It is claimed by some that the movie The Men Who Stare at Goats is based in fact. Supposedly the US military funded an experiment that lasted for twenty years and included testing the idea that you could kill an animal or human at a distance by psychic power alone.

What would the world be like now if the experiment had been successful, i.e. soldiers had really discovered how to kill the enemy just by psychically staring at them?

Please assume the following:

  1. The experiments threw up a few people who genuinely were able to stop someone's heart just by staring at them.
  2. This knowledge escaped into the public realm.
  3. Such men (they were all men in the experiment) became in demand as partners and/or as sperm donors.

  4. Through artificial insemination, the ability is spreading throughout the world. Especially worrying are the attempts of some dictators to breed whole armies of such warriors.

ADDED RULES in response to comments:

  1. It is only possible to kill one person at a time. You must stare at where their heart should be. Anatomy lessons are necessary. It takes a lot of mental effort so the killing rate is slow. Perhaps one person per half-hour. Clarification: The actual killing takes about five minutes and the recovery period is another 25 minutes. Small animals take less time, larger animals take longer. A mouse could be killed in about 30 seconds with a proportional recovery period. An elephant might take the whole half hour or more and the assassin might have to give up through tiredness. It depends on the size of the heart. Multiple people could combine their psychic power to kill a larger foe or a normal one quicker.

  2. Although some children are born with the talent, it takes at least a year of education to develop it. Children aren't automatically aware of their ability.

  3. Clarification: Direct line of sight of the person (or their heart) is necessary. No viewing purely through TV or through walls. It works through clothing and armour or even solid rock but the attacker must be able to accurately guesstimate the position and distance of the heart. You can't randomly 'fire' and hit someone - there must be at least some visibility of their actual form for the whole 5 minutes. It doesn't work on robots that look like people..

(a) How would this affect warfare?

(b) How would it affect the detection of crime? (Would there be any detectable psychic signature for example)

(c) How would it affect the meat industry and pest-control industry as far as commerce and ethics are concerned?

(d) Men and women can both have the ability. Would they tend to use it in different ways? (preferably-science based on actual crime statistics of men and women using different weapons)

(d) What other implications are there that I haven't thought of?


My question is different from the similar one that has been indicated.

  1. I am interested in the spread of the ability. It isn't universal. The other question assumes a sudden magical event whereby everyone has this ability. I want to know how people will inherit it and which people. What will be the interim effects.

  2. The other question insists that you must know and be able to identify your target. In my question those with the talent can kill people they don't know.

  3. Implied in the other question is the ability to kill people even if you cannot see them - you simply have to wish them dead. In my scenario you must have the person clearly in your vision in order to kill them.

  4. The other question assumes that the killer cannot be identified. I want to explore how crime-fighters might be able to identify the perpetrator.

  5. The other question assumes that everyone including children can do it immediately. I assume that it is a difficult skill to learn, even if you have the ability, and takes at least a year of education and practice to develop the skill.


I'm planning to put a sizable bounty on this question. I'll do it when all the bugs have been ironed out. Please feel free to give comments in the meantime to clarify the rules. When I do award the bounty I'll make sure all the rules and all parts of the question are clear in my question. If you want to give answers now, please feel free. You can always add another answer later or edit your answer. I'll give the rules for awarding the bounty later when I've decided how best to do it. (I haven't given one before.)

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    $\begingroup$ "works through clothing and armour or even solid rock" | "must be able to accurately guesstimate the position and distance" | "must be at least some visibility of their actual form for the whole 5 minutes" - would the clearer way of stating this restriction be that your eye needs direct contact with the targets overall form, but goes through anything he is wearing? If the target is wearing a round curtain-like dress that doesn't actually touch him (so not revealing his form) and hides everything below his neck - you could not kill him? $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2015 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ Which is the same as if he were behind a massive wall and all you could see is his head? $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2015 at 22:41
  • $\begingroup$ IF the ability is determined by line of sight and a clear vision of the target, then political events will become a combination of magic shows (using mirrors to hide or reveal the political figures) and rock concerts (flashing strobes or lasers to distract people and prevent them from having an uninterrupted view of the target. Stage smoke will also become a big thing). While political rallied might become more "fun", actually being able to reach and interact with politicians will be even less possible than today, hardly a good state of affairs. $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Jul 28, 2015 at 0:19
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, so how much does the act of seeing actually matter? If I knew that the target was 2 feet in front of me, and I could reach out and touch them to determine about where the heart would be, but was blindfolded and couldn't see them, would it still work? What about someone without binocular vision? If I don't have depth perception because one eye is covered, can it still work? $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Jul 28, 2015 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Vincent
    Aug 5, 2015 at 3:10

3 Answers 3


Edit: In light of the new rule saying it's a 5 minute (average) kill with a 25 minute cool-down, there are changes.

