The concept of a "spark" is our shorthand for an idea describing some neural nets in your body (well loosely anyway), its a catch-all for anything that can be an electrical response. Some of the electrical responses in the body include: conditioned reflexes, knowledge and memories, and involuntary reflexes such as your "knee-jerk reflex". Sparks can be transmitted, but only by direct contact. You may transmit a duplicate of a spark or an "original". Transmitting an original copy which leaves you without that spark. Basically, you can do a copy-paste or a cut-paste to move a spark from yourself to someone else. Transmission is instant but forming a spark takes as much time as it does to think of what you want to send (see background below). So in a world where you have sparks that can be transmitted by touch:

What would be the most significant changes in such a world that are likely to happen? (I realize a lot would change so changes must be game-changing with a reason that supports its likelihood)

Background on Sparks:

  • Sparks when used as a form of communication are succinct and perfectly clear.
  • Misunderstandings are impossible when using sparks: if there's a piece of knowledge required to understand something then you'll be able to notice the "loose-end" so you can ask for clarification. It's still possible an idea isn't clear. For example, if someone communicates FTL and you know of that acronym as Fun-Traumatic-Lover but don't know of Faster-Than-Light then the communication of FTL will have an ID/Hash/Something that makes it noticeable that it's a different FTL and you can ask about what they meant. The original communication could have been a larger spark that included the FTL definition.
  • A spark has the same "base data" but is stored encrypted differently on each person. A dead person's sparks could be read but would require great effort. A more secretive or insane person would be harder to decrypt. Physical degradation can make it impossible to recover a spark. So, sparks can be given but never easily taken.
  • Degradation of the nervous system can cause one to lose a spark.
  • Bigger sparks can be overwhelming and take slightly longer to formulate. You could absorb the information wholesale or only allow the portion you can process in. (So someone could communicate an entire movie to me and I could either act as if I had watched it or view it piece-by-piece. Absorbing the movie wholesale would not integrate it with the recipient's knowledge it would simply make it available for perusal).
  • Sparks can communicate sensory and emotional information.
  • The spark is formulated at the speed of thought. So if you want to "speak" something you could do so in the same amount of time as by talking. Conversely, when you think of a burger you don't have to list off the ingredients in your head, as an object you have a prepackaged definition you can use for free. In short, specifics and novel ideas, etc. cost you prep time whereas general things and things that simply are get all the extra information for free.
  • When you're passing a knowledge blob, if you communicate too much periphery definitions you risk losing the focus, as you would in any conversation.
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    $\begingroup$ I couldn't properly understand what you meant by spark until I read all the background info. I think you need to rephrase your introduction so that rather than talking about muscles and nervous systems you simply say: a spark is a way of transferring some knowledge from one person to another by physical contact. $\endgroup$
    – sydan
    Nov 6, 2014 at 8:50
  • $\begingroup$ This question does indeed seem a bit confused, I'd suggest a rewrite to make it clear what exactly you are trying to figure out. Here's a related question in any case. $\endgroup$
    – overactor
    Nov 6, 2014 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ Hi, I think you have a good question here but it's phrased unclearly at the moment and also it's straying rather too far into general idea generation. At the very least you need to pick just one of your four question inside the question and focus on that one. Once you have that answered you can then ask a follow on question to address another aspect but we need to keep each individual Q&A within a reasonable scope so answers can be compared and rated accordingly. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Nov 6, 2014 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ @sydan but its not which is why I phrased it the way I did. Just edited, is the concept a little clearer now or am I still missing the mark? $\endgroup$
    – Black
    Nov 6, 2014 at 9:23
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    $\begingroup$ Not to worry! Your question is detailed, just maybe lacks form. It's significantly better than a 2 line question with no clarity at all. $\endgroup$
    – sydan
    Nov 6, 2014 at 9:36

4 Answers 4


Originals would not be any more important than now unless sparks degrade as they are passed. If a spark is just as good if I get it from the tenth recipient in the chain as from the person who originally had it, then the original is only briefly valuable. Once the spark is shared, everyone who has it is equally valuable. This suggests that the initial transfers of unique sparks will be expensive.

Synthesizers may become valuable. These would be people who are good at mixing particular sparks in order to make new ones (e.g. someone who synthesizes karate and aikido into a new art). If they can do this consistently as new information (sparks) is developed, then they may have as much or more value as someone who develops new sparks.

Dead brain access would be limited. Note that people who have near death experiences can lose memory. Harvesting dead brain sparks would need to be done within minutes of death. Digging up graves wouldn't help. Cremation would be irrelevant, because sparks would be long gone by then.

Reality sparks may become the new media. Instead of watching or reading about someone's experiences, live them yourself.

