Thanks to the Alliance playing around in River Tam's head, she was gifted with some psychic abilities (mind reading and foresight primarily). However, were River's talents really just a byproduct of the Alliance's experiments, or did she have some natural psychic inclination before hand?

Are there natural psychics in the Firefly universe?

2 Answers 2


Contrary to Martha's answer, I'm going to say that River was a psychic before the Alliance started working on her. Just not a very strong one.

I see two points in favor of this:

  • When young, before the Academy, Simon commented that she was extremely skilled at everything she tried, and was extremely gifted from a very young age. I took this to imply she was picking up the knowledge/skills from those around her at an unconscious level.
  • When Simon finally managed to examine her brain in Ariel, he determined that her amygdala had been "stripped", that she was no longer able to suppress her emotions. The amygdala also works to process memories.

The psychic ability likely came from her amygdala, since that's the part of the brain messed with by the Alliance. Since all they seem to have done is remove emotional buffers around it, I would think it only strengthened what was already there.

Therefore, the Alliance didn't give her the ability, they brought it up to the conscious level - which means that psychic powers would indeed be natural phenomena in Firefly, although exceedingly rare.

  • May I ask why this was downvoted?
    – Izkata
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 3:12
  • Interesting, hadn't considered River gaining her knowledge from unconscious use of her psychic ability.
    – Dracs
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 8:40
  • I think the implication is that stripping her amygdala is what made her a psychic, i.e. anyone they do that same procedure to would also become a psychic if they survived and had enough brainpower left to be useful.
    – Martha
    Commented Apr 11, 2012 at 22:49
  • 1
    Or to a nearly conscious level anyway. It still seemed to be a mostly sub-conscious ability.
    – Xantec
    Commented Apr 16, 2012 at 15:33

The whole River storyline is intentionally left hazy and mysterious, but I believe it is at least strongly implied that her psychic-like talents are created, not augmented. She was a genius and prodigy before the Alliance got ahold of her, but this manifested as an ability to learn things instantly, not as any sort of mind-reading. And as far as I recall, we never meet anyone else who is supposed to be psychic.

ETA: In the episode "Objects in Space", at one point the characters discuss River's abilities. When the subject of mind-reading is brought up, Wash asks, "Is that even possible?" So it seems definite that as far as the characters know, there are no natural psychics in their universe.


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