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Recently, I am becoming interested into solarpunk, and naturally I started trying to figure out some ways to create an original setting.

Among other concepts and ideas, it came to me that it wolud be interesting to have my characters be able to communicate "telepathically" via an electromagnetic field. In my mind this field would work as a kind of internet connection, via which send messages using the electricity of our body. Practically, this would be something like mental SMS, or something like that.

Obviously, we are in the field of high sci-fi, but I wonder if I could put this more in the science and less in the fiction, so to speak. It would also be interesting to use this kind of communication to send/receive messages from other living beings, like animals, but for now I think humans will suffice.

So, in short, could this telepathic field be created under the banner of science of I should settle for a more fictional justification?

Edit:

I think I need to clarify a couple of points, since I noticed that my question wasn't so clear.

What I had in mind is something along the lines of a "mental internet" via which human beings could send messages, images, even ideas (thanks to Christopher James Huff for this).

I thought about using an electromagnetic field as a medium because we are already able to give commands to our body via electricity, so it seemed only "natural" to expand onto this, instead of creating an entirely new medium. That said, if somebody believes that another kind of medium would be better, I'm all ears (or maybe, since we communicate by writing, I should say all eyes).

The last point I would like to expand onto is that I didn't have a cyberpunk-like miniaturized tech in mind when I wrote the question, although it could be argued that my idea stemmed from similar premises. I was thinking more about an "external plugin" so to speak, instead of a technological implant. Still, I consider it a valid answer, and I will add this to my worldbuilding reflections.

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    $\begingroup$ "using an electromagnetic field as a medium because we are already able to give commands to our body via electricity, so it seemed only "natural" to expand onto this": Our bodies use depolarization waves propagating along the membranes of neurons as they shift sodium and potassium ions back and forth across those membranes. This produces changes in electrical potential that can be measured, but is really not the same as electrical signals and even less like electromagnetic waves. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ Biologically interacting with radio-frequency EM waves is decidedly unnatural, you need highly-conductive structures similar in size to the wavelength of the EM waves just to effectively produce them or pick them up. $\endgroup$ Commented May 7 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ You seem to be asking whether or not it would be plausible for your characters to be able to mentally transmit and receive radio signals. Are you asking if such a feature could evolve or are you asking if it could plausibly be added using technology? $\endgroup$ Commented May 7 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ This: 1) needs details and clarity. 2) needs much more focus. 3) as currently written is very unclear and is likely to generate opinion-based answers. Please edit with this in mind. $\endgroup$ Commented May 8 at 14:01

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No

What you're specifically asking about (can humans use the electricity of their body to create an electromagnetic field by which they can communicate?) isn't possible at all.

Communication via electromagnetic field propagation involves modulation. Modulation is the application of intelligently constructed waveforms that are broadcast, received by a detector, then demodulated (the intelligent interpretation of the encoding) to create sound.

Nothing about that process is natural or in any way mimics the human mind — assuming that a human mind could involve enough broadcast power without damaging the brain to be "heard" by another human mind at any distance. While it's true that the human mind generates a number of "waveforms" (which we don't yet understand well enough to interpret as thought), those waveforms are not simply transferrable to another mind.

Why?

There's nothing to act as an antenna, even if there were something that could interpret the signals. It's quite a stretch to believe that all human thought is identical enough that such a waveform could be imposed on another mind and be understood.

Add to this a number of problems such an ability would impose:

  1. You're broadcasting. There isn't a way (that I can think of) to "train" the human mind to create encryption or address packeting such that only one other mind would understand the results. You might as well have put your thoughts to broadway music — there'd be no privacy at all.

  2. There might not be any difference between the waveform for "hey, that girl is pretty" and "raise your arm" or "stop breathing." The effects of this ability are truly terrifying — especially when an assassination attempt kills everyone in exactly the same way in a 20 meter radius.

Having said that, ignore it...

I've said many times that I'm not a fan of trying to make everything as realistic as possible. Science is a harsh taskmaster. Unless you're trying to make a documentary, the application of pure science to constrain everything you do will make everything you do boring. As amazing as the universe is, it's not at all fantastic.

