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The need for telepathy in Sci-Fi?

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  • The need for telepathy in Sci-Fi?

    The holy trinity of modern science fiction seems to be: Faster than Light (FTL) travel, humaniod aliens and telepathic powers. There are few series which pull it off well. Babylon 5 does it the best these days; Star Trek: The Orginal Series did it best in its day.

    Still, the whole telepathy thing has always puzzled me. I am not sure why the postulation of teep powers has been considered science fiction. Seems more like fantasy or even occult type of fiction to me. To much of the 'deus ex machina' device. Especially with the ascension of Jason Ironheart.

    My question is this: would the Bab 5 story have worked without telepathy? I am not willing that the Bester character be sacrificed, I am sure that he could have been shown in another capacity, being just as evil. But all in all, I think that the story could have been done just as well without resorting to psionics.

  • #2
    1. Without FTL, interstellar travel is near impossible.
    2. You can't have non-humanoid without CGI.
    3. I have only seen one show which features telepaths - B5. I even don't know any book that features telepaths altough surely there are many.

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    • #3
      Other shows show that features telepaths, other than B5?

      In Star Trek TNG, one of the female crew members, Richers wife, had telepathic abilities.

      The tv show ''The Others'' was centered around a group of telepaths.

      And how many times have you seen a cop show where they bring in a psychic for one episode?

      The character Alfred Bester in B5 is named after the writer of '' The Demolished Man'', a book set in the future in which crime has become a thing of the past. Oh yeah, and the reason behind that is - you guessed it - telepaths.

      Stroll into a decent bookstore and you'll find many, many books tied to telepathy, both fiction and non-fiction, if you look.

      Further, is it common knowledge that telepathy does not exist in any form whatsoever in the world?

      Jms is very talented, so I don't think there is any question as to how well written the show would have been without telepathy. But why look at telepathy in B5 so negatively?

      Last edited by CRONAN; 06-10-2004, 08:45 AM.

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      • #4
        In the Thomas Covenant series by Stephen R. Donaldson, the Bloodguard communicate through telepathy.
        Without FTL, interstellar travel is near impossible.
        In the B5 universe they didn't use FTL technology, they accomplished interstellar travel by travelling through Hyperspace via jumpgates. The use of similar technology is fairly common throughout the genre.
        "The cat is not evil for killing the rat, nor is the rat evil for stealing the grain. Each acts according to its nature." Master Po - Kung Fu:TOS

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        • #5
          Psi stuff isn't dues ex machina. It's simply the removal of yet another universal limit - the physical limits of communication. In that way it's no different than warp speed or hyperspace - removal of the physical limits of travel.

          Removing the natural rules is what makes the majority of great sci-fi stories possible.
          Radhil Trebors
          Persona Under Construction

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          • #6
            Re: The need for telepathy in Sci-Fi?

            Just to be clear. I certainly do not object to the FTL supposition. That is fine. I like the jumpgates better than the Warp Drive though.

            There is only one sci-fi genre that I know of that does not use aliens - that is the Battletech universe. Very interesting. Not only the storyline, but the associated games too.

            I think that we are too far inculcated in the telepathy = sci-fi portrayal. What is it not definitively proved that telepathy does not exist (hard to prove a negative). I think the burden of proof should go the other way. There is no evidence, outside of the tabloids, that telepathy does exist. IMO, it is topic best left for spiritual discussions. But that is not really my point. My point is this: why can't we get a well-written, televised, sci-fi setting that does not postulate psionics? Are there any?

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            • #7
              <<1. Without FTL, interstellar travel is near impossible.>>

              Not to mention it would make a story very slow-paced.

              As for FTL -- traveling through hyperspace as seen from someone in realspace's perspective would be FTL. So while they are not literally traveling FTL, they are making the trip much quicker than light would.

