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Setting Background:
Our boring, magicless Earth.

Character Concept: Sarah can read minds. The longer and closer she's with someone the "deeper" she reads them. This starts from basic surface thoughts to the deep, dark recesses of someone's mind. She's learned to shut this off when she's with large groups of people, but for the most part, it's always running.

Plot: There are some inconsistencies in what Sarah reveals. Such as saying that people told her things, despite them never saying such things out loud. These inconsistencies have led some people to believe that she is both a gossiper and an eavesdropper.

In our world, what might be some reasons why someone might want to keep quiet about this?

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  • $\begingroup$ by "shut this off", do you mean that she didn't say that she got the power or that she try to not use it? $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jun 28 '18 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ If she concentrates, she can turn effectively stop hearing other people's thoughts. $\endgroup$ – MnIce Jun 28 '18 at 7:02
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    $\begingroup$ "In a world where literally everyone would be clamoring to learn more about such ability" isn't that already the answer? Many people don't like that kind of attention. I think this question is perfectly in line with what has been asked here recently, but could you perhaps hint at what kind of answers you want? For example, if you don't want something specific to the character like she doesn't like attention, but instead something about mind reading specifically, perhaps state so $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 28 '18 at 7:03
  • $\begingroup$ Philip K Dick's The Golden Man leaps to mind as does the film adaptation. The X-Men comics spent many a series dealing with these issues. Babylon 5's many telepath story-lines deal with aspects of this as well. Many, many more variations on the theme. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Jun 28 '18 at 7:38
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    $\begingroup$ Some comments mention it already and the question has also been flagged as opinion-based. In the current state of the question I agree with these observations due to the fact that I do not see how you would rate answers against each other - please think about, and then provide a paragraph or even better short list of criteria by which you grade answers; if you feel that would restrict the question then you might still do this and later (if you don't get answers you want) you could write a follow-up question with, e.g. inverted criteria :) $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Jun 28 '18 at 14:05

11 Answers 11

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Trauma

I think one way that wasn't brought, and is more probable that potential criminal organizations rivaling to hire Sarah, is the good old psycological trauma. And, it makes for really dark settings.

First of all, a mind reader has probably a high empathy level. While she can read someone's mind, she can also read their emotions. And she can feel their emotions while she says to them she can read there mind. Do you feel scared at a mind reader? She feels it, and knows she is the cause of it. How can she not be depressed?

Maybe she tried saying it to someone in the past. It is probable that she only disclosed this precious information with someone she was close to, and was really trusting. Probably a long time relationship. And it got ugly, quick. She could feel their sudden horror, and she could read their train of thought, the implacable doom of ending this beloved relationship, and feeling their disgust toward her, as if it was her own disgust.

Not only does she have a pretty serious trauma from that experience, but she is often reminded of it when people are surprised or doubtful of her slips.

Hiding from trauma is a really often used strategy.

Growing up

From your wording, I get the impression that Sarah always had that ability, since she was born. And that can lead to more traumatic and dreadful experiences.

Where did she grew up? Was it a loving and positive family, that was fully comprehensive of her unique ability? Or (more probably in this case) an autoritarian, or violent family?

If she was constantly grounded or beaten by her parents from pretended eavesdropping and lying about it, she has some good psychological reason not to talk about her ability to people.

And of course, growing up reading other people's mind can be itself traumatic. Not only is today's "boring" world quite traumatic to girls. But Sarah in that case not only got to hear or see some traumatic sexual experiences, she could read the adult's mind. And a 10 years old is not prepared to some of the nasty stuff going on in some minds.

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Because she doesn't want to be a subject of experiment

Gosh, mind-reading, do you imagine how interesting this is for scientists? For governments? For media (if it's known)?

She doesn't want to be an experiment. Even if she is well treated, she doesn't want to. She's happy with her life, and doesn't want anything to change.

Because she's afraid of the consequences

There are some ethical problems related to such a superpower. Maybe she thinks it's too dangerous for a government to control this superpower, so she doesn't want it to be known.

She would lose a lot of friends

Do you really want to be friends with someone that read your minds? At every moment? Even if you don't have negative thoughts about Sarah, your mind is one of the most inner things you have. You don't want to share all your thoughts with Sarah, and stop being friends with Sarah. Sarah doesn't want this to happen.

