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Could we humans develop psionic powers in the future?

Aside from what is common in science-fiction and fantasy literature, it doesn't seem reasonable that our bodies would develop powers like telekinesis/telepathy.

Could a human mind have influence/control over matter?

Does our brain "leak" any kind of radiation/magnetic field/wave, whatever?

Please consider:

  • Our world and our rules of today
  • Psionic powers that don't require machines.
  • It doesn't matter how strong it is, it could be simply making a pencil move.
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    $\begingroup$ Is this in a purely science-as-we-know it universe? $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 7 '15 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ IMHO unanswerable - if someone knows what technologies will be possible 100 years from now, should not be wasting time on this forum but doing something more productive :-) $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Jan 7 '15 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB Yes, purely from a scientific view. Are there any effects/process performed by our brains, that if exagerated, could resemble psionics? Does our brain "leak" magnetic fields/waves or something else? $\endgroup$ – mcbecker Jan 7 '15 at 16:23
  • $\begingroup$ Based on the possible answer by Telastyn, perhaps I should change this question to: Could all the bombardment from radiowaves, magnetic fields, and cellphone networks, guide our evolution to a point where we would develop the ability to pick up/perceive those signals? $\endgroup$ – mcbecker Jan 7 '15 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ Psionic powers that don't require machines? Supernatural abilities don't spontaneously develop, they're not part of nature - that's why they're supernatural. $\endgroup$ – Scott Downey Jan 7 '15 at 16:51
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Define "machines".

We already have technology to read brainwaves and cause robotic arms to move. That could pretty easily be changed to activate a magnet to move things, or to send wireless signals to something to cause it to move. But they do currently require sensor caps and cybernetics.

But what if people could build bio-engineered sensor caps, and wireless transmitters? It would allow people to manipulate their environment in the Internet of Things, and serve as a foundation for telepathic communication, without anything we would identify as a machine.

Beyond that, there is no plausible science to exert force upon random items remotely.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. +1 for considering organic technology. If we consider the brain as an organic machine, maybe its just simply adding a new component/part to allow us to use psionic powers. Or we could evolve our brains into this organic machine that has wireless transmiters. $\endgroup$ – mcbecker Jan 7 '15 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ I think this question can be closed down. The answer by Telastyn is very much what I was expecting. Bio-tech really provides a good answer for it. $\endgroup$ – mcbecker Jan 8 '15 at 12:36
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Its a tricky topic to approach from as skeptical of a wording as you chose.

Consider that the brain DOES cause a pencil to move. It sends the tiniest of electrical signals out down one tube, and a muscle does the work. How about telepathy? Consider the death-stare of a spouse reminding you that you should be moving pencils today without him or her lifting a finger (and you are also reminded you were supposed to move the pencil yesterday).

What is very tricky about this is your wording. Your wording suggests that the method of telekenesis/telepathy must be outside the realm of science. The effect has to be made by the mind (which is not fully defined by science or philosophers). However, history has shown that once we gain control over something, science models it and makes it part of itself. TK/TP will never occur by that definition, because every time it does, science moves the bar.

300 years ago, the telephone would have been considered telepathy.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. I´m really taking in consideration purely from the scientific view. Is there any process/effect performed by the brain that if magnified/exagerated could resemble psionics? $\endgroup$ – mcbecker Jan 7 '15 at 16:21
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I do envision we will have a 'form' of telepathy in the future. We have cell phones right now and we have very rudimentary sensors that can 'read' our brains. if the reading improves to the point of translating to words, we could send our conversation over the network and converse with someone merely by thinking about it.

Might need a little microphone in your ear or maybe connect directly to the brain to receive. At this point other abilities could be 'psy' powers, thinking and you can start your car to warm up on cold days, or change the channel on the TV.

These would all be tech assisted psy powers but the end is the same.

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I'm going to split psionics up into three parts.

  • Telekinesis (moving things with your mind)
  • Telepathy (reading minds and speaking with your mind)
  • Psychic viewing (sensing with something other than the normal 5 senses)

Telekinesis can be bound from a physics perspective: how much power does it take to make a pencil move, could the brain produce it, and could they do it without cooking themselves or the thing they're trying to move?

