In a story I just read, the God grants the MC perfect translation - interpretation skill, so he can travel between vastly different worlds without hassle.
The description in the story say:

  • He can read and understand any languages: living languages, dead languages, alien languages... without any education. He just "understand" the meaning of the text.
  • He can heard and understand any kind of sounds: human, animal, even the "dit-dah" of telegraph or other kinds of electronic signal that make sound.

A very small (and convenient) abiltiy, I must say.
But I already read in this site many case that a "small" ability may have effect on big things of the world, like a 2^256 operations computer that destroy the world. So, with YOUR interpretation about this skill, how strange and overpower this ability can become?

Edit 1: To reduce annoying problems of animal sounds, he can "turn off" the ability. But if unable to turn off can create an interesting problem, then go ahead. Edit 2: For the direction of the strange effect:universe destruction, knowledge of things no one know, etc...

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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't it become opinion based if it's our interpretation? I didn't see a problem if you described it as it translates all language into English(for example) whether you see or hear it. Though I can see some problems arising if the protagonist can't even see other people's language( he won't be able to learn it as a direct result) $\endgroup$
    – Skye
    Sep 12, 2016 at 8:06
  • $\begingroup$ It is true that it is based on user interpretation, but which interpretation can make it most strange (and explain the principle) is the best. $\endgroup$
    – DTN
    Sep 12, 2016 at 8:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Finally somebody can read the voynich manuscript! $\endgroup$
    – Theraot
    Sep 12, 2016 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ It depends on the limitation of the ability. Does he actually gain knowledge of the languages, and thus the ability to speak/produce them without an audience, or is he only able to understand and communicate while talking or texting? Is his understanding idiomatic, literal, or both? Would he be able to understand the subtleties of word associations, puns and obscure double meanings? Those factors are the reasons why universal machine translators are simply impossible. $\endgroup$
    – Anonymous
    Sep 12, 2016 at 13:07

7 Answers 7



The power to understand any code... At the power to understand any code that has a meaning.

We can start by defining "symbol". Symbol would be any series of marks or sounds that represents something. Now a "language" would be an encoding system that uses those symbols to convey meaning. We would call each set of symbols that has complete meaning according to a particular language a "message". Since we are counting both visual and auditory symbols... a message can be spoken, singed, written, drawn, etc..

These are rather general definitions, so if you want to add constraints please edit your question, but for what you have said…

even the "dit-dah" of telegraph

It seems that any artificial language is fair play.

Another thing I would note is that a message may have multiple meanings, and the character would understand them all at once. I do not interpret this power as being able to read the intention of the author of a message, but to be able to understand any information conveyed by the message itself and its context (for example the for of the letters on a manuscript may give away information about the author).

Note: I will be refering to the character as "the character", not taking any gender assumtions here.

On the limitations of the power

It is interesting that the character just understands. So we are not talking about a universal translator per-se, but with some training/focus this character could translate anything to a language he knows.

That's a notable distinction, the character may know a few languages (as in: he can use them to communicate) but will also understand messages in languages that are unknown.

I don't see the influx of information as annoying, but the information that the character picks up may have emotional effects and may challenge sanity. Stuff like reading micro-expressions, being able to tell at a glance - or by the pitch of the voice - what is a lie.

I want to note that I don't equate the characeter to a supercomputer. I mention below that the character would be able to understand any programing language, but the power is not to make computations in his mind, nor to simulate the behavior of software.

I want to make emphasis in that the power is understanding. The same way that understanding how a hashing algorithm works doesn't grant a person the skill to automatically come up with a password that produces a particular digest made with the hashing algorithm. Also, the same way that understanding how integration works doesn't grant a person the skill to answer a defined integral in an instant.


So, the character understands a message even if it is in an unknown language and even if that language is artificial...

The character can read all cryptography

Any message encoded in whatever convoluted code - as long as no information is lost in the encoding (as happens in hashing) - can be understood by this power.

Note: No, reading the **** as the password won't work. The password is not there.

Wireless communication

Thankfully the power is limited to vision and audition; otherwise the amount of info coming in would be too much. Yet with some ingenuity a whole lot of stuff is possible, all that is needed is to convert a signal to a visual or auditory representation...

