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In this question all humans have had this ability for as long as there have been humans. I've also posted a separate, different, question where the power is exactly the same, but all of humanity suddenly gets the power one day. See meta regarding the split.

The actual question is very concrete and comes at the end, but first, I must explain the premise in detail.

This world is exactly like our own, except for one (massive) difference. Everyone can know what everyone else is thinking. In this world, anyone can access other people's memories, thoughts, plans, ideas, beliefs, etc. This is not a technology, it's more like a telepathic power that everyone has and cannot lose. The ability is at least as natural to everyone as using the five senses is in our world. Anyone can do it.

You don't need to know much about anyone to hook into their mind. For example, you can sit in a hotel room, and think "Who painted this wall?" and immediately access that person's mind in an unlimited fashion. Or you can think "Who is thinking about me right now?" or "Who is climbing Mount Everest right now?", and get access to their minds, too. It's almost like a perfect, intelligent search engine. There are almost no limits to this.

There are, however, some limitations:

  • In the case of the painter, if the painter is dead or doesn't remember painting that room, you'll be unable to find an answer to your question. Unless someone else currently alive knows who painted the room (in which case you can still not access the memories of the dead painter himself). So, you can only get information that currently living people still remember.

  • The main limitation is your own mind. There is way too much data to process, so you have to select what you focus on. It's a little bit like the public parts of the Internet. You have access to everything, but a single person couldn't possibly process all of it. They have to choose what they prefer to focus on.

Even though you can sense the thoughts, etc, you don't feel that they are your own. You observe them with a distinct impression of them coming from outside of yourself. People with more empathy may feel more compassion or connection with what they sense, but in a similar sense that they would feel empathy if they saw a person suffering in the real world, through the senses. The degree of empathy depends on the individual, but it may be enhanced by the greatly improved ability to understand others.

Except for the (massive) implications of this ability, it's the same earth, and the same humans.

Question: What are the most radical ways that this world differs from our own?

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closed as too broad by AndreiROM, JDługosz, James, Frostfyre, Xandar The Zenon May 19 '16 at 15:32

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Suddenly, everyone in a world can know the thoughts of everyone else. What happens? $\endgroup$ – Mindwin May 19 '16 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Mindwin, they're very carefully worded. One is a species that evolved like that so it's the status quo. The other is a world where it happened suddenly so social trauma. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 19 '16 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @Mindwin This started out as one question, but was split after discussion on meta. If you feel they should be merged, can you post it as an answer in the meta question, explaining why you feel the difference is too small? meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/q/3582/18252 $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 19 '16 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Separatrix this is dangerous. See my answer in the meta. Also this version of the question is too weak to stand on its own. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin May 19 '16 at 14:14
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    $\begingroup$ This really is too broad. If everyone had global telepathy since human inception, our history would be entirely different. We likely would never have had the World Wars, for one. And there would be no such thing as intellectual property. Curiously, this question and its accompanying discussion seems relevant. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 19 '16 at 15:25
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Society would be completely utterly, unimaginably different

No surprise there, but it can't be stressed enough. It's not just that crime wouldn't exist as we know it or that people wouldn't know how to lie, most of our social conventions would never have arisen and the species would have developed along completely different lines.

Let's take a few of the implications of this power and the effects they might have had when humanity had just left the trees for the savannahs and started spreading.

Humanity would be extremely violent... or peaceful

Competition for resources would still be real. But now, human tribes know exactly what their neighbors have and where they are hiding it.

Confrontations would be frequent and go roughly like this: The group leaders invade each other's minds and size up their relative strengths as well as desires. They zoom in on a conclusion, aided by their awareness of the counterpart's same process. Within seconds or minutes, they know whether there will be a fight or tribute will be given. The weaker gives tribute, tries to defend itself or runs, depending on how murderous or forgiving the stronger leader's intentions are. Ironically, the most violent and the meekest of groups survive. The latter being so convinced of their weakness that they hold no hostile intentions anymore.

Eventually, one violent group will exterminate all other violent groups and enslave the meek.

Within that group, the violence will become highly ritualized. While it would be in a leader's interest to kill any youths that hold ambitions towards his position, this is easily detected by the other adults and prevented or only allowed in ritual duels/competitions after the youth comes of age. (Groups that don't do this will become weak and die out) Slaves that have any hostile intentions are killed without a second thought, leading to selective breeding of a low-testosterone passive subspecies of humans that is predisposed to obey.

