Seven Surprising Ways
Mind Reading
Can Make Your Life Worse

How would you like to live in a world where you have immediate access to others' thoughts...and they have access to yours? From your doctor to your Uber driver, from your professor to your student.
Your salesperson, your waiter, your parents, your children.
Will you discover that you are similar to others in your thought process,
or will you discover that the way you think is altogether different from the way others think?

Unnumbered and in no particular order, I'm going share 7 reasons why mindreading isn't what it's cracked up to be. I'm focusing here on the drawbacks since the the benefits are obvious. When asked, "If you could have any super power, what would you choose?" most people answer, "The ability to know what others are thinking." It's not the flashiest super power, but it's one of a handful whose practical benefits solve the problems we face every day. You probably imagine a world in which you are the only one with this power. As we wade through the following paragraphs, we will assume that mind reading is a common skill.

Everyone can do it.

In such a scenario, not only will you need to handle your own intrusive thoughts, but also you'll need to learn tolerance--the tolerance required to defend against an incessant barrage of your co-worker as she replays over and over that conversation you had with her two weeks ago; the leering creeper with bloodshot eyes standing with his drink shielding his stomach; the person wearing shoes she dislikes but still purchased on the counsel of a trusted friend; the nervous dog walker's thoughts as he looks side to side after his dog takes a poo on your lawn.

If you could really read minds—not just thoughts—then you’d realize how the thoughts tend to be a sort of scattered constellation of half-formed arguments, conflicting desires, ridiculous drama, bits of insight, disturbing ideas in poor taste, juicy secrets and icky secrets, hasty judgments, quickly-formed opinions, and spurious non-linear rationalizations. This complex and incoherent tapestry even in the minds of what you had previously assumed were dull, ordinary people is now the rug on which you walk on a daily basis.

Just take a look beneath any trending Youtube video to see dozens of comments that fit the above description. Imagine you are in a room full of ten people each wearing earbuds listening to their own favorite music. One person is studying and listening to study music, another is doing his taxes and listening to tax-doing music, the third is working out and listening to her work-out playlist.

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Now imagine each person unplugging their headphone jacks so that all their phones are on speaker. Hearing that dissonant cacophony is what it's like when you open yourself to every passing thought of all passersby.

Successfully swimming laps in one person's pool of wavy thoughts floating around while staying dry is nearly impossible for the uninitiated. This raw influx of chaotic information whizzing by from every friend, foe, and passing stranger would lead to information overload and madness.

Every poker game would be futile and every marriage would either succeed or else dissolve before the wedding day. Every job interview would be finished before it began. Aside from the sound of cutlery and ceramic plates,
a dinner party would be a quiet affair.
Many professions, such as sales, would have no need of "professionals."

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The internet has shown us what mentalists have known since 1907—well-articulated thoughts are rare, even after the thinker has formulated his or her thought into a harmoniously-structured string of words (a sentence). Imagine how disorganized thoughts can be before this effort to organize cognition into a shared syntax.

 


Intentional Mind Reading

Fortunately, the life of a mentalist is not at all like that. None of the proper mentalists I know are surrounded by a constant downpour of others’ thoughts. All of them need to do something—something intentional--to draw back the shudders to let in more rain. Some are skillful in persuading their participants to open their own shudders and draw back the curtains. Inside your mind, are your curtains already drawn? Or are those curtains on the outside of the window for some outsider to open (this is more common than you'd think).

Could a mentalist gain admittance into another person’s unconscious thoughts of which even the thinker is unaware...as well as the superficial, top-of-mind awareness thoughts? Most people tend not to be very capable of discerning their own thoughts and feelings. Is it easier for a mentalist to know what you are thinking and feeling than you yourself? I would emphatically say it is.
 

Mentalism Is An Activity

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It takes more than curiosity to perform mentalism. To perform reliable mentalism takes more than just learning some Rosicrucian secret or two. It takes patience and stamina. It takes deliberate focus (to block out all that noise), it takes attention and will to summon enough empathy to discern even one discrete thought. Once you’ve mastered that, you still have all the work ahead of you to make it all presentable to a lay audience looking for entertainment for their holiday party or sales meeting.

Being a good mentalist is like being a good listener. The image of a good listener is not that of a blindfolded person reclining in a winged chair, but an attentive person leaning forward and asking powerful questions—not investigatory questions for the benefit of the listener, but questions that incite the other person to dive into himself or herself in search of the answer. Picture David Letterman asking his guest a question, “What was it like working with Tom Hanks?” Such a question draws out the guest, and benefits only the guest. Being a good listener is an activity, not a passive experience.
 

