Telekinesis and telepathy are often confused with each other, both by the general public and on TV. So, let’s set the record straight, and in the process give examples of accurate portrayal in pop culture.
Telekinesis is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the production of motion in objects (as by a spiritualistic medium) without contact or other physical means”. Basically, it’s the ability to move something with your mind. Modern parapsychologists (someone that studies psychic phenomenon) now consider this an outdated term, preferring instead to use psychokinesis. In the dictionary, the definition is identical to that of telekinesis. However, most other sources will define psychokinesis as having “mental influence” over an object, making it a term that more specifically refers to psychic abilities.
A classic example of telekinesis in pop culture is Neo from The Matrix. He is able to use this power in many different ways, including being able to jump incredibly high and far, and being able to fly. One of the most famous examples of this power being used in a movie is in the first Matrix, where the little boy shows Neo his power by bending and twisting a spoon.
A more recent example would be Eleven from Stranger Things. In the Netflix show, Eleven can, through much effort, move things with her mind and can “see” other people from far away (though this latter power is not a result of telekinesis, this would be called clairvoyance). Season two of Stranger Things shows her attempting to strengthen her powers by moving a train-car, using her volatile emotions to increase her abilities.
Far and away the most well known depiction of characters with telekinesis comes from the Star Wars franchise. Through the force, both the Jedi and the Sith can levitate and manipulate objects with their mind. Some can force jump, as shown by Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequel trilogy, and some can send their lightsabers spinning through the air, having them return like a boomerang.
We’ve covered telekinesis pretty well, but what’s telepathy? Telepathy is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “communication from one mind to another by extrasensory means”. The ability to read minds, or to speak to someone else through thoughts. This psychic power is a bit more difficult to pin down, as it can cover a broad range of different abilities. Some real world psychics claim to use telepathy in combination with clairvoyance or mediumship (the power to talk to the dead) to give people fortunes or messages.
Again from the show Stranger Things, Eleven’s “sister” Eight uses a type of telepathy. Her power is the ability to create illusions in the mind of one or more people that they believe to be real. This is telepathy as she is communicating the illusion directly to their minds.
The Sith lord Supreme Leader Snoke used telepathy through the power of the dark side of the force. In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the second movie in the third trilogy, Rey and Kylo Ren are connected several times, and can see and speak to one another even though Rey is on a distant planet. It is revealed during Rey’s final confrontation with Snoke that it was him who caused her and Kylo to see each other, as part of his plan to lure her to the dark side.