Can We Really Read Minds?

Digby Tantam reports in Psychology Today:

Telepathy and the interbrain. The belief in telepathy is deeply rooted in many of us, and not only science fiction fans. Mothers ring their daughters thousands of miles away, and their daughters say, “How did you know? I was just thinking of you”. We walk into a room and we just get a feeling about someone: it is as if we knew what they were thinking, and what they will say next.

Professors of parapsychology — and there are a few — have been unable to replicate these results in the laboratory. Minds they have to conclude cannot pass thoughts or images to other minds directly. Perhaps this should not be a surprise. After all, we do pass thoughts and images to each other pretty effectively by speaking, drawing, singing, and so on. More to the point, our minds are our own, and we want them to remain so. We fight to keep our original thoughts. So is telepathy just wishful thinking, born out of our wish to be close to our loved ones and not feel that they have minds that will be for ever closed to us? Or is it a more general feeling against the scientists and others who seem to want to reduce everything to atoms without allowing for the connectedness that joins us to the universe?

I don’t think that telepathy is just wishful thinking, and nor do many neuroscientists. Except that they do not think that minds are connected, but brains. You don’t have to be a scientist to know this, of course. We all know that we can be feeling down in the dumps, but if we meet friends we can be cheered up by their obvious cheerfulness even if they don’t say anything: their good cheer can be contagious. This kind of contagion can occur without us even being aware of it–and if we become aware of it, we may back away from it. If, for example, we think: “It’s all very well for them to be happy. They don’t know what it’s like to be me” then we can block the good cheer from changing our mood. It can even make it worse. At a more basic level, if we experience ourselves as not belonging to the group, the contagion effect may not work. We may even deny it. We may say to a friend who says to us, “You soon cheered up”, that we were not really feeling cheerful at all, but just didn’t like to spoil the party.

So between the contagion of emotions like good cheer, and our own conscious perception of our mood, there can be many cut outs. I think that they are there for a reason. These cut outs allow us to have a mind of our own, and not be under the control of our brains. They are, with the development of language and the ability to tell ourselves stories about ourselves — the inner narrative which the psychologist Vygotsky described, precursors to the development of what is nowadays called a ‘theory of mind’.

More on Psychology Today


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4 Comments on "Can We Really Read Minds?"

  1. Anonymous | Oct 6, 2009 at 11:36 am |

    Yeh the phone call from the person you were just about to call thing seems to happen alot… It makes me wonder…

  2. bongburt | Oct 6, 2009 at 6:54 am |

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  3. Yeh the phone call from the person you were just about to call thing seems to happen alot… It makes me wonder…

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