How do you beat an opponent in a fight, who can read your mind and therefore knows what you're going to do before you do it?

For example, in the video game Metal Gear Solid, an opponent called Psycho Mantis is initially invulnerable to bullets because he can read the player character's mind and so dodge the bullets before they're even fired. The way to beat him is to

plug the controller into a different port

But this is very much breaking the fourth wall, which I'd like to avoid if possible.

My current thoughts are that we can weaken this opponent by imposing some constraints such as:

  • They can only read one person's mind at a time, so ganging up on them would work
  • They're cheating and not actually reading your mind, rather doing something else that can be disabled or has a margin of error (if so, what? Maybe looking into a possible future?)
  • You can use the environment against them; e.g. make them so focused on dodging your immediate attacks that they are backed into an environmentally dangerous position

But I'd rather these were't too arbitrary.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm certain there have been questions for this on this very site. Moreover, I've seen the trope show up in fiction often enough. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Jul 31, 2020 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ In Marvel univerce Taskmaster is character that can read evryone moves (not telepathy) and he could beat Captain America, Hawkeye and others. He could not beat Deadpool as P Deaddy was so chaotic. So that's how you beat it: don't think do as your gut tell you to. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2020 at 10:26
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of fight? This smells like video game logic, there is a boss fight in a dungeon. That makes for good gameplay, but nonsensical world building. Good 1 on 1 fighters like hema or mma can read the opponent, it's what makes a fighter good. If you're talking about a war, it should be obvious that this needs more explanation. $\endgroup$
    – Raditz_35
    Jul 31, 2020 at 10:29
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    $\begingroup$ kudo for using the spoil tag even if the game have more than 20 years $\endgroup$
    – Kepotx
    Jul 31, 2020 at 13:27

8 Answers 8


Muscle Memory

Most fights aren't thought about. Most people trained in any physical activity rely on muscle memory, and the actions are reflex.

Maybe this ability only works on people who are having to give conscious thought to their actions?

Mental Feints, Improvisation

If someone knows about this power (or maybe suspects), they could be mentally thinking about punching you in the face; but they really kick you in the shin.

The insane, drunk, or confused might do mental feints without thinking about it.

Sometimes, this might be improvising. The attacker intended to go for a kick, but at the last second improvised for a gut punch.

Reaction Speed

Base reaction time for a human is 0.2 seconds. The amount of time for a reaction to take effect (pushing a button, throwing a punch) depends on many factors: how far you're trying to reach, how heavy the load your moving, strength, and so on. However, in many cases that additional time between start and finish of an action is less than the base reaction time.

So, say your opponent has made a subconscious decision to go for a takedown hold. Your hero sees it in his mind, instantly. However, in the 0.2 seconds it will take for the hero to react to the new information, the takedown has already happened.

Many unconditioned opponents (people who aren't doing strength or endurance training) move much more slowly. So, in that case, their may be plenty of time to react to the new information.

Or, maybe the hero also has an improved base reaction time (0.1 seconds).

Mass and Inertia

Based on your stance (standing tall, crouched, fists in front of your face, fists in front of your gut) there is a performance envelope: in 0.2 seconds there is only so far a human being can move those fists to block an incoming strike (for example).

How far is based on body weight and strength. But, for similarly classed opponents, the performance envelopes are roughly well-defined. Fighting classes teach you to recognize these performance envelopes in yourself and an opponent both, and take advantage of them (strike where the defender can't possibly move to block in time).

Even with the ability to see the mind of the attacker, and enough reserve reaction time to do something about it, your hero is still subject to physics. If he (or she) is way out of position (had his fists protecting his face, and the bad guy goes for the gut), there's just not time.

  • $\begingroup$ The classic example is "Wax on, Wax off" from Karate Kid. Repeated movements which become instinctive defenses. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2020 at 14:46

Just because he knows what you'll do now does not mean he'll be able to stop you.

If you've ever trained in martial arts you've seen this scenario a thousand times: you are paired up with someone and asked to train a particular move. You do the move, then go back to your positions and repeat. You know what is going to happen beforehand but despite that it'll go slightly different each time. Sometimes your sparring partner will "beat" you and sometimes he doesn't. This actually becomes more pronounced when two more experienced partners spar, as they will know what is going to happen and then see if they can alter the outcome by reacting to them. They'll instantly abandon the move they were going to do if they notice their opponent standing wrong or trying to anticipate.

