So I'm creating a world in which an advanced psionic system exists. On a distant planet there was an AI rebellion resulting in the death of 95% of the planet's population and the remaining survivors are constantly being driven mad by psionic waves broadcasted by the rebelled machines. The whole planet is perfectly covered by the range of the psionic emitters.

The impact of those waves is rather complex - they can cause horrible and extremely detailed visions, for example you see yourself being shot to death by mad bandits or something like that. What is more, the AI can somehow scan your mind and prepare a detailed vision just for you. So, for example, let's assume you've caused a car accident in which someone has died. The psionic waves would then make you experience this traumatic event once more making you feel like this vision is the true reality rather than a flashback from the past. It could possibly involve some other aspects which would intensify the effect, like confronting the victim's family even if this has never happened during the real course of action.

Now, the psionic grenades. Press a button, wait a few seconds, boom, the psionic field is established and you can now communicate with those who fell within its effective range. They come in two variants - the scouting one and the combative one. The scouting model makes you capable of reading the target's mind by asking questions and making the target unable to not tell the truth, with all communication occurring in the attacker's and target's heads - no speaking and so on. Scouting version does not drive the target mad, it only retrieves information. The combative one, however, just drives you insane in a way described in a previous paragraph.

Last but not least, there are two versions of psionic attacks - direct and indirect. Direct comes from being, well, directly attacked by a psionic warrior/falling within the range of a psi grenade/stuff like that. Direct attacks generate the most devastating results. However, the indirect ones are caused by the prolonged exposure to the waves broadcasted across the planet and increase your madness only a little, so, let's say, you're a bit easier to annoy today than yesterday. What is important, unless treated with the calming psionic waves (didn't mention them before, but they're rather not that important to me) the damage will be permanent and is going to stack, effectively driving the planet's population completely insane after X years. The indirect attacks can also cause the effects of the direct ones from time to time, especially if being close enough to the nearest psionic emitter.

And so after thinking it out I ended up with a system which, I can say, works thanks to some kind of "magic", but I simply don't want to, so my main question is: what possible rational, and at least a bit scientific, explanations justifying the described system working could be used?

[EDIT] As pointed out in the comments, I should have specified the exact abilities the psionic system grants, so here goes the list:

-reading the human mind

-making a human being angry/sad/irritated/experience other similar feelings

-driving someone mad in a way, let's say, a drug addiction can (generating disturbing, surrealistic visions and so on)

-exposing someone to detailed and terrifying vision like death/death of a close relative/end of the world/closest friends wanting him dead/contracting a painful and terminate illness and so on

-making someone experience a traumatic event from one's past in a way which would feel so real like "it's happening right now!" rather than a standard flashback

So this excludes telekinesis, pyrokinesis etc. Only pure mind-related activities, without interacting with matter.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Stormtrooper, please take the tour: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/tour and read up in our help centre about how we work: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help Out of curiosity, you in-passing mention a "psionic warrior", are they all AI, or are some human. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2019 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ Could be both AI robots and humans, doesn't really matter. $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2019 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ Humans can therefore fight AIs with psionics? Or are the only psionic using ones the AIs? $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2019 at 3:22
  • $\begingroup$ No, humans can't fight AIs with psionic, because, unlike humans, machines don't have a psychological nature - despite being AI, it's all about electronic circuits and signals, after all. However, the human psi warriors can exist and be used in human vs human combat (especially with the psi grenades making this technology easier to use). $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2019 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ This question is very long, has minimal formatting, and the actual question is buried in the middle. You should go through and edit the question to highlight the critical details and what you are looking for in answers. $\endgroup$ Feb 10, 2019 at 6:37

2 Answers 2


I have a ton of ideas for this, but to hit a broad overview, you'd want to read up on the real 'psychotronic' and otherwise fringe experimentation that took place, largely during the cold war.

We're talking MKULTRA-esque tools for unorthodox information gathering and psychological warfare.

