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I'm working on a setting in which all humans have been genetically modified to have access to telekinesis ages ago, and it is now considered a normal thing. It works somewhat like a muscle in that the more you use it, the better you get at using it. It's upper limit, is that you can only impact an item of less than half your weight, less than your own body length away from you. On average, people can only lift between 5% and 10% of their body weight at half their body length away from them. This power cannot be directly used against living material, and the acceleration of an object can't be thrown with any more force with telekinesis than throwing it with muscle force instead. It is not physically strenuous to use telekinesis, but it is mentally strenuous when overused, although it's limits are similar to physical strength in that minor uses don't exhaust you, but using your power beyond your endurance level will leave you tired. Overusing this power way beyond your limit will result in the user passing out or falling asleep with maybe a slight headache when they wake up.

This is intended to be a background element that isn't directly important in the story, so I'm looking at finding out how to limit this power so that it isn't the main focus of the story. Now to the point, there are three primary areas where I'm curious as to how this would impact a society.

  1. How would this impact a medieval society equivalent to our own middle ages?

  2. How would this impact us if it were to happen in today's world?

  3. How would this impact a more technologically developed society than our own?

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  • $\begingroup$ Is there a limit to the number of objects that can be moved other than the sum of their mass? How exact would the control be? $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Sep 26 '15 at 1:40
  • $\begingroup$ The more objects moved independently, the harder it becomes to control them accurately. Multiple objects being moved in the same direction or motion are fairly easy, but moving different objects in different directions takes much more concentration, just the same as the difference between doing a task with two hands, doing the same task in each hand, or doing different tasks with each hand. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Sep 26 '15 at 23:32
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We can handle very hot objects. We can handle contaminated objects. We can handle sterile objects. We can handle acids and bases. We can even handle high-voltage equipment not risking electrocution.

Opportunities are countless. Soldering, ironing, metal works is completely different (for starters, a soldering iron doesn't need a handle; fire iron is not needed whatsoever). Eating habits are completely different (no forks nor chopsticks). Chemists do not use gloves. Artists etch with much stronger acids.

I don't know how obstacles interfere with telekinesis in your setting. Can we reach objects inside a container? If so, healer-style surgery is a possibility. Also, I expect all locks to be totally redesigned.

Alas, soccer would die instantly.

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I think the sociological/psychological/interpersonal ramifications far outweigh the technological.

Inside our brains is a structure commonly known as the motor homunculus: that part of the brain that specializes in awareness of body-position (proprioception) and motor coordination.

It is known that those who are expert in the use of a body-extending tool see enlargement and development of the corresponding portion of their motor homunculus. For instance, a professional violinist not only sees hyperdevelopment of left-hand areas (fingering on the bridge), but an enlargement of the right-hand areas (bowing). Startlingly, fMRIs will show that a violinist's reaction to someone tapping on a bow held in the right hand will generate the same stimuli in the brain as someone tapping on your or my right index finger. The violinists wetware body-representation has grown to absorb the bow! The same thing happens with tennis players and racquets, painters and brushes, &c. (See You Are Not a Gadget for some discussion of this; I'm sure there are even-better references; feel free to edit them in.)

What's my point? People growing up in a world where the 6' sphere around them is under their motor control and feedback (presumably--otherwise, how would you control your tele-objects with any precision?) would see corresponding enlargement of the corresponding brain structures. Effectively, 'all of that space I control, physically, is me.' But some of that space is shared: this is a world where personal space overlaps.

The impact of this? People would require much more square-footage in order to feel as independent as we do. Or perhaps people would develop much closer forms of community (and communication!) as living in "normal" proximity feels like we're crawling all over each other. Show one of these people a basketball game and it'd read as unspeakably-violent--sadistic levels of interpersonal violation, perhaps.

(On the other hand, watching a married couple folding laundry in the same room might look like almost-pornographic levels of intimacy!)

The technological upthrust:

The way you've laid it out is pretty restricted: medievalists wouldn't do away with the plow, or beasts of burden, water-powered mills. But domestic industry--spinning, tinkering, carving--might take a lead over 'larger' industries, compared to our history.

One thing I know: if this happened in today's world...

I wouldn't want to be holding stock in a spatula company.

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As described, possessing telekinesis does not actually do much good. You can't lift more than you might by mundane means, and you can't do it beyond arm's length. It's basically like having an invisible set of arms. Oh sure, it would come in handy for those cases where you've got your arms full and want to unlock your door, and it would make for jugglers with mad skills, but nothing earth-shattering.

As such, it wouldn't make much of a mark on modern or futuristic societies, but it would have a profound impact of the development of medieval societies.

They wouldn't believe in magic.

And, by extension, they would be unlikely to be dominated by religion in the same way medieval Europe was.

When you can move things without touching them, all the things that magic is supposed to be able to do would likely be attributed to people with talents which, while hidden, are not at heart mysterious. And with miracles not being what they were, the hidden powers of God would not be as credible either, with the result that religion can't take credit for the unknown in the form of miracles.

At the same time, given the limited scope of powers available to most people, the development of technology in post-medieval society, culminating in the Industrial Revolution, would probably not be impeded much.

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  • $\begingroup$ Awesome answer, but I'm giving it to nitsua60 since his was a bit more detailed. $\endgroup$ – Jonathan Sep 26 '15 at 19:40
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    $\begingroup$ Imagine an alien race whose only senses were sight and touch. They'd consider communication with someone that you cannot see or feel to be a superpower bordering on telepathy, while we just call it talking. They might also think that a race with this ability would never develop religion, for working telepathic miracles every day would lead us to conclude that other abnormal abilities must also have natural consequences. What I'm trying to say is I think that the telekinetic humans would see the ability as so natural that it wouldn't even cross their mind to connect it to miracles. $\endgroup$ – rprospero Sep 28 '15 at 12:19

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