Big Think Readers' Most Dangerous Ideas

August may be behind us, but that doesn't mean we've stopped thinking dangerously here at Big Think. At the end of last month, we asked readers to submit their own dangerous ideas—ideas that we may have overlooked or that perhaps seemed too dangerous to put into print—and the results are in! Of the more than 100 responses we received, I've picked out some to offer up for your consideration.

Some of the ideas are ones that we had almost included. One reader suggested replacing lifelong marriage licenses with 3-5 year renewable contracts which expire if they are not redrawn. This idea, which we also found quite intriguing, is not new. In 1971, two Maryland legislators proposed this very idea on the floor of the state legislature. "We have to offer something more than the same archaic marriage pattern, the same mind-draining guilt," said Hildagardeis Boswell, one of the bill's sponsors. Unsurprisingly, the proposal garnered little more than some laughs. But nearly 40 years later, with roughly 1 in 2 marriages ending in divorce, is it time to revisit this idea?  

We have to offer something more than the same archaic marriage pattern, the same mind-draining guilt

Another reader advocated legalizing suicide for all. "If someone is experiencing a life that will never be one which they can be happy with, why not allow them to sign out, so to speak," he said. As it turns out, frequent Big Think contributor Jacob Appel proposed the same thing on our site several months ago. Everyone, he said, should be able to kill themselves, except in certain circumstances. "I think the paradigmatic example of someone you might want to prevent from committing suicide is the teenager who breaks up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and tries to overdose on Tylenol.  And to tell them, for a few days, we’re going to hospitalize you against your will doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me."

Many submissions dealt with education. One reader expanded on Robert Lerman's ideas that fewer children should go to college, arguing that universities should be "eliminated" altogether. "Universities are expensive and do little to prepare young people for work," the respondent said, "In the U.S. it's common to spend longer paying off college loans than the person spends working in the field. And for 'bang for the buck' (earning potential vs. money spent on school) two year colleges are the clear winners while PhDs are distant last." Slightly less drastic, another suggested approach was to establish a "European-style educational system by which private and religious school receive government funding—provided they cut tuition accordingly." The working class would have access to far better education, and the public school system would benefit from the competition, argued the reader. Religion was also a popular subject. Some called for an end to religion-based tax exemptions, while others called for a true separation of church and state or even a ban on all organized religion.

Some ideas bordered on the extreme. One Big Thinker suggested turning over convicted death row inmates to science, allowing them to be used for scientific experiments. This would not only save society money on prison and legal costs and reduce animal research, it could lead to great advances in science for the rest of society, the submitter says. Another reader wanted to blow up the moon. "This would stop the increasingly annoying tides and winds (mostly)," he said. Now, I'm no scientist, but I think the reasoning behind that might need some double checking. 

And it wasn't just Big Think readers who responded; Discover Magazine also weighed in. Kyle Munkittrack of Discover's blog "Science Not Fiction" said he was surprised that we had missed what he considered to be the most dangerous idea in the world—transhumanism, the belief that humans should not be limited by our biology. Well, Kyle, we agree with you that transhumanism is a very dangerous idea, perhaps even the most dangerous idea. But because it's such a broad topic, we chose to break it up into several component ideas, including creating designer babies, using genetics and pharmaceuticals to alter human morality, and giving people the ability to selectively erase their memory. But we enjoyed your well-written piece and are glad to know that you're a reader!

And for those of you wanting to know more about this fascinating and terrifying field, check out Big Think's previous interviews with transhumanist thinkers Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey embedded below.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Greenland loses 4 trillion pounds of ice in one day

Normally, the landscape in this photo would be a white ice sheet.

Surprising Science
  • Climate scientists say that Greenland is experiencing ice losses that are unusually early and heavy.
  • Two main weather factors are fueling the losses: a high-pressure system and the resulting low cloud cover.
  • Greenland is a major contributor to sea-level rise.
Keep reading Show less

Has a black hole made of sound confirmed Hawking radiation?

One of Stephen Hawking's predictions seems to have been borne out in a man-made "black hole".

Image source: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Surprising Science
  • Stephen Hawking predicted virtual particles splitting in two from the gravitational pull of black holes.
  • Black holes, he also said, would eventually evaporate due to the absorption of negatively charged virtual particles.
  • A scientist has built a black hole analogue based on sound instead of light.
Keep reading Show less

Permafrost is melting 70 years earlier than expected in Arctic Canada

It's a "canary in the coalmine," said one climate scientist.

MARK RALSTON/Contributor
Surprising Science
  • A team of researchers discovered that permafrost in Northern Canada is melting at unusually fast rates.
  • This could causes dangerous and costly erosion, and it's likely speeding up climate change because thawing permafrost releases heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere.
  • This week, Canada's House of Commons declared a national climate emergency.
Keep reading Show less