One example is infrasound. Ultra-low auditory tones that can produce a wide range of affect...usually things like agitation, insomnia...the list goes on.


This can be combined with brain entrainment. Essentially, when specific auditory tones are produced, the brain has a tendency to generate brain-waves of the same frequency. Entrainment can be used to induce wakefulness, sleep, dreaming, etc, by sound.


Sophisticated microwave technology can produce the effects you are looking for as well:

"The project is known as MEDUSA – a contrived acronym for Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio. And it should not be confused with the Long Range Acoustic Device and similar gadgets which simply project sound. This one uses the so-called "microwave auditory effect": a beam of microwaves is turned into sound by the interaction with your head. Nobody else can hear it unless they are in the beam as well."

https://www.wired.com/2008/07/the-microwave-s/ https://futurism.com/the-byte/laser-beam-speech-mit

Microwaves and other forms of electromagnetic radiation can also produce hallucinations or other changes to psychological states under certain conditions.


And lastly, for the "mind reading" portion there is the idea that masers and other sophisticated electromagnetic arrays can take non-invasive EEGs to measure brain activity. Combine that with some kind of translator or processor, and you have brain-machine interfacing at a distance.

So, to recap, "broadcasters" would probably be dedicated information warfare suites that can output infrasound and heavy doses of microwave radiation specifically constructed to induce mental distress in humans.

It's highly likely that multiple intelligence services already have this capacity, on the DL.

"Readers" would be much more difficult, but could be prefigured as an array distributed across a target location (imagine a series of spy-cameras that beam rather than record), or a gun-like weapon dedicated to reading brain activity for surveillance purposes.

Tailoring the hallucinations is difficult because it depends on reading and correlating the activity, then modifying the output. It's unlikely that even SAI would easily read an EEG to the point that it could truly understand memories or create true-to-life scenarios. What's more reasonable is just bathing a target in anxiety producing inputs, measuring which parts of the brain light up, and then modifying your output further to maximize recall or activity in those regions.


Adapt the principles of transcranial magnetic stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a form of neurostimulation. TMS is a non-invasive procedure in which a changing magnetic field is used to cause electric current to flow in a small targeted region of the brain via electromagnetic induction.

The brain works via electricity. Magnetic fields can induce electrical currents. Current TMS is pretty crude but near future scifi applications involved induced learning and things of that sort - just as one can induce movement of an arm by applying an electric current to the nerve controlling the arm muscle, any function of the brain could in theory be reproduced by selectively producing currents in the neurons within the brain.

Your world has a global system set up whereby magnetic fields can be detected and influenced - perhaps the original function was some public utility like wireless power or GPS, but the AIs hijacked it for their psionic attacks. The grenades are a portable version with preprogrammed magnetic fields; they act as mini broadcasters until their power supply is exhausted.

Your human population will necessarily contain a large percentage of resistant psionic mutants. I am sure the AIs tried to kill 100% of the human population. A small percentage might evade being killed by luck, which will eventually run out. The rest will be constitutively resistant - they have a selective advantage against psionic attack and did not die. Maybe one is schizophrenic. Maybe one had treatment for a brain tumor and is different afterwards. Maybe one has multiple personalities, some of which are still not insane and who have come to dominate after others go down. Maybe one is not human at all but was masquerading as a human for its own reasons, and then got caught up in the apocalypse. For whatever reason, these survivors are difficult to kill with psionic attacks and it will probably not be the same reason for each of them - which gives energy to your story.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm... The psionic attacks don't kill... And I was imagining rather some of them developing psionic shielding rather than being resistant because they were already insane. Newertheless, interesting point $\endgroup$ Feb 9, 2019 at 23:35
  • $\begingroup$ /psionic attacks don't kill/ Being insane in a post apocalyptic world means a short life expectancy, I would expect. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Feb 10, 2019 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ That's not a direct kill $\endgroup$ Feb 10, 2019 at 0:28

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