discourse‎ [n,v]: the use of words to exchange thoughts and ideas

CFIDiscourse provides a forum for discussion of topics and issues related to CFI Canada’s mandate to promote science, reason, and secular values. Click for more information, or to find out how to contribute to the discussion.

The opinions on these pages do not necessarily reflect the position of CFI Canada.

One morning, as is my   habit, I was catching up on email and looking at a few blogs and I came across   Sean McGuire’s “My Secret Atheist” blog post about an animal telepathy event   being held at the University of Saskatchewan.  It’s an older post, but   you can find it here:


It   would be a really cool to have voluntary and periodic telepathic communication   with some people.  My blue-tooth enabled phone gives me an   approximation of that….I’m able to send my spoken thoughts from just about   anywhere on the planet to just about anywhere on the planet where there is a   person holding a phone (presuming I know their number).   Being blue   tooth enabled…I can even do it with my eyes closed and without holding   anything in my hand. The flashing blue light beside my ear is also rather  stylish in a “I wish I was a Borg” kind of way.
My reaction to   human-to-animal telepathy is less enthusiastic.  I’ve had many pets over   the years, so even if it’s true that it’s possible, I wouldn’t expect to be on   the receiving end of a lot of wisdom by accomplishing it.  I rather   suspect anybody opening themselves up to the receiving the thoughts of Fluffy   are in for a barrage of “Want some of that.” or “Go out now.” and probalby   even “This smell is interesting.”  But hey, if folks want to waste a bit  of money  at an event on a “skill they can learn”…well, its their own   money they’re wasting (exept of course, the grant money also being spent on   this rather annoys).
But then, when I read this information from the   host:

The Animal Communication presentation and workshop is the     start of my research program examining how communication with animals may     help contribute to a deeper appreciation and affinity for the environment,     and greater environmental sustainability. It is part of my larger research     program examining how Indigenous and other ways of knowing can be     recognized, valued and establish their place as legitimate forms of     knowledge in academic and modern Western contexts. Indigenous Peoples often     have a way of knowing and communicating with nature, animals and the     environment as a whole that is very different from main-stream and Western     society.

I was struck by just how egregious the situation   can be.  Really?  Human-to-animal telepathy is connected to   appreciation for the environment and greater environmental   sustainability?  And it also connects with valuing indigenous   people?  To be frank, my skepticism of telepathy didn’t make this event   or the blog post much more than a curiosity….in recent discussions of CFI   Canada’s priorities (and yes, such strategic discussions are certainly   happening from the board-level down), telephathy, whether human-to-animal or   human-to-human, didn’t register even once.
But wait, I also came across   this article with the headline “Is this proof that humans have TELEPATHIC   powers? Two men, 4,600 miles apart, send messages to each other using just   their minds”:
I’m   not a scientist, but I’ve figured out in my short time at CFI Canada that   scientists publish their work in journals.  The Daily Mail (Mail Online)   article referenced the journal PLOS One, so I looked up the  study

What   is described is not exactly what “comes to mind”  when someone says the   word “telepathy”.  For those of you who may not read the article, here’s   a quick excerpt:

In a series of experiments, we established internet-mediated     B2B communication by combining a BCI based on voluntary motor     imagery-controlled electroencephalographic (EEG) changes with a CBI inducing     the conscious perception of phosphenes (light flashes) through     neuronavigated, robotized transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), with     special care taken to block sensory (tactile, visual or auditory)     cues

B2B means brain-to-brain; BCI means   brain-computer intervace, CBI means computer-brain interface.    Again, I’m not a scientist, but I think this means that some electrodes   collecting information from one person, transferred that information to a   computer and via internet to another computer which sent input to another   person.  The result, apparently was that:

In both cases, the transmitted pseudo-random sequences     carried encrypted messages encoding a word – “hola”     (“hello” in Catalan or Spanish) in the first transmission,     “ciao” (“hello” or “goodbye” in Italian) in the     second

In other words, they communicated hello   and good bye to each other while blindfolded – and through a computer.  I   like that the messages were only “pseudo-random” and that the    “streams of pseudo-random bits representing the words   “hola” and “ciao” were successfully   transmitted mind-to-mind between human subjects separated by a great distance,   with a negligible probability of this happening by chance”.     Indeed.
So what’s the point of doing a CFI Discourse on all of   this?  Well, recently some of our CASS members have had email dialogue   regarding scientific journals and the need for some critical thinking in terms   of our approach to published scientific articles; we’ve also had strategic   dialogue about ensuring that CFI Canada continues to provide educational   training in critical thinking.  So telepathy is really just a convenient   platform to put the question out there….what are we going to do to make sure   there is more critical thinking training going on in our organization?    Let’s put our heads together on this, shall we?


Eric Adriaans