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In my world, there is a plane of existence whose laws of reality work differently than ours. In this plane, thoughts are not private. The boundaries between the mind and reality are slim, and thus every living creature’s thoughts are laid bare and broadcasted for all to hear.

Naturally, this changes quite a few things about how life functions, but particularly predation. Many predators in our world rely on the element of surprise in order to capture their prey. In this plane, however, sneaking and stealth are rather impossible, as a predator’s intent to kill would be felt by every living thing around it.

So, my question is, in this world where a predator’s killing intent is laid bare, what other ways might a predator capture its prey? What evolutionary and/or behavioral characteristics might they evolve?

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    $\begingroup$ What is the distance on this empathy? $\endgroup$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Jun 16 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ I reccomend the Larry Niven story The Nonesuch. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 17 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ There is a section of the Clifford Simak story, City, that deals with this. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker Jun 17 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ I recommend CJ Cherryh's "Rider at the Gate" and "Cloud's Rider". All the life on the planet can project their thoughts; some to the extent that it override's the perceptions of others. The strongest can also detect unprojected thoughts. The humans (non-native to the world), can perceive the projected thoughts, but their thoughts can only be seen by those that read thoughts directly. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jun 17 at 17:58
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    $\begingroup$ I don't understand how laying thoughts bare could be described as an empathic universe. $\endgroup$ – Frank Jun 17 at 19:13

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Mindless reflexive predators

There are not many predatory plants, but there are a few. Venus flytraps have no thoughts whatsoever. They get by just fine.

Temporary comas or microsleep

Being an ambush predator will still be possible. You won't be able to stalk prey without them knowing they're being followed, but you can still surprise them and that can still be enough.

Somewhat similar to dolphin sleep patterns, this predator blends into their surroundings, then goes to sleep / temporarily enters a coma-like state of suspended animation. They can jolt to full awareness almost immediately, so when a prey animal triggers an instinctive reflex the predator jolts awake and immediately attacks. They were literally not thinking at all, emitting no telltale presence, so this will be quite a surprise to their prospective meal.

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  • $\begingroup$ I once saw a video about how Dragonflies are basically an electrical circuit that responds to the shape of prey coming from their eyes by snatching at certain angles to catch it. I'd imagine you could make similar reflexive predators at larger scales if needed. $\endgroup$ – Muuski Jul 10 at 22:23
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You’re neglecting an important arena in the predator/prey dynamic:

Thought.

If your predators can feel the thoughts of things around them and the prey can detect predatory intent, what’s to stop the predators from evolving effective thought patterns? Many creatures in such a universe would evolve behaviours and senses entirely focused on exploiting thought, and your predators are no exception.

Take ants, as an example. Ants use pheromones extensively. If something in the nest doesn’t smell exactly right, they’ll attack it. Basically they use smell in the same way as you would thought.

So a species of spider has evolved to look and smell like an ant. It’s such an effective disguise that the spider can waltz out of a nest carrying dead larvae and the ants just don’t notice it.

‘But’ I hear you cry ‘Surely that’s predatory intent?’

Well, yes, but it’s an example of the kind of mimicry evolution is capable of. If you have a prey species that eats grass (for example) then a predator that thinks ‘ooh, yummy grass’ when looking at them will have the same ‘predatory intent’ as the prey species has. It will ‘smell the same’, meaning that by the time the prey realise a predator is there it’s too late. The yummy grass will have been eaten.

If thought is used as an extra sense this would make predators that think ‘ooh, grass’ instead of ‘ooh, meat’ evolutionarily favoured. Creatures capable of masking or mimicking thoughts can exist, and not only that but if thought supersedes certain other senses (As pheromones do with ants) then thought-mimics could be highly effective.

You should view ‘thought’ as an extra battleground. If a Despair Squid is capable of broadcasting deep nihilistic despair to nearby prey then they might just die out of the sheer pointlessness of it all. The Lazy Shrimp relies on instinct, basically positioning a spring loaded claw then making itself invisible by going to sleep and hoping it’s hair-trigger reflexes can catch something. Chaff Magpies fill the air with mental chatter, making it impossible for prey to spot incoming Sociopanthers. The Magpies eat leftover carrion in an example of a symbiotic relationship. Oh, and Homo Horrificus actively lets its prey know they’re being hunted, relying on their terror to cause them to run until they’re exhausted or they fall into a pre-prepared trap.

Basically: Extend the arms race that is evolution into the plane of thought. If there’s a mental trick that would help a creature survive in this world evolution will ruthlessly exploit it.

