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

This fictional world is the same as our Earth. It has the same history. The same conditions. Suddenly, though, everyone can know what everyone else are thinking. Everyone in this world can then 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. This new ability is at least as easy to use for everyone as using the five senses is in our world. Anyone can suddenly do it.

You don't really need to know much about anyone in order to look 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 a nearly unlimited fashion. Or you can ask "Who is looking into my mind 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 to 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 it all. So you have to choose what you 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 observed a person going through something 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 things that will unfold after this ability is suddenly given to humanity?



Related question.

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closed as too broad by James, AndreiROM, Frostfyre, Xandar The Zenon, Hohmannfan May 19 '16 at 17:38

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.

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    $\begingroup$ We Are the Borg. You Will be Assimilated. Resistance is Futile. $\endgroup$ – Victor Stafusa May 19 '16 at 11:41
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Fiksdal, this is a cool set up and an interesting question but it seems really really really broad. The potential implications are massive and far reaching, can you narrow your query to something a little more specific. Law enforcement, politics, co-workers, there are tons of options. $\endgroup$ – James May 19 '16 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ For an interesting take - The Brass Teapot imdb.com/title/tt1935902 (granted it was only the couple, but still) $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner May 19 '16 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ Every married couple in the world will immediately split up. $\endgroup$ – Dark Hippo May 19 '16 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ @VictorStafusa I came into the comments to write just that. +1 :D $\endgroup$ – MichaelK May 19 '16 at 16:27

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1: Lots of suicides almost immediately when people figure out the implications. Anyone who ever did anything that they're exceptionally terrified of others finding out about etc.

2: Lots of lynchings. In the UK mobs will be charging through the streets setting pedophiles and potential pedophiles on fire.

3: Even more lynchings. There is no longer such a thing as a closeted gay person. Anywhere. Including in every theocracy that punishes homosexuality with death. There is nowhere you can hide from someone searching for you, if they want to know where you're hiding they know. The streets run red with blood as any outed minorities are dragged from their beds by baying mobs.

4: Even more slaughter. Trans people are hunted in Russia, atheists are torn limb from limb for apostasy along the Pakistan border. Resistance fighters are dragged through the streets in oppressive dictatorships.

In the brave new world it's utterly unsafe to believe forbidden things, even if they're only in your mind and you never utter a word. Nobody is safe, nobody can hide, guilt is certain, "justice" can be swift and brutal.

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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if we wouldn't find that most of the people inclined to perform the lynchings actually harbor the same thoughts and emotions that they want to destroy. At least I've watched some movies/TV shows where closeted homosexuals are hyper aggressive towards those who are open, as a way of protecting their own reputation. $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner May 19 '16 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ @WayneWerner And the religious people would be able to see whether their religious leaders were being honest or not. And what their motives for prosecuting gays, "infidels," etc., really was. They would also be able to see that people of other faiths also have had religious experiences (if the person remembers it as an authentic religious experience, it will appear that way in the memory) that seem to confirm their faith too. Thus, the religious people may end up being less closed minded. This, of course, is only if people are willing to check for all this. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 19 '16 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ It sure would be interesting to visit some of the hate groups, e.g. Westboro Baptist Church or KKK shortly after The Event. $\endgroup$ – Wayne Werner May 20 '16 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ @WayneWerner Yes, lol. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 20 '16 at 18:04
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Way more criminals are immediately discovered than the authorities can deal with.

A lot of bad people find out information that they can use to evil ends (either before getting caught, or to avoid getting caught).

Cheating partners are exposed.

Stock prices for a numerous companies (including some massive ones) crash.

A lot of friendships are broken.

Virtually every game that isn't based mostly on either physical skill or random luck becomes unplayable.

Essentially, massive, immediate changes, almost none of which are good.

