by Isaac Asimov

10. Don't You Believe?

One of the curses of being a well-known science-fiction writer is that unsophisticated people assume you to be soft in the head. They come to you for refuge from a hard and skeptical world. Don't you believe in flying saucers, they ask me? Don't you believe in telepathy? - in ancient astronauts? - in the Bermuda triangle? in life after death?
No, I reply. No, no, no, no, and again no.
One person recently, goaded into desperation by the litany of unrelieved negation, burst out. "Don't you believe in anything?" "Yes," I said. "I believe evidence. I believe observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observation. I'll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be."
For instance, where do I stand on telepathy, which I consider among the less wild suggestions along the fringes of knowledge? I don't consider telepathy to be intrinsically impossible. After all the brain produces a small electromagnetic field and the intensity of it wavers, rising and falling in irregular fashion, but with noticeable periodicities. These "brain waves" can be, and are, observed and measured by the technique of encephalography.
To be sure, the brain -waves are the overall product of some ten billion neurons, so that trying to make sense of them is like trying to make sense of the noise of the world's population all talking at once in all their various languages. In listening to the world's overall human noise,we could tell the subsidence into a soft, drowsy hum when night covers a region; or the rise into loud discordance at the coming of catastrophe. In the case of encephalography, there are changes from waking to sleeping, and vice versa, that can be detected. One can also detect the presence of a tumor or an epileptic seizure.
But we want something better than that; we want something that would be analogous to hearing the world's noise and picking out an individual conversation. Might not specific thoughts affect the brain-wave pattern? Might not the wavering electromagnetic field then impress itself upon a neighbor-brain and induce that same thought upon it. It is conceivable that this might happen, but the question is, is it conceivable that it does happen? Can one person detect another person's thoughts in actual practice?
Of course we can read thoughts indirectly. From the tone of a person's voice, from the expression of a person's face, from bits of a person's unconscious behavior, we can sometimes tell if that person is lying. We might even be able to make a shrewd guess as to what he (or she) is thinking. The more experienced we are, and the better we know the person we are studying, the more likely we are to guess his thoughts. But that is not what we mean by telepathy. Can one person sense another's thoughts directly?
Well, consider - If you were born with the ability to sense the thoughts of others, surely that would give you a considerable advantage. To sense what others don't realize is being sensed, to have advance warnings of others' intentions, to find that no secret is hidden - surely that would increase your security no end. It seems to me, then, that telepathic ability has great survival value, and that even a very limited and rudimentary telepathic ability would have considerable survival value. Telepaths would be better off, would live longer, and would have more children (who would also be telepathic, most likely). The principles of natural selection, it seems to me, would surely see to it that more and more people would be more and more efficiently telepathic as time went on.
In fact, we might liken telepathy to vision. The ability to sense light and analyze it for information about one's surroundings offers such an advantage that almost all life-forms, even quite primitive ones, have eyes of one sort or another. Very efficient eyes long antedate humanity itself.
Therefore, the mere fact that we are now trying to find out if telepathy exists, that there is any question of it at all, is, in itself, very strong evidence that it does not exist. If it did exist, it would by now be an overriding ability that we would all take for granted.
- But wait, I may be going too far. Animals that live out their lives in , total darkness are not likely to have eyes. It may be that telepathy has never developed on Earth because there have never been brains on Earth sufficiently complex to produce brain-waves worth detection, or to receive them, once produced. Only now, in the case of Homo sapiens, are the conditions right, and that just barely. Therefore, we are only now beginning to develop telepathy , so that very primitive effects are sometimes barely detectable in some people.
I find that hard to accept. Even simple brains have thoughts that could be powerful and worth receiving. The predator sneaking up on his prey must be thinking, at the very least, the equivalent of " - food - food - food-."
If the prey sees, hears, or smells the approaching predator,it is off at once, but surely that is not enough. The predator may be hidden, noiseless, and moving upwind. Would it not be useful for the prey to detect that -"food-" pulsing in the other brain?
I see a value to telepathy, an overriding survival value, that should have developed the ability in organisms with brains far too simple to develop complex ideas. We might as well argue that all animals but human beings should be deaf, since none of them have brains complex enough to be able to talk; or blind, since none of them have brains complex enough to be able to read. Hearing and sight have other, and more fundamental, functions than speaking and reading, and telepathy might well have other, and more fundamental, functions than carrying on an abstract conversation.
But maybe I'm wrong. Perhaps telepathy simply requires a more complex brain than sight and hearing do, and not all the need in the universe will force it into existence until the brain reaches a certain pitch of development. That would be why we're just beginning to detect it in a few quite rudimentary cases.
If that is so, doesn't it make sense to suppose that it is likely to show up in people with particularly efficient and complex brains? Yes,I know there are "idiot savants" who can do amazing things, but if telepathy can develop in backward brains, we're instantly back to wondering why it didn't develop in the lower animals.
If telepathy required advanced brains, it will show up in particularly intelligent, shrewd, forceful, charismatic individuals, it seems to me. What's more, it would surely give them, even if it is present in only rudimentary form, a powerful advantage over others. Might it not be, then, that telepathic powers explain how the leaders in politics, business, religion, science, and so on, come to be leaders?
Might it not be lust the touch of telepathy that does it?
I might believe that were it not that the world's leaders in every field, have always shown a perfectly human capacity to be fooled, deceived, and betrayed. Julius Caesar clearly didn't know what was in the mind of Brutus. Napoleon I surely did not suspect his foreign minister, Talleyrand, to be playing the role of double agent for years. Hitler certainly didn't suspect that a bomb had been planted a few feet from him on July 20, 1944.
In other words, whether we consider the situation from the standpoint of biology or history, we see a world that simply doesn't make sense if telepathy exists.
I therefore conclude that the odds are enormously against the existence of telepathy.
In order to make me believe that telepathy exists, despite the evidence of the world around me, I would need very strong evidence, together with foolproof reasoning, and this simply doesn't exist.
All that the proponents of telepathy can offer are anecdotal evidence and the kind of statistical analysis of guessing games that J.B. Rhine used to present. In these things, the possibilities of lies, hoaxes, or just honest distortion and wishful thinking are great enough to reduce it all to worthlessness in the face of the overwhelming evidence of the world we experience. This is not to say that telepathy may not be possible sometime in the future. Conceivably, something of the sort may yet evolve as brains become still more complex.
Much more likely, in my opinion, is the chance that we may learn how to amplify, analyze, and interpret brain-waves to the point where we can "read minds" by instrument. I can even imagine people having combination amplifier/analyzers strapped unobtrusively behind the ear with fine leads attached to appropriate places on the skull, so that each person can broadcast his own thoughts and read those of others. This, however, would be high technology and would not be the kind of telepathy that unsophisticated people ask me to "believe" in.

