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I'm writing a fantasy story that I hope to make more relatable to the modern day by the inclusion of a psychic "internet." At some point in the last two or three centuries this world discovered the means by which to tap into the web of psychic threads connecting all living things, and quickly developed the means by which to share information across vast distances instantaneously. Governments quickly developed new forms of psychic communication and espionage, and even the poorest peasant can manage a connection to the public channels of psychic discourse. Otherwise, however, technology is much the same as it was, lacking printing presses, steam engines, and the like.

What are some of the biggest departures this world might make from our own following this development? Thanks.

EDIT: some notes on the mechanics of this "internet"

Sites

It's still up for reimagining, but at the moment this web is a series of psychic "spaces" not unlike a "method of loci" / mind palace, although someone accessing such a space need not picture it continuously in perfect detail to be present within it. Conjuring up such a space (a small one, at least) is trivial, as is finding a space that the original conjurer has deemed open to visitation. You can also open up a space for a particular person or kind of person.

To share something with another, one simply imagines it into being within the "space," conjuring a replica with a level of verisimilitude that varies depending on one's knowledge of the subject and imaginative ability. Speaking or conjuring a written message in such a space is trivial.

Larger spaces — the forums, town facebook walls, and social media equivalents of this world usually require the talents of one or more trained "servers," those who have cultivated their imaginative capacity enough to maintain an elaborate locus for an extended period of time.

The information comprising one of these psychic spaces is stored within the physical mind of its conjurer - accessing one without its creator's permission is either a matter of avoiding their detection or making physical contact with them in the material world.

Servers can act as an effective store of their own and others' knowledge, and can access the contents of their own locus at any time whether they're "online" or not. Entire libraries might be contained within the brain of a single man, although such a server wouldn't possess that knowledge in the same way as a trained expert. If such an expert were to collect their years of knowledge into a psychic "book," they could easily deposit it into the mind of a server. That server would then be able to "read" that book whenever they wished, which would take about as long as reading it physically. The advantage here isn't as much matrix-style "download kung-fu skills" as it is "I have an entire invisible library inside my head that I can invisibly reference at any time."

Regarding storage and degradation of servers' information — as servers don't "own" their psychic memories in the same way we do, I don't think they can "forget" them in the same way either. A stored symbol will remain as it is in perpetuity, assuming no damage to the physical storage medium. Dementia, head trauma, or any kind of degenerative brain disease might warp or destroy stored symbols.

Users

Within such a space a person appears as they imagine themselves, unless they or another within the space makes a conscious effort to conceal one or more participants' identities. Imagining a false or artificial psychic avatar is also possible, but a savvy psychic can spot someone assuming a false identity. Although in such a situation it may be possible to uncover the suspect's real identity, the arms race to develop new psychic technologies is without end.

Regarding attacks made over this psychic network — it is possible to knock a server unconscious or perhaps even drive them insane if they are caught unawares by an onslaught of demands, but air-gapping is a simple matter of making a split-second decision to disconnect oneself from the network.

Regarding the speed of communication — accessing a locus/site/space is instantaneous, however conjuring a readable record within that space proceeds at the speed of thought / a speed roughly equal to that of typing. A user needs to put their ideas into words, images, or some other form of symbol to be understood. Just like in our world, speech and conjured text can only be understood if all parties to a conversation share a language, although some concepts like images or 3d objects can be understood by all, encouraging separate psychic spheres for separate nations or languages. (Just like how in our world, most users on the english-speaking internet have little knowledge of the goings-on on Weibo)

Memes and "Cyber" warfare

What's an internet without memes, grifters, and influencers? Regarding memes — Earworms and other self-propagating symbols are ever-present facets of the psychic world, reinscribed into being by humans both consciously and subconsciously. These objects can be harmless, or more sinister: memetic objects might be difficult to destroy, might be dangerously seductive and addictive, might whisper provocative lies, or might even pose a violent threat to servers and other visitors to a site. (@jdunlop has also provided some very cool ideas for psychic memes in chat, but I'm not sure if it's proper StackExchange etiquette to include those in this document. Go check them out!)