As nations of strongmen grow and encounter others, they pursue the same bloody strategy, but leave the slaves untouched as they offer only obedience to whoever is in control.

Advancement of knowledge and science would be dizzying

"Fire warm, fire good! How Grognak make fire without thunder!?! ... Oh, that good way."

If one human thought of an idea or invention (and survived), any other human focusing on the same problem would be able to access the first's knowledge and experiences. Essentially, humans would have an always-on Stack Exchange available. This would accelerate the development of technology immensely.

On top of that, curious minds could visit each other regardless of location, means or age. Philosophers and scientists would be able to call on all of human experience to refine their theories. Children (from the moment they learn to control this ability) would learn from elders who guide them through memories to learn things by complete immersion.

Ironically, the ones to develop the furthest from this would likely be the slaves. While forced to work all their lives, their minds would be free. They would also be the most disposed to absorbing other people's thinking and would survive wars among the strongmen, just getting a new master now and then.

Much earlier than in our world, weapons technology would come to the point of mutually assured destruction. The difference is that all sides will know exactly what the others are capable of and willing to do. This will mean world peace from that moment on, or the destruction of most of the world if one side has the advantage.

The endgame

If humanity survives that point, it settles into a stable situation, with the dominant strongmen engaging in endless rivalry and competitions to gain prestige and mates, while the submissive meeks avoid all that and spend their day jobs dreaming of cool new technologies. Attempts to overthrow the status quo never make it past the intention stage.

Congratulations, you have created the world of Jocks and Nerds!

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We are the Borg. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.

It's a world so unlike our own that there's no comparison. The closest would be the Borg (Star Trek) or Gaia (Foundation). The whole planet effectively becomes a single collective consciousness.

All technology is available to all people, all thoughts and ideas, (all bank details,) all grand plans.

Going to school would be pointless, you already have access to all the knowledge. No social media, no radio, maybe television/theatre, but possibly no verbal communication at all. Why use words when an image in the mind is so much more efficient.

There would be live performances. People able imagine the most detailed worlds and stories would train to give public performances surrounded by people "listening" while anyone could tune in to the performance itself the experience would be greatly amplified and intensified by being surrounded by hundreds of other people sharing the same experience and thinking the same thoughts.

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  • $\begingroup$ 1+ :) What about listening to music on the radio, or sharing video with others? $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 19 '16 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Fiksdal, video is a poor imitation of what the mind can do directly. Music is a maybe, would someone else's borrowed memory of a live performance be better? $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 19 '16 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Fiksdal for that matter, why would you listen on the radio when you could tap into the conductor's or the first violinist's own memory, not just of hearing the performance, but taking part in it. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 19 '16 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah both would be nice in their own ways :) $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 19 '16 at 15:24
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Well, crime and terrorism would still be possible, but would be a lot harder to succeed at and with more or less immediate consequences. Organised crime and terrorist activities would get totally shut down pretty much as soon as they did anything.

Spying would be more-or-less impossible, as would cheating on partners.

Hidden information games (Poker, Rummy, Sheriff of Nottingham, Magic: The Gathering, etc.) wouldn't exist, and all others would involve all players being able to know exactly what the other players are planning. So the best strategy might be to not plan anything, and just let whatever unconscious skill you have at the game carry you.

Financial markets would be pretty stable (no shock revelations or unpredictable changes in price). Anyone who wanted to know anything about a company would.

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A small pseudo-historical explanation in addition to Separatrix "single collective consciousness" answer:

At the very beginning, the tribes are more likely to find each other. Smaller and weaker tribes have less chance to hide, so they are either wiped out or unite with the strong ones, and the countries form faster.

The countries only differ by culture, but they're still mostly aware of each other and can perfectly understand each other. Trading is way more developed, so the countries are tempted to ignore cultural differences for trade benefits and, eventually, they unite. Strong and capable political organizations are able to seize more and more power, knowing all weaknesses of smaller organizations and common folk.

You end up with a global hivemind society under a strong authority, where almost everything relies on telepathic interactions.

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I think that in this world there is an huge focus on selective memory loss. It's only natural that people want to have some kind of privacy and secrecy. People themselves understand that too so this world focuses a lot on research trying to realize this. I'm not sure exactly how this all works out because stuff can get really complicated when you think about it but I can imagine for example that every time something embarrassing happens or just want to hide something you did you can take a pill right after that wipes out your memory of the event.

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  • $\begingroup$ You're saying that humanity would put great energy into creating such a pill? Sort of like the flashing device they have in Men in Black :) $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 19 '16 at 15:38

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