate gravity fields. One might suggest that changing all the spins of all the gravitons on a given mass of atoms requires exceptional ability, or one might propose that changing the spin causes a reaction in solid objects that changes all of them.

Alternately, changing the gravitation field around the object you wish to control might be easier than changing the gravitation field of the object itself.

Regardless, at this point in time there's no easy way to have telekinesis without entering the fantasy world because if it could exist given today's knowledge and technology, then we would have machines that would do it for us. So you're going to have to go out and Make Stuff Up, but hopefully the above provides a template that allows you to make only a small thing up that then extends existing knowledge and technology so you can accomplish your goal.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this is the most plausible answer so far for "naturally" occurring telekinesis. $\endgroup$ – Rozwel Mar 20 '15 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ Use photons instead of gravitons and you get a form of telekinesis called electromagnetism. $\endgroup$ – mouviciel Dec 14 '16 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ «manipulate particle spin biologically from a distance, maybe proposing some sort of biological quantum transceiver, then we could manipulate gravity fields.» huh? «changing all the spins of all the gravitons» nonsense $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jan 12 '17 at 9:23
  • $\begingroup$ @JDługosz I agree. However it may fulfill the needs of the story without forcing readers to suspend disbelief for the majority of casual non scientist audience. Consider all the jargon Star Trek used which the audience simply accepted. $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Jan 12 '17 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ @JDługosz story artists have a wide variety of opinion regarding adapting existing science and science terms for their worlds versus creating new science and science terms. You have the beginning of a good answer to this question, so please consider adding one which reflects your opinion. $\endgroup$ – Adam Davis Jan 12 '17 at 11:48
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Telepathy is actually a little easier to imagine as actually biologically feasible. We have technology now that can 'read' your brain. There are several different kinds, with differing levels of success.

So having an organ that can 'read' the same impulses could possibly happen. Add to that the ability to sense pheromones and other body chemistry more consciously and you could do a pretty good job at reading people.

Telekinesis is a whole different matter. a definition to start with

the supposed ability to move objects at a distance by mental power or other nonphysical means

Would this include telepathically controlling my dog to bring me the paper and my slippers? If not, then it is highly unlikely to have a naturally biological solution. Basically then the animal would need an antigravity field generator that can be manipulated in different directions and extend some distance outside the body. Since every animal we know of uses physical contact to move things (don't get knitpicky about machines etc) it is likely the most energy efficient way to do things.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer....and congrats at reaching 14k rep, 13.8 was really starting to annoy me. I am currently researching in to the telekinesis part of the question. It doesn't appear to be a probable solution. I was thinking that discreetly moving things could be possible by accelerating a lot of particles but I see no real evolutionary advantage. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Mar 19 '15 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ @DustinJackson Thanks! Technically I am currently 18 points short of 14K ;) I agree I don't see natural telekinesis to happen $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 19 '15 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ now, if OP insists I am sure he can find a way to genetically modify his sentients......part of me wants to read the resulting piece of literary work. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Mar 19 '15 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ A major problem with any mode of telephaty is encryption. You can transmit information in any number of ways, but they will be detectable by others who have the same biological detectors $\endgroup$ – OganM Mar 19 '15 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ Telepathy is in no way different than what we have now - information exchange through sound. With a sophisticated enough language, it would be possible to encode enough information to "directly transmit thoughts". And the problems stay the same - if we want to say something in private, we whisper (reduce the intensity of our communication) or go in a room (which dampens the sound). The same things would apply to telepathy. Telepathy would use a different medium and a different organ, but then, if everyone has it, what makes it different from mouth/ear? $\endgroup$ – kutschkem Mar 20 '15 at 15:33
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Telekinesis is plausible if you put the burden of doing the actual moving on something other than the person using "Telekinesis".

Let's say there are tiny creatures permeating everything in huge numbers, undetectable by us, yet collectively strong enough to move objects.
Since they are everywhere, you have some in your brain. The creatures in your brain respond to mental commands (bowlturner mentioned how this can work) and communicate with the creatures in the object you want to move, and those in turn manipulate the object in question.

