Testing for Telepathy in Connection with E-mails

The following abstract is from the peer-reviewed Perceptual and Motor Skills journal article Testing for Telepathy in Connection with E-mails (2005, 101, 771-786) by the eminent psychical thinker, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake and Pamela Smart.

In this abstract, Sheldrake and Smart succinctly detail various scientific methods in telepathic research and if available, the results from the researchers who conducted or analyzed the data and the statistical significance of said data are included. Ultimately, they outline a new method of telepathic research: e-mail. Like any journal article, in addition to the abstract contained herein, they outline their methods, results and conclusions so other researchers can continue to experiment via this new method of research.

Over the course of this abstract, Sheldrake and Smart touch on a few major studies on telepathic research. Dream telepathy and Ganzfield experimentation have both undergone a meta-analyses to definitively demonstrate statistical significance towards the existence of telepathy. The authors also mention a prior experiment conducted by Sheldrake on telephone telepathy and the results were highly significant.

The telepathy via e-mail experiments that are the subject of this paper are built upon the foundation that was laid by Sheldrake with his telephone telepathy experiments. The results of telepathy via email have a higher statistical significance that the telephone telepathy garnered.

Sheldrake and Smart are demonstrating in this abstract that there is empirical data which points to the existence of telepathy. Telepathy is not just a belief, it can be tested scientifically. More important, the results are consistently coming in with statistical significance that is higher than what would be expected by chance (as written about in this separate article).

So please take a couple minutes for yourself to read this abstract and if you feel so inclined to learn more about this, the original paper can be found on Rupert Sheldrake’s website.

Abstract for “Testing for Telepathy in Connection with E-mails”:

Telepathy has been investigated scientifically for more than 100 years, but its existence is still controversial. Some people believe telepathy and other forms of “extrasensory perception” (ESP) or psi are impossible in principle (e.g., Humphrey, 1995).. Hence, they suggest that all the evidence for telepathy must be flawed and should be treated with extreme skepticism. Others regard the question as empirical. Maybe telepathy really occurs, even if the means by which it operates is not yet understood. Its existence or nonexistence is not a matter of belief but of evidence (e.g., Henry, 2005). Meanwhile, many people claim that they themselves have had telepathic experiences, and several surveys have shown that a majority of the population thinks telepathy exists (Gallup & Newport, 1991; Blackmore, 1997; Sheldrake, 2003). Skeptics usually dismiss all personal experience as unreliable. Only experimental evidence counts.

From the 1880s to the 1940s, the most popular experimental method for the study of telepathy and other forms of ESP involved card-guessing tests. During this period, 142 published articles described 3.6 million such trials, with statistically significant, positive hit rates for which the average effect was small, i.e., less than 2% above the level expected by chance (Pratt, Rhine, Smith, Stuart, & Greenwood, 1966).

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a new approach involving controlled studies of dreams. Could people pick up images telepathically when dreaming in a laboratory, while a “sender” in another room concentrated on a randomly chosen image? In a meta-analysis of the 25 published studies on dream telepathy, covering a total of 450 trials, the overall hit rate was significantly above chance expectation (Radin, 1997).

In parapsychology laboratories since the 1970s, the prevalent method for investigating telepathy has involved a mild form of sensory deprivation, called the Ganzfeld, in which participants sit in a relaxed state in dim red light with halved ping-pong balls over their eyes. In another room, a “sender” concentrates on a picture or video clip, selected at random from a pool of possible targets. After the session is over, the participant is shown four pictures or video clips and asked to pick one which most closely corresponds to impressions he may have received during the test session. By chance, participants would select the target picture roughly one time in four, with a hit rate of 25%. A meta-analysis published in 1985 covering 28 studies showed an overall hit rate of 37% (Honorton, 1985). A published meta-analysis of the same data (Hyman, 1985) again showed that the odds against chance were very high.

