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I am creating a race (either near-alien or a human sub-species) in a science fiction setting that have an unfortunate "tell." While they can stay silent in non-social (stealth-requiring) situations, they are unable to stop themselves in social situations from constantly saying exactly what they are thinking. They will even do this when they are alone with themselves and don't think they are in danger or anyone else is around. If using sign language, they mutter with their fingers.

This makes it difficult but not impossible to lie or even avoid telegraphing intentions. It's even difficult for captured individuals to keep secrets from interrogators. They aren't as a rule nice, and aren't making much effort to get along with others.

This is NOT created to be a weakness, but somehow is either an advantage or side-effect of their genetic engineering. The engineers were not concerned about their creations rebelling, but were actively creating the race as their replacements.

What is the justification for my muttering super-soldiers? Best answers will explain how this behavior is actually an advantage.

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    $\begingroup$ I upvote because I could be a super soldier since people thought I am muttering but actually I am trying to generate ultrasound to navigate downtowns ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jan 20 at 2:36
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    $\begingroup$ This question rests on a faulty premise... that our thoughts are actually conducted in our brains in our birth language. They aren't. Even if I'm wrong about that (I'm not), all they have to do is daydream, and their "spoken out loud thoughts" will have absolutely nothing to do with whatever it is they're about to physically attempt. You got that right, 8 yr old schoolboys have mastered the skill of avoiding telegraphing this stuff, so too can they. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Jan 20 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ "Do you hear the voices too?" $\endgroup$
    – EvilSnack
    Jan 20 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ They can't stop griping about not being trusted not to sell their equipment. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ This is a great question since it also covers "Why do minions talk about their secret plans all the time (while the hero is secretly listening in)?" $\endgroup$
    – Anketam
    Jan 21 at 15:15

20 Answers 20

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A neurological change to inhibitory networks

The human nervous system has inhibitory networks to suppress actions. Think of the times you almost want to do something, but then decide against it. That's your nervous system's inhibition at work.

But for super soldiers, you may not want so much inhibition. You may want rapid reaction, bursts of physical movement without so much thought. A secondary effect could be that they just can't pause to think before talking.

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    $\begingroup$ I think this is essentially similar to Tourette's syndrome $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ If you've watched a dog having a dream, you can see the effect of reduced inhibition as their legs twitch according to what they are doing in the dream. $\endgroup$
    – dbmag9
    Jan 20 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ stay clear 5 feet from super soldier, a very very danger zone $\endgroup$ Jan 21 at 10:55
  • $\begingroup$ I really like the image of the killer with impulse control issues... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jan 25 at 15:21
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The engineers were not concerned about their creations rebelling

Hmm

... engineers ... their creations ...

These soldiers are clearly machines, even if not electronic in anyway. Let's say biological machines.

As a software developer, I make the software I write constantly output its most important processing attempts and results into log files and tracers so that if something goes wrong, I can see what happened more quickly.

Your soldiers' muttering is kinda like that... if a soldier develops paranoia, schizophrenia or PTSD, you don't have to wait until they do something uber crazy or go to the doctor. You catch it in the act simply by listening to them and then you can do something before you have a huge problem.

Or, if the damage is already done, at least they will quickly and easily tell you why, so that you can do damage control and lessons learned.

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    $\begingroup$ Someone put the debug code in and now no one knows where it is. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 2:59
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    $\begingroup$ "hello, military psychotherapy support? have you tried turning your brain off and back on again?" $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 13:27
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    $\begingroup$ @FranzGleichmann Oh yes, sleep: the best coping mechanism. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 14:16
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThymetheSecond damn those "echo"/"printf" scattered all around the code $\endgroup$
    – Josh Part
    Jan 20 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ @JoshPart Let's hope it isn't org.apache.logging.log4j.Logger.log() instead, and no firmware upgrades possible. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 16:33
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It's to support their logging mechanism.

Super-soldiers have a dangerous job and often get killed while doing it, at which point any valuable information they were carrying at the time of their death is likely lost. To combat this, each super-soldier is fitted with a "black box" that records their location, vital signs, etc, and can often be recovered and decrypted later to find out exactly what happened to them and why. However, the box doesn't have telepathic capability, so in order to keep a record of what they were thinking, the soldiers are trained to sub-vocalize so that their black box can keep a record of their thoughts and intentions for posterity.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 This is a good idea even if DWKraus doesn't use it in his story. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 19:43
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    $\begingroup$ I have to give credit, this is one of the most novel and yet common-sense answers here. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jan 21 at 15:19
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I have a quite alternative suggestion. It's not them, it's you.