For instance, tune a radio receiver to some seemingly uninteresting frequency and you would pick no strong signal, just noise. But there is information there.

Do it with wifi frequencies, cellphone frequencies, etc... it could spy any wireless communication, even under encryption.


A mathematical expression is a series of symbols; in fact a large portion of math can be understood as symbol manipulation. In particular, any expression that can be simplified or any equation that can be solved without breaking the equivalence would reveal its meaning.

For instance when presented with “x^2+y^2=1, (x-2)^2+(y-1)^2=4” the character would know that those are two circles, one with center in (2, 1) and 2 units of radius, the other with center in the origin and radius 1. That’s because that’s what it means.

We say that the character understand any language, so the character understands math too, and so when presented with an equation that correlates two variable, the character understand that relation.

If the character understands the relationship of the variable, the character understands how they behave relative to each other. The character could – for example – know just at glance if a function is strictly ascending or if the relationship is exponential, or whatever the variables is independent of each other.

The character would understand the math expression it simplest form. So x = 4/8 would be evident that it means that x = 0.5 because that what it means. So the character did actually gain some processing power. To make it clearer, you may not be inmediately aware that x = 321321351436584/13388389643191 means that x = 24, but well, that's what it means.

So when presented with x = integrate from 0 to 10 {35 + sin(7)^0.25 dx} the character could know that x = 350.591 because that what it means (what is at the right hand side is a constant expression after all).

When presented with f(x) = (x^2+3)/(x+1) the character would know that the function has an asymptote at x = -1, that the intervals (-∞, 3), (-1, 1) it is an increasing function, and in the intervals (-3, -1) and (1, ∞) it is a decreasing function… and so on…


Many puzzles have the characteristic that they present all the information needed to solve it (ie. that they don't require investigation or prior knowledge). For example a Sudoku puzzle presents all the information required to complete it.

We could understand this form of compression, and thus a kind of encoding. That implies that the character would be able to use the power to know the solution of the puzzle.


The character is presented with the following:

A: B is True B: A is False

This is an example of the liar paradox. As any good paradox it is problematic...

Whatever or not this paradox is ultimately meaningless is debated. See: Logic nonsense/paradox.

What the paradox says is A means that B is true, and B means that A is false. So if A is false, it must be false the B is true... ergo, B must be false, which means that it must be false that A is false... ergo, A must be true, meaning that B must be true... ergo, it must be true that A is false... if we continue the deduction in this fashion it will never end.

One alternative is to reduce the expression to A: A is false. It is the simplest form. If A is true, A must be false, if A is false it must be false that A is false, ergo... A must be true. It just made the loop tighter; it didn't lead to any ultimate meaning.

Another option is to use Kleene's logic, under which the solution is that A and B are unknown. Yet, that's not satisfactory either.

My favorit alternative boils down to A = false and B = undeterminate... but what does that mean?

Whatever or not this will put the character in vegetative state depends on how the power works. Maybe the character can compheend the paradox meaning, as granted by God. On the other hand it could be better to keep the power off unless the character is decided on using it... just in case it can't survive a paradox.

Programing languages

The character can read all programing languages from A+ to ZZT, including Brainfuck and LOLCODE. Just give this person the code base for any software and he will tell you any detail of how it works... give the character a memory dump and will tell you what is going on.

I would suspect that this person doesn't have the training to simulate software in his mind, as that is not part of the power... yet, the character could be able to pick up defects and vulnerabilities of the software.

This power useful to answer questions of the form "what happens if I do XYZ with the software?" once the character understand the code of such software.

Now you have a great spy/hacker.


Yet information is not only encoded deliberately. For example people may use body language unconsciously, and the character understands it all, even from aliens or animals.

And even more subtle things may encode information... for instance I leave an object in a visible place to remind me to pick it up... the character understand this too! The character can read intention in the placement of objects, as this can be understood as a visual language.

This implies that the character has the uncanny skill to read a person, from his body language to his selection of clothing. Or read a room, in the sense that he could understand the implications behind the furniture and objects... everybody can do this to some extent, what I say that this would be natural and no piece would be left unexplained.

Now you have a great spy/hacker/detective.

Also as mentioned by a4android this power understand dead languages is useful for archeologists.