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    $\begingroup$ I dunno. I feel like truly and perfectly understanding each other would make a lot of these problems non-issues. For example, that criminal that was going to go knock over a bank? Not only is he now discovered, but so are his motivations. Maybe he's in a rough spot and somebody will help him out of it in an honest way. And also, the situations of the bank owners are now exposed. Maybe they're not the evil scumbags the criminal thought they were. Or maybe they are, but the new perspective gives them a change of heart and they help the criminal themselves. $\endgroup$ – Devsman May 19 '16 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Devsman Maybe a combination of the two? Like an initial period of utter chaos and confusion, and then after a long time, a new, utterly different society. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 20 '16 at 18:12
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A hive mind

If everyone knows everything, we essentially only have 1 mind. We are one creature, where every limb can "act" autonomously, but everything it thinks/knows/wants is shared.

We'd like a nest of bees, a giant octopus, an ant colony.

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    $\begingroup$ Thoughts of other people are still perceived as separate from the own mind, so people will still massively disagree on what actions to perform (although they'll know each other's opinion). $\endgroup$ – Turion May 19 '16 at 19:33
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    $\begingroup$ While they might disagree, they'll have access to all the information the other person had, and understand why he chose to perform that action. They might also know that if they disagree too hard, next time someone will disagree with them - there might be a "live and let live" mentality, a give and take. The level of cooperation will be much higher thanks to the newfound shared information - the few cases where people disagree can easily be carried thanks to the huge new advantages. $\endgroup$ – Konerak May 19 '16 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ Absolutely agree. But I think there is still a big step towards a hive mind. (I find your answer a bit contradicting there.) As a hive mind, I understand a collection of individuals who give up their own autonomy for the bigger mind. $\endgroup$ – Turion May 20 '16 at 17:07
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all humans suddenly get this ability

Unless this ability was coupled with an automatic "fail-safe" of some kind, everyone would go insane just as suddenly. Each person would look around, see everyone in sight writhing on the ground and wonder "What the heck is going on with everybody?" inviting 8 billion equally-bewildered minds to pour into their own - and promptly join the rest of the people writhing on the ground.

Even if this ability built up gradually, everyone with an undisciplined mind (which would basically be everyone, myself included) would succumb to madness due to stray thoughts like "I wonder what people think of the new Star Wars movie" crushing them under an avalanche of information.


(Edit, In response to the OP's clarification of the limits imposed on the otherwise unlimited)

It still assumes too much auto-magical discipline and leaves too many premise-questions unanswered. What if "Who painted this wall?" involved 4 people? Would you access all four at once? What if the painter doesn't speak your native language? And what if the painter happened to be looking into your mind? Would it be a John Malkovich moment or some kind of infinite thought loop? ("Ick!" in either case)

No matter how you shore up the built-in protections, you'd still have world-wide paralysis with everyone living in someone else's head for an indeterminate length of time. Put yourself in the situation described and ask how many people you'd check out. I'll bet it's a longer list than you think. If you doubt this, think "super models" (you, dear reader, pick the gender) and go from there. It's doubtful that society anywhere would be able to cope with this before enough of our fragile nuclear technology (reactors, not warheads) went off like popcorn and in time enveloped the world in a radioactive blight.

A slightly more plausible scenario - one that doesn't inexorably lead to the end of the species due to neglect of technology - would be to have this ability "bestowed" on humanity earlier in its history; a time when nations were more autonomous, economies were less interconnected and world-ending technologies didn't exist. Even with that, humanity would take decades and multiple generations to adapt - and it would be very very messy.

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    $\begingroup$ I think OP's second limitation was meant to avoid the problem of dealing with too many thoughts at once. You're only able to process as much as you can deal with. $\endgroup$ – Turion May 19 '16 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @Turion Correct. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 20 '16 at 18:05
  • $\begingroup$ ok - I've updated my post to reflect the limitation $\endgroup$ – Jym May 23 '16 at 17:28
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Social issues...? What about political issues?

The societal issues would be nothing compared to the potential world-shaping consequences. Sure, bank accounts would be stolen, people would go crazy, blah blah blah, but what about the people with REAL power? The people in charge of well trained militaries, terrifying weapons, and powerful technology... these are the people who now have the world in their hands.

