There seem to be many races who have telepathic abilities in the Star Trek universe. Is there any scientific explanation mentioned in any of the series that explain how it's possible?

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    Great question, especially since for Troi, she doesn't even need to be in the same room as the subject, just looking at them via a view screen is enough. Jan 2, 2012 at 12:08
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    Troy is an empath, not a telepath. You don't need a sci-fi explanation for that - human body gives off enough physiological clues about emotions that they can be observed and processed. Most humans can do it to one degree or another. Jan 2, 2012 at 14:19
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    @DVK, Troi's abilities are far beyond those of most humans. She is not reading queues, she is reading emotions directly. And not just those of humans or humanoids, but even those of very different species, and across empty space, mind you. And she can hear her mother's thoughts.
    – Dima
    Jan 2, 2012 at 15:19
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    @Dima Don't forget robots, like Data when his emotion chip is on
    – Izkata
    Jan 2, 2012 at 18:49
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    @Dima Mmk, I may be partially misremembering - I thought it was during one of the movies, but it's in "Descent, Part II" when Lore has the emotion chip. Here's a sound clip: hark.com/clips/dyvfwtgfrh-data-i-can-sense-feelings-in-you
    – Izkata
    Jan 3, 2012 at 4:16

3 Answers 3


ST:Voyager episode/s established the existence of Psionic energy and a Psionic field permeating through space. I believe psionic energy has been mentioned in TOS episodes too, but I can't recall exact episodes.

Quote from Memory-Alpha Telepathy article (which itself quotes now defunct star-trek-voyager.net):

Star Trek science consultant and writer André Bormanis has revealed that telepathy within the Star Trek universe works via the "psionic field." According to Bormanis, a psionic field is the "medium" through which unspoken thoughts and feelings are communicated through space. Some humanoids can tap into this field through a kind of sense organ located in the brain (e.g. the paracortex). In the same manner that Human eyes can sense portions of the electromagnetic field, telepaths can sense portions of the psionic field

Although, note that this is an in-universe explanation rather than a scientific explanation. Saying that telepathy arises from a 'psionic field' is really a case of naming-the-problem-as-the-solution.

  • We often see Troi using her ability on a person visible on the main screen on the Enterprise bridge. It's hard to imagine the "psionic field" carrying through imagery record with an (electromagnetic spectrum) camera, and projected on a monitor. Oct 16, 2014 at 6:29
  • I don't think the field exists in normal space like electromagnetic fields. We've seen beings who have been telepathically connected over great distances. It must be permeating through a different domain, although proximity clearly has some effect (like with the telepathic pitcher plant in ST:VOY).
    – HNL
    Oct 17, 2014 at 6:56
  • This was established before Voyager--in the episode "Gambit, part II" it was shown that the ancient Vulcans had actually developed a technology called the Stone of Gol that functioned as a "psionic resonator". As a Vulcan disguised as a Romulan mercenary named Tallera said in the episode, "The Stone of Gol is real, but there is nothing supernatural or magical about it. It is a psionic resonator, a device which focuses and amplifies telepathic energy."
    – Hypnosifl
    Jun 7, 2015 at 21:50

In Where No Man has Gone Before (TOS), Elizabeth Dehner says, "ESPers are simply people with flashes of insight." They have no idea what causes it. But then, in Plato's Stepchildren (TNG), they find that kironide, which is in the local foods, is what causes their telekinetic ability.

Troi never attempts to describe her abilities, but it is blocked in The Loss by the two dimensional beings.

It may be of some significance that psi abilities are not dealt with at all the the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writer's Technical Manual (At least not as of the 4th season). In the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writers'/Directors' Guide (in other words the series bible) has a section titled The Story -- What Doesn't Work and this is the 2nd subsection:

2. We do not do stories about psi-forces or mysterious psychic powers

No matter how fantastic the events in a story, the explanation must be extrapolated from a generally accepted science theory. (We have accepted the telepathy of Counselor Deanna Troi because many reputable scientists have acknowledged the possibility of such abilities, but you will note that we have limited Troi to "reading" only emotions.)

So they do not provide any guidance to the writers on how psi powers work, even though they have whole sections in the tech guide on things like phasers, transporters, and even smaller sections on artificial gravity. This gives a strong indication that the producers, at least of ST:TNG, did not want to get into the causes or workings of psionics.

While I'll link to the article on telepath at Memory Alpha, I won't go into it since it's already been quoted here. But I think it's interesting to note that, while the later series like TNG and VOY used technobabble to explain details of almost every system on a starship, very little was ever said online about psi abilities.

  • It's interesting that TNG's writer's guide had this, given that TOS introduced and extensively used psychic powers and other supernatural abilities. I've always wondered why Gene Roddenberry introduced pseudo-science into a science fiction show. Then again, Forbidden Planet had plot about psychic abilities so I guess it was popular at the time Star Trek was conceived.
    – MgSam
    Jan 11, 2021 at 20:50
  • @MgSam: It's a Roddenberry thing. My understanding is that he was coming in from a slightly different angle (I think, in part, from criticism of TOS by fans and even from his own staff). The series bible does say something about scientific proof of some types of telepathy and it uses that as a jumping off point.
    – Tango
    Jan 12, 2021 at 23:36

Star Trek explains this in different ways, not always consistently (there's a lot of Star Trek -- that's going to happen). In the TNG episodes "Dark Paige" and "Eye of the Beholer," psilosynine was a neurotransmitter and one of the main chemicals involved in Betazoid telepathy. But in "Haven" Lwaxana Troi told Wyatt (Troi's fiance) that he'd been seeing visions of his eventual mate (not Troi -- it's complicated) because "everything is connected."

Which didn't explain why Wyatt didn't see Picard, Mr. Mott, or B'awhb, the guy who picks up after tribbles on Epsilon Draconis forty-seven.

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