Basically, everyone hearing them is a (passive) telepath. There might be some etiquette on shielding one's thoughts in their community, but the invasion soldiers are obviously not aware of it.

It might also help being super soldiers (basically, they also hear each other), as they can coordinate with each other much better.

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    $\begingroup$ One step further: as you say, everyone is a passive telepath, but no one can 'emit' it. But these super soldiers have been engineered to be able to exactly that. So that's how we hear them. Additionally, the telepathy has short range, so most people mistake it as muttering as the act of emitting telepathically still uses one's mouth (or hands for sign language). $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 11:45
  • $\begingroup$ @AhmedTawfik Short range telepathy, transmitted using the mouth or hands… isn't that just speech? $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Jan 20 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 No because the vocal cords are not involved, but the receiver still 'hears' them. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ indeed, most species might be passive telepaths and not know about it until the soldiers are created. whenever telepathic abilities evolved, everything else in the same ecosystem would almost immediately (realtively speaking) have to evolve to shield its mind automatically, and if the laws of physics allow telepathy to be easy then many species could be latent natural telepaths and not know it because they and everything else still surviving on their planet are shielded. being created artificially by a species unaware of this, the soldiers are unprotected $\endgroup$
    – Silver
    Jan 21 at 4:54
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    $\begingroup$ I dislike the trend of sci-fi authors accepting telepathy as though it's not as fantastical as wizards casting fireballs. If anything, detecting and correctly deciphering the extremely weak emissions from a brain (and one at least partially alien to you in this scenario!) is more fantastical than many fantasy magic tropes. $\endgroup$
    – Harabeck
    Jan 21 at 15:29
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PTSD

the genetic modifications are making childhood and youth extremely stressful - even when compared to regular growing up - in a way that is hard to detect:

  • since for the modified soldiers this is normal, they don't know anything is wrong
  • since the modifications are quite radical in many ways, there are no baseline readings for a mentally "healthy" super soldier.

so now it's an open question in your world whether your new, modified race can cope with this ("neutral ending"), finds a cure for this ("good ending"), or even develops further unexpected complications down the road, when it's too late to fix any of it ("bad ending")

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    $\begingroup$ Add decades of chronic ADHD, insomnia, panic attacks, the inability to hold down a job, and they will be psychotic for 15 out of the 16 waking hours a day. They can go a few sane days at most, but on the bad ones they don't even get that hour of clarity. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jan 21 at 3:09
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    $\begingroup$ well, since they're "super soldiers" by design, at least the job-thing won't be a problem ;) $\endgroup$ Jan 21 at 15:11
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Honor Amongst Thieves:

The race is centered in conflict, so the only way they can manage to function as a society is to make sure they all know what the others are thinking. You know Ted is an obnoxious jerk who'll rape you if he is alone with you, but he'll die for you in a fight. Keep him by your side and don't be alone with him. You're in the same fire team as your wife, but she already knows you're cheating on her and she has low expectations. Johan killed his last CO and we don't want him on our fire team - maybe another unit is desperate enough to take him. And we all know the captain is a glory-hound, but as long as you know what's expected, so what?

Feedback Loop:

Your soldiers have a compartmentalized brain with distinct but cooperative personalities. They may even be located in multiple parts of the body. Because they operate independently, they don't always share the same thoughts. Each one can take over the body in the event of a traumatic brain injury, but the constant muttering is an externalized way that the primary persona communicates it's intentions to the others. All personas are kept up to date on what the collective is doing. so the disruption from injury is minimized.

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They choose to be honest - in accordance with their design

Your super-soldiers have their own innate morality. In the same way we are repulsed by incest, and squeamish about moving corpses, they don't want to conceal what they are thinking. They are pragmatic enough to understand the purpose of stealth missions and sneaking, but setting that moral complication aside, they have a strong aversion to any kind of dissimulation or misrepresentation. In fact, they insist on telegraphing their thinking, lest anyone accidentally misunderstand them.

Because of this, they regularly mumble what they are thinking under their breath (but it's your fault if you weren't paying attention!), as well as answering (practically) any question with unnerving honesty and directness, even if it is personally disadvantageous. They also ask exceptionally direct questions, and are annoyed at vague, indirect responses. (You can't offend them by telling them exactly what you think, either.)

