For once, I can address a technical claim about scientific research without resorting to highly technical terms, concepts, or jargon. A number of recent news reports have made claims about recent progress in mind-to-mind communication, such as “Breakthroughs in the Study of Telepathy“. They are all based upon this research paper: “Conscious Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans Using Non-Invasive Technologies.” The authors claim to have demonstrated “mind-to-mind transmission here as opposed to brain-to-brain“, and that is the “main difference” between their work and previous. Their supplementary information refers to (and part of which is indeed entitled “conscious brain-to-brain communication”. It’s telepathy!
Normally, I’d have to resort to an analyses of the research design, signal data, statistical methods, etc. I could, but I don’t have to so for once I won’t. The entirety of the study was devoted to the “transmission of pseudo-random information”, specifically binary (bits). Here are the problems:
1) There is no scientific definition (or rather, there are many) for “mind”. One can’t show that one mind transmitted information to another when one can’t show what a “mind” is in any scientific sense.
2) One could rely on the fact that the information transmitted was consciously transmitted, but we actually can’t rely define that either.
3) Pseudo-random information is not conceptual, and to the extent a basically random series of 0’s and 1’s is conscious information, there is no indication that the information conceptualized is what is transmitted.
4) The great thing about pseudo-random information is that, while it isn’t just “noise”, it isn’t random noise. However, the assumption behind the claim that the results weren’t due to chance were “randomness”.
5) Transmitting concepts from mind to mind doesn’t mean transmitting encoded 0’s and 1’s that are recognized. It means I actually think of the word “hola” (as in the study) and you are able to understand that I did (unlike in the study). If information can be recorded from my brain such that it sends a reliable signal that can be recognized, this isn’t mind-to-mind or conscious communication. It is at best (and if the study weren’t flawed) the ability to reliably encode neurophysiological activity into a pattern that can be decoded reliably. All neuroimaging studies depend upon this anyway. All this study shows is that it is possible to encode brain activity in a way that makes it into 0’s and 1’s that can further be recognized as binary input by another. As this input isn’t conceptual, conscious, or mind-to-mind, it is just Tarot cards and astrology with a lot more scientific jargon.