Show the character a genome sequence. Similar to how the character could interpret the readouts from SETI... the character could read the genome... "That's an antibody, That's an enzyme, that's a biological weapon, that's a message from the andromeda empire that says 'squids are stupid'..."


What are the consequences of this being? Well, depends on what will do with this power and whatever or no other people notice. I think the strongest point would be to use the character for espionage...

If you have the character doing espionage work - something like hooking the character up to ECHELON - he would know of a lot of crazy stuff that goes on around the world. You then ask you could the character about something, and the character would just know... will tell you if the character doesn't think that this kind of espionage is unethical, and you are not torturing the character enough.

Unless the character wants to end up in that situation, I would expect that hiding the power is a better idea. Sure, there are better avenues as diplomat or plain old translator, which would be ok as long as nobody suspects about the power.

Of course, some other employment avenues are in code breaking, genetics, ect...

In particular puzzle games such as FoldIt or Eterna could have the character solving the structure for proteins to tag viruses. Perhaps will not get the cure for cancer, but the cure for AIDS.

EXTRA: The gaining knowledge interpretation

Under this interpretation, when presented with a message the character would not only what the message means, but what it refers to. This means that any knowledge associated with the message is granted.

For example: When the character sees the messages "The andromedan empire", the character would know what it means, but not whatever or not it is real, or how it is. Yet, under the gaining knowledge interpretation, the character would know what is there to know about the andromedan empire.

**The meaning of life? **

We use the word "life" as if we knew what it actually means... another problematic word is "person". This are simple concepts but the boundaries are not clear. Would the character gain ultimate understanding of the meaning of life upon being presented with the word?

hacking the power to gain knowledge

When presented with "Did Napoleon die in 1821?" The character would understand the question, that doesn’t imply that the answer is revealed. But, again, with a little ingenuity, it could work... just write: "The year of the death of Napoleon" and the understanding would be granted.

The implied consequence of this is that the character can understand everything as long as there is a way to refer to it. Write "Exo-planets with life" and now you understand.

The non-implied consequence is the storage capacity. Usually we would say that this goes to Semantic memory, but the OP says "understand" not "know". So a simple solution for preveting the head of the character to explode※ is to say that the meaning of the messages is in short-term memory... distracted and puff! The meaning of life is gone.

As per meaning too big to comprehend all at once, well, they don't have to come all at once. Under the idea that a paradox may leave the character vegetative, an overwhelming concept may leave him in awe for some time.

※: Quite literally. Something like "All the stars in the universe" would be too much for the poor brain.

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    $\begingroup$ Related to your point on wireless communication, SETI would love this guy. Point the radio telescope somewhere, show him the readout... "That's noise, that's interference from TV signals, that's a quasar, that's an alien civilisation sending out a digitised representation of their genetic makeup". $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2016 at 11:04
  • $\begingroup$ +1 A little sad that there is no explosion happen, but the forsenic section totally caught me off guard. $\endgroup$
    – DTN
    Sep 12, 2016 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ @DTN got something to explode. $\endgroup$
    – Theraot
    Sep 12, 2016 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ A moot point now that your answer is written, but 'they' is a perfectly valid gender-neutral pronoun if you don't want to have to keep referring to the character as 'the character' :) $\endgroup$
    – ktyldev
    Sep 12, 2016 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ @monodokimes I always forget that $\endgroup$
    – Theraot
    Sep 12, 2016 at 14:44

With MY interpretation of this skill, this is veeery powerful. As you describe it, the MC would also be able to understand encrypted messages. Since telegraphing or reading dead languages is already a weak kind of encryption (any written language is, honestly), i don't see any reason why he shouldn't crack the most satisfied cyphers right on the go. He would be super valuable to any intelligence agency or and warfaring county.

Funny side-effect: could he "read" the password entry fields in computers, that show **** instead of "pass" ?

Also, he would be able to understand what animals are "saying", thus making him the most well-educated person in the world when it comes to animal intelligence research...maybe he would even know what it is that whales sing of?