Knowing Thoughts And Feelings

If you can know thoughts, then you can know feelings. They are two sides of one coin. An emotion is just a thought reflected in the body. If you are sensitive to another's thoughts then you'll likely be sensitive to the other's feelings. In all your dealings you'll know the thoughts and motives of your fellows. Sound good
 

The Benefits of Obstacles

Mirror neurons in the premotor cortex afford everyone the ability--however feeble--to feel another person's emotions. In fact, even monkeys have them. When a monkey sees another monkey reach for a banana, it feels the same neurons fire as if he himself reached for it. These brain cells have been confirmed in humans as well, and they aren't limited to observed actions. Further studies have demonstrated that they reflect emotions and sensations as well. Though we all have these mirror neurons, some people have denser configurations.

It’s actually a good thing that, for most of us, this so-called mentalism is not an easy, passive experience, but an active one...

If Desmund can effortlessly read Fanny’s thoughts as they arise, then in the same way, Fanny can know Desmund’s judgments and all his reactions as well. This would lead to all sorts of awkward moments and apologies. There would be benefits, to be sure, such as faster and more efficient communication, a deception-free society; but the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

As a hyper-empath, what might you discover?

There's a reason hyper-empathy is cataloged as a mental disorder in the DSM (it has a different label). This supernormal emotional literacy--the ability to read subtexts, nuance, body language and gestural language, facial expression recognition, intentions, and social pace and interactions--does not necessarily make this life easy. At its peak it can even make you look exactly like a psychic; but it can render you vulnerable to empathic distress, unpredictable energy levels, moodiness, fatigue from compassion, and debilitating emotional absorption.

Hyper-empaths display highly intuitive ability. You would discover that many people don’t believe in you--even those who overtly express confidence in you and pretend to believe in you. Without asking, you would know certain things about strangers you don’t want to know. You would know that the girl who said Yes to meeting up with you romantically—that you were her fallback plan...her first choice fell through. You would see the images of her first-choice cascade from her mind before your eyes as she’s with you. Sound good?

You might expect this mentalistical ability would give you a huge advantage in getting to know people and making friends. In fact, I’ve seen no correlation between making correct assertions about the other person and social success. For example, you can walk up to a woman and rattle off her major, her occupation, her name, her weight. Something about this approach is off-putting. Far better at starting a conversation, is to make incorrect statements on purpose—it’s more acceptable, playful, and disarming. (I’ll address that in my next post, “Thoughts I Wish I Had Never Read).

Additionally, when asked, “How much were you expecting in terms of salary here at XYZ Corp?” you would know the budget your prospective employer has set in front of him or her. You could go onto The Price Is Right game show or Who Wants to Be A Millionaire and win. In fact there would be no point to such game show entertainment. Furthermore there would be no sitcoms whose entertainment value largely stems from hilarious miscommunication.

If all people were born with this ability, one obvious drawback (to me) would be that “psychic entertainers” would be out of a job (how tragic). Many people occasionally find—without entertaining it--an unpleasant thought intrude into their mind (of course such uninvited thoughts do not define a person...nearly all thoughts are uninvited, a fact worth pondering). Certainly the content of those unpleasant thoughts would not be suitable for an entertaining after-dinner show. Within the mentalist's creativity, timing, humor, and showmanship lies his greatness--not within his methods. Any demonstration of mental powers requires a regimented framework of subtle convincers in order to appear entertaining, genuine...and genuinely interesting.

Another possible drawback would be the retardation of culture. But wouldn’t culture and education increase if communication were possible without written and spoken verbal transmission? Not necessarily.

Would we have invented language if communication didn’t necessitate it? And without a verbal (spoken) language, we probably wouldn’t have come up with a written system. We wouldn’t have records (books). If we didn't have verbal communication, we probably wouldn't have books. We wouldn’t be able to learn from the thoughts of our distant ancestors. We might not even have art in the form of etchings, paintings, and even music.

One more drawback would be the dissolution of personal boundaries. Not only are personal boundaries necessary for healthy human relationships, but also, even more importantly, secrets are necessary for magic shows. Say goodbye to magic shows when mindreading becomes as ubiquitous as walking. 

Like pickpocketing, this can be used for sinister purposes, or for the benign purpose of entertainment. But it's only relevant if a wallet in your pocket and a thought in your head are assumed to be safe in a private place.

As reality presents itself now, people tell us only part of what they really think. If every individual in the population had access to the full picture, we would either all hate one another—or we would all love one another because we would fully understand one another.

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