Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Could mind-reading be dangerous?

If you could have any super power, what would it be?


I have always wanted to read minds, but I’m not so sure I like that idea anymore. Maybe it would be best to fly, teleport or have super strength. Those seem to have a lot less risk than being able to hear everyone’s every thought.

Imagine if you never had to worry if those people muttering next to you are talking about you or what they are saying if they are. Imagine if you didn’t know an answer to a test and you could listen in to the mind of the person beside you. Or if someone had to tell you a secret, you no longer had to wait or have them whisper it in your ear – all you had to do was read their mind to find out.

Knowing all of these thoughts could drive you insane, be distracting and are also an invasion of privacy. What if someone is thinking about a disturbing thought that you do not want to know? It was private to them and they did not know that you would be listening in. People would have to censor their thoughts, so not only would we have to censor what we sometimes say, but we would possibly have to censor what goes on in our own mind.

If we could know what people are thinking, would we need to have a conversation with them? Is there really any reason that you need to talk to someone to get to know them? It depends on the depth to which you can learn their thoughts, but that can still defeat the purpose of conversation. One of the great things about friendship and relationships is that you always have things to learn about the other person. The ability to read minds would kill that.

It’s one thing to have a superpower that is specific to you, but if all of society could read each other’s’ minds, it’s almost as if there is no point to living. So much of the mystery that drives us through every day could disappear.

Sorry to all you “Twilight” haters, but let’s think about Stephenie Meyer’s novel-turned-movie series for a second. Edward Cullen – one of the protagonists – can read everyone’s mind except for Bella Swan, the one he loves. His life is too easy in the sense that he knows what everyone is thinking. He is used to this, however; it’s the only way he knows how to live his life. When he met Bella and could not read her mind, he was thrown off, but in a good way. Edward learned about Bella by talking to her and spending time with her, the way normal people in society live. He enjoyed this, though, because he didn’t have to be creepy and pretend that he didn’t know her every thought. Edward enjoyed this challenge, and it is one of the challenges that we face every day in order to learn.

What if reading minds could benefit society medically? For decades, scientists have been trying to understand how our brains process audible sounds and extract abstract meaning from words and sentences. According to Emily Sohn of Discovery News, “We might someday be able to hear the thoughts of people who can’t speak by tapping into electrical signals in their brains.”

Different studies have been conducted to further the research on this theory. Brian Pasley, a neuroscientist at the University of California at Berkeley and some of his colleagues studied fifteen neurosurgical patients with epilepsy. They attached electrodes to the surface of their brains to find the source of their seizures. Participants listened to about 50 different real and fake sentence and word speech sounds.

After mapping out the brain’s electrical responses to each sound, the research team found that they could predict which of two sounds from the study set the brain was responding to with about 90 percent accuracy. By knowing what the sound “looks like,” you identify what the sound is more easily. The only problem is that multiple sounds might produce the same electric signals in the brain.

Research on mindreading is progressing, but there is a long way to go before they are reliable and working. However, it is interesting to think about whether we would read others’ thoughts completely, in what depth, and how this could change the world.

If we could tune into what a coma patient was thinking, it could potentially benefit them, but at the same time, is that morally just? You can’t ask them if they want to have their mind read because they aren’t able to tell you yes or no. And if you read into their minds to find the answer, you are in the same dilemma.

I think that without permission from the individual himself, it is unfair to utilize this technology, as beneficial as it could be, unless it is in a life threatening situation.

Karen Podorefsky is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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    anon111Feb 19, 2012 at 2:12 am

    I’ll be honest. I stopped reading at “Twilight.” You must have known a lot of people would, sneaky mind-reader.