Monday, December 18, 2006

Telepathy for Teenagers

I vaguely remember a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which Calvin tells Hobbes how important it is to cultivate low expectations about yourself so you won't dissapoint your parents and will more often be judged successful.

My mother was once horrified by my brother's friends' telephone use. She had been disappointed in my brother when he was a young teenage boy because when he was on the phone with his friends almost all he said was "Huh," "Uhuh," "Cool," "Sounds good," and other variations of affirmative grunting. Wasn't he being rude in not holding up his side of the conversation? Then, one day, my brother invited a bunch of his friends over and my mother observed that they all used the phone in that way. Apparently all those phone calls had almost no information content at all!

I was reminded of that story by my previous post about Maxwell's Equations, brainwave sensing electrodes, and telepathy. We have the technology to build a hat that differentiates between a handful of electrical impulses generated by the brain, and for each sends a signal. If we built two of those hats and added to each a receiver and earbud speaker we could make each of the handfuls of signals correspond to a certain message played to the headset. Would that count as telepathy? Why or why not?

The other time my mother was truly and unexpectedly horrified was when my brother and I rented The Terminator and she watched it with us. In one scene, Arnold gets into a station wagon parked outside a suburban home. "Oh my goodness!" my mother exclaimed. My brother and I had no idea what was alarming, so she explained, "He didn't have to adjust the seat! So there's a 6'2" housewife out there!?" Sigh... talk about interrupting that willing suspension of disbelief.