SPEAKING EVERY THOUGHT

Would it be wonderful if someone could invent a device that would speak a person's thoughts?

INTRO

Today's guest is Sue who blogs at From Dust Beautiful Things where she reflects on rising from a broken marriage, re-discovering herself, meeting and marrying her lovely husband, the "joys" of step-parenting, and her Christian faith. Sue is a good friend of my DIL Hannah and we "met" when Sue asked me for some blogging advice because she was in the process of re-inventing her blog. We've been blogging friends ever since. 

So, I'd like you to meet Sue (if you haven't already) and discover more about her through her post (there's so much I didn't know!)

SPEAKING EVERY THOUGHT

So here's an interesting question that I sometimes get asked:

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone could invent a device that would speak a person's thoughts?"

I know what they mean. But hang on a sec…….



SPEECH FOR THE SPEECHLESS

My specialty is in assistive technology, and more specifically the area of high tech communication systems for people who struggle with speech. In fact, if I'd lived in Cambridge I might well have enjoyed prescribing (and writing the funding application) for an item of communication technology for the late Stephen Hawking.

While these high tech systems are way more sophisticated now than they were when I began in the field, and while they do provide somewhat of a miracle solution for those who have significant disabilities, they are still a relatively slow, laborious, and often frustrating way of achieving spontaneous and independent communication.

So I can definitely understand why someone who cares about the person with a disability might dream big, and of course on the surface it sounds like such a great idea to invent a machine that would read thoughts and instantaneously convert them to computerised speech. A little like using Siri, but "she" would just read your thought and speak it aloud.



YOUR EVERY THOUGHT - THE HOLLYWOOD VERSION

There have been at least a couple of movies made in this vein. Movies that make us laugh at the ludicrousness of the concept, all the while inwardly cringing at the thought of this actually happening. In real life. In MY real life. And at the same time breathing a secret sigh of relief that it's actually not possible. Yet.

"Liar Liar" with Jim Carrey, comes immediately to mind. Every truthful thought coming unbidden from his mouth. He's so powerless to stop it that some scenes are almost too excruciating to watch!

And in "What Women Want", there's Mel Gibson absolutely besieged by the barrage of thoughts from every single woman he encounters. Parts of that movie in particular remind me of the Mark Gungor clip "A Tale of Two Brains", comparing men's and women's brains. For those of us women who can relate to the whole "ball of copper wire" analogy, it would be nightmarish to think that everyone might have to hear every single one of those innumerable, interconnecting thoughts every second of every day!



EVERY THOUGHT SPOKEN ALOUD?

So I wonder who would REALLY want their every thought spoken aloud by some undiscriminating machine?

Every frustrated or impatient thought?
Every disappointed or resentful thought?
Every jealous or envious thought?
Every critical or judgemental thought?
Every unkind or mean thought?
Every selfish or grumpy thought?
Every vindictive or malicious thought?
Every lustful or covetous thought?
Every bitter or angry thought?
Every prideful or superior thought?

Every single, unfiltered, truthful, but not necessarily fit-for-public-consumption, thought.



SERIOUS FILTERS NEEDED

I can definitely appreciate that for those who are unable to speak it must seem like an amazing and life-changing technological possibility. It would certainly make my job a whole lot easier - in fact I'd probably be redundant - but the reality isn't quite that simple. There would without doubt need to be some serious content-filters in place before that kind of device could give the communication "freedom" it might seem to be promising.

While I'm a strong advocate for independent and spontaneous communication for people with complex communication needs, I am actually super-thankful that nobody has yet been able to come up with a device that detects and speaks every thought. I'm guessing even Stephen Hawking would have been reluctant to have his every thought broadcast to the general public!


A WISE EXHORTATION

The apostle Paul exhorts us in this way: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." (Ephesians 4:29). This is my goal.

Right now though, when it comes to filters, I'm a work in progress. I have enough trouble learning to hold my own tongue, without giving some blurting machine unfettered access to my thoughts!


WHAT DO YOU THINK? 

How would you feel about having your every thought spoken aloud?
Would it be wonderful if someone could invent a device that would speak a person's thoughts?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sue and where you can find her:


Sue blogs at from dust beautiful things, where she writes about life from the perspective of a woman who has experienced the grief, loss and adjustment of separation, divorce and “single-again-ness”, the tentative moves toward dating, the joys of remarriage, and the challenges, discoveries and delights of parenting & step-parenting. All of this amid the ups and downs of midlife, and the absolute thankfulness of being a child of the living God.