Hyman and Honorton together drew up a set of guidelines for further research, which they published in a “joint communiquéé” (Hyman & Honorton, 1986). They recommended rigorous precautions against sensory leakage, extensive security procedures to prevent fraud, full documentation of all experimental procedures and equipment, and complete specifications about what statistical tests were to be used to judge success.

Following these recommendations, a broader range of investigators in several laboratories carried out a new series of computer-controlled automated Ganzfeld experiments over the following years. In a meta-analysis (Bern & Honorton, 1994) of the results from 354 auto-Ganzfeld sessions, the average hit rate was 32% (effect size 0.28, p < .01). But in 1999, a meta-analysis of data from 30 auto-Ganzfeld trials showed no significant effect (Milton & Wiseman, 1999). However, Milton and Wiseman excluded from their analysis a recent series of studies from Edinburgh University. When these were included, overall hit rates were again significantly above chance (Milton, 1999). A more recent meta-analysis also yielded significantly above-chance hit rates (Bern, Palmer, & Broughton, 2001).

Unfortunately, the Ganzfeld procedure bears little resemblance to apparent telepathy in everyday life. Also, in most Ganzfeld and other tests on telepathy in parapsychology laboratories, the “senders” and “receivers” were strangers, whereas apparent telepathy in real life generally takes place between people who know each other well (Sheldrake, 2003). We have been exploring a new way of investigating telepathy experimentally that is more “ecological,” in the sense that it is closer to common experience and involves “senders” who are friends or family members.

One of the most common kinds of apparent telepathy occurs in connection with telephone calls (Sheldrake, 2000, 2003; Brown & Sheldrake, 2001). Most people claim to have had experiences in which they think of someone for no apparent reason, then that person calls; or they know who is calling when the phone rings before picking it up; or they call someone who says “I was just thinking about you!” Many people have had similar experiences with e-mails (Sheldrake, 2003).

An illusion of telepathy could be created if people remembered when someone called (or e-mailed) soon after they thought about that person but forgot all the times that they thought about someone who did not contact them. Also, an illusion of telepathy could arise if the person had an unconscious expectation that someone he knew well would call or e-mail, based on an implicit knowledge of that person’s behaviour. Until recently, there were no scientific investigations of telephone telepathy to test these hypotheses.

Over the last few years we have investigated telephone telepathy experimentally (Sheldrake & Smart 2003a, 2003c). In our tests, a participant received a call during a prearranged period from one of four potential callers.

Participants were asked to choose callers from among their friends or family members. Callers and participants were usually several miles away from each other, and in some cases thousands of miles apart. On a given trial, the participants knew who the potential callers were but did not know which one would be calling. The caller was picked at random by the experimenter. When the telephone rang, the participant guessed who was calling before the other person spoke. The guess was either right or wrong. By chance, participants would have been right about one time in four. For a total of 571 such trials on telephone telepathy, involving 63 participants, the average hit rate was 40%, significantly above the 25% expected by chance. The effect size was 0.35 (Sheldrake & Smart, 2003a).

We then carried out a second series of tests under more rigorous conditions, with the participants videotaped continuously. Their guesses were recorded before they picked up the telephone. In a total of 271 trials, 45% of the guesses were hits (effect size .45) (Sheldrake & Smart, 2003c). In a recent replication at the University of Amsterdam the hit rate was also significantly above chance (Lobach & Bierman, 2004). In a test filmed for a British television show, the hit rate was 50%) (Sheldrake, Godwin, & Rockell, 2004).

In this paper, we describe a series of tests for telepathy in connection with e-mails following similar procedures. Our primary objective was to find out if hit rates were at or above chance levels. Our secondary objective was to investigate whether there was a difference in hit rates with familiar and unfamiliar e-mailers. Surveys have shown that telepathy mainly occurs between family rnembers and close friends. In our experiments on telephone telepathy, hit rates were significantly higher with familiar than with unfamiliar callers (Sheldrake & Smart, 2003a, 2003c).

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