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Thursday, 7 April 2011

Telepathy and Trust

Telepathy is interesting for two reasons: first, we'd all like to know what other people really think about us - does the girl or boy we meet every day at the coffee machine know we exist? Is (s)he maybe interested in us? Does my spouse really love me, or someone else?

The second reason is that we all have thoughts we hope no one could guess. Gosh - if she really knew what I was thinking right now... Love and fear: the two great motivators.

SF writers have long played with the idea. The norm, especially in TV or film, is to have a small number of humans able to reach into other people's minds. This is like active listening, or learning a new language. I live in France, and if I'm on a train I can easily block out the French spoken around me because my French is not brilliant - I have to actively listen to translate. But a native or very good speaker often has no choice but to listen. Such SF usually casts telepaths as outcasts or as being persecuted by the non-telepathic majority - in this case driven by fear more than any positive emotion. The TV series Babylon Five had an interesting take on this aspect, and implied that a war would come between telepaths and 'normal' humans. Sounds reasonable.

The other, less trodden SF route is to consider an alien race of telepaths. What would society be like if everyone was telepathic? Would there be lies or manipulation? There could be no deceit. Love could exist, but would flirting? Could violence against one another exist, when you would feel another's pain as your own? Most likely such a race would be pacifist. It might not be where you or I would choose to live, but it would be a precious race, because the 'love' part of us, the part that needs to be loved, would yearn for that open-ness, that degree of honesty and trust based on direct understanding. It is something that many seek in an intimate relationship. Telepathy would deliver intimacy in spades.

There could be a downside. Would such a race be advanced technologically? Would there be competition, drive to achieve, or invent? A lot of our advances and research is linked to defense and to War, and competitiveness borne of conflict. Pacifism could breed indolence in this respect. So what? Wouldn't it be a worthwhile trade, I hear you say? Well, yes and no. The 'no' part would arrive when a non-telepathic race came a-knocking...

So, what would happen if such a race stumbled on humanity, or if we stumbled on them? How would they perceive us? Sad? Tragic? Undisciplined with our thoughts? Dangerous? This is what I explored in my short story The Sylvian Gambit, and I took it one step further: how would they defend themselves if we were the aggressors? What if they needed to deceive us in order to survive? Could they do it?

It's an issue I intend to explore further in the last part of the Eden Trilogy, Eden's Revenge, where there will be an altogether different take on it: could a pacifist race of telepaths use telepathy as a weapon?

Incidentally, for any SF buffs reading this and the Sylvian story - the Syvians were inspired in me by Orson Scott Card's (brilliant and unique)  Ender series - I'll leave you to work out which one.

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