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52 comments

  1. Thank you for inviting me to be your guest today Leanne, it's an honour!! And thank you also for your unwavering generosity and willingness to support and encourage in this blogging journey. Hope you have a wonderful Saturday xx

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  2. It's lovely to have you Sue - and thanks for your kind words :) I'm looking forward to seeing what others thing about this interesting topic x

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  3. Sue I hadn’t seen the Tale of Two Brains before today. I loved it. It is so true. The flicking from channel to channel on the TV resonated with me, big time. I used to call my husband Flicker when he did this. It drove me crazy! I must admit that it is hard for me to zip my lip when thoughts enter my mind. Somethings are better left unsaid and left as mere thoughts.

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    1. Lovely to "meet" you Faye (I know you're Leanne's mum)! Yes, we laughed a lot when we came across those Tale of Two Brains clips, and indeed the whole of the series (which we purchased because my husband is a counsellor!), called "Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage" (what better way, I say!). Learning to zip my lip is an ongoing journey for me, I'm getting better but I still catch myself at times and have to remind myself "don't say it"!!! Thanks for your comment, and I love the way you are so supportive of Leanne's blog xx

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    2. The two types of brain function always makes me smile because it seems to be true for every couple I know. And I'm glad we don't watch much TV because channel surfing is fine if I'm doing it - but REALLY annoying if it's someone else with the remote!

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  4. I have 2 daughters on the autism spectrum. One hardly says anything to anyone and the other has no filter at all. Both are misunderstood because of this. For example the daughter with no filter might say. "Your nose is really large." She is making an observation but it sounds more like she's making a judgment. I do not want anything speaking my thoughts aloud. :)

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    1. Hi Heather, I've worked with many on the autism spectrum - some non-verbal, others extremely verbal - and have seen the pain of those who feel misunderstood and judged on their "challenges". My own son was known for having no filter when he was little - he was just so transparent, and would often comment in the supermarket queue, things like "Mum that lady is really fat"!!! At those times I wished the floor would open up........... Needless to say, we did a LOT of talking through what's appropriate in public and what's not...........!!!
      While I would love there to be a device that could be thought-controlled (with filters!) for those of my clients who are non-verbal, I'm not yet ready to have my own thoughts spoken aloud! Thanks for your comment xx

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    2. Heather I didn't realize your girls were both on the autism spectrum - you've done amazingly well to have raised such gorgeous, functional and well adjusted young women with that as an extra layer to deal with. I think we're all somewhat relieved to have a filter between what we say and think - imagine what it would be like if we were blurting out every random thought!

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  5. Hi Sue, what a fascinating area that you work in although I agree with you that I'm not sure many of us would like all of our thoughts to be expressed. It is a fine line isn't it? I recently took the Mindful in May Challenge. One of the interviews discussed Wise Speech. In a nutshell being mindful of what we say, when and how we say it can make all the difference to relationships and communications. I'm not confrontational and tend to bottle things up until the volcano explodes and it isn't a pretty sight. I think all of us could perhaps be programmed to use Wise Speech more often. Great to see you at Leanne's Social Saturday and have a beautiful weekend. xx
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

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    1. Thank you Sue! It certainly is a fascinating, and ever-changing, area - it's hard to keep up with the technological advances at times. In fact, I'll be in your neck of the woods soon for a conference focusing on this very area and looking forward to learning the latest.
      Wise Speech sounds exactly what I need - it seems like I'm a bit the opposite to you, too often I speak first and regret later, though I'm getting better at holding my tongue. My husband is far more measured and thoughtful about what he speaks and what he considers to be better left unsaid, and I aspire to be more like him!! Thankfully he's a daily example for me and I think (hope) he's rubbing off! Hope you have a lovely weekend too xx

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    2. Wise Speech - it should be something we're all proficient in Midlife and yet I still stumble in that area on a semi-regular basis. It's so hard to always get it right when it comes to what we say and how people hear what is spoken. Having all our thoughts out there banging into each other would be an absolute nightmare!

