Usually when someone is arguing that psychics aren’t real, they talk about cold reading, self-delusion, and the willingness to believe. In other words, they explain how a psychic is doing what they’re doing.
I’m going to try a different take. I’m going to try to show that what psychics claim to be doing is impossible, by using evolution as our guide.
First, what are we talking about when we say “psychic abilities”? For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define them as one or more of the following phenomena:
- The ability to read another person’s thoughts, feelings, or intentions.
- The ability to sense past, present, or future events without prior knowledge.
- The ability to hear or communicate with the dead, gods, aliens, angels/demons, or other unseen agents.
I’m not going to address #3 at all. And I’m not going to address what some people consider to be “evidence” of psychic abilities, except to say that what I’ve seen is extremely weak and isn’t worthy of being called evidence at all.
We frequently hear people refer to psychic abilities as a “sixth sense”, and that would be a pretty good classification, if they were real. Our senses help us gather information about the world around us, and that information helps us survive. Survival is at the core of evolution, of course. Anything that gives us a better chance of surviving long enough to pass on our genes is a beneficial adaptation.
Our eyes help us see the threats around us, so we can avoid those threats or prepare for them. And for humans, our eyes and ears are the main senses we use when interacting with other living creatures. When we encounter an animal in the forest, we can study its behavior, its posture, its vocalizations. Does it see us? Does it seem scared or defensive or aggressive? Where is it? By using our senses to answer such questions, we’re able to take actions which will increase our odds of survival, such as running away, hiding, and preparing to fight.
Now imagine that you had the ability described in #1. Before you can even see or hear a nearby animal, you can detect its thoughts. You can sense whether it knows you’re there, you can sense whether it considers you a threat, you can sense whether it intends to attack you or leave you alone. Or, let’s say you have the abilities described in #2. You’re able to see if you’ll be attacked by an animal today, maybe even when.
Psychic abilities would lend their possessors a huge survival advantage, probably even more than sight does.
But abilities as major as our senses don’t just pop into existence (no matter what the creationists say). They evolve gradually over hundreds of millions of years. Psychic abilities would start minor, with the possessor of such abilities sensing vague intentions from other beings, or small flashes of events. (I can’t even begin to speculate how a psychic organ would evolve, but it’s worth pointing out that we’ve never found one.)