It's the year 2XXX. A small island nation isolated from the rest of the world has developed technology, evolved, or genetically engineered theirselves to be capable of telepathy.

The only problem is that they can't switch it off.

What would this means for the mind-readers on a day-to-day basis? How would they alter their lifestyles to keep their thoughts to themselves?

Or would they try to expunge the innate desire for privacy from the human condition?

Note: Kino's Journey, a Japanese Light Novel, covers this concept in one of its stories: the surviving people of the country end up living in houses miles away from each other so they never have to hear the thoughts of one another ever again.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Questions asking How would x affect society? are often closed as too broad. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 16:04
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think they'd probably go insane quite quickly. Having to hear thoughts all the time is just like being forced to listen to someone nagging you all the time. Most of them would end up killing themselves just to make it stop. $\endgroup$
    – user9981
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ You should checkout Limetown. $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ Also, the later books in Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ Psychotherapists hear the most vile, obnoxious, hurtful, perverted etc. thoughts from their patients all the time. Do they go mad or kill themselves? No. They develop a deeper empathy and tolerance for human nature. The fact that it will become apparent that everyone has the same "evil" inside them will reconcile us with each other and lead to deeper love. $\endgroup$
    – user44653
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 9:16

3 Answers 3


Depends in two things:


The mind isn't really like a book, that can be just read. It's more like flashes of a camara from many directions. You could hardly interpret any of it, some thoughts are pure imagination others are memories (real or false) others just noise and even nothing. Unless completly structured in a intelligible form most thoughts wouldn't make any sense at all to an outsider.

Imaging dinning at a restaurant and you hear part of the conversation of each table, but can't understand most and you just don pay attention, because is just noise, we are really good at disregarding information that isn't important (the touch of your cloth all over your body is another example, is there but your mind discarded as not important).


How annoying can be? Most of our senses detect everything but our brain discard what isn't important. Your nose is there and you can see it, but your brain just erase it, unless it becomes dangerous or painfull it will end up discarded.

  • $\begingroup$ "The mind isn't really like a book, that can be just read. It's more like flashes of a camara from many directions." a good way of putting it. $\endgroup$
    – rodentry
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 16:56

Would they hear only verbalized thoughts?

In that case they could, perhaps, escape utter insanity by practicing Zen meditation and thus shutting down their verbalized thoughts as much as possible.

Probably failing to do so when not explicitly addressing someone would be regarded as very poor manners, something like shouting in a public place.

I would suggest to "invent" helmets or something similar capable to shade "unwanted" thoughts.

To really hear what people thinks is something I wouldn't recommend to anyone.

Other possibility is to quickly develop some kind of "hive mind", so chatter is not anymore between individuals but between parts of the same "machinery".

I wouldn't want to be part of that either.


They would all go insane.

There was a question on SFF.SE the other day (I probably won't be able to find it again) about a story in which all newborn babies on Earth were given telepathy via some kind of experiment. The children couldn't handle hearing everyone's thoughts all the time and, without exception, either died or committed suicide. The story ends with humanity doomed to extinction.

The other pertinent example I can think of (especially since you mentioned Kino's Journey) is Mao from Code Geass. His Geass allowed him to read people's minds, but he lost control of it and ended up reading everyone's minds, all the time. By the time we meet him, he's been driven to complete howling lunacy by it.

So to directly answer your question - What would a society of mind-readers look like? - it would either look like a mental asylum, or a mass graveyard.

  • $\begingroup$ "So to directly answer your question - What would a society of mind-readers look like? - it would either look like a mental asylum, or a mass graveyard." Good line which I will keep in mind. $\endgroup$
    – rodentry
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 16:55

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .