Can your dog read your mind?

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

We all want to know what’s going on. Can we adapt to higher sea levels? What are the chances for life among Jupiter’s moons? How bad are GMOs?

We hear so much. The Internet is an encyclopedia of cool stuff interspersed with fantastic nonsense. How do we know what’s real? Epidemiologists deal with this all the time. They see a disease trend and try to match it up with various potential causes.

Tackling such issues usually requires the help of a professional statistician. Otherwise, all sorts of things can seem true that have no validity at all. I have a book written in the 1940s, claiming that polio is caused by ice cream. Don’t laugh. It presents graphs showing polio incidence exploding each year from June through August. It offers another graph of ice cream consumption that displays the same annual pattern. Together with some reasonable-sounding arguments about why frozen dairy products should wreak havoc on the human nervous system, the author’s case seemed persuasive just after World War II.

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The American lifespan has never been longer than it is today. It has lengthened about a decade since many of us were kids. Thus, one mischievous thing you can do is to take anything that your friends reasonably fear, such as pesticides, and display a graph of their increased use since the 1950s. Superimpose that on another graph showing lifespan and you can “prove” that pesticide exposure makes people live longer.

Obviously, probing connections and causations requires care. While epidemiologists are well-trained to avoid common pitfalls, many areas of modern life have such murky or marginal risks that their low-probability perils may never come to light.

Then you have the areas outside of science, like ESP. Scientists don’t believe in it, since tests are generally negative. But if telepathy only happens spontaneously, then looking at a number or symbol and trying to convey that mentally to someone else may never work. Does this mean we can only shrug our shoulders?

Another issue is this: If someone offers you an apple just as you were thinking about apples, you’ll probably deem it an example of ESP. But you ignore all the many times someone offers you something when you weren’t thinking of it. This is how science explains away ESP: as a selective-memory phenomenon.

But I believe in it anyway. The “Eureka!” moment happened when I was 20 and playing Scrabble with a friend. I was staring blankly at the board, waiting for her to make her turn. Suddenly, in my mind’s eye, I saw her hand go down and place an “i” in front of a “t” to make the word “it.” Now, Scrabble players know that no one in their right mind would play a two-point word. It’s better to throw out your rack and get new tiles than to make such a turn. But that’s what I visualized, and a second or two later that’s exactly what she did in that spot. It was startling. So, abruptly, I knew that telepathy was real. My guess is that she visualized making that turn just before physically doing it, and it somehow popped into my mind simultaneously with hers.

I’ll bet that many of you have experienced ESP, too. But who can explain the mechanism? Are our brains like radio stations? Or is there really one mind in the universe? It’s a case where a valid phenomenon lacks any science support.

This topic started when I got up from my computer with the intention of getting a snack and sharing some with my dog. Suddenly, the animal excitedly ran up to me, licking her chops. How could she know my intentions? Was it telepathy? Well, why not? Who’s to say which mammals can do it?

Speculating about a dog reading your mind is not a good sign for anyone cherishing mental health. It seems a serious step down the slippery slope that may lead to Son-of-Samian insanity.

Forget I mentioned it. Really.

 

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