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    $\begingroup$ curiosity would be a great thing to broadcast, strong curiosity is great in an apex predator not so good in a prey species. also spiders would be ideal predators, nothing to detect, a world of trap makers. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 17 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ I already gave you the +1 when I arrived at the ant-eating spider, now I wish I could do it again for homo horrificus ;) $\endgroup$ – Syndic Jun 17 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ I love the idea of this, top it with species which evolve to be super zen and hunt with their minds completely clear. Also, is the despair squid an intentional red dwarf reference? $\endgroup$ – T S Taylor Jun 17 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ might add the surprising seal - it has no predatory intentions, thus broadcasts just business as usual - until, to it's own surprise, it clicks into bloodlust. $\endgroup$ – bukwyrm Jun 18 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ @bukwyrm: “Oh hey. Coral. Oh hey. A cool rock. Oh hey. A fish. Oh hey. BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!” $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jun 18 at 14:31
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Some hunters, such as hyenas and humans, do not ambush their prey; rather, they tire the prey out until they die of exhaustion. We would see more predators with high endurance, with the ability to run many miles to wear down their prey.

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    $\begingroup$ Human's also do this. In fact im fairly certain we are the best at it. $\endgroup$ – GamerGypps Jun 17 at 7:52
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    $\begingroup$ such as hyenas and humans - This is why humans can do insane things like run (not travel, run) over 20 miles and be fine. $\endgroup$ – Sanford Bassett Jun 17 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ @SanfordBassett Some humans anyway... I'm not sure I could run twentieth of a mile without blowing out a knee, let alone 20 miles and be fine. :) $\endgroup$ – T.J.L. Jun 18 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ @T.J.L. Caveman were ripped. $\endgroup$ – Sanford Bassett Jun 18 at 18:58
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    $\begingroup$ Humans are better at getting rid of excess body heat than pretty much every other large animal. Humans with the right training can run down even other persistence predators like wolves and hyenas. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jun 19 at 5:26
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Doublethink

For an ecosystem to allow for predation in this world, sentient creatures with the most advanced consciousness need to have this skill. It was first described by George Orwell in his book 1984:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself—that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word—doublethink—involved the use of doublethink.

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

You need to really convince yourself that you are not harming the prey, until the moment you strike.

Hypocrisy

By tradition the ancient greek could only sacrifice willing animals. They would assert willingness by asking an animal if they were willing, and then pouring water on the animal's head so that the animal would nod.

Hypocrisy is a powerful tool that can help humans not feel any guilt when performing evil deeds, and without the feeling of guilt in the predator, telepathic prey may not know what hit them until it's too late.

They honestly don't think violent thoughts

If the predator believes killing to be actually joyful and pleasant to the victim, then the problem is solved. I sometimes wonder if dogs chasing squirrels think it's all a game, just as when they are fetching sticks or balls.

Mindless damage

Sometimes predators are just brainless. Jellyfish don't put much thought on their modus operandi, yet there are many species which eat fish.

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    $\begingroup$ As an example: “Honestly, the people who work for me enjoy being given a minimum wage. I’m a job creator, not a ruthless capitalist.” $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jun 16 at 21:46
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    $\begingroup$ This is a great answer, because it exposes the fact that evolutionary pressures would favor those predator species able to mask their telepathy. Just as visual signals of "I'm going to gobble you up!" are masked by earthling predators. Equally, prey would be able to minimize their "visibility" by some kind of camouflage - perhaps they send thought signals to suggest different movement from the path they actually take: telepathic misdirection. $\endgroup$ – Rich Jun 17 at 14:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Rich makes me thing of some firefly species which mimic the mating blinking patterns of other firefly species in order to lure and trap them, and jaguars which mimic bird calls to attract and eat birds. A telepathic predator might, beyond masking, mimic the prey's thoughts. $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Jun 17 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ "I sometimes wonder if dogs chasing squirrels think it's all a game"; never mind dogs, that would explain why cats otherwise appear to be sadists... (OTOH, maybe they are just sadists. Someone else already mentioned that telempathy could lead to sadistic predators...) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Jun 18 at 19:14
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    $\begingroup$ This answer made me think of an advanced prey species (like humans) thinking really really hard “Nobody here, look the other way...” to get prey to ignore them, kind of like singing “With Cat-Like Tread” at the top of one’s lungs to be sneaky. (Minor nitpick: it’s hypocrisy not hipocrisy, but it’s clear what you mean and it’s a good answer.) $\endgroup$ – Bardic Wizard Jun 18 at 23:58
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Using the preys senses against them Many species on earth use tricks to capture prey. Use of flashy lights/colors, loud noises or overpowering scents to distract the prey, and in some cases, stun them. In many creatures, if you overload the senses, they could possibly just lock up. Think something like a flashbang.

If a predator develops a means to overload a preys senses, they can sneak up with little effort. a pack of empathic "wolves" when stalking a prey animal, once they get near range can begin to broad cast loud and nonsensical "noise." they prey would know they are in trouble, but they are overwhelmed by the empathic noise that they panic and is unable to formulate an effective escape plan.