Let's get a lower bound. There's a scene in Phenomenon where George is idly making a pencil roll back and forth on a table with his mind. A pencil moving at walking speed has 6 milliJoules of energy, some more would be needed for acceleration but close enough. This is about the energy contained in a whisper or pressing 6 keys or a millionth of a food calorie. So yes, the human body can produce this amount of energy without cooking itself or the pencil or the table. We already know this because I can move a pencil with my finger, but it's good to get the numbers.

The next problem is how do you invisibly move an object using known physics? This is where the problems start. We could use a very focused magnetic beam, but it would effect everything in a line from the psychic to the pencil and beyond. Also pencils aren't very magnetic, so it would have to be extremely powerful to induce a magnetic field in graphite and wood likely cooking the user and everybody else. Finally, this would limit the psychic to only pushing things away from them or pulling them in. They couldn't, for example, lift anything, turn a doorknob or flip a switch up or down.

Maybe they ionize air to create a breeze or suction. Again, this requires a tremendous amount of energy, the breeze would be easily measured, and it could only push or pull.

I will leave the problem of telekinesis there. You're basically trying to make a tractor beam. Good luck.


On to telepathy. As has been pointed out by others, we can already influence other people's minds through the use of what I'm going to lump together as "social hacking". The human brain is a big pile of old parts repurposed and rewired together to cobble together sentience and intelligence (two ill-defined words), and it's version 1.0. There's lots of ways to trick it, cause people to think your idea was really their idea, or change their memory. Radiolab has an excellent episode on Memory And Forgetting about how every time we remember something we actually destroy and recreate that memory. They have another episode, Choice about how Free Will may be an illusion and your decision can be swayed by a simple cup of coffee. This is all a ripe field for your story.

As to mind reading, we need some way to transfer information from one brain to another. Here I'll take the term ESP (Extra Sensory Perception) literally. You can just sense things people can't.

I'll draw from the field of cryptology. It was recently claimed that encryption can be broken by listening to a computer as it decrypts something. Take that basic idea, stretch it a bit, and a mind reader may just be a person who can sense the minute changes in a brain's electromagnetic field and translate them into their thoughts. The brain is, after all, a supercomputer. Fish, dolphins and platypus can sense magnetic fields. Why not?


Finally, psychic viewing. Seeing through objects is simple enough, our psychic has the ability to see outside the visible spectrum. Biologically there's no problem with this, and some people can already do it a bit. Similarly, sensing very high and low frequency sounds is no problem. Adults tend to lose their ability to hear high frequency sounds, kids have ESP compared to adults. Assembling those sounds into "vision" (echolocation) is not a problem, humans already do it, your psychic just does it better.

As for things like taking a psychic trip to Jupiter (psychic or astral projection)... I got nothing.


There is another mechanism of action, that biological organisms can be Quantum Computers. Greg Egan has played with this idea. The novels are short and well written, so I encourage you to read them.

In Quarantine,

it's found that humans are the Quantum Observer and the main character has the ability to it turn off. He can try all possibilities simultaneously and select which version of the universe he collapses the decision tree to. Need to guess a pass code? Just randomly push buttons! One of the trillions of "you" will get it right, pick that one and toss out the rest.

In Teranesia,

DNA becomes a biological quantum computer. Evolutionary pressure, instead of coming from the current environment, is coming from all possible environments. DNA can predict the mutations necessary to survive future threats and reproduce.

A more subtle version of this, where the user was not entirely aware of the mechanism, would appear "psychic".


That's all about making psionics plausible. Will humans ever develop them? Evolutionarily speaking, you need to come up with a reason these chance mutations will help humans live to reproduce in the long term, and which existing part of the human anatomy can be adapted to fit. If we were trapped underground for many generations, rods and cones which can see a wider spectrum in dimmer light would be beneficial. If we lived in a cold climate, a mutation to continue to produce lactase after maturity allows us to gain caloric benefit from the abundant but otherwise inedible grass by digesting the breast milk of bovines. That all takes a long time, and is rather more complicated than is presented to the layman.

