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7 of the most interesting fictional drugs
From the cosmic blast into another being's mind, to rolling bliss or obedient mind-slavery, fictional drugs have it all.
- Fictional drugs are a major part of the lore and foundation for many science fiction stories.
- The unique effects they have on their characters is an interesting new way to explore important issues.
- Many of these fictional drugs are synonymous with the stories that have been told.
Fiction writers have always been good at whisking us away to strange and new alien worlds, places we've never dreamed of and that would never have seen the light of day if they had not been coaxed from the author's wild imagination to carve out space forever in readers' minds. But new worlds aren't the only novel things that can be laid to the page.
Fictional drugs explore a highly important dimension of minds, societies, and what it means to be human or sometimes something else entirely.
The following are some of the most mind-bending and reality-shattering fictional drugs.
Soma – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Soma derives its name from the ancient and legendary psychedelic plant used in Indian religious ceremonies. Author Aldous Huxley, profound philosopher and dabbler in altered states of consciousness, created one of fiction's most memorable drugs.
Soma is used to pacify an entire population in Brave New World. The World State's populace is split into uniform castes, cloned and grown from vats, and they all lovingly accept their servitude and uniformity. And it's all thanks to Soma. The wonder drug and means of control for all castes in society has variable affects at different dosages:
..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon...
Like a mix between television and religion, Soma quells the masses with ease.
Tasp – Ringworld by Larry Niven
In the futuristic alien world of Larry Niven's Ringworld, the Tasp is device and drug of sorts wielded by a three-legged alien race known as the puppeteers. When attached to a human or other species, the device fires off a beam that stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.
You'd think such an overload of ecstasy and pure exaltation of joy would be welcomed by the inhabitants of Niven's fictional universe. But to the contrary, it's used as a means of control and a threat. Enough of a tasp exposure and you'll be the unwitting slave to whoever wields it. In a conversation between a puppeteer named Nessus and a Kzin, an eight-foot bipedal feline, the threat is made to use the tasp if the beast gets out of line. Later in the story, it is done:
But Nessus zapped him with a surgically implanted tasp, reducing Speaker to helpless ecstasy, and Louis disarmed the Kzin. Nessus warned Speaker he would use the tasp whenever he felt menaced. Speaker replied he would not again threaten the Puppeteer; a prideful Kzin would not shame himself with addiction to a tasp.
Penfield Mood Organ – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
The Penfield Mood Organ is an ingenious invention of author Philip K. Dick. In the novel that Blade Runner was very loosely based on – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep – there exists a device in the opening scenes that the characters can use to tune their thoughts.
It isn't clear how the mood organ works, but it seems that some kind of wave affects certain parts of the brain. Here is an excerpt from the book when Rick Deckard is arguing with his wife about the right mood to tune into:
At his console he hesitated between dialing for a thalamic suppressant (which would abolish his mood of rage) or a thalamic stimulant (which would make him irked enough to win the argument).
"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."
'So I left the TV sound off and I sat down at my mood organ and I experimented. And I finally found a setting for despair… So I put it on my schedule for twice a month; I think that's a reasonable amount of time to feel hopeless about everything...'
One hilarious example of the mood organ is when they dial 888, which gives its users "the desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it..."
Philip K. Dick also explored this idea in other books with the concept of the empathy box, which religious adherents used to let their followers experience their savior's apotheosis.
"An empathy box," he said, stammering in his excitement, "is the most personal possession you have. It's an extension of your body; it's the way you touch other humans, it's the way you stop being alone."
Water of the River Lethe – Aeneid by Virgil
Long before there was Soma, humans have dreamed of chemical means of suppressing and changing the nature of our thoughts. In the great Latin epic poem, the Aeneid, Virgil tells the story of the wandering Aeneas. At one point in the story he comes across the water from the River Lethe, one of the first known fictional drugs.
On the edge of the Elysian Fields of Greek eternity, Lethe water grants its users forgetfulness and erases their memories. It was a form of cleansing if you wished to be reincarnated — you had to leave your past thoughts and experiences behind in order to know the divine. In a beautiful quote in The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann elucidates and expands on this concept:
Space, like time, gives birth to forgetfulness, but does so by removing an individual from all relationships and placing him in a free and pristine state — indeed, in but a moment it can turn a pedant and philistine into something like a vagabond. Time, they say, is water from the river Lethe, but alien air is a similar drink; and if its effects are less profound, it works all the more quickly.
Beta-phenethylamine – Neuromancer by William Gibson
William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk work Neuromancer is jam-packed with uppers, downers, zoomers and electronic bloomers. Early in the book, Case (a virtual reality hacker extraordinaire and junkie) undergoes surgery so he can get booted back into the virtual world. During that surgery, they also give him a new pancreas and plugs in his liver that stop him from getting high on his usual round of super amphetamines.
When visiting Freeside, a Vegas-in-Space, Case meets a woman named Cath, a junkie who seems to be permanently spaced and jacked up on some majorly powerful drugs. She gives him something called beta-phenethylamine. Ecstatic bouts and super energy are followed by some of the most hard-hitting hangovers ever written. But with crystalline moments realized like these:
His eyes were eggs of unstable crystal, vibrating with a frequency whose name was rain and the sound of trains, suddenly sprouting a humming forest of hair-fine glass spines.
Case stays a functional albeit highly scatterbrained genius virtual hacker.
Moloko Plus – A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Made famous by one of the most iconic openings of a film ever, Anthony Burgess's book A Clockwork Orange (which was the basis for Stanley Kubrick's film of the same name), put Moloko Plus on the map of fictional drugs. Alex and his gang of droogs hang out and get their kicks at the Korova bar drinking Moloko Plus.
This milk-based drink with a cocktail of add-ons includes some kind of mix of barbiturates, opiates and synthetic mescaline. The details are a bit murky on its effects, but Alex states at one point:
... a nice quiet horrorshow fifteen minutes admiring Bog And All His Holy Angels and Saints in your left shoe with lights bursting all over your mozg.
Melange (Spice) – Dune by Frank Herbert
One of the most famous drugs in science fiction, Spice isn't just your regular everyday enlightenment trip. Melange is found on a desert planet called Arrakis, and it's produced by giant sandworms. The inhabitants of Frank Herbert's fictional universe Dune consider this the perfect high. It even allows its users the knowledge and ability to travel through different forms of space-time. There are some downsides to it, like having to battle giant sandworms just to get a taste and a few other negative side effects as it changes each time it's used.
It's like life—it presents a different face each time you take it. Some hold that the spice produces a learned-flavor reaction. The body, learning a thing is good for it, interprets the flavor as pleasurable—slightly euphoric. And, like life, never to be truly synthesized.
- Carl Sagan on why he liked smoking marijuana ›
- The history of VR: How virtual reality sprang forth from science fiction ›
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.