The human mind is an amazing thing: 100 billion neurons make it possible for us to walk, talk, think, create, build — the list is virtually endless. Human nature, meanwhile, inspires us to want more, to push the boundaries of brainpower and discover new skills. Some of the most sought-after of those skills are telekinetic powers, abilities that let us interact with physical objects using only our thoughts.
The hope for evolved human potential has spawned a host of pop-culture characters capable of wielding psychokinetic powers with both benign and deadly intent. From wise-beyond-her-years Matilda Wormwood to the aggrieved Carrie White — not to mention the entire Jedi order — telekinesis occupies a special place in the human cultural lexicon. The concept is also getting a signal boost thanks to 80s-era TV hit “Stranger Things” and one of its powerful protagonists, Eleven. (Heads up: this article contains “Stranger Things” spoilers.)
Could humans eventually evolve abilities like Eleven? What is telekinesis, exactly? Do documented cases already exist? What role does technology play in this next step of human advancement? Read on — or use your telekinetic abilities to instantly download the article into your brain. Either way works, but if you choose the latter, do us all a favor and take some detailed notes on how you did it, OK?
What is telekinesis? The term comes from the Greek words for “mind” and “motion.” At its most basic, telekinesis — also known as psychokinesis (PK) — is the power to move objects with your mind. Strength often varies from user to user depending on the origin of their powers, training, age, and so on. As noted by Bustle, the character of Eleven in “Stranger Things” is able to throw large objects, turn electronic devices on and off, break glass and affect the bodily functions of other human beings. She’s also able to access other dimensions — including the Void and the Upside Down — which appear to overlap one another in time (and possibly space) in a kind of multiverse configuration.
The caveat? For most telekinetics, performing feats of mind over matter is incredibly taxing: Luke Skywalker struggled to lift his X-Wing out of Dagobah’s swamp (though Yoda had no problem), and Eleven gets nose bleeds whenever she pushes her limits. When we last saw the “Stranger Things” gang, Eleven used her powers to close the portal between our world and the Upside Down, trapping the Mind Flayer on the other side and protecting the citizens of Hawkins. For its part, the Flayer looked on from its Upside Down domain, watching the Snow Ball dance and keeping an eye on those meddlesome kids.
While much of the show has focused on Eleven’s personal development after her Hawkins Lab breakout, she’s also demonstrated considerable telekinetic evolution, suggesting that her powers aren’t done developing. Sure, they’re the result of unethical CIA experiments and sensory deprivation, but the groundwork is there: What if Eleven is just a small-screen simulacrum of powerful humans that have existed in hiding throughout history?
A Brief History of Mind Magic
Spoiler alert: There’s no documented evidence that telekinetic powers are real. A quick search will turn up hundreds of videos online, but they simply don’t have the scientific rigor to offer anything of substance. As noted by neuroscience professor Mark Breedlove in a recent EarthSky article, while “Stranger Things” does capture the 1980s government fascination with discovering human mind-powers, real life outcomes didn’t match those of the show. No conclusive evidence was ever found to support telekinetic abilities.
Some well-known “telekinetics” like Uri Geller have gained infamy for using sleight-of-hand illusions to replicate mental powers, but this hasn’t dissuaded telekinetic studies entirely. As noted by Live Science, researchers have shifted their effort to “micro-PK,” which is the ability to affect very small objects or outcomes over time. Again, these efforts have been unsuccessful.
The Next Level?
So maybe moving objects with our minds is out of reach right now — but what about in the future? Could humanity evolve PK abilities? From a purely biological standpoint, probably not. There’s nothing in our environment that would compel that kind of evolution, and since we can’t identify which genes — if any — might govern Eleven-type powers, attempting to modify genetic code would be unethical at best and incredibly dangerous at worst.
But it’s not all bad news. As noted by Psychology Today, technology could help bridge the gap between mind and matter by leveraging brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) to allow direct control over computers and other connected devices without the need for tactile or voice interaction. Some efforts focus on creating direct brain/device links to treat conditions such as blindness or paralysis, while others are developing thought-to-text solutions that allow users to instantly compose texts or emails. No, it’s not exactly Eleven closing the portal to the Upside Down, but remember — she started out crushing Coke cans in a hospital gown. Mind-meld emails might seem unimpressive but could pave the way for a brave new world of telekinetic powers.
Bottom line? “Stranger Things” is a nostalgic treat and Eleven is amazing, but don’t expect to follow her gray matter road map anytime soon.
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