  • $\begingroup$ I would kill myself, the cat would annoy me everyday, the dog would demand doggie biscuits and every ant would ask for me to give them food as their God. $\endgroup$
    – Skye
    Sep 12, 2016 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, but I think more about the imply effect of such a perfect decryption ability on the world fundametial law. The 2^256 computer imply that such decryption ability may accidentially destroy the known universe. $\endgroup$
    – DTN
    Sep 12, 2016 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this would much effect the world's fundamentals, as (in our modern world) this guy would be shot dead as soon as any secret service learned from his existence and fails to capture and enslave him for their own service ;) $\endgroup$ Sep 12, 2016 at 8:25
  • $\begingroup$ That is an uninteresting ending. I prefer the effect "he come to this universe, then the whole world collapse because of contradiction physics law" $\endgroup$
    – DTN
    Sep 12, 2016 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ Reading dead languages is a very powerful form of disencryption especially for dead languages that haven't translated yet. An ideal ability for an archaeologist. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Sep 12, 2016 at 9:59

He would go mad rather quickly.

A large part of "understanding" is context-based. For example, take the following sentence:

"Hey, do you want to do that thing again that we did last Friday?"

This is a perfectly logical sentence, with a very clear meaning (to the intended recipient, at the time it was written). But the amount of context that you need to understand the message as an outsider is absolutely huge.

In order to make anything of this, the character would need to:

  1. know who the message is for
  2. know when it was written
  3. know all the things the writer and this person did "last friday", relative to when it was written
  4. know enough about both to figure out which of the things the writer wants to do again
  5. understand them well enough to figure out when they want to do it again

And that's just assuming that the message's meaning is to be taken at face value. If there's anything more subtle involved (perhaps the writer is probing if the recipient might be interested in them romantically?) you would require even more context to understand the message fully.

Now imagine this happening with every vague bit of communication. In order to properly understand the meaning of any social interaction between two people, he would need to know them intimately. And that includes written messages. Imagine reading two lines of ancient Latin and suddenly having your brain stuffed with decades of history in order to build the proper context for you to understand those two lines, not just translate them verbatim to a language you know. Imagine hearing a politician open his mouth and having your brain stuffed with the entire party ideology, including the hidden agenda part, so that you know why they are saying it, instead of just hearing the translated words.

The mental barrage the character is suddenly subject to would quickly overwhelm his brain. At that point, he either goes crazy or he shuts the ability down (and would probably not want to activate it again to prevent more brain-hurt)

  • $\begingroup$ disagree with mad part, there are obvious solutions, he should know only what he should know from what he need to get right impression of things as he need in that moment, or in any moment in future when he recalls that stuff. This impression could be created by translation, by sound, by feelings etc. Only in moments he needs that. Makes this character not interesting as person or human, because result of that will be he have no free will, and he is just projection of god. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 12, 2016 at 13:06

Well, there is one of two physically interesting things going on in the characters brain:

Variation 1

The Character permanently has the knowledge of any language and code in his brain. Furthermore he doesn't have a simple thesaurus, but an innate understanding of the cultural significance of any phrase (He can't just read a sentence, he understands it).

This is a lot of data.

Data has to be stored somewhere.

Assuming that the amount of data we're talking about, would indeed surpass the amount of information a human brain can store, this would mean that either, the characters brain has some incredible efficient compression for this data, or he has some part of his brain that is incredibly dense, or he has a direct "wifi" connection to some godly cloud-database.

Variation 2

The characters brain automatically retrieves the necessary information as needed. Again, this would be incredible because the character would also understand ancient and forgotten languages.

Lets assume, that there is a language, so old and arcane, that nobody is left that understands it, and all the sources that could be used to translate it, have allready crumbled, decayed, and their atoms have dispersed so far that there is (almost) no way to trace them back to their origin.

The character understands this language. He either...

... traced all the atoms back to their necessary sources, mentally recreating the necessary texts / people, to learn the language, in an awesome feat of computation, which would melt the earth through the energy required for it.

... can receive messages from the past. His brain is a working tachyon radar, that can "ping" past data as needed. Creating tachyons, is most likely a very energetic process, and it probably would have some interesting side effects, if the characters head suffered a containment breach (e.g. he gets his head bashed in).