This concept may sound familiar.

You can make it more scientific by turning magic creatures into Nanobots or even smaller machines. Of course nanobots would have to be manufactured and distributed by someone or something.

Telepathy works in a similar fashion. The creatures in the brain of the first person can communicate with the creatures in the brain of the second person and through this channel transmit thoughts and emotions.

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Telepathy

We know that it's possible to encode and transmit information from sender to receiver using electromagnetic energy. Radio waves do this every day and are the basis of everything from CB radios and walkie-talkies to mobile phones, so we know that it's physically possible and in fact we've been doing it for over a hundred years.

The human brain (or really any electrochemical brain which operates on similar biological principles to the human brain) generates an electrical field which can be detected by a device such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), which is normally used in a medical setting to determine if an unconscious person still has brain activity and more generally to measure the state of someone's consciousness (awake, asleep, dreaming, tired, alert, etc).

Extrapolating from this, it might be possible for creatures to evolve a capacity to communicate directly by sensing the electrical field generated by another individual's brain, or perhaps the brains of nearby individuals, perhaps by having specialised sensory organs in a similar way to magnetoreception in birds (which allows birds to detect and navigate by the Earth's magnetic field).

This might allow one individual to sense fear, surprise, pleasure or curiosity in a nearby individual that they cannot actually see or hear, and perhaps to even form basic mental images of the event which provoked the emotion and it's location, such as a nearby predator, a food source or potential mate.

This would certainly have some interesting effects on the social development of the species. Whether it would be possible to communicate "dinner at Susan's at 8pm, bring the canapes and this time don't get drunk" is another matter.

The quantum brain

The very latest research suggest that the brain (or at least individual brain cells) are capable of sustaining a quantum state, and that this is in effect essential to consciousness. This has some very interesting implications for the nature of individuality, awareness and faster-than-light communication. However, this becomes quite speculative from here, so I'll leave it to your own investigation.

Telekenises

Moving physical objects with thought alone seems unlikely. I'm going to rule out nanobots and other such things as that seems to be outside the scope of the question, though it would obviously make it easier.

Moving an object requires energy to overcome its inertia, friction, gravity and any other forces that might be applied to it. Normally that energy is imparted through physical force applied directly to the object in excess of the existing forces to move it in the direction you want.

So, the question becomes, where would that energy come from and how could it be directed in a moving objects with thought alone scenario?

If you're willing to stretch science a bit and go with thought controlled nanobots (or magic little creatures) or something similar, then you can start to work around these problems.

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  • $\begingroup$ It's worth noting that human brains do actually put out a faint but detectable magnetic field, which varies with neural activity. In humans, it is so weak that it is overwhelmed by technological sources and even the Earth's magnetic field. However, one could imagine a species that evolves a specialized amplifying organ for magnetic transmission, in addition to a receiving organ. Again, there would need to be some adaptive advantage to communicating via EM versus sound waves, as we do now. $\endgroup$ – alexw May 5 '16 at 16:32
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It's not exactly telepathy but electric eels can control the body of a prey at distance thanks to electromagnetic impulses, making them move involuntary to find their position, or paralysing them:

http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/animals/a13205/this-is-what-an-electric-eel-shocks-does-17493859/

Therefore it's not totally unimaginable to have such an animal evolving to target the brain more precisely, either for control or communication.

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I've been thinking on this for some time concerning a personal attempt at writing a novel involving individuals with such powers and how a society would exist and function with such people being common place.

There is currently a popular theory being explored called the "Morphic Field" theory which in essence involves the recently discovered behavior of "Microtubules" within neurons. It is surmised that each set of Microtubules is actually capable of quantum computing. When we start talking about quantum computing we start thinking of quantum entanglement with its' surroundings. Hence the "Morphic Field" of influence thought to exist around the human body according to the theory.

Einsteins' description of quantum entanglement was "Spooky Action From A Distance". I'll leave the rest of the speculation up to your imaginations as to what may be possible if we just end up thinking in the right way.