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  6. What a timely post. There seem to be a few prominent figures in our society that already have this device attached to their brains and I wish someone would turn it off. The thoughts that run through our mind and the words that come from our mouths do compete at times, but that is where civility and good judgement come into play. I have a tendency to blurt out what I think will be "helpful" comments or suggestions, when in actuality the situation is not my business. Working on that... Also,as Leanne said in her comment "how people hear what is spoken" is even harder to control when those words are in writing. How many times do we back up and say, "what I meant was..." while speaking, quadruple that when we are communicating by email. Wow! Thought provoking post Sue. I think Paul got it right in his letter to the Ephesians.

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    1. I so agree Suzanne! I have to say I'm a bit of an ignoramus about public figures and what they say and do, and I'm not sad about that, but wouldn't that have to be the worst domain in which to open one's mouth!! To be put on the spot with a microphone shoved in front of my face, would be a minefield of regret for me I think!!

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    2. Blogging can do the same thing Suzanne - I majorly upset a family member with one of my posts - completely unintentional on my part - completely misinterpreted on their's - but it still caused an immense amount of heartache and pain. It's so hard to get it right - being able to "speak our minds" balanced with caring for the hearts of those we speak our minds to! An giving advice just seems fairly pointless - the people who need it never listen so why even go there?

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  7. In short: Thanks but no thanks! I try to be authentic and genuine in all of my encounters -- and have been referred to sometimes as blunt - but I would not want others to hear my EVERY thought. Let me also say - thank you for what you do professionally. So many wonderful technologies exist to aid individuals in our society and those working behind the scenes rarely get recognized. Thank you!

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    1. Thank you Janet, it's definitely an exciting field to be working in and over the years I've had much joy from seeing communication grow via technology for an individual who has struggled for years to express their basic needs and wants, let alone their dreams. I appreciate your comment xx

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    2. I'm a bit the same Janet - I can be too blunt at times because all the palaver of beating around the bush wears a bit thin, but at the same time, what goes on inside my head would not bode well if it came out of my mouth! Hopefully Sue's people will come up with a device that has a filter attached :)

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  8. I definitely would not want that. My instinct has often been "worst case scenario" and only as I've gotten older have I learned not to voice my instinct and to wait for the second wave of logical thought to come before I respond to a message, or a situation. Even in learning meditation, we are advised that thoughts will come, the trick is to acknowledge them and let them go. Every thought? No thank you!

    But... thank you for your very difficult work. Have you seen a show called "Speechless"? It's an American TV show, about a family with a teenage son who can't speak. They use technology to help communicate. It's a very entertaining and heartwarming show.

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    1. I haven't seen it Red, but will have a look for it, it sounds like the kind of thing I'd enjoy watching. Even though that is what I spend my work days doing, I still get a kick out of seeing my field represented in a movie or TV show.
      I'm a bit of a "worst case scenario" girl too, but am learning to "put the best spin on everything" which is my husband's motto. It's a slow process! Thanks for your comment xx

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    2. I like the idea of putting the best spin on things Sue - we really need to meet one day (with our husbands - who are both counsellors and I think would get on really well too!) I'm learning to not catastrophize things as much these days - extrapolating out to the worst case scenario isn't good for any of us - and is such a waste of brain space and emotion.

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    3. I think that would be lovely Leanne. Who knows, it's probably more likely to happen than either of us expects!!

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  9. Wouldn't be happy without my 'filter'. I have a daughter and a couple of students who are 'blurters'. Sometimes hilarious. Sometimes less so. A sense of humour and a lot of faith is all that gets us through!

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    1. Diane a sense of humour is essential!! It can be so hard to predict the response of the hearer, and when they don't know the heart behind the comment that makes it particularly fraught!! We have a lovely friend who prefaces many things with "I don't mean to offend you and I'm saying this because I love you........." because he knows his own propensity for speaking words that can be taken the wrong way!!! Thanks for reading xx

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    2. I think people who say they're "speaking the truth in love" are often just speaking their own truth and not really being all that loving in the process. Filters are given to us for a reason and then we have our sense of humour as our back up plan to try to defuse things when the filter messes up!

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  10. It wouldn't change the way I think, but it would change my social life. I'd become a hermit!