Regarding religion and stochastic terrorism — @MJ713 made some very good points about religion that I would definitely like to address. First of all, established religion: dogma surrounding the origin and function of the psychic world is a staple of large state-supported religions, and I imagine convincing your populous that the psychic world in some way supersedes the physical is an effective way of keeping them docile and subservient to authority. Another point MJ made was that of false gods or other psychic demagogues, those who can convince the average person of their divinity by virtue of their arguments, claims, or imaginative talents. Such figures might be content with the fawning praise and attention of their followers, but many would take the opportunity to encourage action in the material world, safe in the assumption that any consequences likely won't apply to them.

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    $\begingroup$ To what degree is this the "internet"? Are the channels organized in some fashion? How quickly can the information be processed? Do you simply know a piece of information as if you've always known it, or do you have to absorb it at a speaking rate? Is this like a giant party line? Is there a means of communicating with a specific person? Can someone refuse a psychic phone call? Can someone listen in on a psychic phone call undetected? $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jul 30 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ When you're conveying information, can you dump your gestalt understanding of the information into someone else's mind, or do you have to organize your thoughts into effectively written form first? Basically, what technologies this would replace and what changes it would make are dependent on having a lot more details about how it functions. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jul 30 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ A few additional questions that spring instantly to mind - is your identity concealable in this psychic internet, or is internet anonymity impossible? Can someone psychically "shouting" in a given channel drown out all other conversations? Do all participants in a conversation have to be conscious when it takes place, or does a history persist that a person can "log on" and pick up later? $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jul 30 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ @jdunlop just made some additions based on your feedback :) $\endgroup$
    – Tyler_BB
    Jul 30 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ Helpful, but still insufficient. Do conversations in these mind spaces take as long as if the participants were talking in real life? Is it possible to inform someone that you wish their presence in a mind space when they are not currently "tuned in"? Is it possible for individuals to block those notifications? (If yes and no to the last two questions, respectively, then a DDOS attack might well cause insanity.) $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jul 30 at 18:04
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This is a huge topic. I don't have the time (or perhaps even the imagination) to make my answer as comprehensive as I'd like, but here are a handful of points.

Continued illiteracy

You say that "speaking or conjuring a written message is trivial". Given that most medieval people couldn't read in the first place, most would probably opt for speaking. In fact, levels of literacy might even decline in this world. Why learn how to write a letter when you can "visit" far-off people directly? Why learn how to read a religious pamphlet when you can easily hear that preacher's sermon for yourself? Foundational religious texts would persist, as would written legal contracts, but they would be left to specialists.

An oral culture is the default state of humankind. Writing is a mere invention.

Religious implications

The sudden emergence of a "psychic internet" in a medieval setting would probably be interpreted as a gift from God/the gods...at least by the people who didn't think it came from the Devil/demons instead. It would be interpreted as the soul temporarily leaving or stretching beyond the body, or as a kind of shared dream. (The two interpretations are not mutually exclusive.) Some might even see it a a foretaste of the afterlife, or as being granted a shadow of the Creator's divine power. And I'm sure a handful of fraudsters would go around the mindscape posing as gods themselves. The result: a marked rise in both religious fervor and religious heresies. Things might settle down after a while, but the early years would be very chaotic.

Reactions to non-psychics

Just as a small fraction of people are deaf, blind, etc., I'd expect that some people would be "psychically handicapped", and therefore unable to participate in this brave new world. These people might be seen as cursed, punished by God/the gods, or "soulless". Expect everyone else to view them with suspicion, at best.

