The REAL Reason Professor X Went Bald: A Scientific Analysis

Seeing Professor X on the silver screen with all his follicles intact has gotten me thinking, why does our usual image of Professor X (and a great many other telepathic people) have him bald? I suppose I could be cynical and say the design was intended to be as dissimilar as possible from another wheelchair bound mentor, but I’m the science guy so I want to use science to explain it!

The first thing I should probably point out is that real life telepaths/psychics do not exist. They simply don’t. James Randi, a noted magician your parents may have heard of, has offered a million dollar prize to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal powers under controlled conditions. To this day no one has claimed the prize. If that’s not convincing, from an evolutionary perspective, telepathy would be such a huge fitness advantage that it wouldn’t take long for psychic powers to become dominant in our species. Either way you look at it, as far as we know, psychics are not around.

One of the reasons that we wouldn’t expect to see psychics is a concept called prior plausibility (and I promise this is building toward allopetia, just go with me on the ride). Prior plausibility is the idea that certain ideas make more inherent sense with what we know about the world than others, and the ideas that mesh better with reality as it’s already known are more likely to be true. Let’s say you have a headache and you want it to go away you can do a few things. You can take a Tylenol, with the active ingredient Acetaminophen, which has been proven to help with headaches. Or you can chew on the root of some plant known by an indigenous Amazonian tribesmen to help with headaches. This is less conventional but it’s also plausible that the root contains a biologically active chemical that could help with head pain. Or lastly you could take a homeopathic remedy, which is based on a prescientific notion of water memory and has no plausibility whatsoever as far as we currently understand modern physics, chemistry and physiology. (NOTE: This is not to say that homeopathy wouldn’t cure your headache, but to prove that it did you would have a higher burden of proof due to the lower prior plausibility.) If you go back and read my older columns you’ll see that prior plausibility actually plays a big role in how I think about a lot of different superhero powers. I mostly try to avoid getting bogged down in the details, but it also helps keep me on the straight and narrow.

So to come back around to my starting point, being telepathic is not plausible. Why is it not plausible? Because as far as we know your brain does not transmit signals outside your body. Once upon a time there was a great debate as to what was the brain and what was the mind. Were they separate from each other (and idea known as “dualism”)? There were even people that thought the brain might be a receiving a signal from an outside unidentified source so the mind really was external to our own body. The other, less sexy but more plausible idea was that the mind was simply something created by the brain. Modern neurophysiology supports this by suggesting, based on evidence, that the concept of mind exists due to chemical reactions within the brain, and there is no good evidence to refute that. And the brain as we know it cannot transmit a signal.

Why does transmitting a signal matter? Well to be telepathic information in some invisible form must be transferred from one brain to another. This means either or brains transmit signals that only a telepath can receive or interpret OR a telepath can transmit a signal into another brain and get information back, like RADAR or echolocation. Personally, I lean towards the latter because of that pesky prior plausibility and a dash of Occam’s razor. If the latter scenario is the case then only the telepath has to have evolved this new skill, but in the former scenario humans have always been sending out signals that science has never once detected. This seems unlikely, cause science is always trying to detect stuff.

The one piece of comic-based evidence that might help is knowing that burgeoning pyschics are often assaulted by a flood of unwanted mental information. This would seem to indicate that the brain really is just throwing out information willy-nilly but that’s not how I see it. I think, mostly because I want to, that the unwanted information is an artifact of the telepath not controlling their own transmissions well enough to only target the brain they want to listen in on. Furthermore, if you want to go a step beyond mental peeping tom to actual control of another person it makes more sense for the controller to be sending a signal to the controllee and not vice versa.

At this point I image you’re pulling your own hair out to figure out what any of this has to due with baldness. Well it’s really quite simple. If Charles Xavier is sending out a signal to listen in on other minds, the signal is probably pretty high frequency (assuming it’s a form of light/radiation that we can understand in terms of frequency). I say high frequency because low frequencies get blocked easily, whereas high frequency light waves, like X-rays, can penetrate things. The problem is even X-rays can be stopped, hence the donning of a lead apron before getting a photo of your bones taken. And as far as bones go the human skull is pretty thick, in all reality evolved to keep anything from going in or out, thus you’d want a high frequency to penetrate the skull of both the transmitter (Professor X) the receiver (some shmuck) and then be able to get back to the transmitter without fading beyond usefulness. So really anything that might get in the way of such a signal should be eliminated if at all possible, and what’s in the way of signals from a man’s brain? His hair! So there you have it, Professor X shaves his head to be a better psychic. It’s really that simple. Magneto’s helmet? Well like I said, lead stops X-rays, so Magneto probably just figured out a type of metal that would effectively block Charlie X and made himself a sweet hat. No shaving required. And Wolverine is also able to block telepathic intrusion. Dude has a metal head AND more hair than he could ever hope to shave. It all fits.

