Let's imagine we have a disease. Call it the "Thought Plague". It has all the symptoms of a normal disease; in fact, let's use COVID as our symptoms baseline. However, this disease has an... unusual way of spreading.

It spreads by thought. As in, if you know about it, you catch it. Not only that but, if you catch it, after the incubation period of 14 days ends, you are more likely to tell other people about the disease.

Because of this, methods, as we use now, don't work; if you tell people to not tell people about the disease, everyone is infected.

How can the disease's spread be prevented?

  • Assume the people trying to stop the spread of the disease have complete control over laws, etc, but not whether people follow them.
  • The likelihood of you being infected is based on how much you know about the disease; if you just know the name, it spreads roughly 1% of the time; if you know how it spreads, 5%, and so forth.
  • The organization attempting to stop the spread is still susceptible to the plague.
  • I will add more info as needed.
  • If it seems impossible, you can remove or add limitations until it is possible to prevent the spread.
  • Like COVID, once you catch the disease and are symptomatic, you are free from it in about 14 days. After this, you will not catch it again. The disease doesn't mutate.
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    $\begingroup$ the knowledge of the disease has to be specific to the disease. Otherwise, the very concept of spreading by thought is what spreads it. Do the symptoms get determined by what people imagine they should be? If so, spreading misinformation about the disease would inoculate them against the symptoms, which they imagine are different from what they are. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 0:11
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    $\begingroup$ AKA memetic hazard. the SCP foundation might have some tips. $\endgroup$
    – ths
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ Oops.. Epidemiologists, virologists and doctors will be highly vulnerable at the very start of this pandemic. Humanity could find itself effectively disarmed in the first month.. The work on the vaccine can only be done by doctors who either survived the disease, or turn out to be immune. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 0:54
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    $\begingroup$ What does 'how much you know about the disease' mean? I think you need to define this point very carefully and very strictly. Would replacing one label with another, as DWKraus suggests, work? $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Commented Jan 24, 2022 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ What happens to people who contract the disease and recover from it? Do they catch it again if they are reminded of it? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 6:12

5 Answers 5



This disease has to follow some kind or rules, or else nothing can stop it. It spreads as a telekinetic meme, able to somehow manifest physical disease as a result of thought. The more you know about it, the more likely you are to get sick.

This is VERY problematic for those researching it (who must know the most about it). But what if you want to LIE about the virus?

It has a name, which came from somewhere. Names have power, so give it a different name. Novel memetic coronavirus becomes COVID22 to researchers, which can then get advertised to the public as the psychic monkey pox (even though it has nothing to do with monkeys and isn't a pox).

Lie about the symptoms. It causes fevers, so televise that it causes chills. Anyone who has a fever has something else - the flu, perhaps. You could work directly with someone infected, and they would tell you they had the flu. So while they are telling you about the disease, what they know about it is wrong. And since the flu is a real thing, knowing about someone with the flu won't make you sick because you know the flu isn't the psychic monkey pox.

The sick will help spread the disinformation themselves, because everyone knows the psychic monkey pox is spread by the hate of the sick people towards those around them. If you catch it, it's because your neighbor who was sick lied to you out of spite.


There are actual mental illnesses that do work like this in the real world.

Anorexia might be the best example. One of many eating disorders, it was unknown in other cultures until recently. In east Asia in particular. Instead, there was a similar eating disorder that was more typical.

But as those countries became westernized, the native eating disorder became rare, and then disappeared almost entirely... having been replaced by anorexia. Youths there became anorexic only after learning of its existence elsewhere in the world.

Another example would be adolescent suicides. In certain places, suicide clusters will occur. It is theorized they spread by "contagion", such that if a teenager hears about a suicide in their community, they are more likely to commit suicide themselves. At that point, now there have been two such, and other teenagers are at an even higher risk of doing the same. It tends to snowball that way. This might even be why people instinctively hid the fact that a loved one had committed suicide in ages past... it wasn't so much shame/embarrassment even if it presented that way, but an evolutionary adaptation that interrupted this contagion and slowed or stopped the spread.

Obviously, these mental illnesses aren't quite as virulent as your fictional disease. You're positing some ideal mental pathogen with a short incubation time (but not too short) and some insanely high R nought.

In such a scenario, you will see the sorts of things you've seen about thosesuicide. For instance, some newspapers refuse to report about such suicides for fear that it will inspire more, out of a sense of journalistic ethics. You might even see a longer term adaptation where people deny the existence of such a disease, not to mention all sorts of euphemisms about the "thing that shall not be named" and so forth.

The efficacy of these measures will of course depend on the exact mechanism of the disease, how it affects the human mind, and so on. But those are the sorts of measures that will be attempted.


Treat the sicks with opium: they will be too lost in their artificial happiness paradise to talk about it to anybody else, with the interesting side effect that, since

if you know about it, you catch it

if they somehow forget about it, they might even heal from it, and be just left with a dependence from opium.

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    $\begingroup$ I will solve your problem by giving you a possibly worse problem! 🤣 $\endgroup$
    – PipperChip
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 22:29
  • $\begingroup$ @PipperChip It's like curing leukemia with HIV! $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Commented Aug 5, 2022 at 10:29

Tin foil hats

All you need to do is block the signal, and as we all know that tinfoil hats prevent the government spying on your thoughts so they should also be effective in stopping your thoughts leaking out your brain.

  • $\begingroup$ You may have a problem there, research showed that a tinfoil hat actually acts as an amplifier of mind control signals. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 14:20
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    $\begingroup$ That's just what a government spy would tell me to stop me wearing my tin foil hat. $\endgroup$
    – Rob
    Commented Feb 7, 2022 at 14:24
  • $\begingroup$ But how do you know they're not actually a resistance leader, telling the truth, and that the govermnet EDITED his comment to make him seem like a goverment spy? $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Rob, the difficulty here is what could someone say if they genuinely wanted to stop you doing more harm than good? A good conspiracy theory gets you coming and going on that one. Also the research is real, if not entirely serious $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 14:29


Hopefully scientists can develop a memory-erasing device, a la Men in Black, while remembering how the device works.

  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't actually answer my question, and I stipulated that you can change the traits of the disease if it seems impossible. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 8, 2022 at 16:55

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