Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Don’t You Wish Everyone Was a Genius?

Posted by hyperpat on March 13, 2007

Our solar system orbits around the Milky Way once every 250 million years or so. It also has some proper motion versus the local star systems and dust clouds. Which means that over very long time scales, the Earth may experience some very different interstellar environments, from being inside/outside of a dust cloud to moving near a gamma ray burster (which is one of the listed possible causes for one of the great extinction events).

Poul Anderson, way back when (1954), capitalized on this set of facts to dream up something he called the Brain Wave. He hypothesized that humanity had evolved during a period when the Earth was in an area that slowed down electromagnetic waves. As human mental activity is mediated by such, it’s a short leap to dream of a time when the Earth would exit this area and return to where these waves would move at normal speed, with a concomitant increase in human mental activity, i.e, suddenly everyone would get very smart. And not just people, but animals also. While being smart might seem like a good thing to be, Anderson showed that this could produce some very deep problems.

When animals get smart enough to know what a slaughterhouse is, there would be an immediate crisis in keeping in the world fed. When those people who held menial jobs due to lack of good thinking abilities can suddenly see just what a waste of time their jobs are, and there is no one else who is willing to do those jobs, however necessary, what happens to civilization’s infrastructure? Intelligence alone does no good without information to process; education is necessary, and who will provide it? A brilliant idea does no good if there is no way to implement it – think about the problem a cave-man would have had if he figured out what lightning was and wanted to build an electric light bulb. Nor does it prevent continuing to come up with the wrong answers, because the basic assumptions the person is working from are false: belief in religions, UFO’s , conspiracy theories, and ‘I’m better than anyone else, I should be treated accordingly’ would continue to thrive. The whole scenario is a recipe for disaster.

Anderson had a pretty optimistic ending to his book, believing that people would manage to find solutions to the problem of too much brain power. I’m not so sure. There are just too many examples of very intelligent people doing very dumb things; people ‘think’ as much with their emotions as they do with their brains; and to date no one has come up with an ethos for living in harmony with everyone else that everyone buys into.

Sometimes being ‘smart’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

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