If telepathy really exists, would it operate like Wi-Fi, the wireless local networking that is slowly but surely allowing everything in your home to communicate wirelessly with everything else in your home? A professor of clinical psychology at the University of Sheffield thinks so and he believes the micro-signals our brains are sending and receiving can explain gut feelings, intuition, mob mentality, religion and that uncomfortable feeling people get in crowded subways or buses (and you thought it was just the smell).
Professor Digby Tantum studies social and emotional wellbeing, emotional contagion, nonverbal communication, applied philosophy, and autism spectrum disorders. His research has led him to believe that there is an invisible connection between human brains whose bodies are in close proximity with each other.
“We can know directly about other people’s emotions and what they are paying attention to. It is based on the direct connection between our brains and other people’s and between their brain and ours. I call this the interbrain. One of its advantages is that the connection exists in the background. We take it for granted unless it is brought to the surface of our minds.”
Professor Tantam thinks the center for this brain wi-fi is in the prefrontal cortex, where the neuron activity associated with the senses of smell and sight are located. In an interview with The Telegraph, he describes the communication as an “inadvertent leak,” possibly a minute body odor release associated with changes in body chemistry caused by emotions like fear or sexual arousal. That activity may activate the sense of sight to make eye contact or pick up minute visual clues to what the other person might be thinking. This all happens subliminally “in the background” of the brain and we have no clue that we’re picking up those clues.
Or perhaps we do. Tantam points to the fact that people avoid making eye contact in crowded trains or buses. While that may be a conscious maneuver to dodge an unwanted conversation or groping, it may also be an unconscious decision by a brain that is overloaded with unsolicited communications and can’t process any more. On the other hand, people are drawn to other large crowds at sports stadiums or churches where the brain activities all center on a small group of like themes, making them easy to process and giving the crowd (or in some cases – mob) a common sense of well-being or purpose.
This brain wi-fi may also have a form of net neutrality. The interbrain may block communications of negativity such as hate or anger, causing people to have difficulty seeing the strong emotional feelings of others. Is this the cause of our political polarity?
Finally, Tantam thinks that Internet communications, which are slower than face-to-face conversations and lack the sense of smell and verbal cues, is harming our interbrain communications. This could be why it’s difficult to get an accurate “gut feel” from email, texts or Skype. Tantam believes autistic individuals lack this interbrain connection … and the rest of us could be heading in the same direction.
Are we doomed? You’ll have to wait until Professor Tantam’s new book, The Interbrain: Embodied Connections Versus Common Knowledge, is released next week. It sounds like the perfect book to read on the subway.