              Oh, and Deanna Troi is not telepathic...she is only empathic, since she is only half Betazoid. Her mother is fully telepathic. Vulcans are also telepathic, don't forget that.
              Recently, there was a reckoning. It occurred on November 4, 2014 across the United States. Voters, recognizing the failures of the current leadership and fearing their unchecked abuses of power, elected another party as the new majority. This is a first step toward preventing more damage and undoing some of the damage already done. Hopefully, this is as much as will be required.

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              • #8
                Re: Re: The need for telepathy in Sci-Fi?

                Originally posted by Vorpal

                I think that we are too far inculcated in the telepathy = sci-fi portrayal. What is it not definitively proved that telepathy does not exist (hard to prove a negative). I think the burden of proof should go the other way. There is no evidence, outside of the tabloids, that telepathy does exist. IMO, it is topic best left for spiritual discussions. But that is not really my point. My point is this: why can't we get a well-written, televised, sci-fi setting that does not postulate psionics? Are there any?
                Well, either you're confused, or I am. Because I thought we were talking about science fiction here. The whole point of coming up with crap like FTL and teleporters and psionics is that we can't do them now and we can't prove they exist or ever will.

                If you just think psionics overused, then fine. But it's kinda like objecting to spaceships - it's one of the staples of the genre, and it's not going to go away. Especially since it raises several important questions about how we deal with the privacy (or lack thereof) of our minds and lives - questions that are being tested by current technology already.

                And just because I really like this line...
                Wash - "Psychic, though? I mean, isn't that like science fiction?"
                Zoe - "We live in a space ship, dear."
                Wash - "So?"
                Firefly - Objects in Space
                Last edited by Radhil; 06-10-2004, 03:27 PM.
                Radhil Trebors
                Persona Under Construction

                Comment


                • #9
                  First I have to disagree with the idea that FTL travel, humanoid aliens and Psi powers are the holy trinity of modern SF. Even if you were referring only to film SF, or to TV SF I think it's debatable.

                  Maybe you were referring to the fact that all three concepts are highly improbable according to the state of the art of scientific knowledge? In that I may agree with you. All three concepts appear in film SF and no one questions them.

                  I think that's part of that unspoken agreement between reader and writer to accept some things as necessary for the story, and it's embodied in that "suspension of disbelief" definition of SF.

                  We should also add instantaneous communication via tachyon beams as a another bending of the rules within B5.

                  I think that Extra Sensory Perception may well have been with SF from the beginning, at least from the 1930s era of pulp magazines. I have the impression that in most stories from the era there was an assumption that the next step in the evolution of human's minds would be to have ESP abilities and powers.

                  I'm sure many bookstores have Fiction books on telepathy and other ESP. Non-fiction? I'll have to say that any book that assumes that telepathy or ESP are proven or true has to be considered fiction, even if the author is unaware of it.

                  There have been some scientific evaluations of ESP. Back in the 1930s Joseph Rhine conducted some of the first (his name is now associated to the set of cards he used in telepathy test). His work was judged inconclusive at best, any purported proof was the result of flawed experimental design and flawed statistical analysis.
                  Any purported proof from further scientific studies of ESP has been found to have the same problems, and it all points at ESP being false, it has never been proven to be true conclusively.

                  I suspect that the Rhine experiments giving some temporary credibility to the notion of ESP contributed to its adoption in SF stories, it hasn't disappeared, nor do I think it will disappear from the field.

                  So maybe telepathy is pseudo-science fiction, still it gives rise to many interesting stories and in the hands of good writers it never is a deus ex machina.

                  Removing the natural rules is what makes the majority of great sci-fi stories possible.
                  I strongly disagree with this Radhil. There are way too many great "hard" science fiction stories that are great because the play within the rules of nature. They might extrapolate and bend a little in the service of the narrative, but they don't dismiss them wantonly.
                  I agree that many great SF stories wouldn't work if they had to subject themselves to the laws of nature, but I don't think it's the majority.