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    1. Not for long Leah, there would probably be many of us who would join you in your cave fairly quickly!!! It always makes me smile when I get asked that question because I know the caring heart behind it but I also know that the reality hasn't actually been considered. That's why my answer is usually a humourous "Hmmm, I'm not so sure about that, would you REALLY want your every thought spoken aloud?" Thanks for reading xx

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    2. You made me smile Leah - I thought "what an amazing person to have such pure and lovely thoughts" then read the second sentence and laughed because there'd be a lot of us dwelling in caves if our thoughts went verbal!

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  11. The only thing that keeps me out of trouble is that people can't read my every thought! I'm in serious trouble if this ever becomes a reality that I couldn't control.

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    1. Shelley you and several million others I'm quite sure! The whole aspect of control is critical, isn't it? I sometimes have parents who want to control the vocabulary that is available on a communication device because they don't want their children or teenagers having access to "certain words" (eg. words for some body parts). While I certainly understand their desire to control what comes out of their child's "mouth" (don't we all......) part of learning to communicate is learning discernment too. What if they need to tell someone something important about that body part - like it's itchy or sore or, worse, it's been violated in some way?? These are always interesting conversations but very thought-provoking. Even someone who communicates with technology needs to have the autonomy to choose their words, carefully or otherwise! Thanks for your comment xx

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    2. There is so much we take for granted with our thoughts and what we choose to say and not say isn't there? I'd never given much thought to what we choose to filter and why a permanent filter might not work - so much to consider when you're designing technology and so much that God figured out for the majority of us - makes me glad He is smarter than we are!

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  12. Hi Sue and Leanne. I have to laugh about the "fat" story. It reminds me of the time my daughter saw a basket of my mom's laundry. She held up a pair of underwear and said, "Wow! Grandma's panties are huge!" She was just observing, but my mom was quite hurt. SI saw tears fill her eyes. My oldest is neurotypical and her younger sisters are both high functioning, but the youngest has such anxiety issues that she often chooses not to respond to people, especially those she doesn't know. It often startles me, since she talks to our family members. Then, in public, she clams up. Our middle daughter can "fake it" pretty well. Professionals who work with people on the spectrum can spot it in her immediately, though. I wish I had known earlier that there was a reason for their oddities. Our youngest is 14. I often worry about the future for her.

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    1. Heather it's so hard isn't it, when we know the heart behind the things our children say, but to someone else it just sounds unkind. That's when we as parents often scramble to repair the situation as best we can, which in many ways is our job of course! With ASD being a spectrum of characteristics, there are so many variations it can be hard to pin it down, and sometimes not for years. Parents usually know there's something not quite right, but nailing it can take time and often by then there have been missed opportunities to put helpful strategies in place and it can feel like playing an endless game of catchup. I really do take my hat off to you xx

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    2. Heather you have so many hurdles that you've already cleared, but I think as parents of adult children, we realize that the parenting and the worrying never really stops - it just changes its face from one set of issues to a different version. Worrying about our kids' future is something we all deal with, add a physical or mental issue into the mix and it escalates significantly - I guess you just keep building strong foundations and pray for what get's built on them in the future xx

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  13. OMG I would be in so much trouble if people knew my every thought.

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    1. You and me both!! Thanks for reading xx

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    2. I think we all would be - thank goodness for the inbuilt filter - hopefully technology will figure out how to add one to whatever gets designed for those who need it (maybe there'll be something we can add into our own processing to help with the thoughts that slip out and can't be retrieved?)

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  14. Nope, nada, no way. Definitely not interested in my every thought being on public display. The question reminds me of a book I read about writing a memoir. The author talks about how a good memoir is a blurt of everything that has ever happened to the protagonist. Rather it needs to be a finely crafted, thoughtfully considered meal. Speech is the same.
    Thanks for such a thought-provoking article, Sue, and thanks Leanne for sharing Sue's work.

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    1. I'm a big fan of editing Karen, and I love that description "finely crafted, thoughtfully considered meal". I edit a lot and ponder over what I've written, and thankfully more and more before I speak these days too. My sister used to write a blog and she told me that the advice she was given was just to "write and post the first draft". I could never follow that advice!! Thanks for reading and commenting xx

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    2. It's a balance isn't it Karen? We should be free to speak our minds openly, but at the same time, those we're speaking to deserve our consideration and kindness. It's the same with blogging - if we write everything we think, we set ourselves up to be hurtful to others and to cause unnecessary pain. Maturity helps us see what is okay to share and what needs to be locked away for the greater good!

