Notes on Telepathic Hallucinations

The average Joe has no idea how telepathy ought to work.  Scattered thoughts in need of editing.
  August 29, 2003

It's one thirty in the morning.  This is the best time to jot down thoughts on telepathic hallucinations.

Sometimes in a science fiction book or movie they'll have a character who is an evil telepath.  Or a good telepath.  In any case, a situation will arise where this character has to mess with someone's perception of reality to further some kind of a worthy or dastardly cause—saving the world from destruction, say, or pushing the world towards it.  Such plot twists are but one example of the public's blatant misunderstanding of the workings of telepathy and psychic illusions.

Consider the fact that even a telepath is ultimately just a human being.  The ability to send and receive mental communications is his only distinctive feature.  So how does he make someone see things that aren't there?

A mental communication is sending content from my brain to yours.  This content must be created before it is sent.  Therefore, to induce an illusion in someone else, the telepath first needs to induce it in himself.  Have you ever tried to make yourself hallucinate on demand?  Not too easy, that.  Without outside help, this is where the illusion creation process runs into its first snag.  At his worst, our telepath only can make his victim see things that are really there but seen from the perspective of the telepath.  The end result would be something like seeing an object from two different angles simultaneously.

On planet Technologia, which I shall now invent to propel my speculations shamelessly forward,—on Technologia, I say, they give people brain implants that endow them with the ability to self-hallucinate.  The implants work by intercepting and altering the five-sense inputs from outside stimuli, then forwarding them to the brain.  The chip comes with an input selector: you can mess with your own perceptions, or (if you're a telepath) feed into it perceptions snatched from someone else's brain.  Once the perceptions are altered, you can send them back into the brain of your victim.  This means you truly can create illusions based on the recipient's perceptions, instead of filling his brains with the worthless junk that clutters yours.

Enter second snag!  You may have the appropriate illusion set up and ready to go but the recipient already has a set of his own perceptions in place: when you snatched them, you didn't remove them from his brain, just created a copy in yours.  If you send your illusion it will collide with his reality.  Suddenly, the recipient will see two realities, identical except for the changes in the set you gave him.

What does this do to a consciousness?  Turns out, nothing much beyond a big headache akin to the pains of watching a 3-D movie with the glasses off, but on a larger scale.  After the initial shock, the recipient's brain adapts, favoring one of the two conflicting sets of perceptions, kind of like focusing on television to the exclusion of the real world, or vice versa.  If you're out to confuse the guy, you don't care which set he favors because the second vision will still hang before his eyes, blurring everything.  But by now the flaw in the popular idea of telepathically induced illusions should be obvious.  Your victim's illusions aren't “clean” the way Hollywood hacks imagine; they get superimposed on reality rather than obliterate it.  Technologian scientists are working on making telepathic suggestions supplant, rather than overlap, real perceptions, with little success so far.

One final observation.  There is a popular horror film that features a scene wherein the hero reads a book in the light cast by a luminescent ghost invoked by a telepath across an ocean.  The laser quill trembles in my indignant fingers as I burn these words across your retinas, oh captive audience.  Of course the telepath could make the guy see the ghost, but how could this non-existent, hallucinated ghost illuminate a real-life book?  Such pernicious mistakes must be expunged and this simple truth must be impressed on the minds of all doubters of our universe's substantive nature: real books cannot be read under imagined light.

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