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Vulcans are said to be natural telepaths. But they continue to communicate with each other through speech, even when telepathy would give them a tactical advantage in many situations. It is also said that telepathy is a skill that a Vulcan needs to train for, but even Spock, who is half human, was able to use it to an extent. Tuvok too, who had difficulties controlling his mind as a child, used it with ease to communicate with an alien species in the Delta Quadrant.

So why are they always seen communicating with each other the same way humans do?

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  • They also tell others to “live long and prosper” through non-verbal hand signals. Dec 24, 2021 at 5:08

4 Answers 4

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I believe Vulcans were natural telepaths, but had no real range; most of them were touch-telepaths. You may notice that every time you see Spock, Sarek, etc., use the 'Mind-Meld', they first touch the target in certain ways. (A few notable exceptions, like Spock influencing someone through a wall, required intense effort and concentration.)

An exception, of course, was Spock's brother from The Final Frontier, but he was just that; an exception. There were other exceptions, but it wasn't the norm, so it wasn't a common communication method.

From Memory Alpha,

The most famous aspect of the Vulcan brain was the inherent telepathic abilities, such as the Vulcan mind meld. Vulcans were natural touch-telepaths. Though considerable training was required to utilize this ability to the fullest (this would be performing the fal-tor-pan), simpler contacts did not require any concentration, training or even conscious knowledge of the act. (VOY: "Blood Fever")

...

Stronger minds were capable of non-contact telepathic projection and scanning, usually over short distances, (TOS: "The Devil in the Dark", "The Omega Glory"; VOY: "Random Thoughts", "Prey") but sometimes even over interstellar distances. (TOS: "The Immunity Syndrome"; Star Trek: The Motion Picture)

In general, though, touch-telepathy wouldn't be a very safe thing to use on an unknown being, and the touch aspect of it makes it impractical for general communication.

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    It's also slow. If you just want to ask them to pop out to get some milk, it's best to do it verbally. Apr 29, 2012 at 15:51
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    If I remember properly, when Spock went personally to Vyger (Voyager), he tried a short-distance telepatic contact and this way came to learn about Vyger's history (and the fact that it was originally Voyager...)
    – Yaztromo
    Apr 29, 2012 at 21:49
  • @Yaztromo - Yep; that would be one of those few exceptions that required intense effort- it's doable, but hard, and not done casually.
    – K-H-W
    Apr 29, 2012 at 23:53
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    Accepting with the assumption that Tuvok's telepathic conversation in VOY: Random Thoughts was facilitated by the superior telepathic powers of the alien he was conversing with.
    – HNL
    May 3, 2012 at 4:18
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    Just a very late side note hear but in Voy:Random Thoughts Tuvok didn't need ANY telepathic ability. knowing her 'superior telepathic powers' he could have just thought the sentence in his mind - no telepathic ability needed, if his mind is disciplined enough thinking the words would allow her to read him just the same
    – Matt
    Apr 17, 2018 at 18:57
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As I understand it, Vulcans were---and are---a telepathic species. Some,of course, were/are more adept than others---they even have a rating system!---and the more training one gets in the use of that ability, the more useful it can be to them. Spock was one of those advanced telepaths who had several other abilities up his sleeve and would not hesitate to employ them should the need arise. Having seen him in action in the original series, I have acquired a whole new appreciation of what the Vulcans call "wuh tepul t'wuh kashek"---the power of the mind and what it could be capable of.

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    I'm not sure this answers the question of why, if they're a telepathic species, they don't use their telepathy to communicate.
    – F1Krazy
    Mar 12, 2018 at 9:13
  • If all they did was communicate telepathically, it would have to be a silent movie! So they had to use speech most of the time.
    – Zita Carno
    Aug 21, 2018 at 6:36
  • "If all they did was communicate telepathically, it would have to be a silent movie!". No, they can easily dub the characters' telepathic speech over the top of the footage. In any case, that's an out-of-universe reason, and I think the OP is looking for an in-universe reason.
    – F1Krazy
    Aug 21, 2018 at 12:18
  • In the course of my investigations of Vulcan telepathic abilities I have discovered that some of the mind-melds are not only the most powerful but also the most stressful. There were two cases where this was so: one, the mind-fusion which Spock had to use in order to break Captain Kirk's amnesia in "The Paradise Syndrome" and which knocked the wind out of him for a moment; and two, the situation in "Infinite Regress" in which Tuvok had to go al-out with this technique in order to rescue Seven of Nine. So it isn't all easy does it.
    – Zita Carno
    Oct 31, 2018 at 19:00
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Vulcans are in fact fully telepathic just like any other telepathic being, the real reason that they seem somewhat weak in this area is down to their emotional suppression which inhibits their telepathic ability. When a Vulcan initiates a meld they have to lower their emotional suppression so that they can feel the others emotions, therefore feeling emotion themselves, which is an intimate experience.

In Star Trek: Discovery, Sarek was able to communicate with Michael Burnham from Vulcan over a great distance to another part of the galaxy, admittedly this took great effort on his part, but it was achievable.

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    Do you have any evidence, such as quotes, that you could edit in to support the first, and main, part of your answer? If so it would greatly improve it!
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Jul 1, 2019 at 8:28
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VOY: Random Thoughts is what drove me here. It bothered me that Tuvok tells the woman that he has grown accustomed to verbal communication because Starfleet has few telepaths, when this is quite inaccurate. There is no supporting example of Vulcans communicating telepathically outside of a mind meld. The true response should have been, Our telepathy doesn’t work the way yours does. Ours requires in depth training and usually requires touch. Even then it’s a whole process where entire minds are shared as opposed to a specific thought. A highly trained Vulcan may be capable occasionally of extracting specific information from a target mind but, even then it’s more of a violation. So, yeah that’s why I don’t do that. Maybe he was trying to show off to her but that seems highly uncharacteristic of Tuvok.

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    Could you clarify you answer a bit? While this is clearly relevant, it does not exactly seem to answer the question: "If Vulcans are telepathic, why don't they use it more for communication?"
    – Buzz
    Dec 24, 2021 at 3:59
  • You may want to have a look at the tour: "This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat." stackexchange.com/tour
    – Buzz
    Dec 24, 2021 at 4:02

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