World-Building - Telepathy

Magic is a funny beast in Fedran. Using some of the concepts I got from my various religion classes in college, I decided that no one actually knows how magic works. While there are some consistent rules that are evolving as I write, no technique or system that encompasses everything. That goes for psionics also. Psychic powers is just a different form of magic, telepathy included.

I wasn't entirely sure how telepathy was going to work until I started writing Flight of the Scions. However, over the years, I think I have refined the concept down to the same concepts in programming and Internet.

Kanéko motioned for him to follow. She led him to a spot a chain distance from the fire and plopped down. “Now, teach me.”

Ruben sat down in front of her. He pointed to his eyes and stared into Kanéko's. “Telepathy is about memories and concepts. To communicate, you bring up a shared memory. For example, say I want to transmit the idea of looking over a cliff, I will pull up these…”

In Kanéko's mind, she found herself recalling the cliff where Maris fell over as she was peering over the side. The memories were bright and sharp.

Ruben continued. “Now, you can read. So I can also bring up letters or words.”

As he spoke, the words he used also appeared in Kanéko's head, but it took her more effort to focus on them. It felt like an obscure thought, one that she struggled with.

Flight of the Scions 28

The way Ruben describes telepathy is rather important but obscures what I consider as the underlying concept behind mental communication, Internet protocols. For example, the “shared memory” references a URI into a global memory. In modern terms, think of a URI as a website address such as which points to a common location anyone can access (the global memory, or we can call it “a social network”).

In world terms, the URI in the Vomen language (Volis) is a series of five-letter names. Those act as an encoded address into that shared memory:

“It is not,” Maris spat, “Ruben Habor!”

Ruben got a pained look on his face. “That was not mannerly.”

Kanéko glanced over at Ruben. “Your name is Ruben Habor?”

Maris's tail wagged back and forth as she spoke, “No, his name is Ruben Habor Kalis Bomen Tater. And I remember that much. But there are seven more names I can't.”

Kanéko cleared her throat. “That's a very long name.”

Flight of the Scions 27

In the above case, the medium-length version of Ruben's name is “Ruben Habor Kalis Bomen Tater”. A full name doesn't have a limit, but there is scoping rules that let us consider just shorter names instead of a full twenty-five words or more. That is the telepathic version of a web address.

We could also see this as a bit of pseudo code.

let r = uri(ruben-habor-kalis-bomen-tater);

The memory by itself is basically looking at a static website. You can get information, details, or even deeper information but it is unchanging and unfiltered. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, having this detail doesn't grant the ability to process it, which means many telepathys are know-it-alls who don't really know how to apply it.

To work around that, the other part of telepathic communication is the operation. This is a complex concept that we could consider the “verb” in most languages. Effectively, the operation is how we combine static concepts or memories (URIs) together to communicate.

A basic operation is the “intersection” operation which takes two or more memories and results in only the memories that they all have in common. We could view this as a bit of pseudo code.

let lakeMichigan = uri(lake-michigan);
let dock = uri(large-dock);
let docksOfLakeMichigan = intersection(lakeMichigan, dock);

Of course, the concept of programming languages doesn't exist in Fedran, so we have this instead:

The vomen nodded. “You'll notice it is harder. Abstract ideas will always be more difficult to imagine than something personally experienced. So, what we do is we build up a set of images and memories that we both know to make it easier. So, the more we share experiences, the more I can project…”

A series of images, of Kanéko climbing the cliff, the fight in the inn where Kanéko dodged the men attacking her, and a picture of Damagar's eyes combined together into «climb the rock to avoid Damagar.»

Flight of the Scions 28

Most of the set operations (exclusion, union, and the like) are part of telepathy along with things like temporal sequences and combination operations. So, to tell someone to walk from their house to the store would be a time sequence pointing to the shared memory of their house, the memories of strolling down the street, and the shared memories of that store.

let house = uri(house);
let walking = uri(walking);
let store = uri(store);
let seq = sequence(house, walking, store);
let timeSequence = temporal(seq);

return transform(timeSequence);

Or, in a harder to read format:


The above bit of pseudo code is effectively Volis, the telepathic language of the Isle of Vo. It is my first language in this world but also the least documented because I'm not sure how to write it up until this point.

Now the biggest problem that I had with telepathy was Kanéko. She has no magic but she is adept at communicating telepathically. That is somewhat true but not entirely. She is adept at picking up the language and working with memories but she doesn't have the ability to actually communicate.

In effect, telepathy functions like Internet protocols. When you request a website, your browser (Firefox, Chrome) does something called a GET request for that page to retrieve data. When you submit a form, you usually do a POST operation. The data being retrieved from the server or sent to it has a special format… the language in this case.

She looked over at him, and then reached down to grab his hand. As soon as she felt the itch of his telepathy, she brought up the image of the gun. It came quickly, like with Ruben, and she focused on it. Images flashed through her head and she continued to pull the construction of the weapon, how to use it, and what it could do. The images burned through her thoughts and she used it to explode it into parts and reassemble it in her mind.

«Kanéko Lurkuklan, we need to discuss your manners with telepaths,» came the amused thought from Tagon.

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In the above example, as soon as Kanéko “connected” to Tagon, she performed a series of GET operations to start retrieving data. (Not expecting her to use telepathy, Tagon didn't think he needed security so there was no login page.)

She projected a burst of an apology but continued to draw out knowledge from him. She focused on the gauge to determine its purpose. When it welled up in her mind, she smiled. The design of the gun would allow five shots but it was made by hand. That meant tiny imperfections changed how it fired the shots. The scratches on the dial must have been Sinmak’s attempt to identify the charge left in the weapon.

Flight of the Scions 43

The “projected a burst” was the POST operation I explained earlier. In effect, she submitted a form to send the apology to Tagon. This general process, at least in how I envision it is part of the REST protocol.

Kanéko doesn't have the ability to establish a connection (that's magic) but she has the ability to use it once it's there. That way, she still doesn't have magic (a key part of her character) but is adept at communication, visualization, and adapting.

Of course, most of telepathy is obscured by the narrative. The details aren't important in most cases, it just happens that telepathy is a plot-critical component in Kanéko's stories. In most cases, it is just glossed over.

When the waiter pulled himself away, he stared at a cup of coffee still on his platter. He picked it up and held it out. “Did one of you order this?”

An older woman came up and held out her hand.

Without looking, the waiter handed it gently to her and then left without a word and a quizzical look on his face.

Prospects of Love Among Mages 3

So, that was a somewhat long introduction to telepathy in Fedran, the introduction to my first conlang that I developed, and the underlying concepts that no one in the world will actually figure out.