Fortunately, we have genetic engineering and don't have to wait around for evolution. Want to sense magnetic fields? Splice in some dolphin DNA! Of course, it's not that simple, but it's plausible. How do you do this to an adult human? Gene therapy! Alter a retrovirus to inject, modify or delete genes in your existing cells. Or use it to force the brain to grow new structures or make new connections. Still in the future, but plausible.

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Some humans "may" already have very minor psionic abilities. Projects like PEAR and it's clones went like this. A subject sits with a machine that is randomly generating single-digit binary numbers (0 or 1). The human focuses on one number, sometimes called heads or tails and defined thus, as the machine generates them. The machine generates millions of numbers and many tests are performed.

When the results are compiled, the humans can be shown to influence the machine into generating the chosen number more often than the non-chosen one (usually less than 1%). It may not sound like much, but assume it is the starting point for human psionic powers which will awaken in the next centuries.

Assume the influence is on the vibration of a single atom. The atom vibrates a little more powerfully when going in the positive X direction and less powerfully when vibrating in the negative X direction, X, Y, and Z axes are assigned arbitrarily by the influencer, and Y and Z cannot be affected. The exact mechanism of the influence is that the atom loses a portion of heat when moving toward the non-desired direction, and that energy is added back when moving in the preferred direction. Mass and energy are therefore conserved. Where the energy resides in the interim is beyond my skill, in both particle physics and worldbuilding, to explain. That's all that can be done by any person born before 2010.

This ability occurs in a significant portion of the global population, but is undetectable and therefore cannot be selected for. The child of two parents with the ability would have a stronger ability. The children of two parents with the ability is the second generation group. They will have the ability to influence between 2 and 8 atoms.

Each successive generation that is born of two parents of the same generation with the ability has the ability to influence a greater number of atoms. (ie a 4 and a 4 create a 5). The child of parents of two different generations would have their generation number equal to a random integer in an inclusive range of one greater than the greatest and one less than the least. (ie. A 2 and a 5 have a child that can be between 1 and 6). A parent without the ability would be considered generation 0.

Atoms influenced = [base] ^ ([generation]-1) where [base] = a real number between 2 and 8.

The best of the 10th generation (base number 8 and an unbroken chain of children of two parents with the ability for 10 generations) could move 1 billion atoms, but even in gold that's only 350 femtograms. The best of the 20th generation could influence 10^17 atoms. In gold that's 380 micrograms, in water it's nearly 35. This might be detectable, but is still very unlikely. The 26th generation is probably when the psionic ability would be detected. The best of this generation would be able to influence half a mole. A person would have to be extremely lucky to be such a person, but they'd be able to move 9 kg of water or nearly 100 kg of a denser element like gold.

This motion would not be like levitation or many of the other telekinesis that is common in sci-fi. It would be more like a vibrating cell phone moving across a table, just the vibrations are much smaller and much more frequent. Overcoming gravity would be very difficult, but causing a material to slide along a flat surface or reducing/adding to the effect of gravity to decrease/increase friction would not be difficult.

At this point governments and the scientific community would probably get involved. It could be quickly discovered that this is a genetic trait, and that the effects increase with successive generations if both parents have the ability. This could lead to selecting for the genes and the ability being scene as desirable. As nearly all of humanity should have at least one ancestor with the ability so class warfare between users and non-users should not be an issue. Populations in countries with modern freedoms would probably just add it as a factor in mate selection. (Similar to modern day tech-savvy. Nearly all have it to some degree. Some think it is important in mate selection, some do not.) In more totalitarian governments, parents may be sought out to create children with the greatest possible ability (China: Two tallest people in country "encouraged" to marry and produce a child. That child is Yao Ming.)

