Here are a few things I believe but cannot prove:
Now, I admit that the proposition that in some unspecified future I will be able to merely think “we need cucumbers”, and at the same time my wife will hear in her head: “I must add cucumbers to the shopping list”, is preposterous. It would be even more preposterous if I predicted that there will be devices which would ensure that such instant information sharing will happen reliably and will be able to be turned off. But is it really so outlandish?
Consider a 17th Century scientist, a man with the wildest imagination, trying to imagine the communication of the future. Ignorant of the laws of electromagnetism, such a person would consider the idea of being able to say something in the privacy of his room, and within a fraction of a second being heard and seen by someone else half across the world, as equally outlandish. The reason is not just his lack of knowledge, but the limitations imposed on his imagination by what he believes to be self-evident. Our imagination is always limited by what we think we know about the world. To a 17th Century person, communication was inseparable from physical travel. Your letter could be carried by boat, or memorised by a horseman, to be repeated at the destination. The science-fiction writer of that age may have imagined the fastest mode of communication as a cannonball that contained a letter, and somehow kept flying across the ocean without falling down. But a non-corporeal, invisible fluctuation of electrons that can miraculously replicate a letter or an image thousands of miles away in an instant would have violated the entire worldview of such a person.
Today, we are no less limited in our imagination by what we believe to be self-evident. Our post-Einsteinean worldview for instance still maintains that information must “travel”, albeit very fast, at the speed of light. Traveling, no matter how fast, takes time. Since the speed of light is absolute, we firmly believe that information simply cannot appear simultaneously in two locations separated by space. It is a belief as firmly rooted in our thinking and just as limiting for our imagination as the idea that information requires physical travel was for our ancestors. Based on this certainty we are convinced that non-local simultaneity cannot occur in the macro-world we inhabit (though such phenomena do exist in the sub-atomic Quantum world).
I believe that the physical nature of thought will in time come to be understood far beyond the primitive brain mapping of our present time. It is entirely possible that energies that propagate thought are not electromagnetic at all, though they seem to generate an electromagnetic field as an insignificant by-product. Just as the discovery of electromagnetism transformed our world so could the discovery of a new form of “thought energy”. A 17th century philosopher proposing vibrations in the air that cannot be heard connecting specially designed transmitting and receiving devices would have been relegated to the occult, even though he would have described precisely what would transpire over the next 200 years. Perhaps there was such a fantasist, who made the mental leap without the benefit of research or proof. I would like to think of myself as a similar fantasist.
I believe, but cannot prove, that once this new form of energy that is not limited by the speed of light is discovered, it will not take long for it to be applied to technology that will enable us to share information spontaneously, instantly, in a regulated way. I also believe that the capability to turn on or turn off such knowledge sharing will be universally accepted just as email and instant messaging is today.
Why do I believe all this? Well, we have a very large body of evidence, that has been annecdotally collected over centuries, of precisely such instant knowledge sharing. It goes by various names like intuition, hunches, or clairvoyance. We treat it like flukes, or coincidences, much as our ancestors treated electromagnetic phenomena as metaphysical or occult phenomena. To my mind ESP and déja-vu have nothing to do with metaphysics. “Paranormal” is just a word we mistakenly use for physical properties we are yet to discover.
How will “instant-knowledge” affect our social fabric, our ethics, our belief systems (including religion)?
What such capabilities will do to our social fabric is another matter. Will our ability to be “inside” our fellow humans’ minds be a blessing or a curse? Like all scientific and engineering advances, only the future will tell how we end up using them. But the possibility of misuse has never stopped us from making our discoveries, and I don’t believe it will in this case either.
The Kvetching Factory
"Start every day with a smile and get it over with" (W.C. Fields)