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A little background...

I have a story idea revolving around "Agent ROY-G-BIV" (the name is a reference to the 7 colors of the rainbow), a self-propagating form of electromagnetic radiation that is intense enough to edit DNA. However, rather than damaging DNA, it restructures it. Its main effect is on the brain, in that it alters and amplifies the electromagnetic radiation produced naturally by the brain, which causes living creatures it affects to become 'broadcasters': walking radio towers that help to spread Agent ROY-G-BIV.

The thing about agent ROY-G-BIV is that elements of it mirror the brainwaves produced by the subconscious of the 'broadcasters' that aid in propagating it. The end result is that 'broadcasters' that are within close proximity of each other end up receiving brainwaves from the unconscious of fellow 'broadcasters', forming a 'collective subconscious' that can exchange information. Basically, Agent ROY-G-BIV creates a 'wifi network' of sorts out of the 'broadcasters' subconscious.

If you're thinking this is kinda similar to Agent Rainbow from the videogame In Sound Mind then you'd be right.

And now, my question...

Precisely how improbable is this under our current understanding of physics, and if it is extremely so, would there be any way to make it seem more probable while preserving Agent ROY-G-BIV's effects?

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  • $\begingroup$ Handwaving is more dependent upon how much you try to explain a thing rather than how fantastic or impossible a thing is. For instance If I say "in my world all stories are true". I haven't handwaved at all. But if I say "In my world the collective consciousness of all real world authors generates perturbations in the quantum mu field that allow for violations of the uncertainty principal which has lead to every story being true." I've waved my hands a lot more to lead to the same result, a world which all stories are true. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 5 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ Ok, edited the question. Better? $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    Apr 5 at 16:34
  • $\begingroup$ Things tend to either be physically impossible or not As worldbuilder you get to dictate what will and will not happen in your world. This is true even for events that are impossible in the real world. Perhaps your story depends on an one in a million chance event happening, you get to decide whether that will happen or not. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Apr 5 at 16:54

2 Answers 2

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For the moment I'll ignore the mechanism itself, which I consider to be hocus pocus.

However, if human minds were linked up with some weak form of telepathy, I'd expect a very strange form of a hivemind to emerge. Its thoughts would be repetitious to the point that if you were to meet an individual like that you'd think him to have a profound mental illness. Large groups of human brains have trouble coordinating naturally, such that by the time the 8 or 9 people who are telling inside jokes and making stupid puns finally get settled down to talk about something serious, another will join the conversation and get the ball rolling again. With large enough numbers, this just never stops... no single brain can refocus the collective train of thought before another interrupts it. Eventually, most stop trying.

In real life, this means the brains that would try log off and never log back on, pity them that can't do this with the telepathy.

There are other implications as well. This hivemind can (if it breaks out of the nonsense loops described above) focus and refocus on new ideas at a rate far faster than an individual, probably at speeds that proportional to the number of minds that are connected. In some ways it could be a superhuman investigator (reddit during the Boston Marathon bombing), but also a seriously irresponsible investigator (don't expect it to refrain from violating your rights). It would be constantly jumping to conclusions, and experiencing internal dissension about those (the gestalt would be something recognized as "introspection".

Whatever your own personal internal narrative is, it really wouldn't prepare you for what it felt like to exist in this hivemind. It wouldn't be human any more in any meaningful way.

As for mechanisms, it's unclear just how much bandwidth human minds need for such a story element. I suspect strongly that the bandwidth we have on the modern internet, through various forums, to be sufficient for a slow motion version of the above... but also that the typewritten word has some absurd level of overhead. If human brains do really work on a principle of language of thought, then that overhead is removed entirely. It might be the necessary data rate is quite comparable (and once you remove all the superfluous stuff from the internet, it's not relevant, so we're possibly talking tens of kilobits-per-second or less).

Biological meat isn't very good at generating or receiving radio signals. And if you go higher on the spectrum towards x-rays and gamma and the like, it's not even very tolerant of those (though that would have some overlap with your idea that it "edits" DNA... if by edit, you mean smashing the crap out of it when it managed to hit the molecule). You might consider some quantum effect like entanglement. Normally, people are trying to use that to come up with plausible FTL communication (which it doesn't allow at all, period) but it's mysterious enough to handwave away. After all, who was it that said that just a handful of geniuses understand it anyway? But if you were positing some sort of slower-than-light communications, then while still not plausible from the strictest scientific interpretation, it's not as ridiculous.

Entanglement might affect neuromechanisms that could (apply handwavium liberally) manifest as intrusive thought. Self-propagation/contagiousness is the difficult part, as it generally requires that particles to be in close proximity during the initial engtanglement, but if some new phenomenon were discovered that caused some particles to entangle in oddball circumstances, that might be something that could be relaxed.

There are so-called hard science fiction authors who could make this work in a novel written today in 2022, and I would read it and be able to suspend disbelief, so if you're willing to modify your details a bit I'd rate this as "on a scale of 1 to 10, you'd have to apply about 3.2 handwavium to make this work".

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  • $\begingroup$ The connection is largely subconscious; the conscious surface thoughts are connected to the 'hivemind' only indirectly through their connection with the subconscious elements of the brain. Thus, those in the 'hivemind' wouldn't share surface thoughts, but they would share emotions, fears, and dreams with each other. If one member was sleeping and having a nightmare, the nightmare would be playing out in everyone else's heads as well. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    Apr 5 at 16:30
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elements of it mirror the brainwaves produced by the subconscious of the 'broadcasters' that aid in propagating it. The end result is that 'broadcasters' that are within close proximity of each other end up receiving brainwaves from the unconscious of fellow 'broadcasters', forming a 'collective subconscious' that can exchange information.

It sounds like you are describing the propagations of memes

A meme (/miːm/ MEEM) is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.

Certain memes result in the bearer turning into part of a collective mind, losing their individuality. Think of those captured into a sect or a "trendy behavior".

What sounds odd in your description is the concept of radiation, with the current understanding radiation; maybe it could have sounded ok-ish at the end of 1800's. If you take it out, it is plausible without breaking the suspension of disbelief.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ok, yes, they propagate much like memes, but they aren't that. They're best defined as dreams, thoughts, and other mental forms of communication spread by means of ROY-G-BIV from person to person. The end result is something more akin to a Borg Collective from star trek than a "trendy behavior"; each 'broadcaster' within the area adds their subconscious to the 'collective unconscious', allowing for one broadcaster to 'share' dreams and memories with other nearby broadcasters. $\endgroup$
    – Brinstar77
    Apr 5 at 15:43

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