The numbers can be changed to speed up or slow down the process, and of course if a user concentrates on half the number of particles, twice the result is achieved and so on.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting! $\endgroup$ – mcbecker Jan 7 '15 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ Anything coming out of PEAR should be taken with a heavy grain of salt. The various "influence a random number generator" studies are highly susceptible to, well, randomness. They rely on heavy use of statistics to "prove" there was a 0.1% deviation from the expected randomness. The effect can be the result of cherry picking positive results or anomalies in the RNG. In short, I can flip a coin 1000 times, get a statistically likely string of 10 heads, show you just those 10 flips and claim I'm psychic. $\endgroup$ – Schwern Jan 7 '15 at 20:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Schwern Agreed 90%, they did far more than 100 trials, and the averages were off in the "right direction." So in your example you'd have to say you want more heads, and then flip and get the 10 extra heads. If more tails came up, or the difference was minor, then I could not say you were influencing the result. Obviously, the goal here is to make a world in which psionics exist, and yet have a plausible and scientifically sound-ish explanation. My solution is not perfect, and does require some suspension of disbelief. $\endgroup$ – Red_Shadow Jan 7 '15 at 21:06
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Technological Telekinesis is right around the corner!

For this sort of psionics to be possible, you need to have the electrical signals of the brain affect something outside the human body. This has already happened. (Google Cathy Hutchinson, who can control a robotic arm with her mind, thanks to implants). She currently controls it with a wire running into her head, but it's easy to imagine a wireless version.

In the future, such implants will probably become more common. It’s entirely possible that someday, they would move beyond medical devices for the severely disabled. They will certainly become smaller, possible to the microscopic scale if they can be made with nanotechnology.

In short, telekinetics is just around the corner, if it isn’t already here. Telepathy is probably coming too.

If you are talking about something like the X-Men, where Professor Xavier was just born with unique mental powers, then the answer is no, it won't happen unless genetic engineering makes progress by leaps and bounds over the next few centuries. And even then, it'd be through indirect mechanical means. It will never spontaneously happen.

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We already have robotic arms which are driven by patterns of human brain activity. Such pattern detectors can be placed in hat/cap. They will interface with robotic arms/machinery.

No psionic skill is necessary, but tricky part is to be focused enough to keep proper brain pattern long enough and clear enough.

If you don't want hat, you can have under-skin implants all over scalp, with some concentrator.

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  • $\begingroup$ I would like something "natural", as if the person really has that ability. Concentration should really be an issue. I can see someone having a hard time with complex commands. $\endgroup$ – mcbecker Jan 7 '15 at 19:51
  • $\begingroup$ Every person has this ability. Computer works with user to learn which pattern represent which command. But I was guessing from beginning you want something more magical - which does not exist, and cannot exist according to our current understanding of laws of physics. $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Jan 7 '15 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, it sucks that magic does not exist. Psionics is some kind of magic. I was wondering if we as a species will ever develop something at least a little like it. $\endgroup$ – mcbecker Jan 7 '15 at 19:59
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It cannot be ruled out yet.

Our current technology is unable to measure any energies coming out of a human skull which might provide a mechanism for either telepathy or telekinesis... but that doesn't mean that it isn't there.

We can say that it is unlikely that such an energy could have existed across all human history without a scientist or professional observer actually capturing proof of its existence in an undeniable fashion. But the absence of proof is not a proof of absence.

So,... maybe

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Yes. Especially if you mean telepathy rather than telekinesis. People who study telepathy will tell you that we already have it, but have mostly let it fall into disuse and be squelched by disbelief, skepticism, and unscientific scientists. People who study animal communication will tell you that animals still can and do use it. Same for people who study plant communications.

For a scientist discussing this, I suggest the book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals by Cambridge scientist Rupert Sheldrake.

Brain activity (and plant communication) does give off radiation, which is how lie detectors and brain activity scanners work. However that's not necessarily how the information is sent and/or received. Experiments show that people, animals and plants can attune to each other and then respond to each other even at great distances, where it seems implausible that it happens via something like a radio signal. However it happens, there are many reproducible experiments which show that it does happen.

As for telekinesis on inanimate objects, I don't know.

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