Cyranoids – Who Are You Really Talking To?

This fascinating article on Wired has been bouncing around Twitter today – about an experiment into “cyranoids”, a term coined by psychologist Stanley Milgram for “people who do not speak thoughts originating in their own central nervous system: Rather, the words that they speak originate in the mind of another person who transmits these words to the cyranoid by means of a radio transmitter.”

As it turns out, people aren’t really primed to question the source of the words being spoken by someone they’re interacting with. Even when it seems incongruous – or impossible, as in a case described in the article where a group of 10 people answered questions simultaneously – you just don’t expect that a person is only repeating words whispered in their ear.

It’s a concept that sets my mind racing on all kinds of ideas. What happens to a society that knows you can never be certain who you’re talking to, even face-to-face? John Scalzi’s recent novel Lock In has a concept that can play off this idea: in it there are individuals called Integrators, who loan out their bodies to be controlled by others suffering from lock-in, who cannot use their own. When speaking to an Integrator, you might actually be speaking to one of their clients.

There are all sorts of interesting storytelling dilemmas you could create from the idea that you might not really know who the person standing in front of you is. Really very interesting to consider.

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