One of the comments on one of my telepathy articles indicated I had missed something. At first I didn’t think I had, but then I realized that the commenter was right.
I’d say that under “Mind reading” There is a phase between Touch Telepath and Intrusive Psychics. This is the telepath whose ability is a passive one. He/she is bombarded by the thoughts of others rather than reaching out and grabbing them, and has to learn to filter all the voices in their heads out. Most telepaths in Marvel Comics are of this variety (e.g. Professor Xavier, Jean Grey). Now granted, most of them have the ability to be intrusive psychics and reach into others’ minds, but I’ve seen some examples (though none immediately come to mind) of those whose abilities are nothing more than hearing the surface thoughts of those around them without even trying.
There are three types of telepathy. Involuntary, controlled, and physical. I already covered that last one when I discussed touch-telepaths, so this article deals with the difference between controlled and involuntary telepathy.
I have enough doubt in my abilities without having to listen to Riker and Picard’s as well!
Involuntary telepathy is not fun. Most people cursed with such an ability cannot handle the stress, and meet with a tragic end at a fairly young age. (If they’re born with the ability, that is. If it’s something they suddenly obtain than they meet a tragic end even faster at whatever age they’re currently at.) Either that, or they lose the ability, a relief to everyone involved.
The involuntary telepath hears the thoughts of everyone around him. It can be compared to being in a room with every radio station available playing at once, and being unable to stop your ears, or turn any of them off. The minute someone walks into the telepath’s range they can hear their thoughts, and sense their feelings. They can’t tune it out, or filter it, and it affects them deeply on a personal level. This ability is frustrating, exhausting, and it can be impossible for someone who possesses it to lead a normal life.
The controlled telepath has all the abilities of the miserable young person, except that he can control it. He can shield himself from other’s emotions, or block out their thoughts at will. He can function perfectly normally, and conceal his ability as needed. Yet he can also, instantly and without effort, pry into anyone’s thoughts without their being aware. Because of his mental shielding he’s emotionally stable, and can think like a normal human being. He can control the radio stations, filter them, listen to them individually, or shut them out altogether. He doesn’t have to get emotionally involved with everyone who’s thoughts he reads; he can remain independent.
The controlled telepath has all the makings of a villain… or a god.
Power has to come at a price. Power without penalty is what makes characters godlike, and removes any sort of struggle or conflict. It’s easy to sympathize with a telepath who would gladly give up his life for five minutes of silence. It’s infinitely harder to feel any sort of concern for a telepath who could take over the world with relative ease if the fancy struck him. Even though their abilities are basically the same the effect on the characters is infinitely different.
Touch telepaths are not all-powerful and invulnerable, because they’re restricted to physical contact. Even if it doesn’t require a great deal of training, it usually requires a great deal of concentration, and most of the time once a link is established information can be exchanged both ways. It is also fairly easy to conceal specific information from inquiring minds. A touch telepath is forced to become personally involved with the person who’s mind is being read, and I can only imagine how complicated it would be to forcibly interrogate an unwilling victim.