I'm thinking, something like thinking in your head a choir singing "This is the song that never ends" at the top of their lungs while quietly think about stabbing someone. Maybe the predatory thoughts get drowned out by the other noise your mind is putting out.

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  • $\begingroup$ just wolf pack tactics in general will work, detecting predators does not help if you are surrounded. $\endgroup$ – John Jun 17 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ +1 And if OP doesn't want to allow animals to think of two things at once, the last paragraph could still work with pack hunting where one member is the hunter and has the murderous thoughts but the rest are just there to drown out those thoughts by "loudly" thinking of other things. $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Aubrey Jun 17 at 14:10
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the interesting idea, -1 for getting the song that never ends stuck in my head! (I kid, I kid, you got your point across.) $\endgroup$ – No Name Jun 17 at 23:17
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Predators are simply stronger

You can simply make the death inevitable. In many cases, predators can be simply faster, stronger, or thinking and reacting faster/better than their prey. Sure, it could turn into the evolutionary armaments race, but I would say that evolution supports diversity. Every specie has its advantages and disadvantages, which can be abused by predators. You could compare it to a game of rock, paper, scissors.

Snails have shells but are slow. It protects them against one type of predator, that can't break the shell, but they might be vulnerable to those who are small enough to enter their shell.

Moreover, I believe team hunting would still work. Even with mind reading, a single weaker, exhausted, older/younger or previously injured animal might find itself in a situation where death is unavoidable.

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If empathy is connects all beings, then ALL would be aware that life would be impossible without death. There would be no hunting, but I think maybe an "agreement" would be achieved - something like "Well miss lioness, our sick one agreed to feed your family". I just don't see the point in hunting if all KNOW eachothers needs. Hunting is based on struggle for survival, but only exists because no one can "feel" the others. If they could, there would only be struggle when an agreement could not be reached.

As user76358 mentioned, there are sadistic predators. I think these beings would be extra violent, since they would be able to see the whole extension of suffering inflicted on their victims. That could enhance their trend. I imagine predators would have to reach a zen-like ability to keep their minds blank while stalking.

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    $\begingroup$ I was leaning along these lines, thinking of American First Peoples' cultures which are extremely empathic toward the animals and plants they hunt, and the environment from which they take food. In First Peoples' cultures, the "agreement" is reached by acting out the part of the prey, with an overseeing spirit as arbitrator. $\endgroup$ – Rich Jun 17 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ That's not universal at all among First Nations. That's like saying all white people carry rosary beads. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Jun 17 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison I didn't say "all". You did. I also didn't mention European shamanic traditions, because someone was sure to come along and accuse me of erasing or minimizing First Peoples. $\endgroup$ – Rich Jun 17 at 20:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Rich, you didn't use any sort of qualifier, and far too often people speak of First Nations as if they are a monolithic entity. Since I live in a community where 75% of the population is Inuit, I see that sort of thing all the time. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Jun 17 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ @user76358 A very interesting point, I totally forgot to consider sadism. For a sadistic being, the ability able to "see" the suffering of their victims would add an extra spice on their trend. $\endgroup$ – Pablo Santos Jun 19 at 2:13
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Flying reptile predators like Quetzalcoatlus would have better chances surviving due to less competition.

enter image description here

In a world were everyone can predict you, only 3 types of predators can exist.

  • runners as the answer before me suggests

  • creatures which can't be escaped because they fly

  • creatures which create traps like sandworms/spiders or humans

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    $\begingroup$ Queztalcoatl is the Mesoamerican deity/mythological figure. That's a Quetzalcoatlus. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Jun 17 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ Which also isn't a bird - or even a dinosaur. It's a pterosaur, a variety of archosaur that diverged from the dinosaur line during the Triassic. $\endgroup$ – No Name Jun 17 at 23:19
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Arbitrators

This answer expands on Pablo Santos's answer, per my comment there. (Edited for clarity but also added verbosity because one troublemaker misinterpreted mention of real world examples as a universal truth which no reasonable person would.)

In some but by no means all American First Peoples' and European shamanic cultures, hunting, gathering, and farming are based on a shamanic worldview, which is founded on empathy. In those cultures, the agreement is reached by acting out the part of the prey, with an overseeing spirit as arbitrator.

Pablo suggests 'There would be no hunting, but I think maybe an "agreement" would be achieved - something like "Well miss lioness, our sick one agreed to feed your family".'

Perhaps then, in the imaginary world, there is a "god" or "spirit" creature, with a larger radius of influence, who can arbitrate in such an agreement.

Then they would also be available for other questions of morality, judgment, and if they're rather large physically, might need to be placated now & then. "Wat!? You didn't dance high enough! I'm going to smite your grandmother!"