Before the event, uncertainty and "diplomacy" prevents these people from acting rashly and just attacking anyone they please. Now that there are no secrets, what happens? World powers would know all of each other's motives and secrets, and the secrets of all their enemies. The outcome of this could vary from total anarchy to the formation of a super government all based on timing and whether or not the right people ask the right questions. Do allies stay allies? Do new alliances form, or does everyone split apart? Does everything turn into a mess because nobody wants to listen to anyone anymore? Small seed events could thrust us down widely different paths. For instance, the United States could have their systems taken down by any number of people with the ability to do so now that secret systems are no longer secret. Sure, you can't just ask "what's the weak-point" and expect someone to know it, but given the amount of people who would like to hack into government systems, it's likely that SOMEONE would succeed. If our core systems are taken down at a critical time, we could be open for surprise attacks. You may say that surprise attacks wouldn't work, but knowing an attack is coming doesn't necessarily make you prepared for it, nor does it make your reflexes or tactical logic any better.

Really, anything is possible. World powers get nuked by <insert enemy here>? Sure, if someone with the ability to do so acts rashly with their new powers. World powers retaliate with further nukes? Sure, if they're not a total mess or (again) the group of people with the ability to do so acts rashly. No nukes are launched and instead we're locked in a furious diplomacy stalemate? Sure, if people are overwhelmed with the influx of information and secrets. Small states all warring with each other? Sure; it's a micro version of world powers fighting with each other. It all comes down to what secrets are exposed and how the current governments react to such secrets, and how good they are at handling this information.

Oh, and social meltdown, but that's kind of irrelevant in the face of big bad enemies with lots of scary weapons.

My opinion

I think that various governments would be OVERWHELMED with the completely unmanageable amount of problems they're now facing. Not only do they have to deal with the breakdown of society, all their own secrets getting loose, and all these new enemy secrets being discovered which warrant immediate action, they ALSO have to deal with single-minded enemies who are now more inclined to attack. Governments are in a panic with various members of staff all stressing over the constant revelations of new information (both that they discover themselves and what is brought up by others), and they stop functioning properly.

The first attacks made by enemies (doesn't matter who attacks whom) would put societal problems into perspective, and any working governments would become focused on external problems rather than trying to focus on all of them. Without regard for consequences (and because everyone is entirely over-stressed and jumps at the opportunity to focus and unite), governments of the world counter attack any potential enemies, and bolstered by their success, proceed to systematically wipe out all enemies of the nation. Various terrorist organizations are simply eradicated and any further resistance is met with retaliation. It doesn't matter that enemies know you're coming; if you're more powerful, you'll still win. Various nations are turned into military states to quell the massive social uprisings due to all the attacks, but are unsuccessful in maintaining it. All governments eventually break down, but we don't get thrust into thermo-nuclear war because systems aren't functioning anymore.

It's a typical anarchy scenario, but the aftermath's regrouping efforts would build an entirely different society. There's less emphasis on leadership and action and more emphasis on understanding. New societies are no longer formed around secrecy and greed. Property, wealth, none of that matters anymore, because you can't keep it to yourself properly. Those who are incapable of understanding become the minority; since they don't ask the right questions or don't listen to the answers, they can't survive with all these people who DO understand each other. These new societies are completely unrecognizable and live in relative peace, since misunderstandings are basically nonexistent. We become far more homogeneous in our thought processes and technology advances at a considerable rate due to the propagation of ideas.

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    $\begingroup$ Very interesting. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 19 '16 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ Don't agree. Societies stopping to work because anarchy is much more impactful. Who is gonna be fighting any war if there is no order in society any longer? $\endgroup$ – mathreadler May 19 '16 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ People don't fight wars because it's logical, they fight wars because they think they're doing the right thing. People in the military are well trained to answer to authority; most world powers don't have a civilian military. I'm not saying that people in the military are stupid, but they have a sense of duty and honor which would prevent them from tearing each other apart. If someone in command gives them a direct order, you'd be hard pressed to find a squad that doesn't obey, even in this scenario. $\endgroup$ – randomous May 19 '16 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. Well would it even work to create soldiers in a society where everyones thoughs is readable. The sociopaths on the top will have their thoughts read and no one would agree to be taught to become soldiers by them. $\endgroup$ – mathreadler May 19 '16 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ @mathreadler, reading thoughts is limited by the reader's mind, so a stupid patriot will still go into war without questions asked. $\endgroup$ – Turion May 19 '16 at 19:37
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If society manages to last more than a few weeks then I imagine we will develop knowledge hiding strategies. If anyone can read my mind then I am going to make an effort to not know some important information.