So...

  • Your people are able to train themselves to ensure only intentional thought is transmitted.

  • As with "real life," some people can project at a higher amplitude (strength) than others, meaning some people can only be heard if their head is touching someone else's and others can be heard down the street.

  • You're stuck with broadcasting. If you admit this works at all, you can't avoid the fact that your head is an omnidirectional antenna.

  • "Encryption" must be natural, meaning constructed languages. Think in terms of the old Cold War number stations that would broadcast instructions to spies, etc., over great distances. Everyone could (and in some instances still can) hear the stations... but only the intended receiver has any idea what's being said.

  • Finally, since you're dealing with electromagnetism, you need to work out a way to deal with triangulation such that it's possible to track down a nefarious broadcaster. That would be very Blade Runner-esque.

Sometimes we use the cloak of science to rationalize the fantastic. The goal isn't to patent a new idea, but to express an old one in a new way. And if you're lucky, 50 years into the future someone will discover that you weren't far off the right track. After all, a great example is magically opening a cave in 1001 Arabian Nights expressed as one of the earliest ideas of a garage door opener in the British sci-fi series Dr. Who.

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  • $\begingroup$ "which we don't yet understand well enough to interpret as thought... It's quite a stretch to believe that all human thought is identical enough..." We have neural network computer programs that can already turn thoughts into text and imagery from EM sensors; so, I don't see why you'd think this is so hard. That said the human brain is still in many ways the best neural network computer we know; so, in all likelihood it could figure out how to make since of other's thoughts if we had the appropriate electroreceptors. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 8 at 13:13
  • $\begingroup$ The bigger obstacle to biological psychics I would say is transmission. The farther you put a sensor from the brain, the blurrier its EM emissions get; so, being able to read a person's thoughts through direct contact with thier head (like a Vulcan Mind Meld) is a lot more conceivable than psychic communication at a distance. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 8 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Do we have neural network computer programs that can turn everyone's thoughts into text without any need to retrain on new individuals? I know that there exist programs that, when trained on a specific person, can (to a degree) translate that person's thoughts into text, but I'm not so sure about the former situation. $\endgroup$
    – Idran
    Commented May 8 at 14:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Idran We've not trained any single BCI on enough people to say for sure, but we do know that people generally have the same sorts of thoughts in the same parts of the brain. Understanding thoughts from a new person should be like trying to understand a person with a new accent. The more exposure you get to new accents, the better you get at learning to understand new people; so, a young psychic may have a hard time reading new people, but by adulthood, his brain should know all the common markers to look for. Neurodivergent people will likely have a much higher resistance to psychics though. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented May 8 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki I don't understand the technology well enough to support or deny your comment. However, having watched the technology for voice recognition from its earliest infancy to today's almost (almost...) perfect capabilities, I'm willing to err on the side of "it's not at all that simple." If the technology requires training to understand the simple inflections of people speaking the same words, it'll need training to understand thought patterns - which means we have a beginning, not a solution, and it's unlikely to be universal even when mature. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented May 8 at 17:50
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Radios with a neural-interfaces

Using radio waves to communicate information via Electromagnetism is a very well established science. The key to telepathy is not how to get the information from one person to another, it's about how to integrate the radio into one's brain instead of using intermediate devices like microphones and speakers.

That said, there has been a ton of research in the past few years into neural interfaces and AI generated neural maps of the human auditory and linguistic functions of the brain. We've already reached a point where computers can decode human brain patterns in real time to be able to turn thoughts into speech; though, it will still take a few more years of RnD to become consumer ready. That said, we already have consumer ready cochlear implants that can directly stimulate the auditory nerve to allow a person to more-or-less hear without there needing to create any real sounds. Just replace the auditory processor with a radio processor, and you can hear radio signals directly.

In the near future humans should be able to send and receive radio signals via internal devices that very closely mimics telepathy... though the surgery would be a bit invasive; so, not necessarily something many people would opt for. That said, there is a neuro interface being developed in China right now that works like an earplug; so, it would not be inconceivable for a future wearable technology to be able to give one similar psychic communication abilities.

