Is it a supernatural or natural phenomenon?
It depends. For example, if we see ‘telepathy’ as something ‘unscientific’ and ‘not worthy’ of the investigation, we are quick to dismiss it, and all the reports of the cases that might illustrate it are considered ‘anecdotal’ (that cannot be replicated) and unreliable.
But what if we look at it as a form of non-verbal communication? We may assume that non-verbal individuals who do not develop understanding of verbal language yet, (and verbal autistic persons who develop and use language differently) might, instead, develop other ways to interpret information intuitively, and what we call ‘telepathy’ can be one of these ways. The ‘telepathic feeling’ seems to depend on emotional bonds – the stronger the emotional bond between two people, the stronger the feeling (and success rate) of ‘telepathy’.
We can see some similarities between autistic individuals who rely on the system of sensing (and in many cases, are non-verbal) and shamans. The ability to understand ‘non-verbal communication proper’ (‘telepathy’) seems to be present at the very dawn of civilization and it seems to have taken humans thousands of years to get rid of it. (The earliest example known to us is a shaman.)
The Nobel-prize-winning physicist, Prof. Brian Josephson who has studied the brain and the paranormal for 30 years, believes his research may provide an explanation for paranormal ‘spookiness’. If electrons can jump around the lab instantaneously, then surely it might be possible for one brain to tell another what it is seeing without using normal methods of communication.
Freud defined telepathy as a primitive form of communication made dormant by language; in other words, it is the ability mentally to communicative thought, emotions, words or images silently to another person (Stillman 2006). Stillman compares it to meditation or prayer when people send spiritual communication to the Higher Power.
Henry Bergson suggests that people are far less definitely cut off from each other, soul from soul, than they are body from body. He suggested that it was probable, or at least possible, that a subtle and subconscious influence of soul to soul was constantly taking place, that was unnoticeable by active consciousness. The philosopher argued that we have no right to deny its possibility just because it is considered to be ‘supernatural’:
“Our ignorance does not entitle us to say what may be natural or not. If telepathy does not square at all well with our preconceived notions, it may be more true that our preconceived notions are false than that telepathy is fictitious… We must overcome this prejudice… Telepathy and sub-conscious mental life combined to make us realize the wonder of the soul. It is not spatial, it is spiritual”.
Haskew and Donnellan (1993) put forward a possible explanation of why there are so many reports of telepathy among those who have (mental) disabilities in contrast to ‘normal’ people whose telepathic abilities are usually elusive: It may be that a sixth sense is present in all of us at birth, but as speech and locomotion develop, the need for it fades. Still many people seem to retain vestigial psychic abilities, especially at times of accident or trauma. For people with impaired communication capabilities the sixth sense may remain active and utilized. The speaking world is simply rediscovering it. (The problem is, however, how can these children know that others are unable to do it?)
There is another useful concept, developed by Ernest Hartmann in his book Boundaries of the Mind (1991): ‘thick and thin boundaries’. Hartmann proposes that there are people who are ‘thick-skinned’; they are very solid and well-organised, such people have very thick boundaries, i.e., they are well defended. At the other extreme are people who are ‘thin-skinned’: they are especially sensitive, open, or vulnerable. Such people have particularly thin boundaries. According to Hartmann, differences in thin/thick boundaries are reflected in neurobiological differences as well and start very early in life.
Donna Williams (1998) offers her explanation of the phenomenon: the body is more than a physical form; it is also an energy form. Some people’s energy boundaries are more ‘open’ than most people’s. These are the individuals most prone to a wider range of ‘psychic’ experiences. This state is involuntary, beyond their control. They can either give in to it or try to fight it.
Donna hypothesises that we are born into our bodies before being born into the world and develop a perceptual sense of body connectedness even before we are born. But there are those (whom Williams terms ‘being born unborn’ or ‘born only partially born’) who have not got fully into their bodies. These born unborn people either outgrow this, at least to some extent, or are called late developers or people with developmental differences or even developmentally disabled.
“Those who appear not to seek to make sense of their environment may not necessarily be [intellectually disabled], disturbed, crazy or sensorily impaired, but may, in spite of not using the same system everyone else uses, still have one of their own. They may, in spite of apparent delayed development, actually continue to use a system that others have left behind very much earlier” (Donna Williams 1998).
If only we could accept that some people use different systems/mechanisms to perceive, interpret and communicate, and not deny them the right to use the systems they are comfortable with, while helping them adjust to the world around them, both sides would win.