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Article

Olaf Stapledon and Telepathy in Literature of Cosmic Exploration

Science-Fiction Studies. 2020. Vol. 47. No. 2. P. 175-194.

The literature of cosmic exploration has long had a close relationship with telepathy: in such fiction, apparent new discoveries in the human mind often accompany new discoveries in the cosmos. This article suggests that Olaf Stapledon is a key progenitor of this association. His Last and First MenLast Men in London, and Star Maker each cover billions of years of human development, and each spans vast expanses of space. In these novels, telepathy allows characters to connect across great temporal and spatial distances. This article argues, however, that telepathy for Stapledon is not simply a thematic parallel to external discoveries. Instead, telepathy is central to his understanding of human potential. Inspired by advocates of telepathy, including J.B. Rhine and J.W. Dunne, Stapledon sees mind-to-mind connection as the natural consummation of a drive toward an ever-greater group feeling—a drive he finds truly universal. Following Stapledon, writers such as Stanisław Lem and Doris Lessing continue to explore what it means to imagine contact on a cosmic scale but suggest that  the unintended projection of the human onto the alien is more likely than true connection.