Telepathy (and similar terms like "psionics", etc.) is found throughout science fiction, but seems to be particularly a part of many, many Golden Age stories and novels.

In stories that otherwise seem to be understandable extrapolations of science as it was understood at the time, telepathy seems to be magic that was thrown in. From my vantage point in 2017, the idea that the future would include telepathic powers seems bizarre. Yet, for many Golden Age writers, it seems to be taken as a given.

It seems apparent that I'm missing some cultural context about how either science or pseudoscience thought about telepathy during the Golden Age. What culturally was happening during the Golden Age of science fiction that meant that in ostensibly "scientifically" minded stories, psychic powers were a regular aspect?

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    Not really sure if this is answerable (seems opinion-based to me), but the first cause that would pop to mind is - if technology becomes more advanced, shouldn't humans as well? Psionics is a natural idea (or at least, a natural desire) that as the mind expands it will be capable of doing more than mere thinking or pulling the strings of a meat puppet. – Radhil Jul 22 '17 at 18:12
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    John W. Campbell, Jr., who gets much of the credit for bringing about the Golden Age of Science Fiction, also deserves a lot of the blame for junk like psionics and dianetics. – user14111 Jul 22 '17 at 18:34
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    Absolutely Campbell. Asimov recounts several times in his anthologies where Campbell made him add psionics to stories. – Daniel Roseman Jul 22 '17 at 18:41
  • To be fair, there was telepathy is science fiction long before Campbell; it was a common device for getting around the language problem when talking to aliens. – user14111 Jul 22 '17 at 18:46
  • Yes, it existed prior to Campbell, but Campbell's influence was so significant on American SF that he has to take most of the credit/blame. – Keith Morrison Feb 10 '19 at 7:05

This is an opinion based on living through the time period in question. At the time there were a lot of folks who believed in Extra Sensory Perception ESP. It was popularly treated in the media and was studied in academia, with pseudo-scientific articles coming out on a regular basis. In the 70's a guy came along called "The Amazing Randi" who offered a bounty on anyone able to prove they could actually use their ESP powers to read minds, move objects, etc. Randi's been around since the forties and has made a splash as recently as 2014 - The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi.

In essence - folks like reading about amazing mental abilities :).

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    > The Golden Age also saw the re-emergence of the religious or spiritual themes —central to so much proto-science fiction before the pulp era— that Hugo Gernsback had tried to eliminate in his vision of "scientifiction". {There's people who still believe in the occult; back then, that was rampant. IMO this was due to all the budding technology that most people didn't understand, and if that 'magic' worked, why wouldn't also the others which were purported throughout history?} – Mazura Jul 22 '17 at 18:41
  • In the 30s there was some research done at Duke University that seemed to make some "psi powers" credible. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Banks_Rhine#ESP_research – Organic Marble Feb 10 '19 at 2:54

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