I think warfare would be largely unchanged. This is mostly because this method is so slow. It's mostly impractical for combat because getting the enemy to stand still for half an hour, within visual range, is not dependable. Especially when if you could see them, and had a sniper rifle, then the target and several other targets of opportunity that were standing near by would be dead.

Edit: A 5 minute kill makes this slightly more practical, but still a lot less practical than conventional weapons. A sniper that took 25 minutes to reload would be in a lot of trouble. The one place this would be more useful than a rifle is that there is no maximum range specified, so if you can see someone 5 miles away through a scope, you would be able to kill them, which is far outside a snipers range even in perfect conditions.

What's it good for?
The biggest thing it could be used for is political assassination, when you want to get into an area without having to carry a weapon, and take out a target without anyone knowing who did it. The problem again is the length of time it takes to make it happen.
Political speeches would either be shorter, would have breaks every 20 minutes to break the sight lock, or would be delivered via video.
Secret service agents would be scanning the crowd for anyone that was staring to intently, and there would most likely be physical facial cues that they could look for.
Also, if, like a heart attack, there are any side effects that happen while the attacker is convincing the targets heart to fail, they could duck out of sight. Maybe an emergency trap door that they could trigger to drop themselves into a windowless safe vault.

Edit: A 5 minute kill means most political speeches would probably be televised only, especially for top officials. Someone running for local county commissioner probably wouldn't need to worry, but security around the president, congress, and high judges would be very high.
At some point it would become a security theater nightmare.
In countries with more paranoia than morals, blind servants would be in high demand, possibly to the point of enforced conscription.

There would be huge amounts of funding on psychic detection devices, and things like fMRI would probably be advanced quickly. Any high security location (airports, government buildings, etc) would have screening in place to detect people with the ability to do this.

Detective work
So an autopsy would show pretty quick that the heart was healthy, and just stopped because of psychic attack, and then it's just basic police work. See who has a motive, who was near by when it happened, etc.
Not to much different from someone committing murder with a pistol and then disposing of the gun.
You wouldn't have GSR to detect, but you could test people for the ability using fMRI to see what areas of the brain are active.

This has probably the biggest impact on the building and decorating trade. Mirrored windows and blinds would be in high demand. Windows without external line of sight, privacy fences and secluding landscaping...

Creative surgery
If the heart is moved to another part of the chest, then it would be much harder for an attacker to target it. It wouldn't even need to be moved very far. This would be very dangerous, and only used by the most paranoid of individuals.

Depending on how the attack functions, something like a pace maker or internal defibrillator might be able to restart the heart or keep the heart going despite the attackers best efforts.

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    $\begingroup$ "Maybe an emergency trap door that they could trigger to drop themselves into a windowless safe vault." - No, sudden movements like that are a bad idea if your heart is already in a weakened state. More likely you'd (read: your body guards would) throw up an opaque barrier or something like that. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin
    Jul 27, 2015 at 18:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Kevin Good point. Though it wouldn't have to be a fast trap door. It could just be a lift that drops you down 8 feet over the course of 10 seconds. If you detect the attack at a point where 10 extra seconds is enough to kill you, it's probably to late anyway. If that 10 seconds is a problem, then you could also trigger high intensity lights as soon as the lift starts descending, to dazzle the attacker and cause them to look away. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Jul 27, 2015 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ A very interesting answer, thanks. I wasn't clear about the half hour so I've amended the question to make it clearer. Apologies. Please feel free to answer again or edit. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2015 at 22:03
  • $\begingroup$ Merely throwing up a barrier will not work, based on the second clarification. The target has to MOVE, or otherwise the starer will guess that the target is still seated behind the barrier and kill them anyways. "It works through clothing and armour or even solid rock but the attacker must be able to accurately guesstimate the position and distance of the heart." $\endgroup$
    – Ayelis
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Ayelis I guess I would have figured it would be SOP for the secret service and other security forces. $\endgroup$
    – AndyD273
    Jul 28, 2015 at 16:24

Can I first say, what a collosal failure of the government that failed to contain this weapon and let it become widespread.

