What I Mean by “Telepathy”

Reading Minds

First, an apology. When I use the word telepathy, I do not mean reading minds in the magical, fantastical, ESP, science fiction, paranormal sense. I do mean “reading minds,” but whether telepathy is real, whether thoughts can be directly exchanged, mind to mind, or plucked by one mind from another, is irrelevent to my goals. So I’m sorry if you’ve come seeking something more romantic, but in my mind, this is where the real romance is.

The telepathy I mean is the only telepathy most people have ever experienced: getting thoughts between minds by using a medium of communication. T

ext on paper or the computer screen, words spoken over the phone. To be clear, I call this
Technologically-Mediated Telepathy, or TMT for short, and every time I refer to telepathy, this is the kind I mean. Even language itself is a technology – it is after all the brain’s most fundamental artifice but an artifice nonetheless. So even speaking to each other, whispering intimacies in each other’s ears or shouting from a mountaintop is a form of TMT.

Writing is another TMT. I’m arranging a finite set of symbols – 26 in English plus some other marks – in infinite recombinations to wrestle what’s on my mind into what you’re reading.  You’re reading. You’re reading my mind through the technology of the alphabet, a machinery so ubiquitous, powerful and transparent, we forget to see it as a technology at all.

Communication technologies evolve on an upward sloping line, Slide1asymptotically, toward the essential urge that powers it: pure mind-to-mind communication. We want to become truly intersubjective beings, transmitting pure thought, sensation, and experience to each other instantaneously and without mediation or translation.

All communication is an attempt by one mind to transmit information to another mind seeking to understand it. Even when you talk to yourself, and certainly when you write, you are your own first audience.

Once you view all human communication as partly telepathic, a powerful new perspective springs into view. We see that our desire for intimacy, for expressing and trading our experience, is one of the basic urges that informs all the progress we’ve made.  And through the ongoing improvement of our communication technologies, we’re moving on an upward-sloping line towards perfect intimacy, pure telepathy, fulfillment of that urge.

Grunts, clicks, noises, tweets, whistles, cave painting, song, writing. The printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, movies, television and the Internet. VR.  Brain to brain communication. Telepathy.

We are getting ever better at trading subjectivities, for better or worse, for increasing the immediacy, sensation, range, and fidelity of what we can tell others about what’s on and in our minds. We are able to express our own experiences and broadcast them to others across greater distances, at greater speed, for many more people. We’re getting better at calling to our tribe by singing to them with more particularity to more refined micro-audiences, involving ever more sensuality and nuance. We write and record for sight and vision with ever-greater immediacy and intimacy. We’re getting better and faster at reading each other’s minds.


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