“A mad scientist friend offers you a chip that would allow you to know what the people you’re talking to are thinking. The catch: you can’t turn it off. Do you accept the chip?”
I’m not even sure many people know what they are thinking themselves! Their muddled thoughts tangling with mine would be too much. I’d have trouble figuring out which was whose. As it is, I tend to retreat from Facebook and other sites just so I can chill.
Even if I got away from the babel by shutting myself alone in a room and doing cross-stitch, would I find myself hearing hundreds of tiny voices all around?
This plant tastes very bitter… I’ll just work my way up the leaf a bit. Lookit those nice bright flowers, don’t know why I can’t get at them. Keep bumping my head on something. There’s a whole colony of us inside this soft toy, sleeping in the stuffing. He’s alive with us and our thoughts, and it’s a wonder he doesn’t pick himself up and totter across the floor. Maybe if we all jumped together at the same time…? We should do it just for a laugh.
Am slinking through the grass, feathery blades ticking my nose…. whoo, that mouse was tasty! Must jump up and see if window open. Can see human inside. Silly human! Thinks I love her.
Would I only hear the thoughts of someone near me, or would I hear them every time someone sent me an email?
Dear Delilah, thank you for your email. (Bored, bored, bored). It was a lovely hot day, wasn’t it? (I don’t know what else to talk about). What you said about that book was very interesting and made me laugh (you talk an awful lot, don’t you?) I’ll have to look out for it (can’t remember what it’s called now, but I won’t be looking for it anyway). Gosh, is that the time! Got to run (staying right here and drinking tea)…
I don’t even need a chip for that.
Even viewed in isolation, think of what it would take away from my normal routine. When writing my diary at night, whose thoughts would I record — mine or everybody else’s? I could quite happily record a conversation I had with someone and think “that was a good joke, I enjoyed that!” but if I knew what the person was really thinking, it might not be so much fun.
“What on earth? I better just humour her. I suppose she can’t help it if she’s a bit weird.”
Would I want to even remember the joke afterwards, let alone add it to my diary? It would be more likely to turn into a rant.
It sounds simple to suggest you could read someone’s thoughts, but how much of a person’s mind and memories would you be able to see? Could you sense what that person remembered of growing up, and feel the presence of people he knew? When he looked at you, could you see yourself in detail? The spot on your nose, your crooked teeth, the expression of shock as you gazed unwillingly back? Could you see flashes of yourself all over town, seen from various angles and different people? Maybe you’d look beautiful to some and a mess to others.
You would take on people’s emotions too, even if they weren’t thinking about you. As you walked along the street with your eyes to the ground, you’d shimmer through a multitude of different moods, as though gliding through patches of sun and shade. You wouldn’t know your own view of a thing from one moment to the next.
In my diary at night, would I find myself describing events in someone else’s day, and would I ever confuse them with my own? “My cat went missing a week ago and I’ve been so….. oh wait! Socks isn’t mine, and Samson is snoring downstairs, what a relief. Then there’s the dog Fluff, a grumpy little hamster called Wee Nip, and a couple of guppies in a tank. Only when I went to feed them, they didn’t exist. It makes me sad.”
If I could feel another person’s sense of home environment, I might find myself heading to the garage to wash my car or work on a go-cart, then wonder why I’m standing looking at a blank wall. What car, anyway? And though I had to get a nubbins to fix something, I don’t know how to plumb. Only it wasn’t me who bought it anyway.
If I could hear music through someone else’s headphones (reading it in their mind), would it sound to me the way it sounds to them, even though I’m severely deaf? Would I hear all the notes that are missing? Would that cause me to hate a song I thought I loved, just because it didn’t sound the way I thought?
Come to think of it, I’ve not enjoyed CDs since the advent of the digital hearing aid, which has seriously impaired my listening experience. If I could hear sounds though other people, I could force them to listen to non-stop hits from the 70s and 80s. If young people start disappearing from your local community, you might find them locked up in a tower with Abba and Billy Ocean.
If you had this chip and could read the minds of people around you, you might feel more understanding of humanity in general (and of individuals in particular), but at what cost?
If a stranger was walking along thinking pleasant thoughts about the people she liked and the hobbies she enjoyed, you would be inclined to warm to her, but all that would change when she suddenly caught sight of you. She might start thinking, “Look at her! Woman her age shouldn’t have messy grey hair like that. ‘S not decent. And what’s that rag she’s wearing?? Time she chucked it in the bin.”
From hero to zero in an heartbeat — for both you and the stranger.
If people didn’t understand you just as well as you understood them, you could wind up hating them for it. ‘Understanding them more’ would be wiped out as a benefit. What exactly would you understand about them anyway? “I know why he’s angry all the time… I can see why, and feel it too. I also know that he doesn’t try to see other people’s points of view because he prefers to believe in his own rightness.”
Would you subscribe completely to that other person’s view of himself, or would you stand outside his thoughts and see exactly what was missing? Would you know why he wasn’t making certain leaps? If he didn’t know; would you? Would you understand him more and cut him some slack, or would you feel even more confused and disillusioned?
While I was at it, shouldn’t I be wondering how my mad scientist friend knew this worked…. is that why she’s mad? Is she going to make the rest of the world mad too? What is her ultimate aim?
What does she know about me that makes her think I’ll accept? That has to be proof she’s not wearing the chip herself, and she just wants a guinea pig. Thanks but no thank you. Take it away!