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  • $\begingroup$ Arrgh, that is not a universal feature. First Nations and Inuit in North America are and were as culturally different as any human population spread over a large area in space and time, and as subject to mythology regarding their own practices as anyone else. I've been on the land and hunted with Inuit, and most of what you said would be met with an amused eyeroll. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Jun 17 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ Sure @KeithMorrison. You said "all", not me. $\endgroup$ – Rich Jun 17 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ People who make statements about native North American cultures inevitably make basic errors that depend on outdated stereotypes...and if you're upset about that, I didn't say all people. $\endgroup$ – Keith Morrison Jun 17 at 22:23
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    $\begingroup$ @KeithMorrison Careful with that context, Keith! Since I'm the person who made a statement and you're saying "inevitably", you're talking about me ... inevitably. Also note that people who call other people "troublemaker" are themselves troublemakers... yours truly. Anyway, I'm done with this amusement. Are you? $\endgroup$ – Rich Jun 17 at 22:44
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Stupidity, and spontaneity.

First to mask and create noise underneath which there could be an inherent or purposeful predatory tendencies.

Second is important because intent to kill and its identification only goes so far for survival in the wild. If there is a gap between preparation to protect there is also room for predator to evolve, into covering that gap. Why would it evolve? Well like all organisms if its sustenance depends on predation of others than its either evolve or perish.

There could also be an evolution that instead of projecting intent to kill causes listeners to want to kill themselves, like induction of suicidal thoughts.

But it all boils down to what degree of individuality do the connected minds have, because any difference would be a defence for predators, and high degree homogeneity would mean that at that plane of existence there is one collective being. And predatory thoughts would mean self sabotage. Think alcoholism, food addictions, etc.

A predatory thought could be someone thinking “How I wish I could have all the cupcakes in the world?” Or “I wish I could eat pizza all my life !”

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  • $\begingroup$ This is the start of a unique perspective, I think. If everyone can read everyone else's minds, the predators won't enjoy making their target suffer. Thus, it becomes important that we convince prey creatures that dying to feed someone else is the best solution. $\endgroup$ – papidave Jun 19 at 1:44
  • $\begingroup$ @papidave I disagree. Predators enjoy hunting because of the endorfins and such it releases in their body. The death squeel of their victims is enjoyable as it means food is going to be had. The thoughts of fear and terror would just boost the Predator's mood just like the smell of fear does. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Jun 19 at 12:48
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Thought camouflage and cooperative hunting.

The prey will have lots of thoughts. Thoughts such as "I can hide here for safety and survival". The problem is that they wont think in words but in feelings (I guess). So a predator could camouflage his thoughts: instead of thinking "I'll hide here to catch prey" he'll think "I'll hide here for my survival". Where survival means not starving but which prey is going to know that? By the time they see prey they will have to watch with desinterest until the prey is at the proper distance for an attempt.

Another method is to camouflage what you prey on. An antilope isnt going to be afraid if it thinks you are a lizard preying on an insect. Vice versa a lizard is going to act as if its preying on his natural enemies so his insect meal isnt going to flee while his natural enemies will steer clear of the area that is currently harboring something that might eat them. Ofcourse you have to switch it up because if anyone thinking of preying on predators is actually a prey for that exact predator it just highlights them.

But cooperation is also a perfect way to hunt. If you cooperate with other predators, who could not be thinking thoughts like "I'll just take it all for myself" without being excluded, you can easily force prey into other predators and share the kills. The predators simply spread out over a large area so prey in the center cannot hear their thoughts anymore, then they close the net tighter and tighter until the prey notices them. They'll try to run away but will eventually have to pass some predators, and the system of thoughts might not let them know WHERE the predators are, just that they are there and looking for food.

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The prey can be like a fruit tree, gaining from its fruits being eaten. Living on such a high plain, the existence of predators is unlikely.

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Many years ago, I read a science fiction story in which very large creatures, living at the bottom of the ocean, although very intelligent, telepathic, and empathic, indeed, sympathetic, mostly preyed on one another, with the larger seeking out (through telepathy) the not-quite-so-large and eating them. The mode of capture was precisely the use of empathy in that the predators used mind games to confuse and deceive the prey, who would otherwise go silent and hide out of view and physical access. Unfortunately I don't remember the title or the author. The reader doesn't realize until almost the end what the game is. One might also consider that in their hunter-gatherer stage, human hunters often practiced magic to get in sympathy with their prey.

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One answer that I think could be interesting is the pleasure/pain paradox. The release of endorphins during death could cause a temporary state of euphoria, the hunter also receive this. Rather than simply mindless predator, or mindless prey, there is the hunt... which is simply an escapist fantasy. The drudgery of life, perhaps hard labor is necessary for the prey species and is ended by a merciful and benevolent hunt. This is mainly to increase endorphins or some other such factor. The psychic predator then quickly kill the victim before the pleasure/pain state is diminished. A joyful release from a life of toil, for those who have been chosen.

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