In short: If my enemy knew what I was planning and anticipated for that, I would change my plan based on his new stance and moves. Suddenly the fastest way for him to deal with my moves is through his reaction time. The same time it takes me to anticipate his moves. His only advantage is knowing what EXACT moves I might plan while I can only anticipate for a large variety of moves he has available. This is also a disadvantage as he'll likely set himself up to perfectly counter my move and leave himself open somewhere else.

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    $\begingroup$ I knew that you knew, that I knew, that you knew. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Jul 31, 2020 at 15:06

Pray to RNJesus

Have an AI, or a man on a radio, give you a list of possible approaches. Carry a random number generator and just follow its lead. This will remove the essential advantage of this power. Your opponent can't figure out what you're going to do before you do it, by reading your mind, if you don't know either.

Don't fight fair

Most of the time, this power has a fairly limited range. (After all, if it didn't, a user could for instance make a killing in the stock market by reading the minds of C suite executives and ... I guess you'd call it para-insider trading?)

So take advantage of this. Shoot the telepath with a sniper rifle from outside of their psi-range. Send them a message (make them think they intercepted a private email to you, say) then when they go where you expect them to go, blow up the building.

In general, brainstorm a plan that assumes as soon as your foe gets within range, they immediately become intimately acquainted with every detail of it. The plan is designed accordingly such that, by the time that happens, their goose is already cooked. If you're superpoweredly tough, and they're not, call in an airstrike on your own position before you enter contact range.


From my personal experience, fighting someone who could "read your mind" on a surface level wouldn't have as big of an advantage as you're thinking.

Now, I have a non-insignificant amount of experience in full-contact martial arts and I can confidently say (for me at least) that the way written fiction portrays fighting is almost completely wrong. When an author writes a fight scene, it's not actually, fighting, it's choreography. Characters often have running internal dialogues where they tell the readers the exact moves they're going to make, for example this:

I had once timed myself at six strikes per second, and if anything, at that moment, it felt even faster. A double palm heel blow to both ears, ripping downward along the cheek and collapsing onto his throat; stepping under and inside his flailing arms to shoot an elbow upward into his abdomen, taking his center; rolling into a palm heel strike to the groin; and back into a rising elbow to the underside of his chin; arcing down into another palm heel onto the bridge of his nose. There were no wind ups, no wasted motion; each movement was designed to roll naturally into the next.

This is written well and it describes the action that's happening. That said, this is not what is actually going on in a real fighter's head during a fight. A good fighter does not think about the moves that they're taking, the strikes they're blocking, or the exact technique they're doing. They just do it instinctively.

In fact, the entire point of training to fight and endlessly drilling certain moves and patterns is so that when you're in a fight, you don't need to think. Instead, your mind is then free to work on higher level stuff like looking for patterns in your opponent. When I'm in a fight, my thought process doesn't go like:

Oh look, they're keeping their arms up a bit too far, perfect time for a kick!

No, instead, my mind just spots the opening and before I consciously decide to do so, I throw the kick. In the same vein, my opponent does not think:

Oh look, their left leg is coming up for a kick, time for me to dodge to the left!

No, they've trained and as soon as they see the kick coming, they're already starting to move. There's no conscious decision involved.

If you want to hard-counter anyone's close-quarters-combat skills in a fight, simple mind reading isn't going to cut it because most proficient fighters don't think about the exact moves that they're going to take in advance. The majority of their actions are almost completely instinctive, trained to that level through extensive practice.

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    $\begingroup$ A good non-martial arts example of this is watching a baseball player, especially an infielder, dealing with a line drive. There's simply no time to consciously make a decision, you simply react automatically. $\endgroup$ Jul 31, 2020 at 16:28
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a good analogy: how much do you think about catching and throwing a ball? You dont calculate the angles, you dont think about the positioning of your arm, what moment your fingers need to close to catch it. There's some analogue calculation behind it, but catching a ball is a continuously changing plan. The closer it comes as it flies through the air the more accurate you are at predicting where and when the ball will arrive. Similarly as your opponent changes stance you become more accurate about what he'll do, and you'll change your plans of attack and defense as time progresses. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jul 31, 2020 at 18:00

Take The Initiative and Force It Into A Situation Where You Can Win

It doesn't matter if your opponent can read your mind, as long as you're better than he is at one thing and you have the initiative, you can win. Reading your mind will, at best, turn him into a copy of you so you'll be fighting yourself and at worse, not even that, just confuse him. Let's take the ancient game of chess for example.