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    $\begingroup$ This! There's a lot of scifi out there with this exact technology. One of my favorites is Ghost in the Shell. You also see it in video games like Cyberpunk 2077. A lot of these use "cybernetic implants" to explain the connection of the brain/mind to the information network. They even have ringtones. $\endgroup$
    – talrnu
    Commented May 6 at 19:37
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Look with the eyes of a non tech savvy person at someone who is using state of the art earplugs and mic for mobile communication: it looks like they are telepathically communicating with someone else, and they are doing so using electromagnetic waves.

Miniaturize further and insert both speakers and microphone as prosthetic implants. I think this is the closest you can get to a sciency set up.

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Are you after a technological mechanism, or a purely biological one? If the latter, engineered or natural?

We already have the ability to communicate wirelessly via audio, and there's nothing inherently more internet-like about radio. A biological radio would be difficult to achieve, but there's no reason it would necessarily be different in nature from normal speech, just not acoustic in nature.

For something actually internet-like you would need a packet switching network routing messages from node to node, and there's nothing inherently electromagnetic about that...you could use sound just as easily. You could even use inaudible ultrasound, or short ranged optical communications, alongside normal speech with cybernetic augmentations. The main requirement of such a thing would be augmenting biology with technological computer systems, the means of communication doesn't really matter.

Also, the form of SMS messages is largely a product of a limited user interface...text on a small screen, entered via a very low bandwidth input system. Regardless of the underlying medium or means, why limit telepathy to such a degree? If you can transmit and receive with your mind, you could potentially send and receive perceptions, memories, or even abstract ideas.

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We can create such a device right now.

  • put a scanner o the throat, to measure the sub-vocalization processes in human larynx/vocal cords.
  • translate it into text
  • send the text via bluetooth/wi fi -receiving device sits in/near the ear, or jawbone, translates the text into vibration which simulates sound in the cochlear.

No need for gimicky implants, magical tech, etc. Put a fancy choker necklace on your neck, and a big earing hugging your lower earlobe. Calibrate for a few days to get a hang of it.

The reason why we do not do that IRL, despite the technology to do so being possible since late 1990s, is that it provides nearly no advantages over just using a phone. The main reason why we do not use clandestine mental SMS devices, is that we do not need to send clandestine messages like that, not that it would be hard to design.

It is the same reason why things like Smart-Glasses for AR failed as well. It is a technology that does not really solve any practical need or answer to a particular desire.

So if you want your Solarpunks to use mental internet, find the reason first, and then devise the tech.

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Yes, this would work fine. Electromagnetic communication is not common but does occur in the nature between certain species.

The interesting scientific article to read would be Wireless control of cellular function by activation of a novel protein responsive to electromagnetic fields. There is an electromagnetic perceptive gene encoding a protein that responds to radio waves. This gene was cloned and expressed in mammalian cells, neuronal cultures and in rat's brain.

A specific type of neural cell, a radio wave receptor, would be required. But there are many various receptors in the body that are all specialized neural cells, starting obviously from the light receptors that have almost all required features: light is electromagnetic wave after all.

The actual rate of transmission may be more comparable to the rate of transmission by human speech. Human ear is very much like a piano with bunch of strings of various length and just analyzes the spectrum of sound, by the resonance. It does not register the individual "up" and "down" changes of the sound pressure. Structures that resonate at the specific radio frequency are likely possible as well.

Look also into "similar articles" section at the end of the page. The research is currently concentrating more around the receiver but I see no reason why the sender could not evolve as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is actually very interesting, I'll surely check it out. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – Rick Heart
    Commented May 8 at 16:35
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If such a thing were to happen, it would need a built in translation device to function properly, thus partly negating the point. The idea that the brain communicates solely through electrical signals is a common misperception. The primary messenger of the mind is molecules called neurotransmitters. Heard of dopamine, serotonin, etcetera? Neurotransmitters. Fun idea though, I encourage you to look at the response from someone smarter or ignore science. Realism is overrated.

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