It's an inborn tendency, engineered on purpose, and reinforced in their training. Better to know if and when they're preparing to rise up and take over (even if that was the goal of the designers in the first place). Better that they will someday create their own "perfect" society, without secrets, without dissembling. At least, their designers thought so.

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Your super soldiers are in debug mode!

Yup, even biological machines need to be debugged (as opposed to deloused, which is an entirely different problem). Debug mode was turned on by default, because these super soldiers are in an extended beta testing phase. Sure that might include all-out war and world domination, but pragmatism still rules.

Engineers are deployed along with tactical units. The constant muttering provides a stream of debug info. This allows the engineers to begin troubleshooting a problem immediately. Non-technical people nearby are likely to report a problem to the authorities. Nobody wants these things to develop of mind of their own!

This is meant to be transient information. If the super soldier were to be killed or incapacitated, you do not want the enemy to download a bunch of state secrets. It would be desirable for this information to be inaccessible after it has been transmitted verbally for security reasons.

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Conditioning

If they are super soldiers, I presume they have been trained and conditioned to always repeat orders. "Advance to map plot E4, yessir!". In the absence of a command hierarchy maybe they will only trust their opinions if they assume they were given as a command? Some soldier-training-OCD compelling them to voice their thoughts as if reporting back to an officer.

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They are mentally conditioned to vocalise as a necessary precursor to actualisation

This component of their training to prepare them for combat has the side effect of making them appear to be honest. It can also make them more intimidating, because when they say something like "Would you like an explosive suppository?" you know they are already in the process of making a bomb up your butt a reality. For soldiers, this fear can sometimes be useful

The conditioning has an odd effect when they are trying to stealthy, as they would basically attempt to speak silence. What that means is an observer watching them sneak about would watch them mouth "I am being very quiet" without the vocalisation required for anyone to hear the words.

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  • $\begingroup$ I do love the image of the soldiers telling themselves they are quiet - quietly. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jan 21 at 15:25
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Social hivemind

They were originally engineered to operate within networks consisting of both engineers and their siblings. Once other entities are detected (optionally only while either are working on the same problem) they enter this social hivemind state, in which all their actions and inner processes that are relevant to the task at hand are 'exposed' verbally.

Since working in close proximity of several of these creatures used to be the norm, the volume with which they disclose this information is quite low.
Additionally, they found a way (through engineering or through internal optimization processes) to communicate only the most pertinent information in as few words as colloquially possible to make themselves understood.

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    $\begingroup$ This and they can carry on conversations where everyone is talking at once. They don't have to take turns between talking and listening. We can listen to one or maybe two soldiers at a time but we can't process all the information that's being transmitted in real time. $\endgroup$ Jan 20 at 15:28
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I will split this into two parts:

Why is only happens outside of mission:

While on the mission, the level of adrenalin is increased, adrenaline is able to bond with the AD1 and AD2 receptors in the brain, which normally facilitate the thought to mouth (thought to hand) transition (these are engineered receptors). Therefore as your adrenaline level increases, the thought to mouth process decreases, if adrenaline level gets above a certain threshold, all AD1 and AD2 receptors are filled and no communication occurs.

Why were the soldiers equipped with AD1 and AD2 receptors

  1. Tactical reason: soldiers' senses while increased are still singular. By constantly muttering the observations, other soldier, are able to in essence use the senses of all other soldier to be kept abreast of the environment. If one notices something, they are all immediately informed of it.
  2. Mental health status: The modifications done to the soldiers, are extensive and not always stable. By monitoring the muttering, the operator is able to analyze the mental state of the super-soldier. If the mental state changes, the muttering pattern tends to change and operator is then equipped to evaluate what to do.
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They're sharing what they learned on the battlefield with their peers. The chatter is after-action review and includes speculation about what would have worked better and what courses of action would have made the situation worse. The habit is so ingrained that they do it even when there are no peers around.

It operates much in the same way as the mammalian function of dreaming. Experiences are tossed together in a kind of fruit salad and served up during sleep.

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Building on The Square-Cube Law's idea of debug routines that were not removed.

Let's throw in the Law of Unintended Consequences.