Lying would become more difficult. If you don't trust someone, force them to give you a spark demonstrating the memory. It would be interesting to see how trials work in a world with sparks. Do the witnesses give sparks directly to the jury?

Intellectual property would be unaffected. The reason why we have patents, trademarks, and copyrights is so as to limit things when the knowledge is already out there. Making the information more available won't impact this.

Espionage would get an interesting new tool. What happens if you are able to fool someone into transferring a spark to the wrong person? Physically securing the data becomes less effective if someone still has it in memory as well. Transferring secrets just became easier so keeping them became harder.

Native intelligence would remain valuable. Note that some people are simply better at certain things than others. For example, Johann Dase could multiply hundred digit numbers in his head. There is no evidence that he had any particular trick to do this. He was simply better at keeping track of the intermediate results. Some things simply won't spark and this might be one of them.

Employers will expect people to already have all the experience needed from the first day. This will greatly reduce both the official training time and the unofficial period of learning how the job works.

Politics would stay the same. Note that in politics it's not what you know but who you know that matters. Even if Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell transfer all of their knowledge to someone else, that doesn't mean that that person can be as effective as they are. Giving Ted Cruz or Alan Grayson the skills to compromise doesn't mean that they would use them. Politics is ruled by personality and who wants to change their own personality?

We also might discover other interesting ways that sparks won't work. For example, if a man gets a spark from a shorter female gymnast, it might be that the muscle memory simply won't work. Because of their different builds, the man might not be able to use her memories successfully.

  • $\begingroup$ Good points on the economy of Originals, lying, synthesizing, and personality! $\endgroup$
    – Black
    Nov 11, 2014 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ In addition, there would be people who would be willing to buy/sell sparks, making useful sparks (such as how to do x y z) and then people who can be payed to extract negative sparks (bad habits, terrible memories) adding some more options to the global market $\endgroup$
    – Flotolk
    Mar 30, 2015 at 19:09

Some of the most significant changes that are likely in such a world include changes to:

Education would likely change for the better as the benefits would far outweigh any negative effects. Things that consist mostly of memorization could be learned in days instead of years. Focus would shift to developing novel skills and methodologies. The accelerated learning is likely and taken to the extreme would result in Elementary School and College being the only two levels, one for mandatory skills, the other for preferred skills.

Economy would likely start to seriously trade in skills and knowledge. This is highly likely as the value of novel skills would be the only thing separating a waitress from a scientist. The skills that make a person special/unique would probably be closely guarded by the individual so they could stay both different and potentially valuable.

Military would be changed dramatically. The ability to transfer military knowledge and skills allows anyone anywhere to instantly be upgraded to a super-soldier and strategist in one. Body-type specific skills would be the only limiting factor. This would transform any population into a standing army so it's hard to see it being passed up. It would also make the "originals" that everyone would be cloned off of into moving targets on the level of a president (or higher).

Law would likely develop around the ability. With precedents in patent and copyright laws it's likely that everyone's natural ability may be regulated. Martial arts skills might be required to be registered for example. It's possible this could get dystopian rather quickly "by necessity".

Politics would change dramatically, since it would be laughable if it stayed the same. "I can change the world because I can ____", well so can I potentially. A politician could be asked to prove they had the skills before they got in office instead of during their stay. This would increase the average capability of public officials. Since it's such an obvious and simple solution to a universal problem it seems pretty likely to happen.

Information wars would get ugly by necessity and hoarding would become common. An example is the buying out of patents and crushing of competition. Just by a touch the underdog in that scenario can make a third-party completely understand their side and its benefits. As suppression of competition becomes all but impossible while it's members are alive, it would rather likely result in large numbers of corporate and government murders as the only way to deal with the problem, since you couldn't even imprison them without the guards become a liability.

Well-being would be interestingly distributed and possibly collapse social media. If you had a memory you wanted to forget you could, but you would have to give it to someone else. The best time of your life could become everyone's best time. Many mood-altering trades could be enacted. Since it all needs somewhere to go there could be a small number of individuals that receive all of society's crappy sparks. Just like a new drug it's unlikely this wouldn't be widespread.

Individuality may cease to exist. A Singularity of opinion and skills would make the human race one giant Swarm and much more of a Hive Mind than it already is. Such a Singularity is extremely likely. After-all, what are the odds of you turning down the skills to be a stunt-driver, or experience an astronauts trip to the moon? If you become a "spark junkie" then your on a one-way trip to become part of the Swarm. As the passing of skills onto the next generation would occur early in life and be highly beneficial it's highly possible the positives may far outweigh any and all negatives, or society may just notice too late.

Lost Knowledge would be unlikely. Anyone who wanted to know something would just have to spend some time decrypting your brain after your death to know it. Since some of the knowledge that people have taken to their graves is sorely missed by the world it seems unlikely that this wouldn't be used at-least occasionally. People may resort to cremation to avoid this of course.