  • $\begingroup$ I like both of them, but the second is more interesting to me. +1 for the explaination. $\endgroup$
    – DTN
    Sep 12, 2016 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ second is most viable $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 12, 2016 at 15:35

I think an interesting question is whether this translation ability is conscious (the hearer hears the original sounds and understands what they mean due to language knowledge /immense analytical capabilities) or whether the sounds simply sound to the hearer as though they are in his native language - an unfeasible natural ability bit since this is already being proposed as a God given trait, it seems possible that the God could be doctoring the hearer's perception in this way.

In the latter scenario, the hearer's ability to understand any language spoken to them, doesn't necessarily mean they can also speak back in that language. If everything was heard in the native tongue, they would presumably speak back likewise, and if the universe's God does not also doctor this in the same way, you could have an interesting problem of a character who can understand everyone but who nobody understands.

  • $\begingroup$ Regarding your first point, OP says "with YOUR interpretation about this skill". Maybe you can explore some alternative interpretations. I took that the character doens't hear/see in his native language because the OP says that the character "understands". The character won't be able to speak back If the character only understands the message but not how to speak in the given language, and of course if the character doesn't hear the original language at all the character won't be able to speak back either. $\endgroup$
    – Theraot
    Sep 12, 2016 at 10:35
  • $\begingroup$ That's an interesting point - I think there's still an important distinction though- the OP says he "just understands" the meaning of text/sounds. He might still not actually understand the language in order to actually speak it. It's possible that he might "just understand" any language - despite hearing/seeing the original words - , not by merit of his actual understanding of the language but due to his ability to "just understand". $\endgroup$
    – danl
    Sep 12, 2016 at 10:44
  • $\begingroup$ Even if the translation is perfect both ways, the difference between what a person says and what they mean (in their own language) can leave room for massive misunderstandings if the translation is unconscious, because the difference will still be apparent to any third person in the room... and with only perfect understanding of a person's meaning, not their words, the character will not understand the third person's confusion, and the third person won't understand the character's reactions. $\endgroup$
    – Megha
    Sep 15, 2016 at 15:14

The same message can have different meanings in different languages. Thus, having this ability would mean that he can know what language a message is in. But if I only see somebody writing down "elf", I won't know if it's some creature or the 5th prime number, I would need to know what he is thinking. Someone with the ability of understanding any language can know what someone else was thinking only by looking at what he wrote.

Facial expressions, brain waves, etc. can are also languages. If we say the brain wave tells all what someone is thinking, he can read minds.

The current state of the universe tells about its previous and past states, the person with the ability would know what had happened and what would happen. He would know the probability of something happening, and how god would have to roll dice to make it happen.

A language encrypted with a certain key is also a language. Since he knows what the language is, he will be able to know the decryption algorithm (and key if needed) to any encrypted message.

A question is a translation to its answer. Which means he can make up any question knowing the answer. Assume we have an answer that is "yes". Then he can make up a question saying "Did Napoleon die in 1821?", and he would know its answer is "yes". This way, he could know anything.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 The third and fifth paragraphs has the effect I want, but the link between them and the ability is not clear. Could you explain more, like Theraot answer, please. $\endgroup$
    – DTN
    Sep 12, 2016 at 11:59
  • $\begingroup$ Strangely enough this last point reminds me of the TV show John Doe (specifically the pilot episode)... $\endgroup$
    – Rycochet
    Sep 12, 2016 at 11:59

There is no much more strange effects you where hoped for, more then it is already: existence of god, and projecting gods knowledge on constant basis to some human, for some reason.

Those abilities can't be explained by knowledge only, as example you will never know from which language is this word "A", you might have more luck with this word "А", things are more certain with those 2 words "cop" and "сор".

Same with sounds - sound representation of word "or" have at least 2 meanings for me.

In general graphical representation and sound representations are irreversible functions.

And OP is talking about omniknowledge and omnipresence - context should be known by who and when was something said (like audio records as example) or written or whatever.

This way yes he will know which password it is ****, not in this message, because I have not written any password here, and did not meant any particular one, but with omnipresence and omniknowlege it is not a problem to know the password when it was typed and if something was meant or not.

Compared to that situation, calculation which destroy universe is kids play, we taking about knowing state of universe at any given moment, keeping that information(state, position, at plank time scale may be), operating with that information(fast searching, fast interpenetration)

May the Force be with you.


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