Hopefully the governments are tracking their own psychics, but it sounds like it might have become too big to effectively control.


This has significant impacts on warfare. Anyone (Terrorists, foreigns countries, internal dissidents, bored psychopaths) in control of a single psychic power could decimate your political leaders and military forces from the top down, leaving them in chaos.

Public figures would need to be figureheads only, the real power brokers would need to work in secrecy. Intelligence would become paramount, and your army would need to be able to work effective independantly and in small cells, receiving instructions electronically. Your psychics, too, would need to be kept hidden.

When you need large groups working together, everyone would need to be masked - this might not save individuals from a "sniper" in their vicinity, but it would prevent images being distributed for future attacks.

Meat industry At one kill per half hour, this power is not efficient enough to impact the meat industry. Unless you can kill way more animals than people. In this case, the ability would need to be pretty common in the population to bother using it this way, and not for something more valuable like warfare.

Psychic tests Put a rabid animal in an enclosed space with a suspected psychic and see what happens. If they didn't survive, they probably weren't psychic.

Crime Autopsies would be able to tell whether someone was killed by a psychic attack (it definitely wouldn't be confused with a heart attack). So at that point your police forces would try to identify who you knew that was a psychic and why they might want you dead - and look for common links. Proving it beyond a reasonably doubt would be even more difficult.

For crime prevention/detection, surely all known psychic could be given some kind of monitoring device that can monitor psychic surges.

Gender It's up to you whether both Male and Females have this ability, and how it might work differently. As for Gender and crime, Men are way more likely than women to be involved in mass shootings, so they might be more inclined to use the power just for random chaos.

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    $\begingroup$ Upon further reflection, mass shooting stats may not be relevant - because those perpetrators must be partially motivated by notoriety, whereas this power is most destructive used in anonymity. So maybe see if you can find some serial killer gender stats instead. $\endgroup$
    – Kristy
    Jul 27, 2015 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this very useful answer. Unfortunately I wasn't clear about the details of the half hour so I've amended the question 'rules'. Apologies. Please leave feel free to answer again or edit this answer. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2015 at 22:04

I am going to mostly focus my answer for...

(a) How would this affect warfare?

Because the other questions can be decided by what you'd like to achieve with the ability, and would be primarily opinionated answers.

How would this affect warfare?

There are two primary restrictions on this ability.

  • You must have the person clearly in your vision in order to kill them.
  • It takes a lot of mental effort so the killing rate is slow. Perhaps one person per half-hour.

The fact that it takes so long to kill somebody means that the ability cannot be used defensively. If an attacker approaches you on the street you do not have 30 minutes to stare at their heart. An army of people armed with this ability along with guns does not have an advantage against an army of people with just guns. If you can see them, you could shoot them. The exception is with assassination situations where you could not get a gun close enough.

Assassinations: At first, this ability might succeed in killing off important persons at events. Depending on exactly what the vision restriction is will determine what will happen next though.

  1. Ability can be used through anything - as long as you know exactly where the heart is.

    • This makes assassinations hardest to protect against. By coordination with an assassin and others, the assassin could be completely outside the building. The others coordinate where the target is and where the heart is, and use a laser pointer on the building for the assassin so he knows where to focus.
    • Possible defense strategy is to restrict physical visibility to the public and potentially even to your own organization so you are only visible for 15 minute intervals and never more than that - assuming the ability can't add up over periods of time.
  2. Ability requires visibility because it can't go through certain materials

    • Defense strategy - create shirt out of materials the ability can't go through. This makes any protected person immune to the ability. Depending on cost of material(s), general public may also wear it daily. Regardless, the ability couldn't be used for "warfare" anymore.
  3. Ability requires visibility because it can't penetrate through thick objects.

    • Defense strategy - the same as number 1, but alternatively or in addition, depending on how thick of material the ability can be used through, the public may also have to get used to seeing their (least) favorite politicians in thick, probably heavy, upper-body wear.
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    $\begingroup$ The 30 minutes per person don't have to mean that you have to stare for 30 minutes, it could also mean that you have a recovery period of 29 minutes after each kill (which might take one minute by itself). $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2015 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that was my original intention. However I'm very interested in what people have said about what would happen if it took a long time. I'll edit my question to be clearer. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2015 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ @DoubleDouble - I like the point about vision restrictions. That hadn't occurred to me. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2015 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ I've clarified the half hour. Thanks anyway because the answer is very interesting. $\endgroup$ Jul 27, 2015 at 21:03

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