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True believer or skeptic? Telepathy with pets fails to pass real-life test
Not long ago, a reader introduced an unusual topic. It seems there are people who claim to be able to talk to animals, not through grunts and squeaks and squawks as the wondrous Dr. Doolittle could do, but through telepathy. These self-titled ?animal communicators" claim the ability to ask animals ?Where does it hurt?" or ?Why did you do that?" and to receive answers straight from the horse's mind. They also claim they can teach you and me to do this. Imagine being able to carry on a mental conversation with your cat, or being able to train your dog with a thought, or sending away an annoying swarm of gnats just by communicating with their leader. You may laugh, but these people are dead serious. They also claim they can contact the departed spirits of our lifelong companions who invariably forgive us for having them put to sleep. Such comfort seems the perfect solution to the guilt and grief that often accompanies this process. This is a topic that we could joke about until the cows come home (when that will be, I'm not certain, but for a small fee, an animal communicator could probably ascertain such information). However, I have some serious concerns. These people stress in their lectures how much money they save in veterinary bills, how they find lost pets, how they can resolve behavior problems simply by chatting on the telephone with an owner who has an unconscious telepathic connection to a pet, and how they communicate with the dead, dying and those about to be euthanized. Regardless of fact or fiction, these people have created a large and highly vulnerable market. They claim to save people money, comfort troubled minds, and fix problems easily and in a very exciting way. The perfect scam or a miraculous and potentially invaluable discovery? In a videotaped lecture, the communicator told amazing stories. It's really difficult to walk away without believing they are able to do everything they say they can do. But I wanted to find out more about their abilities. I met with one who has been practicing for two years, and then I tested her abilities. I pulled the files of 17 animals I had recently seen. They were an assortment of behavior cases, and giving her only the name, species, breed, age and sex of each animal (which is actually a lot of information from which a knowledgeable person could make some good guesses), her task was to connect with each animal and to determine what their problem was or to simply report the information each animal gave her. I scored her performance as follows: For every correct statement she made about an animal, she scored a +1; for every clearly incorrect statement, she scored a -1. When her statements were scored, this animal communicator wound up with a -5. So overall, she was wrong five more times than she was right. She said her inability to report an animal's behavior problem was due to the fact that most of the animals did not think that they had any problems, that how they behaved was completely natural and appropriate. This might be true. We humans seldom recognize our own problems. Nevertheless, the scoring did not reflect her inability to accurately diagnose a problem (she would have done significantly worse). It only reflected the accuracy or inaccuracy of her statements regarding these animals. Furthermore, she noted she was glad she didn't normally have to work this way (e.g., under scrutiny and without feedback). Her normal conversations have a lot of give and take, and in the course of discussions, an astute mind can find more information and make insightful conclusions. I only tested the abilities of one communicator, so general conclusions cannot be drawn. If there is any validity to this phenomenon, I'd hate to turn my back on such an amazingly powerful tool, so I may just attend one of these workshops. I'd love to be proved wrong on this. These people seem to care deeply about the welfare of animals, and seem convinced they're actually able to communicate telepathically with animals. I, however, remain skeptical.