However there may even be an evolutionary explanation as to why and how certain sixth senses could come to be. Especially that of precognition and possibly the perception of ghosts and spirits. It would be very advantageous with respect to survival if that small little rodent 60 million years ago actually knew that one of its' fellow rodents had just died a horrible death nearby due to a lurking predator. The more a Rodent can sense this fact with maybe even just a sense of foreboding. The more likely it is going to be that it decides that taking that particular route may not be a good idea and the more likely it is to live long enough to have progeny with similar skills. Quite logical when you think about it. How that mechanism actually works is open to speculation but it really could be that now expired rodent a). left a message/recording of its' fate in the surrounding environment through quantum entanglement under duress/stress that rodent b). could play back.

There is also one other possible method of at least transmitting milliwave signals (milliwaves are something we are only exploring electronically now due to it's being in that zone between microwaves and infra red for which neither type of sensor works very well). Namely each and every cell of the human body has a series of symbiotic passengers called Mitochondria and if it wasn't for those Oxygen would be poisonous. The more oxygen and energy a cell needs the more mitochondria it has. Transmitters and receivers of energy are called transducers for a reason in that something like a loudspeaker can also act as a microphone and an Aerial can be used to both transmit and receive. The simplest electromagnetic Aerial is a conductive loop and guess what... Mitochondria are conductive loops of circular DNA. Yes DNA conducts electricity and would generate a small circular current dependent on how active it is at the moment. Brain cells need more oxygen than anything else (apart from maybe the heart and liver) and would generate a small EM field in the milliwave band in response to how active they are. Current brain scanning technologies can already use blood oxygen consumption to detect certain cognitive processes though at present they can only tell the difference between a couple of different thoughts.

The speculation could go on. However one thing that is certain is that things like PK and ESP are certainly not "Impossible".

Edit While sitting outside having a cigarette and concentrating on trying to move a stone I realized that although described possible mechanisms for Telepathy I hadn't really explained PK very much at all. So I'll just elucidate a little on that. The only real way that something could be moved remotely would be to manipulate/negate the forces keeping it where it is. These are friction, gravity, momentum and to a very small extent brownian motion of the air around it and any temporary ghost subatomic particles that pop out of nowhere and disappear just as suddenly. However whatever way of doing this is found will still have to abide by the laws of thermodynamics in that the energy required to move a stone by your mind would have to be equal to the energy required to move it up by hand. So lets explore the possible method of moving a stone. To overcome the friction we have to lift the stone and to lift the stone we have to reverse the gravitational field upon it. At the moment there is only one theoretical way of altering gravity and that is using something called the "London Moment" found in rotating mass (also known as "Frame Dragging"). Did you know you're slightly lighter at the north pole than the south because the earth is a rotating mass? It's been known about for a while because it subtly affects some satellites (or is it the south?). Therefore For PK to work the mind has to find some way of convincing the stone that there is an extremely rapidly rotating mass above it. How the mind does that I really couldn't speculate upon as we don't know enough about gravity and whether any kind of field could influence it. Quantum entanglement altering the M or P-Brane substrate seems as good a guess as any. However this might take some energy from the mind/body to do. Possibly causing localized heating etc... etc... Basically the possibility of trying to move something too large might cause brain damage. Interesting eh? One other thing I didn't cover is Teleportation. Actually that may be even simpler. Subatomic particles do it all the time. Some of the diodes in your mobile phone wouldn't even work without the "Quantum Tunneling" principle. It also involves concepts like the "Heisenberg Uncertaincy" principle where the possibility of a particle being in one state and place doesn't rule out the possibility of it being elsewhere (as long as it doesn't violate the "Pauli Exclusion" principle). Such as an electron magically appearing the other side of the insulating junction of a Tunnel Diode. As an aside there already experiments underway to test the human minds ability to affect "Quantum Tunnelling" in such diodes with some interesting anecdotal results over the past 17 years. Basically the theory that the human mind can affect the probability that a particle is somewhere other than expected is well established.

I'll leave you with these thoughts while I actually get back to doing some work now.