                  There are few non-humanoid aliens made without CGI: Jaba the Hut (in the original versions), for example. Farscape featured a few puppet/robot based non-humanoid aliens (though they were still reminiscent of terrestrial animals)

                  If memory serves me right Farscape didn't portray telepathy at all, but it had some psi stuff (the Delvian unity ritual).

                  Is is possible to have good sci-fi without telepathy or other ESP assumptions? I don't know for sure. But in printed SF it certainly is in the majority of cases. However there are many examples of great SF novels that feature telepathy. The aforementioned "Demolished Man" is a great one.
                  Lester del Rey's "Pstalemate" is another good one (premise: telepathy is a hereditary condition, it manifests itself suddenly and the teep goes crazy from hearing all those minds, the protagonist has to find a way not to become carzy himself).
                  Another good one that features telepathy: Theodore Sturgeon's "More Than Human."
                  Then there is Olaf Stapledon's "Odd John" which also deals with the theme of humans transcending our current bodies/minds. I've read he featured the theme of transcendence much more in "First and Last Men" which I haven't read. Arthur C. Clarke's "Childhood's End" also has to do with humanity moving to a higher state, transcending our bodies and minds... a more recent novel by Greg Bear also has a bit of this, but that's part of the climax of the book so I'd rather not mention which.

                  I mention this because Ironheart's ascension (or apotheosis?) is another idea that has a long and illustrious pedigree in Science Fiction.
                  The idea of transcending does form part of the Babylon 5 Universe. Ironheart's transformation was a foretelling of humanity's transcendence, which has happened one million years from now, as shown in "Deconstruction of Falling Stars," another example of this was shown in the tv movie "River of Souls."

                  This is yet another science-fictional idea that I find implaussible but it does lead to good stories.

                  Within B5 JMS conciously tried to avoid using telepaths as deus ex machina, the restrictions imposed by Psi Corps was one way to do it. But Psi Corps was much more than a plot device to make telepaths less powerful, it was an exploration of the issues that the appearance of telepathy would cause, another example of the care that JMS had in creating the B5 Universe.

                  Ironheart may have seemed like a deus ex machina but it still was a good story. You have to remember that Ironheart's transformation and Talia's gift were there to replace Lyta's storyline. (Originally Lyta would have been from the beginning, feeling an atraction to Kosh leading to a growing involvement with him and in the end her own transformation).

                  How could Babylon 5 have worked without Psi powers? Good question, but I've said much already and I had never thought of that so I can't say anything on that.
                  Such... is the respect paid to science that the most absurd opinions may become current, provided they are expressed in language, the sound of which recalls some well-known scientific phrase
                  James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79)

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Re: Re: The need for telepathy in Sci-Fi?

                    Originally posted by Radhil

                    And just because I really like this line...
                    Wash - "Psychic, though? I mean, isn't that like science fiction?"
                    Zoe - "We live in a space ship, dear."
                    Wash - "So?"
                    Firefly - Objects in Space
                    Shiny! A fellow Browncoat puts in their two bits.
                    Sorry, just had to let that one out!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      All three concepts appear in film SF and no one questions them.

                      Maybe you were referring to the fact that all three concepts are highly improbable according to the state of the art of scientific knowledge?

                      I think that's part of that unspoken agreement between reader and writer to accept some things as necessary for the story, and it's embodied in that "suspension of disbelief" definition of SF.

                      -------------------------------------------------------------------

                      Science Fiction can be defined as -

                      a literary or cinematic genre in which fantasy, typically based on speculative scientific discoveries or developments, environmental changes, space travel, or life on other planets, forms part of the plot or background.

                      Suspension of disbeleif? Based on what exactly?

                      Science Fiction is very diverse. Certainly it is not limited by the probabilities and improbabilities based on that which we assume to be accurate at present, especially concerning efficient travel in deep space (let alone jumpgates) and other concepts so far beyond us that we do not have the capability to confirm or rule them out.

                      Focusing on what we can ''know'' is Science's job. SF generally tends to explore what we don't.

