Wednesday, 17 May 2017


I have been thinking about Poul Anderson's universal telepath, Aycharaych, but it gets complicated.

Our Experience
When I overhear a conversation in English, perhaps three processes occur with at least apparent simultaneity:

(i) my ears detect sounds;
(ii) my brain processes data;
(iii) I understand the spoken words.

I know that (ii) can occur without (iii) because I had a dream caused by a ringing telephone.

When I overhear a conversation in Russian or Chinese:

(i) occurs;
some parts of (ii) can occur, e.g., I might recognize the language or remember some of the sounds;
(iii) cannot happen.

A microphone can do (i). A computer program can analyze sounds, speech patterns and linguistic structures but cannot generate semiconscious dreams or conscious perceptions. Thus, the kind of data-processing in (ii) requires an organic brain capable of consciousness and intelligence. (iii) requires actual consciousness and intelligence.

Aycharaych's Experience
His brain (i) detects and (ii) processes radiation from other nearby brains. Probably a sufficiently sensitive scientific instrument would be able to detect and process cerebral radiations but would not thereby become conscious - unless, of course, the instrument were also an AI that duplicated all of Aycharaych's brain functions. Aycharaych also (iii) immediately understands the thoughts that are associated with the radiations that he has detected. That sounds like the equivalent of me instantly understanding any language even if I had never learned it or even heard it before. Surely impossible?


Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Well, it WAS thought, by people who grew up within the sphere of space dominated by Technic Civilization for any being to have Aycharaych's powers. After the discovery of Aycharaych's abilities in THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN, scientists working for the Empire hypothesized that his race had evolved unique telepathic powers. It was also deduced that, despite his powers, Aycharaych could not read more than the surface thoughts of an individual. But, of course, questioning of that person by Aycharaych would evoke in the mind of the subject what he wanted to know, no matter how hard the person being interrogated tried not to reveal that information.


S.M. Stirling said...

From a writer's point of view, when you make it impossible to lie to someone you really change the nature of personal communications.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

True, I agree that would be the case most times. But Poul Anderson worked out an ingenious way of how it might be possible to lie even to a telepath like Aycharaych in "Honorable Enemies."