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  • $\begingroup$ In oral tradition (or -culture), the storyteller could could look his attendants into the eye, and the listener can be sure the storyteller is indeed that person and a reliable source. The opening states, it takes psychic abilities, to catch false avatars. Regarding religion, you forgot to mention, the medieval church would have been able to hire psychics to deceive the storyteller and locate all heretics in weeks.. and burn them immediately.. People unable to participate could become the only really free people, rather than doomed, as you suggest. I think your answer is too optimistic.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jul 31 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies How is the church going to physically locate the bodies of these heretics, who they have seen only in the mindspace? Particularly in an era before birth certificates or government-issued photo IDs? Further, the church (assuming medieval Christianity or its fantasy-equivalent) is not all-powerful; it has to deal with a wide array of civil governments that have their own concerns and purposes, and which may see political benefits from a religious schism. (It's not like the Protestant Reformation was driven solely by theological concerns...ask Henry VIII, for starters.) $\endgroup$
    – MJ713
    Aug 4 at 16:08
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Your world will be nothing like ours.

If everybody has a free account on this magic version of Second Life, with infinite money and perfect knowledge of the design tools to boot (since it's all up to imagination), then humanity may have less interest in changing the real world around it. For example, instead of building huge temples such as Angkor Wat or Saint Peter's Basilica, just have priests conjure up mental temples that will bring in much more awe and people than a physical temple could. And instead of building pyramids as we know them, priesthood could conjure up mental images more like the pyramid in the dollar bill - now THAT would be something to see.

The main impact is that villages and cities in the real world would be much more minimalistic. People would build for their bare necessities, so you would still have farms, silos, dikes etc. But housing might be much spartan - what is the point of a living room, if you can socialize with everyone you know while lying on a small bed in the dark? For much the same reason, forums and agoras would not exist in the real world.

Courthouses would also be fully virtual. Prisons would be pointless (unless you have the means to purposefully disconnect someone), so punishments for criminals would be more like forced starvation (tie them to their bed and don't let them eat) or outright death penalty.

School would only be in person for things which require physicality - crafting stuff, or medicine. Otherwise everyone would learn online.

The economy would also be just for essentials. No point in slaughtering thousands of sea snails for a dye if no one will see you wearing a purple toga; the rich - if class divisions would still be a thing - would have no way of showing it off with what they wear. The only way to tell if someone is rich or not might be checking the size of their bellies outside the virtual world.


The world might be more pacified as well. The diminished desire for wealth would reduce the amount of wars. The fact that you can relay perfect information in real time would also mean that war would be much harder; when you attack someone, they can coordinate their defenses much better, and summon allies from afar. This does not mean that war wouldn't be a thing, but it should be less common.


Finally, if privacy is perfect, then morality and religion would be different too. You can't punish people for loving whomever they love if you can't ever catch them in the act. If people are able to fornicate in this special internet, then religions might not care (or at least care less) about sexuality.

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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting POV. Do you believe that virtual reality can replace the material world and be equally satisfactory? I wonder if owning a virtual purple toga can bring the same satisfaction as owning the real thing. I am not trying to dispute your answer, I am really interested in your thoughts on the subject. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jul 30 at 19:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Otkin there is a whole school of thought around the concept of "the economy of bits" or "the economy of abundance that will come after the economy of scarcity". A lot of sci-fi has been written with this in mind; Michael Godhe, a researcher on such topics, wrote a paper speaking of such works and how this might come to be in the real world. $\endgroup$ Jul 30 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ Most post-scarcity worlds achieve abundance in the real world, though. And it is slightly different from my question. I wonder if virtual can replace material. Can virtual sex replace real? Can a virtual mansion compare to a real one? We are living in a world where virtual things start to replace real ones: Internet relationships, for example, replace face-to-face relationships. But at the same time, there is a worrying trend of increase in unhappiness, low life satisfaction, mental problems (depression, anxiety, and similar). Is virtual a true substitute for material? Or it's just an illusion $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jul 30 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ Wealth would mean not having to go and tend your farm and being able to spend all your time on the psychic internet. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jul 30 at 20:22
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    $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw Fair point. I also think that whatever we imagine now may turn to be far from reality. I asked you because I grew up in a world without the Internet, personal computers, and alike. So, while I am fascinated with the picture of the world you've painted I find it to be very surreal. However, I am not sure whether it is my upbringing and biases, failure of imagination, or lack of education. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Jul 31 at 6:55
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  1. Techlogical revolution

A real setback to technological development is the lack of ability to share discoveries and build upon what others around the world have done. If gunpowder is invented on one side of the world, it may take hundreds of years in our world for it to spread. But with this psychic Internet it might take only a few decades for the entire world to have gunpowder and guns.