                      And this concerns jumpgates, aliens, telepaths, time-travel, alternate dimensions/realities, and variety of other gimmicks and ideas : /

                      Last edited by CRONAN; 06-11-2004, 03:55 AM.

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                      • #12
                        Re: The need for telepathy in Sci-Fi?

                        Originally posted by Vorpal
                        The holy trinity of modern science fiction seems to be: Faster than Light (FTL) travel, humaniod aliens and telepathic powers.
                        Cannot recall for sure, but I don't remember any of these in the modern SF smash hit The Matrix. Are we any longer holy?
                        I believe that when we leave a place, part of it goes with us and part of us remains. Go anywhere in the station, when it is quiet, and just listen. After a while, you will hear the echoes of all our conversations, every thought and word we've exchanged. Long after we are gone .. our voices will linger in these walls for as long as this place remains. But I will admit .. that the part of me that is going .. will very much miss the part of you that is staying.

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                        • #13
                          Hello everyone. IÆve been following the forums here for a while, but IÆve finally decided to de-lurk. You folks keep a lot of interesting discussions going!

                          I seem to recall that some authors, IIRC JMS and Harlan Ellison, prefer to interpret SF as Speculative Fiction precisely because the lines blur between Sci-Fi and fantasy, so the question of whether telepathy is more Fantasy than Sci-Fi doesn't bother me too much.

                          That being said, I think of the three items as well used, but not a Holy Trinity. To add to Grumbler's Excellent Adventure... um, well, I mean excellent example of the Matrix , you can add a lot of classic Sci-Fi. One of my favorite works is "The Moon is a Harsh Mistriss" by Heinlein. None of the three.

                          I think one of the reasons telepathy is popular in speculative fiction is that it's been part of our culture and myth for even longer than SF has been around. It is a common desire to want to know what someone is thinking. It has been aprt of travelling shows a vaudville in the form of reading body language and hints. Its use can certainly be a deus ex machina construct, but like many things it's all in how its used.

                          At any rate, hi and thanks for letting me put in my two cents.
                          "That was the law, as set down by Valen. Three castes: worker, religious, warrior."

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                          • #14
                            <<We should also add instantaneous communication via tachyon beams as a another bending of the rules within B5.>>

                            Especially since tachyons haven't even been proven.

                            And has anyone seen that show on the KJB experimenting with TK back in the 50's? They claim to have had a score or so of people who had the skill, and one woman who had almost mastered it. The catch was that it's range was only like two inches. Still, though, she could kill with a touch, and that's what they were going for. Apparently, telekinesis is learning to control the EM fields our bodies naturally emit. They had video and stuff, but it was probably all a crock. Interesting to watch, though.
                            Recently, there was a reckoning. It occurred on November 4, 2014 across the United States. Voters, recognizing the failures of the current leadership and fearing their unchecked abuses of power, elected another party as the new majority. This is a first step toward preventing more damage and undoing some of the damage already done. Hopefully, this is as much as will be required.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              I saw one on Discovery the other night where some guy has created an anti-gravity field. They had video of all different kinds of non-ferrous material floating in the field, like blobs of ice cream floating up and out of a cup, wood, a drinking glass, bowling balls, etc. The funny thing is, he doesn't know WHY it works! Only that it won't work unless HE is there. Others are baffled completely. Although it seems totally out there, it appears that his desire and concentration actually affect the experiment.

                              I'm for real here. I swear I saw it, and it wasn't touted as fake or a hoax, only as a mystery.

                              Z'ha-
                              telekinesis is learning to control the EM fields our bodies naturally emit.
                              Very interesting. It sounds a lot like the Celestine Prophecy, which had similar themes. Not exactly though, more like manipulating or interpreting the body's EM fields in various ways. One could "read" moods or desire, or subtly control others.
                              "The cat is not evil for killing the rat, nor is the rat evil for stealing the grain. Each acts according to its nature." Master Po - Kung Fu:TOS

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