Two people on different continents have been able to communicate a mental message without any contact.
Research by Harvard University scientists demonstrated that the word 'ciao' could be read out from the electrical activity of one person's brain in the US and sent into the brain of someone in France, using powerful magnetic pulses.
Neuroscientist Giulio Ruffini, a co-author of the work based at the Starlab in Barcelona, told the Telegraph: "It is a kind of technological realisation of the dream of telepathy, but it is definitely not magical. We are using technology to interact electromagnetically with the brain."
In the experiment reported in the journal Plos One, the word was converted into binary numbers – a method of counting using only ones and zeroes – which were conveyed by the person thinking about either their hand or their foot.
The word was emailed to France where the Is and 0s were transmitted to a receiver using a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation. The magnetic pulses produce brain activity that gives the perception of flashes of light in peripheral vision, which are converted by the receiver back into the word.
Telepathy by email
Future uses of the research could help scientists to develop prosthetic limbs that can be controlled by thought.
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a professor of neurology at Harvard, hailed the breakthrough as a "critically important proof-of-principle for the development of brain-to-brain communications."
Neuroscientist Giulio Ruffini told the Today programme: "You can actually transmit information directly from one brain to another brain without intervention of the senses."
"The next step would be to try to find more powerful techniques to send more complex information," he added.
Telepathy (from the ancient Greek, meaning "feeling, perception, passion, affliction, or experience" is the purported transmission of information from one person to another without using any known sensory channels or physical interaction.
The term was coined in 1882 by the classical scholar Frederic W. H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research, and has remained the better-known phrase than the earlier expression 'thought-transference'.
In the late 19th century the Creery Sisters (Mary, Alice, Maud, Kathleen, and Emily) were tested by the Society for Psychical Research who believed them to have genuine psychic ability. However, during a later experiment they were caught using signal codes and confessed to fraud.