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    $\begingroup$ One thing I would add is the ability would interest intelligence agencies and criminal organisations enough that they might consider recruitment and/or flagging you to be barred from certain places/people/activities (and/or direct elimination). $\endgroup$ – AmiralPatate Jun 28 '18 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ Effective immediately Sarah is banned from all political speeches. $\endgroup$ – MnIce Jun 28 '18 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MnIce I'm not even sure it's the worst job. politics must please lot of people, Sarah can't read so much minds. Other politics still have survey, so she wont have so huge advantage. But imagine something like businessman, diplomat or any other job where you need to convice a limited amount of people: that would be a job suited for Sarah $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jun 28 '18 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ I was talking about her being a spectator at a speech. But I like what your thinking. $\endgroup$ – MnIce Jun 28 '18 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ another fun job would be interviewer/journalist... $\endgroup$ – Kepotx Jun 28 '18 at 12:54
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No sane person wants their mind to be read. As easy as this.

Having your mind read is a big disadvantage in everyday interactions.

First, the obvious: People think nasty thoughts and if someone was able to read them, well, who would want that? I suspect that the reaction would be a lot of suspicion ("Have you read that thought?"), people being very careful around you and even people being scared or feeling threatened. I could elaborate more, if you don't get this point, please state so in a comment, I hope this is enough.

Second, think of the implications for any sort of negotiation or communication effort. Just imagine, you can instantly know the maximum price of someone willing to buy a car from you. That's huge. What an advantage. Think of the implications for the business world.

Bluffing is a thing we do all the time. Perhaps you don't realize it, but it's there. We have learned to interact with people that can't read our minds, a mind reader would have to be approached completely different with different rules of interaction and we don't know how because there are no mind readers. This could result in people simply not wanting to engage with her for example - a great opportunity lost.

It's best not to let them know that their minds are being read or you lose a lot of potential advantage. You can easily think about more situations where this applies, think where people are not completely open, bluff or lie to gain an advantage (negotiations, interrogations, poker ...)

In short: People will hate her for being able to do that. It's better to do what most people do all day: Bluff. It's not only a big advantage for her then, it also makes it even possible for people around to treat her like a normal human being.

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  • $\begingroup$ I can comment on that later if it helps you. I hope I remember $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 Jun 28 '18 at 8:09
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For her own sake, of course

If Sarah discloses her ability to the public and is believed, she immediately paints a giant bullseye on herself. For starters, I'm sure plenty of ordinary people mind having her mind what's literally on their mind. She might be actively trying to not read their minds, but how would a non-psychic pleb know that? She'd have mobs of regular folk baying for her blood wherever she goes. Here's a non-exhaustive list on who else would be interested in getting their hands on her:

-Religious groups, especially the 'extremist' ones would paint Sarah as a witch/demon/Antichrist/etc and organise a witch hunt, with their desired endgame being a livestreamed public execution. Nothing quite like a witch burning to draw the crowds to your church/temple/mosque/etc

-Organised crime 'families' would try and coerce her to use her talents for their purposes

-Law enforcement would also do the same as the above, as would other government bodies like the various intelligence services.

-Politicians would be split between having her killed, and abducting her for use as a human weapon. I reckon some would off her just to save themselves the trouble of having to rewrite GDPR to factor her abilities in.

-Some scientists would want to kill her so they can literally pick apart her brain in hopes of duplicating her abilities

-Worst case scenario, she rubs a large enough number of powerful people the wrong way, such that the UN itself declares her a threat to world peace. Sarah is now the new Osama Bin Laden. A multinational coalition would be formed to take her in dead or alive. Once they've succeeded, the previously mentioned groups would then fight each other over possession of her living or dead body. If they somehow fail to bag her, fear and desperation will drive them to use increasingly extreme measures to deal with her permanently, including nuclear/biological/chemical weapons.

If she isn't believed, she's not off the hook either. Any number of the above might investigate her claims in further detail just to make sure. 'Investigation' can include being dissected in a lab.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "I'm sure plenty of ordinary people mind having her mind what's literally on their mind". It messed with my head the first time I read that. My mind was not in the right frame of mind to process correctly. But I don't mind you messing with my mind with a sentence about minding minds that mind :) $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Jun 28 '18 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ Also, if she isn't believed, she's likely to end up in a mental ward for claiming something so crazy as having an ability "no one else has". Well, not that they know about, anyway. $\endgroup$ – computercarguy Jun 28 '18 at 17:33
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Because she learned that it makes her look weird, at best.

Imagine the situation: she, as little girl, is playing with some friends, and Colette thinks "oh, I hate how little Susy behaves, I wish she was not invited to play with us" to which Sarah innocently responds "but Susy is my best friend, I want her to play with us!". Colette would freak out and leave screaming. Soon Sarah's class mates know she is and acts kind of weird.

