A Virtual Test for ESP

Scientists at the University of Manchester, in England, announced Monday that they've created a system that tests individuals for telepathic ability. It employs a head-mounted 3D display and an electronic glove that enables subjects to enter a virtual world that offers them game-like objects to choose from and then asks them to telepathically transmit their choices to a partner immersed in the same "reality."

The test is carried out using pairs of volunteers who could be friends, colleagues, or family, who are placed in separate rooms on different floors of the same building to eliminate any possibility of communication, according to the university. When both are immersed in the same computer-generated world, the first participant selects an object such as a telephone, a football, or an umbrella to concentrate on and interact with. The other participant is subsequently asked to select among a similar group of objects, which now includes decoys, the same object selected by his or her partner.

The experimenters will test about 100 participants for possible telepathic abilities. It will also collate results to test for any particular affinities between socially bonded subjects. The project was designed by Craig Murray, of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences, and implemented by Toby Howard and Fabrice Caillette, of the School of Computer Science. Their results will be published early next year, according to the university.

"This system has been designed to overcome the many pitfalls evident in previous studies which could easily be manipulated by participants to produce an effect which looks like telepathy but is not," Howard said in the announcement. "By creating a virtual environment we are creating a completely objective environment which makes it impossible for participants to leave signals or even unconscious clues as to which object they have chosen."

Project researcher David Wilde, of the School of Psychological Sciences, added: "By using this technology we aim to provide the most objective study of telepathy to date. Our aim is not to prove or disprove its existence but to create an experimental method which stands up to scientific scrutiny."

We sense something that was, heretofore, virtually unknown will be revealed by the Manchester team. Concentrate. You're getting it. There, you see.


Tech Talk

IEEE Spectrum’s general technology blog, featuring news, analysis, and opinions about engineering, consumer electronics, and technology and society, from the editorial staff and freelance contributors.

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up for the Tech Alert newsletter and receive ground-breaking technology and science news from IEEE Spectrum every Thursday.