In the “Random Dictionary of the Damned” entry on telepathy, the author who calls himself the “Hierophant’s Apprentice” gives several good examples of spontaneous cases of telepathy, but his description of experimental research is flippant, and confined to comments on trials with cards conducted decades ago, and a very inadequate description of Ganzfeld telepathy tests. He made it sound as if the Ganzfeld researchers were completely naïve, and that he was much smarter than they were. “The slightest verbal connection – almost to the extent of a Freudian word-association test – would be taken as significant. So a picture of a windmill might be reckoned ‘seen’ and the response a ‘hit’ if the words ‘bread’ and ‘sails’ were among the responses, although the word ‘windmill’ might be entirely absent.” In fact, in Ganzfeld tests, subjects were asked to choose between four possible targets, one of which had been seen by the “sender”. If they had chosen at random or on the basis of vague, meaningless association, they would have had a hit rate at the chance level of 25 per cent. In fact the hit rate of 38 per cent was very significantly above chance.
The Hierophant’s Apprentice omitted to mention other research on telepathy that would help FT readers to form a better-informed opinion. In particular, he made no mention of research with animals, and made only the most superficial reference to telephone telepathy, assuming the evidence was merely anecdotal.
I first became interested in the subject of telepathy some 20 years ago when I realised that it might well exist in the animal kingdom, and might be exhibited more by animals than by people. I started looking at the behaviour of the animals we know best, namely pets, and soon came across numerous stories from dog, cat, parrot and other animal owners which suggested that their animals seemed able to read their minds and intentions.
Through public appeals, I have built up a large database of such stories, currently containing more than 5,000 case histories. Many of these stories, from all over the world, are essentially the same. For example, many cat owners say that their animals seem to sense when they are planning to take them to the vet, even before the owner has taken out the carrying basket or given any apparent clue as to their intention. Some people say their dogs know when they are going to be taken for a walk, even when they are in a different room, out of sight or hearing, and when the person is merely thinking about taking them for a walk. Of course, no one finds this behaviour surprising if it happens at a routine time, or if the dogs see the person getting ready to go out, or hear the word “walk”. They think it is telepathic because it seems to happen in the absence of such clues.
When hundreds of stories describe the same kind of behaviour, anecdotes turn into a kind of natural history. Of course, this is not necessarily a natural history of what pets actually do, but a natural history of what pet-owners believe their pets do.
One of the commonest and most testable claims about dogs and cats is that they know when their owners are coming home. In some cases, they seem to anticipate their owners’ arrivals by 10 minutes or more, even at non-routine times, and even when people travel in unfamiliar vehicles.
The dog I investigated in most detail was a terrier called Jaytee, who belonged to Pam Smart, in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester. Pam’s family noticed that he seemed to anticipate her returns by going to wait at the window up to 45 minutes before she came home. He started waiting around the time she set off.
In more than 100 trials, we videotaped the area by the window where Jaytee waited during Pam’s absences, providing a continuous, time-coded record of his behaviour. She went at least 8km away. To find out if Jaytee was simply reacting to the sound of her car, she returned by train or by taxi. He still knew when she was coming.
Jaytee’s reactions were not a matter of routine, but occurred whenever Pam came home at randomly selected times signalled through a telephone pager. Jaytee behaved in the same way when he was tested repeatedly by the sceptic Richard Wiseman, who was anxious to debunk his abilities. In the tests conducted by Wiseman and his assistant Matthew Smith, Jaytee was at the window an average of four per cent of the time when Pam was out and about, and 78 per cent of the time when she was on the way home.
The evidence shows that Jaytee was reacting to Pam’s intention to come home even when she was miles away. We have since replicated this work with another dog, Kane. Telepathy seems the only hypothesis that can account for the facts. (For more details, see my book Dogs that Know When their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals and my papers on this subject, available online on my website.
If domestic animals are telepathic with their human owners, then it seems likely that animals are telepathic with each other in the wild, for example within packs of wolves. Telepathy may have evolved as a means of communication that enabled members of animal groups to keep in touch at a distance.
In modern human societies, we now have telephones, but telepathy has not gone away. Someone’s intention to make a call often seems to be picked up telepathically before the call itself.
Is apparent telephone telepathy really telepathic? Could there be a more mundane explanation? People may think of others from time to time for no particular reason, and if someone they are thinking of then calls, this may be a matter of chance. People may simply forget all the times they think of someone who does not ring. This is a reasonable possibility, but there is no evidence for it. The only way to resolve the question scientifically is by experiment.
I have developed a simple procedure in which subjects receive a call from one of four different callers at a prearranged time. The subjects nominate the callers themselves, usually close friends or family members. They do not know who will be calling in any given test, because the caller is picked at random by the experimenter by the throw of a die. Subjects have to guess who the caller is before picking up the receiver. By chance they would be right about one time in four, or 25 per cent of the time. In many of these trials, the participants are videotaped continuously to make sure that they do not receive any other telephone calls or emails that could give them any clues.
My colleagues and I have so far conducted more than 1,000 trials. The average success rate is 42 per cent, very significantly above the chance level of 25 per cent, with statistical odds against chance of trillions to one.
We have also carried out a series of trials in which two of the four callers were familiar, and the other two were strangers, whose names the participants knew, but whom they had not met. With familiar callers, the success rate was more than 50 per cent, highly significant statistically. With strangers, it was near the chance level, in agreement with the observation that telepathy typically takes place between people who share emotional or social bonds. One of my telephone telepathy tests was carried out with the girl band, The Nolan Sisters, and can be seen online on YouTube.
In addition, we have found that these effects do not fall off with distance. In some of our tests, the callers were in Australia or New Zealand, but the subjects identified them just as well as callers nearby.
In most of their laboratory research on telepathy, including the tests with Zener cards and the Ganzfeld experiments briefly described by the Hierophant’s Apprentice, parapsychologists used senders and receivers who were complete strangers, creating poor conditions for success. With participants who are bonded to each other, the results are generally more impressive.
Telepathy continues to evolve. One of its latest manifestations is the telepathic email. People think of someone who shortly afterwards sends them an email. We have done more than 700 tests on email telepathy, following a similar design to the telephone tests, with a success rate of 43 per cent, highly significant statistically. The same thing happens with text messages.
I have now developed an automated test for telephone telepathy that works on mobile phones and invite readers to try it for themselves. You register at the online experiments portal of my website www.sheldrake.org and give the names and mobile phone numbers of three friends or family members. The computer picks one of the three at random and sends her a text message asking her to call you at a landline number given on the text. When she does so, she is put on hold and the computer rings you, asking you to guess which of the three callers is on the line. When you have guessed by pressing 1, 2 or 3, the line opens up and you can speak for up to a minute. Then, after a random time delay, the process is repeated until six trials have been completed and the test is over. By chance, people would be right about 33 per cent of the time. The average hit rate is currently 43 per cent – very significantly above chance.