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  15. You are insightful as usual, Sue - while the concept of converting thoughts straight into speech at first consideration may seem like a good idea, the truth of the matter is, there are far too many thoughts that aren't "fit for public consumption"! (I love how you phrased that!) I'm glad that God has put a limit on that particular part of the development of our technology - he knows that humans wouldn't be as kind to each other as he is to us if we knew each other's thoughts! xox

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    1. Sad but true! While I may aspire to become more and more thoughtful and less and less judgemental, critical or selfish, the truth is that this will continue to elude me (and all of us, in fact) until glory. Even the most kind people we know are still imperfect and have their "moments", so these thought-speaking technological dreams are perhaps best left in the "nice idea that didn't quite make it" box!! Thanks for your kind comment, as always xx

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    2. You're so right about God knowing our weaknesses and putting things in place to give us the opportunity to filter before we blurt them out. Shame we don't always use that filter to its fullest capacity (human frailty!) I hope that age and wisdom are helping me use it more often :)

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  16. I'm sure we've all had the experience of wishing we could "take something back." But once those words are spoken, it can be both enlightening and frightening. As far as a biblical reference (and I don't have a bible near me right now so excuse the probable mistake), I've always liked the thought that Mary was described as "keeping these things in her heart" or something like that. I've tried to do the same. Thanks for a very thoughtful post, and your work sounds fascinating.

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    1. Hi Margaret, I know I've certainly had those times, but by God's grace I'm more and more able to recognise my wayward words quickly and ask for forgiveness or, even better, stop myself before saying them! And you're so right, Mary was one who quietly treasured knowledge in her heart and made it a matter of her private meditation, saying little. As Matthew Henry writes in his commentary, "she had silently left it to God to clear up her virtue, when that was suspected." No need to justify herself or think bitter thoughts (that might be broadcast)!!! Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment. I'm off to read your posts on midlife :) xx

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    2. I loved that reference to Mary treasuring things in her heart - rather than blabbing to everyone and venting or bemoaning her circumstances. So often we speak our minds and in hindsight realize if we'd waited a little longer or looked at the bigger picture, we would have left it unsaid!

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  17. Your work is truly amazing and essential, thank you for your great work! I agree that every thought read out loud would certainly be too much information. Even if the device could become "smart" enough to "understand" and filter out certain negative or blatant expression or language, then it might border on squelching who we are as individuals, a censorship of sorts, unless we could personalize our own filtering settings as to how we know what our own minds might spit out. I have to monitor my facial and eye expressions as it is; my mother used to tell me she could read my face...the eyes are a window to the soul, right? Excellent post, really gets the imagination churning, enjoyed it!
    Lori Jo - "50 With Flair"
    www.50withflair.com

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    1. It's so easy to let our thoughts show - either through our expressions (I'm queen of the eye-roll!) or through hasty words isn't it Lori? I think we're given a filter for very good reason and maybe we all need to use it - it's a shame to waste such a great gift that technology hasn't been able to match yet.

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    2. Thanks for your kind comment Lori. I agree with you about the filters though - who would have the ultimate right of veto in determining the filter settings? I occasionally have these conversations with parents who don't want their child to have access to certain words on their communication device, and it's definitely a tricky one. There are enough unavoidable limitations on these machines as it is!
      I appreciate your thoughts xx

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  18. I hate to think what would happen if every thought I have came out of my mouth. I am always fighting to keep my face from saying what my head is thinking. lol

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    1. Me too Victoria!! I shudder at the thought. I'm sure we're not alone in being super glad that there is no machine (yet.........) that can read and speak our every thought. But I'm at a conference this week and one of the presentations today was on a new "Brain-computer interface". It clashed with something else I wanted to attend that was more relevant for me, but it did make me curious about just how close they're getting to this kind of thing!!! Thanks for your comment xx

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  19. I literally speak every thought that goes through my brain, whether I want to or not . Every. Single. Thought. Its part of my schizoaffective disorder. It's a living hell to do this and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

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  20. Every single thought we have is not meant to be spoken.

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