The Power of the (Imaginary) Mind

Psychics are really popular in science fiction. Almost annoyingly so, actually, given that ‘psychic power’ is in no way, shape, or form scientific. Granted, the properties that tend to make the most use of psychics or psionicists or whatever you want to call them tend to be the ‘softest’ of the science fiction genre, preferring high adventure and excitement over technological or scientific realism (think Star Wars, Babylon 5, Warhammer 40K, Mass Effect, and the like). This works quite well for them.

So, where exactly is the ‘science’ part in this science fiction?

Let’s be clear here, however: psychic power isn’t real. It’s not. It isn’t as though we ‘haven’t discovered it yet’ – it’s not like FTL drive or anti-gravity (which, though currently impossible, at least have theoretical divisions of physics that might, somehow, lead to their creation). Psychic power does not and cannot exist without violating reason and sense and physical law as we know it. Even if I’m being really generous by saying that maybe, perhaps things like telepathy might be possible, stuff like telekinesis just isn’t. You can’t move crap with your mind without getting your arms or legs involved. We don’t have secret magic buried inside our brain. None of us is going to wake up and realize we’re Jean Grey or Professor X. Psychic power in sci-fi is just a way to get wizards into space, full stop.

Still, it is cool.

So, if it isn’t naturally occurring and there is no way our little brains (or even an alien’s big brain) is going to levitate on the power of good intentions or melt steel with their bad ones, how, then, could it be made to work? In other words: is there any way theoretical science or technology could be applied to create the same effect of psychic power without, you know, us  having to pretend there is a Force? Well, I suppose there is probably some way. Let’s consider it, discipline by discipline.

Psychokinesis: The power to manipulate objects around you with your mind (covering telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and the rest of it) might be achieved through the use of a kind of advanced nanotechnology. Say you emit a kind of cloud of nanites around you–perhaps tied into your sweat glands or maybe your breathing cycle. With a control transceiver of some kind and a sizeable power source bionically implanted in your brain/body, it’s possible you could ‘command’ the nanites to move or ignite things with powerful magnetic or electrical fields. A stretch, yes, and the power would have severe limits (not to mention the fact that you’d be a giant electromagnetic capacitor, which is probably unhealthy for your dancing partner), but it might just work.

Clairsentience: The ability to see the future or observe distant places would be impossible in the sense that it’s impossible to actually see the future. Still, if social sciences become hard sciences (as described in my post here), then you can start predicting behavior with a complicated computer in your head. As for seeing distant places, that’s what Google Earth is for. Get yourself a direct neural uplink and you’re basically there.

Psychometabolim: This is the division of psychic power that involves manipulating your body – going into hibernation, dislocating your hand bones to escape traps, making yourself weightless, bulletproof, or regenerating limbs, etc., etc.. Of all of the psychic powers, this one is the most achievable. Partially, we’ve already done some of this stuff in hospitals and others can do it at circus sideshows. Beyond that, a healthy dose of nanotech could easily make your wounds repairable or toughen your skin. Don’t expect to look especially human if you do that, but still, it’s definitely possible. No making yourself weightless, though, unless antigravity technology is available and small enough to get stuffed into your legs or, more likely, torso.

Telepathy: So, above I hinted that this could be an actual thing. I say that because there is some research being done into reading minds as we speak. It’s a long way off, but it isn’t beyond the bounds of reality. Our brains are, essentially, computers that run on electrical current. It isn’t beyond the bounds of science to suggest that, if you can ‘hack’ the brain and manipulate the way the thing operates, you could control someone’s mind or read their thoughts. To do it, though, you’d need some pretty powerful hardware wired to your brain yourself. Again, I’m thinking nanotechnology would probably be involved – send a bunch of microscopic robots into a guy’s brain, and next thing you know you have him dancing and singing show tunes.

There you have it then – some loose possibilities to make psychic powers actually possible. You know, assuming we’re not all trapped inside a computer program and the laws of physics aren’t real things, anyway.

About aahabershaw

Writer, teacher, gaming enthusiast, and storyteller. I write stories, novels, and occasional rants.

Posted on June 27, 2012, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Gardner's World

    Maybe one day there will be some game-changing discovery that turns the laws of science on their head!

    • Seems terrifyingly unlikely that our brains could possibly exert physical force on external objects through force of will alone without technological aid. We know an awful lot about the brain, and none of it is super-powered.

  2. It’s always been the case that unknown science acts as the premise for fantastical ideas. Even if psychic powers never come about in our lifetime, there’s always some chance it will be possible in the unknowable future. I for one don’t mind SF’s harvesting of all this for sake of a good story. Isn’t that what really counts? I know, we hear that all the time.

    But…it’s so true.

    • The key word there is ‘fantastical’. The difference between fantasy and science fiction is that fantasy makes the impossible acceptable and science fiction makes the plausible believable. Psychic powers are incredibly implausible, if for no other reason than we’ve been walking around with the same brains for milennia and nobody’s pulled it off yet.

      I agree it can make for a good story. However that story, though good, is not plausible. Even crazy ideas like energy shields and FTL drives seem likely next to the idea of me invading your dreams and stealing your secrets. I loved Inception, but it ain’t science fiction. It’s fantasy.

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