  1. More homogeneous culture

A major barrier to cultural diffusion is distance, land barriers, and language barriers. The psychic Internet eliminates all 3. Expect a lot of similar cultures worldwide.

  1. More and less art

Why would you settle for making something as mundane as a painting when you could create an entire world? Expect there to be a lot more psychic art, and a lot less physical art.

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  • $\begingroup$ On point #2, I'm not sure that the language barrier has been removed. $\endgroup$
    – MJ713
    Jul 30 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ I do imagine that a lingua franca would definitely be more universal, though. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jul 30 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ @MJ713 yes it has . You can make your own psychic worlds just literally make pictures and 3d movies of what you want to communicate. $\endgroup$ Jul 30 at 20:44
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure That is undoubtedly helpful, but it is not quite the same thing as language. For instance, imagine us trying to have the discussion that we're having right now, using only 3D movies. $\endgroup$
    – MJ713
    Jul 30 at 20:50
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Identity checks

Opening: "Within such a space a person appears as they imagine themselves, unless they or another within the space makes a conscious effort to conceal one or more participants' identities. Imagining a false or artificial psychic avatar is also possible, but a savvy psychic can spot someone assuming a false identity. "

Rat race of psychic abilities The consequence of above aspect of your psychic internet may be a society where you have a rat race of psychic abilities being played out in your psychic internet realm. For instance, highly talented psychics may be able to conceil their identity, so that lesser talented psychics would not be able to see though their false avatar.

Savvy psychic elite The people having superiour psychic abilities could end up forming an elite or "thought police" censoring the realm. Best case, they would become honest, objective moderators, a benevolent and enlightened elite.. worst case, psychics would be able to brainwash parts of the population and become dictators.

I'd leave out these savvy psychics altogether. Their presence would limit your plot to superman-like stories with psychic superpower people fighting wars. To eliminate the need for them, the psychic internet should either be made anonymous for everyone, or.. make it impossible for anyone, to use a false avatar and hide identity. Of course, either option will yield a completely different internet realm:

Option 1: anonimity for everyone, always there are no psychic login checks, or psychic people checking users. If communication in the psychic realm would be completely stateless, that is identity is never revealed or maintained, you would not need "psychics", to reveal false identities. There are no identities. The only way a personal submit in the psychic internet can be done is: voluntarily sign it. But no one can check if that is a real name. This would limit the use of the psychic internet to culture and arts. For professional communications, the good old electronic version will do better.

Option 2: make it impossible for anyone to use false avatars Suppose "imagining your self" to get into the psychic internet cannot not be faked at all. Before entering the realm, a unique psychic fingerprint is checked by the realm itself, with 100% accuracy. In that case, there would be no avatars, only real names. This could end up in a Brave New World: deviant opinions could get censored immediately identifying and killing the people who have them.. or people could be disabled from using the psychic internet, by lobotomy, or other means.

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  • $\begingroup$ Some good points, but I believe "the good old electronic version" doesn't exist in this universe - the setting is pre-industrial. $\endgroup$
    – IMSoP
    Aug 1 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ It was meant as a comparison, I had no intent to add an option. My answer is just focusing on only one aspect of the idea: what to do with identity and identity checks ? The electronic internet is good at that.. and performs things automatically. The question scenario is about "psychic" moderators of some kind, I see some trouble with that. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 2 at 12:42

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