It seems to me that the "BIOS" coding would be encoded, not in software, but in the hardware. It would be incorporated right into the genetic code of the bioengineering. That way, it could not be modified by any hack or virus program. It would be the closest to 'permanent code' as one could get, equivalent to pure hard-wired ROM chips. Once factory encoded, they would be impossible to change. It would be the ultimate fail-safe against rogue AI (r)evolution. Like Asimov's 'Three laws' being unalterable.

So the original genetic engineers put debug logging code right into the original gene coding of the prototypes. That way, the self-modifying AI learning algorithms could not change it. he machine itself could never turn off, bypass, disable, or circumvent the debug routines. It was hard wired coding, as it were.

But someone, somewhere, double-purposed the same genes to control a vital function, like power control and power production. Eliminating, turning off, or otherwise deleting or nullifying the debug logging functionality of these genes also causes the shutdown of all power functionality, for the ultimate 'kill switch'. Since it is at the most basic input output system, there is no workaround.

The unintended consequence is that when the engineers try to turn off the debug routines, the entire 'machine' shuts down. The ultimate 'OOOoops factor'.

Short of starting all over at the basic level, building up the entire genetic code of the bioengineered construct, the engineers are stuck with the babbling.

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Super soldiers are dangerous. They can be more dangerous to you than the enemy so need audio logs built into them.

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Social Adaptation/Conditioning

Each soldier goes through individual experiences each day. Reviewing those experiences and making conclusions about them is socialized to the group as a way of getting feedback and establishing/maintaining group norms. Think of this as a primitive form of Facebook or Twitter. Group think on the low-tech.

The advantage of this is that every soldier is kept in the fold and group-think is exposed and can be steered in the desired direction by executive control. This makes soldier group-action steerable and predictable. Always important when they have the toys that go boom.

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Your super soldiers were designed by a committee. Who came up with this specification during a session when dangerously sedative, sleepy and soporific PowerPoint presentations were being made.

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  • $\begingroup$ I can see that this is happening. It will be very much Douglas Adams. $\endgroup$ Jan 22 at 16:31
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Why wouldn't they talk about exactly what's on their mind?

Regular people hide their thoughts/feelings (or "modify" them - ie. lie) as a self-defense mechanism due to their insecurity and fear how other people would react if they do not present them in best possible light.

Your super-soldiers have no need for such pathetic behaviour, as they don't have any insecurities, due to their design. So they say what they mean all the time, and without any fear of repercussions. They're super human after all.

Do you take care to hide your thoughts from the butterfly you pass? Neither do they feel they need to hide their thought from puny humans.

So they have no need to hide their thoughts, nor to lie.

And you think they mumble because they speak very softly - again because they don't need to speak loudly (much like big dog can emit the lowest of growls and small dogs will scatter with their tails between their legs).

As to the why would they speak their mind for everyone to hear -- man, have you ever visited any internet discussion forum? It's in the regular human nature too, it is just that most of us regular humans (trolls excluded) often think it better to shut off our mouths because of our insecurities about the possible consequences (and those superhumans do not, as they don't have any insecurities, of course)

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An answer could be that they were trained to give a running narrative of what is happening around them, including their thoughts or observations.

For example, in a combat situation they would be constantly reporting their movements and actions back to a central command station, such as telling their commander where they were and what they were seeing or doing, or they would be recording a log of the battle on some kind of recording device built into their armor that could be used to put together a report of the battle after it was over.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is your answer distinct from the one given above by Jeremy Friesner? It's similar, so you might want to differentiate it from his. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jan 22 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ It's distinct because I'm suggesting that they are giving a live commentary to a commanding officer who is using this information to direct their actions during battle. It's a form of feedback in addition to things like biometric sensors on their armor or a helmet camera. Like that scene from Aliens where the colonial marines are describing the construct that the xenomorphs have build under the reactor. $\endgroup$ Jan 22 at 19:22
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Super-soldiers were built in order to be self-sufficient which means they must be able to quickly and effectively heal both physically and mentally. Their genetic code base was engineered by an unsupervised ML algorithm that found out that talking out loud is the best way to process information and emotions, using audio feedback for self-optimisation.

Because of their extraordinary mental-health, super-soldiers have tactical and strategic superiority on almost all combat scenarios.

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi @horizon-rqk welcome.. could you work out the answer a bit, please ? see my edit, try to explain how the ML algorithm (NN?) works and why it needs to feedback and learn. I think I understand what you mean but for most your explanation will be cyberpunk abracadabra. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Jan 25 at 23:37

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