[Current experiments with "bionic ears" and "bionic eyes" provision the person with electrodes connected to brain tissue.In these cases small computer systems are passing signals to the brain,rather than reading from it.Some work has been done on interpreting electric signals from plants,and in recreating sonic languages of killer whales and dolphins,but as far as I am aware no one has yet interpreted a brain wave,though military experiments have used thoughts to produce crude steering from thought patterns,though so far it seems it's much easier to use your hands!

Roger Penrose suggests thoughts cannot escape the brain - I love his work - I am his biggest fan - but I disagree - not because I can defeat his maths or arguments - because I know ESP exists - this is why:

I had parked my bike up at a bike park area close to a shopping area whilst I shopped - my bike has a 4 digit codelock. I approached my bike and as I came nearer a man was sat on the wall opposite - he was muttering out loud to himself - as I came closer I could hear him saying things that sounded like responses to one side of a conversation - like: "I don't think so,but she might if you tell her" - as someone walked past. then "well,not if you keep carrying on with that idea"....and such stuff - one comment each time someone passed him. As I came closer the man looked me straight in the eye and spoke 3 of the 4 digits of my bike lock code out loud in the correct order - I am into maths and know there is no way he could have happened on those by happenstance. Oddly,I never went and spoke to him and never thought it odd until I left. He was either a human with ESP or some "visitor" in human guise. ESP definitely exists on this planet. This is a true story as it happened to me - no BS. Before it happened I would have denounced ESP has nonexistent. -LB]





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