I, like many chess players, have played numerous games of chess against myself, either because I wanted to get stronger by seeing my own weaknesses or because I lacked for opponents. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of these matches were won by myself playing opening or defenses I was familiar with versus an opening or defense I wasn't familiar with. For instance, I've never won as Black if I opened using an Evan's Gambit as white; and consequently, if I used a Sicilian defense as Black, I had a marked advantage. Thus, if I was forced to play a game of chess against someone who could read my mind, I'd simply open with an Evan's Gambit and wipe the floor with the fool if he tried to read my mind, because, quite simply, I don't know how to defend against an Evan's Gambit.

If the contest relies on technical skill, rather than mental acuity, then draw your foe into a time and place he cannot win against your skills even if he can read your mind or simply place him under circumstances where reading your mind does no good - i.e. a rock and a hard place. Physical combat is especially advantageous in this regard, unless the mind-reader actually has the necessary experience and training to perform the counters to what information he's gleaning from your mind.


Mass: Don't fight one-at-a-time. Overwhelm the opponent with multiple attackers.

Deception: Some of those attackers are meant to draw attention, so others can drive for the kill. The obvious long-range shooters that the opponent can see (and waste time trying to read) are dummies. Make that wasted time count.

Concealment: The opponent cannot read what the opponent cannot see. Let the first shot from the concealed attacker count.

Nimbleness: Be so much faster than the opponent that their counter-moves don't much matter. With multiple attackers, this means staying inside the opponent's decision cycle.

Information Management: Anybody that the opponent can see and read must not know the whole plan, and especially must not know the traps and surprises! Folks who do know the whole plan must be concealed and unreadable.

...and plan and rehearse and rehearse again and then rehearse a few more times. It's hard to synchronize fighting...but it's a high-probability way to win with minimal losses.

  • $\begingroup$ Or you tell them of the plan with what traps are placed where, then place them in other locations for a nice surprise. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jul 31, 2020 at 18:03

Drones, Bombs, robots, Kamikazes, missiles:

It seems obvious, but if your opponent can read minds, especially in a short range, attack him with stuff he can't anticipate.

A missile is big and explosive and will kill you no matter if you know it's coming or not.

An opponent willing to set off a claymore or suicide vest at point-blank range will kill you, and if that doesn't work, the trigger can be activated remotely so the bomber doesn't know when it will activate. Or on a timer with an uncertain amount of time.

Landmines and booby traps don't think, they just kill you.

A drone with bombs, missiles, and machine guns has the controller outside range, and can also blast so big that knowing doesn't help.

Comic books are full of robots that don't think, but just react to programming.

Poison gas spreads and doesn't think. Radiation spreads everywhere and kills you long after exposure.

Many of these things are less effective if the person straight-up sees the future, but often you can't see everything. Radiation, for example, can kill you days or weeks after a lethal exposure. Betcha didn't see that coming.

Mean and unfair? Well, yeah.


The other answers are excellent so I'll just add my own opinion.

First without super powers you are not dodging bullets. I don't care about mind reading or studying every single bullet trajectory in the history of bullets or seeing a trillion weapon being used. You are not dodging bullets.

Second like people said the speed of action is much faster than the speed of mind reading and acting based on that. Darwin went to this snakes exhibit and standing in front of the glass as the snake attacked he would try to override his natural instincts but simply could not. Fully knowing that the snake will jump at him and that he is safe and that he is actively trying to hold himself from jerking bad did nothing to actually achieve that. So that is the real problem.

But here is how I'd use it. And obviously this depends on the "level" of mind reading and I'll limit this to 1 vs 1 fights because if you are fighting a drone or cavalry charge then it won't help.

So if I'm an attacker with comparable training and strength to the other person, otherwise I'll lose in no time, then I'll quickly get into their minds and try to find a nasty memory or a phobia or something similar.

Say that guy had a father who used to beat him with a belt saying that he is a spoiled little brat. Just before we start fighting I'll do my best impression of his father to disorient him enough to have the initiative. So basically just using his own mentality and memories against him to get ahead with striking the first blow or landing the first punch.

I'd defend against this by doing the same. Hold the image of you as a tentacle monster raping the other persons mother and I'm pretty sure they will be disgusted enough to lose focus for a few second which all it takes to get the initiative, our you can mentally recite the lyrics to never gonna give you up to achieve the same effect.

So you would win the same exact way you will win in a normal fight.


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