Wednesday, December 24, 2008

What if... #24

What if we could read each other's mind?

This post is part of the 2008 advent series "What if..."


  1. If it had always been an ability then I would say that consensus among us would be more easily reached. Then again as has been made clear in this blog often that even when people clearly, openly and honestly express their thoughts and ideas many fail to comprehend. I think it relates to something my mother said I suffered from when I was young and that was she contended I was “hard of listening”. Through the years with some effort this has improved somewhat only now to find that instead I’ve become hard of hearing. Time and nature do like to play tricks and have fun I have found :-)

  2. The ability to punish dissent would be very high. The Inquisition would be very effective in rooting out heretics and unbelievers. Group-think would take on a whole new deadly dynamic.

    We'd really be an entirely different species from what we are.

  3. Hi Arun,

    “Group-think would take on a whole new deadly dynamic.”

    This is already found within one human with the discovery of multi personalities that is symptomatic of schizophrenia. One could say, as was pointed out and considered earlier, that each person has at least two minds. In this case the aspect of self, in some strange fashion, forms to be the arbitrator to lend balance and order. One could even imagine nature itself represents to be such an arbitrator and thereby limits what can be done to only that which is possible in relation to all. Another way to consider it is that we are all of one greater consciousness formed of many minds.



  4. It would be miserable most of the time. Too many thoughts all around and how would we know which ones were the relevant ones? The only way it would work would be to create directed thoughts toward particular people, but that is pretty much what we do when we speak and write anyway. There would be lots of hurt feelings and confusion because some of the thoughts we have are not meant for others to know... our doubts, fears, annoyances, etc. One of the great things about freedom of thought is that other people can't really know all the things we think that we wouldn't want them to know about. Imagine how sad and disappointed you would be if you could read all the negative thoughts that others have or if you know all their ulterior motives and other secrets. There would be very little trust.

    But someone would probably invent and sell some kind of lead helmets or something to block the reading of thoughts. ;-)

  5. Hi Rae Ann,

    These are indeed legitimate concerns and as I conceded earlier that this would be better if we came into the world with such abilities rather then suddenly acquire them abruptly and expectantly. I would equate it as being similar to the differences between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is simply feeling sorry for another where if acted upon is something that is actually not felt to be needed or logically required.

    On the other hand empathy is to act out of actually knowing or having experienced the plight of another; simply put it is to act as resultant of placing yourself in another’s shoes (with no questions or judgments allowed or needed to be formed). This in effect is what would be then forced upon us all, as we would no longer have the cloak of ignorance, born of not knowing shield as such. So in my way of thinking a balance would be struck between free will and what forms to be realized as logical and thereby common purpose or as Plato would have insisted simply the good.




  7. Rae Ann said: “Imagine how sad and disappointed you would be if you could read all the negative thoughts that others have or if you know all their ulterior motives and other secrets. There would be very little trust.”

    What you describe is a rather precise version of the existing situation involving very little trust indeed. Whom do you trust so much, Rae Ann? Better stop it anyway :). It's a common knowledge that one cannot trust politicians (as well as women, men, scientists, priests, ...). But where can they be so much different from their voters (who have supported them freely)? Recall the story about peoples having governments they merit (or wives meriting their husbands :) ... as punishment :) )... We know too much already...

    On the contrary, if everybody can know exactly others heads' content, there would be complete mutual trust, although ... with respect to a much more limited (but now irreducible!) reality. Isn't it the case for people who “know each other” well enough: they just know what to expect, what can be right or wrong, with minimum disappointment, maximum trust (for what remains!).

    But this is trivial. I would consider more interesting possibilities. If you could learn/feel what I know/feel, you would instantaneously die, from pain, misunderstanding, overflow of everything that can flow... Information over-dose, so to say... I don't state that it should be true for me and you, but that such cases can well take place, meaning that at a certain, deep enough level, so-called “humans”, while being externally very similar, can show infinitely big differences in their brain dynamic content (which can hardly be expressed or revealed in any usual communication). It even remains to be proven that a normal man brain's content can be reasonably compatible with that of a normal woman (in both directions!), if one really tries “brain content exchange”. It would imply that people can never really understand one another, they can only pretend they do, for practical purposes and on basically trivial matters. [Another version: every big conflict or “social problem” is mainly a communication defect, though maybe irreducible...]

    Which means that our usual communication ability is such a saving gift of Nature! Therefore have happy holidays and communicate, communicate...

  8. Careful what you wish for

    Imagine an endless stream of junk-mail and spam

    except you are privvy to evertone's thoughts, even if you don't want to hear them

    Now that would require a hell of a spam filter

    Could it be that we were once telepaths, but we just stopped listening - bliss


  9. Hi Phil,

    We can shut down any time and don't need a helmet.:)

    On Empathy

    I do not think any of us are without this feature of "not listening carefully enough." It extends also, "to how receptive we are" and then, it may be based on what experience one actually has to ignite this relationship between familiar states of cognition? Where do these memories exist if not just in the brain?

    On the idea of this "what if"'ve got nothing to hide?


  10. They tried that once on Gilligan's Island. Made a big honkin' mess of everything. Gilligan eventually had to burn the Mind-Reading berry Bush.

    Let that be a lesson to all of us.

  11. Hi Phil,

    I am of two minds as to whether each of us is constituted with two minds. :)


    I think mind is very different from consciousness, so we could all be part of a greater consciousness, and our minds are incidental to that. In Hindu monism, the ground of all existence is awareness, consciousness (e.g., rather than atoms); the mind is different.


  12. Hi Arun,

    “I am of two minds as to whether each of us is constituted with two minds. :)”

    To doubt someone has two minds is equivalent to inferring they be a half wit, therefore I can only say I’m left with half a mind to feel insulted:-)

    “I think mind is very different from consciousness”

    I would agree as consciousness defines self. I would ask then, what is a mind without a sense of self, a computer perhaps? To have such a sense forms to be a two edged sword, for on one hand they have one to be selfish, self centered and self destructive, while on the other without it we couldn’t be self sufficient, self reliant or have any meaning assignable to acting selflessly. I would contend however what it lends to mind which be the most important is hope, for that is simply being self assured.



  13. I think we would get used to it very quickly and it would change the world very dramatically. You would know of other people's pain or their joy, of their doubts, or their irrational convictions. Most crimes would become impossible, so would lying. You would know if your partner really loves you, if your children think you are uncool, if the audience of your talk wonders what color your underwear is. I guess many people would probably go nuts. Well. A case for natural selection. But those who don't would probably develop some social rules how to deal with the situation pretty fast. Most of all I think it would make learning much easier, and I would expect it to greatly contribute to scientific progress. However, as Arun pointed out above, it would also increase the risk of collectively getting stuck if that risk remains ununderstood. I think we would all have to learn a lot about psychology and sociology. Unless mankind goes extinct due to its own stupidity in the near future (which I consider very likely), I think we will get there. Maybe in 2,000 years or so.



  14. Insightful comment, Bee.

    Imagine being able to access 'feedback' on your blog posts from the minds of people who read it - instant physics lessons (or grammar check), or annoying wake-up call in the middle of the night? ;)

    I'd like to hear what you think will get us there.


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