For example, I can mind read anyone's usernames and passwords to websites, including online banking. To counter this we would probably move to fingerprint based access or multi factor authentication.

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I wonder what Bills Gates' bank details are?

Total complete and utter chaos, followed by a lot of divorce.

Eventually a much more civilised and balanced culture should rise, without any hangups about sex.

Someone will put a lot of effort into creating a drug that blocks the effect.

Everyone will know what you did last summer.

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  • $\begingroup$ Also followed by a lot of spontaneous marriages and sex. $\endgroup$ – Turion May 19 '16 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ Why no hangups about sex? $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 20 '16 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Fiksdal because everyone is going to know exactly what you did and you're going to know what they did $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 20 '16 at 19:02
  • $\begingroup$ So less taboos, shame, awkwardness, etc, because everyone knows each other's dirty secrets? $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 20 '16 at 19:07
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Divisiveness and hate ends. People see another person's entire thought process before disagreeing or marginalizing them. We realize that most people who we disagree with aren't unreasonable.

And the true sociopaths become much easier to avoid.

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In addition to Bez and Murphy's answers, the key cultural change that occurs to me is that stability will rapidly settle in on a macro level:

  • planning battles, coups, takeovers etc. Will not be possible clandestinely
  • assassinations will also not work
  • individuals will have advance notice of these sorts of things, so the only way a war can be successful is to use attacks that planning cannot be the key factor for.

Examples:

  • An attacker decides on a frontal assault - so the defence builds fences - so the attacker has scaling gear - so the defence has riflemen targeting those coming over the wall - but the attacker knows where they are and lobs mortars - but this means the defence will have deliberately moved in time...etc

  • 3 candidates are in the running for a political position, and everything about them is known, so those with skeletons in the closet no longer have a closet. All the history and aims of each candidate will be clear, so no canvassing or political roadshows required. The best candidate for the population should win every time.

So dramatic upsets based on war are unlikely, immediate changes to political parties and organisations to remove those with criminal or immoral pasts and aims will happen, and the end goal will be cultural stability.

(Possible exception, and useful story concept - individuals with brain damage or mental impairment that either blocks this 'telepathy' or removes their ability to think logically may be able to work outside these constraints and cause unanticipated damage or trouble.)


On an individual level, creativity may be enhanced - inventors who have a new theory or idea may be able to tap into all those who have associated concepts, so technology development may rapidly accelerate.

Creativity, however, may be impacted - the attraction of stories and films may go if every possible audience member already knows the entire story...

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In the immediate term, as others have said, murders, suicides, assaults, and social chaos.

In the intermediate term -- a year or more out -- we would develop a social convention/law of not reading others' minds without permission. Certain authorities would be exempt from this under certain circumstances (like obtaining a warrant). People who read others' minds without permission would probably be severely punished.

How would the authorities know whether you did this? Simple -- they'd read your mind. Maybe once a year, everyone is asked whether they committed this crime, and punished accordingly.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a very good idea, but probably impossible to enforce. This is a crime that everyone could commit in their own minds. It's like "Try not to think of a red firetruck." $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 19 '16 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @fiksdal I think it depends on how much effort is required to read another mind. Is it basically forced upon you -- you have no choice but to know what they're thinking? Or do you have to take some affirmative step? If it's more like the former, then I agree your analogy of the firetruck is valid. $\endgroup$ – door_number_three May 19 '16 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ It takes very little effort. It's similar to looking through your own memory, In terms of effort. But you do have to ask yourself the question and decide to look. It's not exactly like the red firetruck. But a little bit. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw May 20 '16 at 4:02
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We become depressed as we realize socialisation becomes utterly meaningless if any behaviour masking your thoughs is futile. We isolate ourselves as being social is worthless if everyone already can judge you no matter how you adjust your behaviour. In the end we even stop caring if we live or die. Without hope of freedom there is nothing worth to work for in any world.

Perfect recipe for creating depressed alcoholics who give up on life - en masse.

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