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Well, principally, one could imagine that this works.

Electronic devices can transmit information via "Hertzian waves" (electromagnetic transverse waves, like shear waves).

Your brain is a lot like an "electronic circuit". It consists of neurons, which, like transistors, act as amplifiers and switching elements. The voltages and currents are very low, but it's basically a kind of "electronic circuit". I don't see why it would be "impossible" for nature to create transmitter/receiver kind structures (basically, all they are is oscillators) if it can construct image-capturing devices (eyes / retina), audio-capturing devices (ears), processors (brain), motors / actuators (muscles), etc. It just didn't happen (yet). ;-)

You can build an oscillator from a recurrent artificial neural network with Perceptron-like processing elements (artificial neurons). Actual (biological) neural networks are usually a lot more powerful, than the structures we use to model them, so if I can build an oscillator using "artificial neurons", I should be able to do so with actual neurons as well.

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David Weber wrote such a species into one of his series and gave fairly plausible explanations for their biology and society. Look up treecats for more details, but the essence is they were both telepaths and empaths. They had secondary "brain" nerve clusters that were the transmitters & receivers. Their telepathy was on the same order as our voices, they could receive what was transmitted, but couldn't "read minds". Their empathetic sense was more on par with sight or hearing in that they could perceive anything in the area. I am spacing on the details, but their society was structured around these abilities and how to coexist when everyone knew what everyone else's emotional state was.

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One addition to @TNO's mention of omnipresent nanobots to explain telekinesis: The first nanobot or batch of nanobots would have been manufactured by someone or something. But they could also include a self-replication mechanism; each could build more 'bots out of common items like dust, dead microscopic animals (mites, etc.), or other waste products. At a certain "saturation level" in the environment they would stop producing more.

As a trivial point, their power could come from the sun.

(Thanks to the Michael Crichton book "Prey" for the basis of this idea.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I thought you were talking about DNA ;p $\endgroup$ – Darren Ringer Mar 20 '15 at 4:09
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Scientists have worked out ways to vibrate air to make "force fields". Basically, it's kinda like a complex version of blowing air to lift something up, but more direct-able. Having a species evolve to do this, and having it be strong enough to lift anything remotely heavy with any accuracy are both major stretches, but are theoretically possible. Technically humans are capable of telekinesis if you count blowing on a piece of paper, so these aliens would just be able to create more directed vibrations with hands or whatever.

Telepathy has been explained pretty well up above.

Edit: Link to tractor beam research.

http://www.livescience.com/52598-sonic-tractor-beam-moves-objects.html

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  • $\begingroup$ This would be better if you include a link. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jan 12 '17 at 9:28
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I propose Magnetoception, a well-known process that allows pigeons, turtles, fruit flies and - TIL - even bacteria to navigate by sensing the earth's magnetic field. This seems to be caused by a certain kind of molecule that changes in the eye's retina, so things in one alignment look 'different' than in another direction.

From here, one could imagine an individual who might have these magnetic receptors in their eyes, and some sort of magnetic lensing, so they could "see" the electrical activity in another individual. From there, it's an exercise in signal processing.

But wait, there's more:

... cryptochrome, when exposed to blue light, becomes activated to form a pair of two radicals (molecules with a single unpaired electron) where the spins of the two unpaired electrons are correlated. The surrounding magnetic field affects the kind of this correlation (parallel or anti-parallel), and this in turn affects the length of time cryptochrome stays in its activated state.

If we entangle the electrons from two different people, then we have a zero-power mechanism for transporting electricity from the eye of one person into the eye of another. A blind person might "see" what the paired person is seeing.

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Telepathy - maybe, but not instantly for new targets and not from afar: one would need to put a network of electric field sensors (presumably inside their hands) around the target's head and use a complex decoder (presumably a sizable brain area) to understand how this person's brain's electric field maps to thoughts over time.

Telekinesis - no, never. You push something away and Newton pushes you in the opposite direction, it's impossible to overcome this restriction. Also, both fundamental types of interaction not confined to microscopic scale are well-understood on that scale under normal conditions, and all easy ways of leveraging them are probably already known so you'd be left with really inefficient ones like pushing people with lasers as the basis for telekinesis.

