Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Riding on a beam of light or mind reading?

It is interesting than when I put 'riding on a beam of light' and 'mind reading' together in one sentence, both seem like the kind of activities that tantalize adolescents. Teenagers feel intensely, are intensely aware of identity and privacy, and have enough energy to reach for the stars. They often seek activity that is an adequate expression of this highly combustible combination. Both mind reading and light-surfing fit the bill.

As you may remember, Einstein imagined riding on a beam of light. For him, this imagining led to a new way to understand light, physics, and time. Ultimately, his daydream changed the lives of people he would never meet in ways that we have not yet fully realized. If we all dreamed as disruptively as Einstein, every daydream would open new dimensions to human consciousness.

Mind reading is equally dangerous. When we think of teenagers, we are drawn to their need for privacy ("You can't go into my bedroom!") and their need for community ("but I have to see my friends!"). They communicate an intense need to be both understood and enigmatic, a need for someone to read their minds and an equal and opposite need to protect themselves. We are drawn to them because they communicate an experience that lives within us, often unexpressed.

We all know people who can read our minds, at least occasionally. We all know the joy of having someone pay us the kind of close attention that results in mind-reading. And we all know the vulnerability of suddenly being revealed in a way that we did not anticipate and do not welcome. How does this knowledge allow us to stabilize our sense of ourselves so that we can open ourselves to close connectedness?

Once we accept that mind reading is possible (a starting point for much science fiction and fantasy writing), we need to make choices about what conditions are necessary for it to occur and when it is appropriate. Is more knowledge always a good thing? Our experience from the other end suggests that mind reading is as dangerous as riding on a beam of light: they both shift our perceptions so dramatically that we cannot get back to where we started.

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