She then learns how to switch that thing off, and to act "normal" when people are around, which is all the time.

Growing up she realizes that she can use that skill to her advantage, but it is better if she hold the competitive advantage by not disclosing it. Just imagine how it is to be a teen and being able to help your friends with all their crushes: "hey, you have no hopes with Tom, he is fallen for Jacqueline, but Andrew looks more interested into you".

As an adult, that ability will be really useful in some jobs, but again is better not to disclose the full details.

People are usually scared of what they do not understand.

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The government / NSA / spy agency would black bag her and make her vanish and use her abilities for themselves

Any government would be terrified of mind reader if they knew they existed and they weren't being controlled.

It's the perfect spy skill, interrogator ability or spy hunter skill.

If they couldn't control her, they would kill her because she is too dangerous to let wander around.

Let also not forget the option of human lab rat. If you can replicate the ability, it's worth even more.

I'm pretty sure she doesn't want to be a prisoner, slave or experiment.....

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I remember an episode of the original "Twilight Zone" series, in which an eployee suddenly gains the power of mind-reading. After some exciting attempts at his new ability, he appens to read a clerk who is planning in details a robbery at his own bank. Our hero, without explaining how he came to learn about it, goes to the Director and warns him...and, eventually, it is discovered that the clerk was actually a nice guy with no criminal intents at all, just fantasizing about robbing the bank.

Sarah would have the same problem, but tenfold. To her, the world would be like an endlessly crowd chatting at a loud voice. How could she be able, always, to distinguish a fleeting thought from one that precedes an action? How could she stand that layer of primitive responses we give even to the most trivial problem? She could even mistake a friendly greeting for the lusting threat of a stalker...

No wonder she needs to shut off everyone! She could work only with a very selected handful of persons she already is in regular touch with, between family, friends and colleagues. And even among those selected few, she'd have to select a very restricted number to whom to confide this secret -since no one would like to be, literally, an open book down to the most intimate layer of himself/herself

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Obvious one first: She will become an outcast/captured/experimented on etc. You have one human in the entire world who has some special ability. If they were to tell anyone:

  • They would come off as crazy.
  • If proven its possible, would you be comfortable around someone who could read your thoughts? Friends and family start to distance themseleves
  • Government or whoever hears about this and wants to use her, what a great interrogator she could be
  • Scientists would want to understand how she could do it. Maybe not very nicely either
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Maybe she isn't fully aware or convinced she can read other people's minds.

How does she perceive the details of what she is reading from someone else? Does she see images or hear a voice? If she hears a voice she may believe or have convinced herself that it is an auditory hallucination because reading someone's mind is "impossible" or a "circus trick".

It would also be problematic to confirm she was reading minds without making the other person suspicious.

So, she is left with two options:

1) She is having auditory hallucinations and revealing that would mean people would treat her differently.

2) She can read minds and revealing that would mean people would treat her differently.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! Good job on your first post as you gave a nice answer and explained the details of it. :) $\endgroup$ – ArtificialSoul Jun 28 '18 at 9:57
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    $\begingroup$ I never really thought about it that way. "How would someone know what they were perceiving was real? Further more, how do they perceive thoughts? Since this is the real world, how would they react to this as this would be impossible?" Great questions. $\endgroup$ – MnIce Jun 28 '18 at 10:14
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A Web of lies

Sarah may have used her mind reading skills to get ahead in life in many subtle ways:

  • At work she has all the best ideas, because she steals them before colleagues have got round to sharing them.
  • She is the teacher/boss's pet, always saying exactly what they want to hear.
  • In relationships she always appears wonderfully sensitive, because she knows what people want before they say it.
  • She has learned she can control people, as she has instant feedback on the effects her thoughts and actions have on people.

While she may be able to succeed in life using her power openly and honestly she has so far kept it secret. She does not want to lose the power she has over people, and is afraid that the relationships she has built on false pretenses will not survive a revelation of the truth.

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Other answers pointed out she would do it to protect herself from spy agencies and mad scientists, I'd like to add that she might also do it for other people's comfort.

Telling friends that you found out something embarrassing about them can be vexing for them. So, for the same reason you might not tell a friend that you caught them doing something embarrassing (i.e picking their nose), you wouldn't want to tell them you caught one of their embarrassing thoughts. The only way to do that would be to not disclose your ability to read their thoughts.

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