An Old Idea Wikileaks has Gotten Me Thinking About Again

I have been sitting on a thought experiment for some years now.  Well, not exactly sitting on it — have written a bit about it and teach it in my “sociology of everyday life” class.

It starts from Simmel’s observation (in “How is Society Possible?” — a brilliant essay, BTW) that a starting point for understanding social interaction has to be the recognition that the human condition involves awareness that one can never completely know the mind of the other.  No matter how intimate the relationship, there is material held back. 

So, imagine this.  One day, god gets a funny idea.  S/he suddenly makes people’s mental content available to those around them.  All the fleeting thoughts, the quick little zigs and zags our minds make (making a cake with my mom, talking with her while I washed the dishes about her mother’s death, stealing wet cement from that construction site where I smoked my first cigar, Denise my “girlfriend” in seventh grade though I liked Kim better, that pad Thai tonight was tasty if a bit heavy, I can’t believe I mistakenly bought 2% milk the other day — all that between these two sentences and this report highly censored) fully audible to anyone around us. Everyone her own Ulysses.  How exactly it would work, I’m not sure — but imagine that there’s some way that the cacophony of it all would be sorted out and we’d be privy to the internal conversations of those around us (and they ours — and both of us privy to our reactions to what we were hearing).

So, god does this for maybe 15 minutes and then shuts it down.  This would I think, have a profound effect on us.  God would be amused.  But the s/he gets another idea: before heading off to other realms, s/he announces “that was so much fun, I think I’ll do it again sometime.”

That, I propose, could be the end of social life as we know it.

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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