Excerpt: 'The Sense of Being Stared At'

March 10, 2003 -- Ever guess who is calling you on the telephone before you answered it? In The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind, Rupert Sheldrake argues that humans have psychic abilities that they are not even aware of.

Chapter 1


Telepathy comes from the Greek tele, "distant," as in telephone and television, and pathe, "feeling," as in empathy and sympathy. It literally means "distant feeling."

Telepathy is classified by psychic researchers and parapsychologists as a kind of ESP, or extrasensory perception — a form of perception beyond the known senses. Alternatively, it can be seen as an aspect of the sixth or seventh sense.

Telepathy and other psychic phenomena contradict the assumption that the mind is confined to the brain. Therefore, from the materialist point of view, they are impossible, and dogmatic skeptics dismiss them as illusory. Nevertheless, many people claim that they themselves have had telepathic or other psychic experiences.

In one national survey in the United States, 58 percent of those questioned claimed personal experience of telepathy. In another national survey, in 1990, 75 percent said they had had at least one kind of paranormal experience, and 25 percent had had telepathic experiences. In recent random household surveys in Britain and the United States, 45 percent of the respondents said they had had telepathic experiences. In a large newspaper survey in Britain, 59 percent of the respondents said they were believers in ESP.

The figures vary, but they show clearly enough that many people in western Europe and the United States claim to have experienced telepathy, and most people believe in the reality of psychic phenomena.


There seem to be two main kinds of telepathy, the first of which is exemplified by thought transference, and usually occurs between people who are nearby, each aware of the other's presence, and already interacting with each other. Although thought transference is most common between people who know each other well, it can also occur with others with whom they are currently interacting. I discuss this kind of telepathy in this chapter and the next.

In the second kind of telepathy, which I will discuss in chapters 3 through 6, one person picks up a call, intention, need, or distress of another at a distance. This results in thinking about the other person, or seeing an image of that person, or hearing his or her voice, or experiencing a feeling or impression. In this kind of telepathy, someone's attention is attracted, just as it is by hearing one's own name called, or by seeing an alarm signal, or by hearing the telephone ring. A connection or channel of communication is opened up. This kind of telepathy typically occurs between people who are closely bonded.

The same principles apply to telepathy between people and animals.


Many people who keep pets have noticed that their animals respond to their thoughts and intentions. In surveys of randomly chosen pet owners in Britain and the United States, on average 48 percent of those with dogs, and 33 percent of those with cats, thought that their animals were sometimes telepathic with them.

Many cats, for instance, seem to know when their owners are planning to take them to the vet, and disappear. For example:

I was always most careful to give my cat no clues when we were due to visit the vet, but from the moment I got up in the morning she viewed me with suspicion. She was very wary of me (not her usual loving self) and as the time to leave home approached she would try to escape. — Jean Segal, london

There are hundreds of similar stories on my database. And in a survey I described in Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, my research associates and I asked all the veterinary clinics listed in the North London Yellow Pages whether they ever found that some cat owners canceled appointments because the cat had disappeared. Sixty-four out of sixty-five clinics had cancellations of this kind quite frequently. The one exception was a clinic that had abandoned an appointment system for cats, because cancellations had been so frequent. People simply had to show up with their cats, and so the problem of missed appointments had been solved.

One of the commonest ways in which dogs seem to pick up their owners' intentions is by anticipating walks. No one thinks this is strange if the walk is at a routine time, or if the dog sees its person picking up the leash, or putting on outdoor clothes. But some dogs anticipate walks at nonroutine times, even if they are in a different room.

Tammy, our Maltese, always knew when we were going for a walk even though she was sleeping in the garage when we made our decision and would come racing in to the bedroom all so excited, jumping up and down. We could never figure out how she knew, as it wasn't a regular thing at a regular time or day. We wouldn't have changed our shoes or clothes but she always seemed to know.— Gillian Coleman, Australia

There are more than a hundred such stories on my database. Of course, the fact that many people think their dogs are reading their minds, rather than picking up subtle sensory cues, does not prove that they really are doing so. But I take seriously the opinions of people who know their animals well and have had years of experience in observing them. Nevertheless, the most convincing evidence is that which comes from experimental tests specifically designed to eliminate explanations in terms of sensory clues and routine.

In Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, I describe an experiment in which dogs were shut up in an outbuilding and videotaped continuously. At randomly chosen times, their owner, who was inside her house, silently thought about taking them for walks for five minutes before actually doing so. In most of these tests, during this five-minute period the dogs went to the door and sat or stood in a semicircle around it, some with their tails wagging. They remained in this state of obvious anticipation until their owner came to take them for their walk. They did not wait by the door in this way at any other times.

Many dogs and cats seem to know when their owners are intending to go out and leave them behind, especially when they are planning to go away on a journey or holiday. This is one of the commonest ways in which domestic animals seem to pick up people's intentions. In random household surveys in Britain and the United States, an average of 67 percent of dog owners and 37 percent of cat owners said their animals knew when they were going out before they showed any physical sign of doing so. Some parrots do this, too. Robbi, an African Grey belonging to Michael Fallarino, a New York writer and herbalist, often announces when he is about to leave the room or go out of the house, saying, "Bye-bye, see ya later! Have a good day," then whistling plaintively.

She even knows ahead of time when I am going to leave the house when she cannot see me; for example, when I am upstairs and she is downstairs. Once after working at my upstairs desk for hours I stopped and simply thought, "It's time to run some errands." No sooner had I thought this than she (downstairs) began uttering her plaintive cries of protest. I'm utterly convinced that her knowing is intuitive and beyond any form of sensory perception.