Before you criticize, take a moment and think. A higher proportion of telepaths in comics are bald relative to what one might expect compared to any other power set. I’m just saying, food for psychic though. And before you ask, I can’t yet explain Aquaman (I'll leave to Tom for now), but I am working on it.


Ryan Haupt is probably off trying to telepathically project knowledge into undergrads. Here him project signals with his mouth into your ears on the podcast Science… sort of.


  1. “I shave my head in order to be a better psychic. For example, right now you’re thinking about how shiny my skull is.”

  2. But if there were psychics, then they might be continually mind-wiping us to make us forget about them so that they can run the world. Just sayin’…..

  3. @clay  If a claim can’t be tested it can’t really be considered scientifically. The universe could also be a program run by extra-dimensional aliens. If you can’t test it why bother?

  4. I can’t believe you’re discussing signal transmissions when quantum entanglement provides a perfect vehicle for psychic paranormal phenomena.  Although comic book psychics often deal with “range” or “amplitude”, transmission time and physical barriers (barring specific counter-measures) are rarely ever considered a factor, behaving much more like an ansible than a radio.  When you have a quanta with mixed properties- be it particle or wave; or signal or entanglement- it’s better not to assume it is one over the other.

  5. @DrAwkward I think appealing to quatum mechanics is boring and lazy, unless you understand the math you can’t understand the physics. I might as well say he’s psychic because of magic. 

  6. Magic makes more sense than science. You don’t need to explain it, so I don’t get confused.

  7. OK, speaking as a member of the bald(ing) community, I think the real question is:  Why aren’t more male comic characters bald?   Let’s hear the science behind THAT!

  8. Ooooh. Science burn.

    Another great one, Ryan. Always fun to hear you squash all my favorite powers with your scientific rationalism. You’re like my comic book Agent Scully, only way less attractive.

    The comics do give an explanation for the hair loss, right X-Fans? All I’ve ever heard was it had something to do with his powers. Never anything specific. And as entertaining as it is, I refuse to believe Charles Xavier shaves his head for better reception.

  9. I need to know where that panel of Scott and Jean is from! I need to know now!
    Also, funny article. One could argue that psychic powers don’t work by transmitting waves but by quantum entanglement of particles in their brains with those in the brains of others. Need I point out that IN COMICS (lest we forget) telepathy doesn’t appear to function at below the speed of light, giving support to this theory.  We could consider strings vibrating in 12 dimensions but that would be too far fetched even for the X-Men. 🙂

  10. @Haupt  I think equivocating quantum mechanics with magic is boring and lazy, if you understand the math and physics of it there’s plenty of reasons quantum phenomena are more likely to occur with respect to the mind and conscious thought than, say, a radioactive spider.  It’s not like you’re throwing around the words “nanotechnology” or “molecules” (as they would in the Silver Age) arbitrarily, there is tons of scholarship linking consciousness with quantum theory.

  11. Hah! Apparently it would pay to refresh the page before commenting. It appears I have been preempted by @DrAwkward !

  12. @DrAwkward  @nick7913  I’m not saying that quantum phenomena aren’t interesting or real, but it’s not what I wanted to use to talk about Professor X and other psychics. I don’t understand it well enough and I didn’t think people would want to read a post of equations.

    For the rest of my feelings on quatum physics as superpower explanations, I direct you here:

  13. I wasn’t actually talking about whether or not quantum mechanics is interesting. I sort of agree that for all intents and purposes any explanation of supernatural abilities, no matter how elaborate, can be equated with “a wizard did it”. It’s fun to speculate with fellow scholars but at the end of the day none of it is grounded in real science because none of it exists! I guess it’s the difference between Science Fiction and Soap Opera. X-Men is a Soap Opera.

    P.S. I’m not knocking Science Fiction since I love it and read quite a bit of it. I loved some of the Ultimate Marvel explanations for superpowers such as Johnny Storm’s. I found them incredibly imaginative and well thought out.

  14. Ryan- I wonder if you have read “Information and Uncertainty in Remote Perception Research” by Princeton Professor BJ Dunne?

  15. @ericmci  I have not.

  16. @nick7913  It’s from the X-Men Evolution comic that coincided with the animated show back in the day. It’s like a buck on Amazon.

  17. Clearly he went bald to distract from his panty lines

  18. Ryan, regarding Aquaman: in the televised cartoon, his telepathic signals seemed to be focused through his forehead, bypassing the follicles.

  19. @educatexan  Yeah, but Aquaman never has to use Cerebro. Hair really messed that thing up one time.

  20. @Haupt  Thanks! I just love the line: My God! Look at those panty lines!

  21. I always thought Professor Xavier was bald because there was a chemical fire in Charles’ laboratory and when Superboy blew it out with his super-breath it also blew off Xavier’s hair. At least that’s how I remember it nowadays…