Big Think, a science, sociology, and general brainstorming online magazine is currently nine days into their month long series on “Dangerous Ideas.” Each day in August, a contributor to their site posts and defends a radical notion, complete with rebuttal.
Although only a week in, about half of the ideas proposed in the series read like they come straight from a science fiction novel.
Right off the bat, Big Think proposes doping our drinking water with lithium in order to make us more mentally balanced:
Communities with higher than average amounts of lithium in their drinking water had significantly lower suicide rates than communities with lower levels. Regions of Texas with lower lithium concentrations had an average suicide rate of 14.2 per 100,000 people, whereas those areas with naturally higher lithium levels had a dramatically lower suicide rate of 8.7 per 100,000.
The article readily admits this idea sounds like something out of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Or any other dystopian novel, for that matter. An article on Day 3 of this series takes the modification of one’s happiness a step further, proposing cheap and easy memory deletion in the same manner explored in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
In a realistic context, these ideas can potentially be very dangerous, as they tend to eschew the concept of personal responsibility in favor of a more simple but extreme measure. (Turn that air conditioner up! We can always scorch the sky later.)
Science fiction is absolutely littered with these same concepts, to the point where a doomed planet or drugged populace can come off as more banal than dangerous. Most stories take those concepts as a pre-existing backdrop, then explore a particular aspect of it that resonates with our present day lives.
So far, that’s the same kind of mental exploration that Big Think’s series is generating. These ideas aren’t really ideas, but catalysts meant to push you to think about innovative solutions to these problems. The ideas are reactionary, but the discussion…the exploration…is the real fun.
Chris Greenland proposes a series on delicious ideas, starting with some sort of cheese dish and then expanding outward from there.