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  1. Telekinesis. Tiny particles have been trapped and levitated by standing waves of electromagnetic radiation ( lookup "tractor beam" research ). Perhaps some lobe of a brain could be devoted to producing such EM. Another possibility is manipulation of mass through gravity or some other unknown mechanism, what if it were possible to manipulate the strong and weak nuclear forces through some currently unknown set of forces, and that some brain could produce waves of this force?

  2. Telepathy. What if the brain is a quantum computer that maintains consciousness by preserving superpositions? What if telepathy is entangling quantum states between brains? One brain, "measuring" the state of another. "Altering" that other's state through the same mechanism as measurement may not work so well, as modifying the quantum state of a brain without affecting the "machinery" ( cells, neurons, chemicals ) that produced it, may not work so well. So measuring brains from other brains, and having links between them may work quite well, and modifying the thoughts of another may require the ability to, some extent, modify the matter from which the thoughts arose or are bound to.

Things to do with matter seem to take more energy than things to do with pure energy or forces. Matter is condensed energy.

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Both are possible but maybe not quite like portrayed in classical movies.

Telepathy Looking at ultrasounds it is possible to have a very narrow beam which would make eves dropping impossible if not on the beam which could be technically equivalent to telepathy since no one could hear it. So a variant of bat's vocal cords would do the job

Another option would be 'time reversal' : which would use multipath in a room to ensure no one could eves drop (but this would be harder to conceive an organ which could do it)

Telekinesis funnily enough can also be achieved with ultrasounds: physical experiments describing ultrasonic tweezer levitating and moving objects are described in physics paper and we could imagine the same organs used for telepathy being used for telekinesis

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Telepathy has already been observed and documented in humans and animals, and some would add, plants. It's not like a telephone call, but more like the ability to send and receive impressions and suggestions, particularly to others with whom one is attuned. But there is convincing evidence that it does occur, and at any distance. The mechanism is not known and it does not seem to be like a radio signal, but there are enough studies showing that it clearly does happen. The best explanation for how it might happen seems to involve morphic fields, but that's a not-disproven theory. However I would say that "there is no telepathy" has been disproved. A good survey of this is the book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals by Rupert Sheldrake.

I don't know of any accounts of telekinesis that I believe.

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    $\begingroup$ skepdic.com/morphicres.html $\endgroup$ – Martín-Blas Pérez Pinilla Jan 15 '16 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Martín-BlasPérezPinilla I've read that web page before. And I've read Sheldrake, and heard him talk, and looked at Sheldrake's data. I find that web site to be more of an attack than a counter-argument, and think Sheldrake makes good sense and is a scientist looking for explanations for actual data using the scientific method. His critics tend to be using more dogmatic arguments based on unscientific belief systems dressed up as science. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Jan 15 '16 at 18:52
  • $\begingroup$ Even if any of this were true, this still wouldn't be a helpful answer. "The mechanism is not known" That's the problem. If you want to extrapolate consistent rules for a superpower based on real physics, you need to know what causes it. When asking how psychic powers could work, I'm certainly not satisfied with "psychics is real read ma book." I for one am not paying $15 for a book full of 'science' too pseudo to get published in a legitimate journal, just to debunk your flimsy claim. And I'm not here to debunk things; I'm here to find a way to make magic more convincing. $\endgroup$ – Maddock Emerson Oct 7 at 22:34
  • $\begingroup$ @MaddockEmerson It might not be helpful to hyper-skeptical people and/or those who lack imagination, or who don't appreciate how it is useful. By studying people's writings who have seriously studied real-world behavior and concluded that there seem to be behaviors that seem (if for lack of any better understanding of them) telepathic, a speculative fiction writer can look at what those are like and what the suggested explanations are, and develop their fiction along those lines. $\endgroup$ – Dronz Oct 9 at 22:51

protected by James Jan 12 '17 at 20:14

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