And that's all the major ones that I can think of (some of those aren't breathtakingly major but are interesting so I included them).


To add on two great answers:

Personal space and greetings: Imagine I am arriving to business meeting quite hungry and unintentionally send that message to you through ordinary handshake. Keeping me on meeting as long as possible would bring you good advantage (I would be willing to commit for something just to leave for lunch break). So wearing gloves would be normal and greeting would be possibly more on Japanese style.

Clothing style As stated above, you would see more clothed people, because accidental touching by handing a burger to you could also bring you knowledge of "I hate my job, but they force me to smile"

Pornography and prostitution Oh my. I am not going to describe details of it, but just imagine a porn market of sexual experiences...

Sexuality in general In my young age, "first base" was kissing. In your setup it would be "touching skin on skin"

Religion You can actually pass the original ideas of your prophet. No more discussions about "what would Jesus say about gay marriage". If you are Christian, you already know

  • $\begingroup$ "If you are Christian, you already know" -> Does this lead to more closed minded thinking? ... other answers indicate it's conductive to more open minded thinking. $\endgroup$
    – Pimgd
    Nov 10, 2014 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ I will edit it later on. But what I wanted to say is "you already know because the original idea of what world should look like is passed on through generations" $\endgroup$ Nov 10, 2014 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ These are amazingly good (both for mind food and for laughs). Wish I could up-vote more than once! $\endgroup$
    – Black
    Nov 11, 2014 at 16:10

The last of these points is probably the most poignant, but they form a sort of causal trail, so they are presented in causal order.

Loss of subtlety in the culture What you described for the creation of sparks is a individual act which takes a long time. This means a very discrete approach to communication: question -> construction -> answer. If the question was imperfectly understood, the answer would be imperfect. There would be a compensating tendency to "overbuild" Sparks to make sure this breakdown didn't completely defeat the point of communication. People would effectively be shouting at each other all the time, and the culture would adapt such that this shouting was not rude.

There would be less subtle continuous interaction (think dancing or the old fashioned dinner date). The effects of such interaction would pale with respect to interaction using these discrete Sparks, so few would explore them. (Those few, however, may find something interesting that, for any reason you please, cannot be transmitted by Spark, creating a cultural undertow of individuals writing off sparks entirely)

Combat using sparks would be interesting. I am assuming there is a physical limit as to how much information you could encode into someone else's brain: over-spark them and they're out of the fight. Combat is 100% about exploiting weaknesses in the opponent, so while I am sure there would be a way to choose not to receive a spark in your world, combat would adapt to work around this barrier and exploit any holes. Dangerous fighters would walk around with terribly terribly noisy and hard to encode sparks in their head, to be offensively delivered to their foes (exactly as warlords brandish AK-47s today). Also, because you can copy the sparks, not just transmit them, there would be martial arts which teach you useful combat sparks, and there would be sparks that teach you how to defend against those. It would be a spark arms race.

There would also be a subtle side of combat (as subtle as this Sparked culture allows), which concentrates not on how to generate loud bright sparks to overload the opponent, but instead seeks to calmly work around their defenses while developing a subtle spark custom tailored to upset that individual combatant.

Viral sparks Just like earworms of our present day, sparks would form which push the individual towards spreading them to others. An entire new class of life would spring up, as would a "spark immune system" that you would be taught early in life to protect you against these sparks.

Magic Magic could spring up in response to the viral sparks. If the sparks indeed become a new class of life, they would have to hide themselves from the immune system sparks. Their influence would have be just as subtle as the subtlety lost by the carrying humans. Accordingly, magic would spring up to explain the cosmic coincidences that we cannot seem to explain, no matter how many sparks we intentionally try to convey to eachother to monitor it.

It would not be unreasonable to have children "chosen" by the sparks to live a life of destiny. From the human's perspective, it would be divine magic. From the spark's perspective, it would be nothing more than and artist choosing a paintbrush, or a warlord choosing a hill to conquer.

  • $\begingroup$ If this direction is interesting, I'd love to chat with you about it. I have actually played with a model of the world that is very very very similar to this, except transmission is either "not instantaneous" or "instantaneous but of infinitesimal energy" to avoid conservation of energy issues. You may be able to leverage things from that model to help with your world. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Nov 9, 2014 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ The magic is a little confusing. As far as combat sparks I'd decided it didn't fit the rules as written. Good point on humans finding ways around the system though. Now my "torture spark" may finally see use. Loss of subtlety is a good point. Maybe not on the counterculture though, I don't see too many people forgoing talking just because it's more expressive than more rudimentary communication. $\endgroup$
    – Black
    Nov 11, 2014 at 16:23

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