Some animals seem to read their owners' minds by knowing when they are going to be fed. No one thinks this strange if it happens at a routine time, or if the animal sees, hears, or smells the person getting out the food. The most striking examples concern unscheduled treats or snacks. And many blind people with guide dogs have noticed that their animals seem to pick up their intentions in a seemingly uncanny way. Sometimes dogs even respond to thoughts the owners are not planning to put into action immediately.

Among dog trainers, telepathic abilities are often taken for granted. "No one in their senses disputes them," said the well-known British dog trainer Barbara Woodhouse.

You should always bear in mind that the dog picks up your thoughts by an acute telepathic sense, and it is useless to be thinking one thing and saying another; you cannot fool a dog. If you wish to talk to your dog you must do so with your mind and willpower, as well as your voice … A dog's mind is so quick at picking up thoughts that, as you think them, they enter the dog's mind simultaneously.


Some riders experience a close connection with their horses and find that the horse seems to respond to their thoughts.

It is like being one. What you think immediately gets picked up by the horse. It is almost as if the horse becomes part of yourself. So if you think of something the horse will do it.— Paul Hunting, Hampshire

I am certain that Chip and I have a telepathic link. When I ride Chip I only have to think of something and he responds. I have tested out thinking things and making sure that I am not giving the slightest move. For example, I think we'll go down to the end of the field and canter back, he immediately starts going to the end of the field and then canters back to the same point where I had the thought. — Andrea Oakes, Cheshire

But precisely because the horse and the rider are in such close physical contact, it is difficult to disentangle mental influences from unconscious body signals, such as small changes in muscular tension. It remains an open question how such impressions of experienced riders can be explained. Unfortunately, experiments that rule out slight movements would be practically impossible while the horse is being ridden. As in so many cases of apparent thought transference, telepathic influences may often work together with communication through the recognized senses. In real life it is hard to tease them apart. That is why it is necessary to carry out formal experiments to find out whether telepathy really happens. Here is one example.


After Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home was published in 1999, I received more than a thousand additional accounts of perceptive animals. Some of the most surprising of these concerned parrots. I heard over and over again about parrots that responded to their people's moods, feelings, and intentions by making appropriate comments. In some cases this ability seemed to be telepathic.

Some parrots seem to pick up their owner's intentions to go out, as described above. Some seem to know when their owners are coming home, and announce their arrival beforehand (see chapter 5). Others seem to know when particular people are calling on the telephone before the phone has been answered, announcing the caller by name (chapter 6). They ignore calls from insurance salesmen and other strangers.

The fact that parrots can use language meaningfully has been established beyond reasonable doubt by Dr. Irene Pepperberg, now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has spent twenty years training her African Grey parrot, Alex, who now has a vocabulary of around 200 words. Through meticulous experiments, she has found that Alex is capable of abstraction, and can grasp such concepts as "present" and "absent" and use the words for colors appropriately, whatever the shape of the colored object.

Before Pepperberg's research, within institutional science it was generally assumed that parrots were mere mimics, "parroting" words with no understanding. Most scientific studies of human-to-animal communication were carried out with apes, using sign language. Pepperberg has succeeded in showing that parrots, although literally bird-brained, rival apes in the ability to use thoughts and concepts, and of course have the huge advantage of being able to speak. She has summarized her research with Alex and other parrots in a monumental book titled The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots.9

Pepperberg's pioneering work has inspired a number of other people to do research on the meaningful use of language by parrots. One of this new generation of researchers is Aimée Morgana, an artist who lives in New York City. Her African Grey, N'kisi (pronounced "in-key-see"), had a vocabulary of around 700 words by January 2002, even though he was only four years old. Aimée taught N'kisi to use language as if he were a human child. He has learned the contextual meanings of words, and is able to use his understanding of language to make relevant comments. He speaks in sentences, of which Aimée Morgana has now recorded more than 7,000 different ones.

Although Aimée's primary focus is on the meaningful use of language, she soon noticed that N'kisi often seemed to say things that referred to her thoughts and intentions. He did the same with her husband, Hana. After reading about my research on telepathy in animals, in January 2000 she contacted me by e-mail through my website, summarizing some of her observations.

What she told me was off the end of the scale of anything I had heard of before. Although many companion animals like dogs and cats seem to pick up their owners' thoughts and intentions, N'kisi's enormous vocabulary meant that he was capable of many different specific responses. Aimée wrote, "N'kisi regularly comments when we are thinking about eating, going out, or taking a shower, even if we are sitting quietly in another room and he sees no body language and hears no audio cues. At these times he will say, for example, 'You want some yummy,' 'You gotta go out, see ya later,' or 'You wanna take a shower.' "

In January 2000, Aimée began keeping a detailed log of seemingly telepathic incidents, and has continued to do so. At the time of this writing, two years later, there were 630 such incidents on record. Here are a few examples:

"I was thinking of calling Rob, and picked up the phone to do so, and N'kisi said, 'Hi, Rob,' as I had the phone in my hand and was moving toward the Rolodex to look up his number.

"We were watching the end credits of a Jackie Chan movie, edited to a musical soundtrack. There was an image of [Chan] lying on his back on a girder way up on a tall skyscraper. It was scary due to the height, and N'kisi said, 'Don't fall down.' Then the movie cut to a commercial with a musical soundtrack, and as an image of a car appeared, N'kisi said, "There's my car." (N'kisi's cage was at the other end of the room, and behind the TV. He could not see the screen, and there were no sources of reflection.)

Excerpted from The Sense of Being Stared At byRupert Sheldrake Copyright© 2003 by Rupert Sheldrake. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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