Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Quid Pro Quo, Clarice

I received an email today to this effect, which was rather interesting:

You seem to be sincere in your presentation. Before I cast a vote, would you be kind enough to answer this, please:

You are the only person around and you are wandering on a isolated beach. You do not have a care in the world as you breathe in the fresh, salty air and delight in the sound of the ocean surf caressing the sparkling sand. Your footsteps are slow and you enjoy the feeling of the wet sand between your toes as you walk along the gently lapping waves. You approach an object discarded along your path. At first, you cannot see it clearly but as you draw nearer and nearer to it, you discover that it is a small brass oil burning lamp resting on its side just beyond the reach of the ocean tide. You bend down and pick it up. It is lightweight and the metal feels smooth and warm in your hands as you examine it from every angle. You know in your heart of hearts that this is a special magic lamp that will deliver anything you could possibly wish for immediately and swiftly. All that is required for this to happen is for you to hold the lamp in both hands and with concentrated intention, make your wish.

Describe in detail what you do next.

Here was my answer, which I qualify as by no means perfect. (Its just a thought experiment!)

Well, I do appreciate that you took a moment to find out about me before blindly casting your vote.

As to what I would do, I’ll operate under the assumption that I can only have one wish. I thought about this question hard, after the initial knee-jerk ‘world peace’ and ‘end violence’ and ‘everyone lives forever.’ None of those are viable since the first two result from a successful process, and the third would ruin our world. However there is no perfect answer, so I believe that my wish would stem from the goal of my life- to gain all the tools, knowledge, and wisdom to solve the problems of human disease. Instantly wishing disease away would rob humanity of the process of curing it, and the ability to cure it again if that was necessary. Plus, it is usually true that payoff without the knowledge of why it happened ususally results in no appreciation for what you gained. Therefore human suffering would be even more greatly reduced by the knowledge of disease, and being armed with the ability to tackle endless other problems in science, like how to live sustainably in the world. This would further result in increases in the overall quality of life, and the joy and satisfaction of having to work to find out.

I thought other people might like to see that, and maybe post about what *they*might do too. Oh, and don’t forget to vote for me, please!

UPDATE: You might have noticed that I took down John Brownlee’s endorsement. While many of us found it amusing, I can realize that Jess could have been made uncomfortable by it. I do want this competition to be about the blogs and not conflict, so I offered to remove it if she wished.


  1. #1 Warren
    October 10, 2007

    I’ve thought about this one at length myself. Wisdom for all seems the best wish.

  2. #2 J-Dog
    October 10, 2007

    So, I guess me wishing for a 12 inch pianist is too selfish?

    Well, before you get down on me too much, that 12 inch pianist writes a song that becomes a number 1 Hit all over the world, and then together we form a Research Company that hires Neuro Scientists that do Noble-Winning research and help millions of people hear again.

    Plus, the 12 inch pianist is crazy at parties, so we both get lots of hawt chicks.

  3. #3 JL Ribton
    October 10, 2007

    That reference to The Silence of the Lambs just earned you my vote.

    Best of luck Shelley!

  4. #4 bob koepp
    October 10, 2007

    Since my heart of hearts tells me that this is a special magic lamp, I toss the lamp into the sea and schedule a heart of hearts transplant.

  5. #5 boojieboy
    October 10, 2007

    Cmon! This one is too easy:


    Unless they specifically ban this move, then you go for it right off the bat.

    I spent countless hours playing out this scenario as a kid.

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    October 10, 2007

    Hehe, yeah that crossed my mind, but as someone was asking a serious question (and a vote was on the line!) I didn’t want to be a smartass. 🙂

  7. #7 Angela
    October 10, 2007

    It was very considerate of you to offer to take down the post. Thank you for doing so.

  8. #8 Benjamin Rooney
    October 11, 2007

    Hey, I’m a new reader who actually found this site via Brownlee’s post. I love what you do here, but I’m a bit curious about your taking down the reference to Ectomo. What was the problem?

  9. #9 Corncobtacular
    October 11, 2007

    I’m in the same boat as Benjamin Rooney. Why was it taken down? Was it simply too many people not understanding satire?

  10. #10 Shelley Batts
    October 11, 2007

    It was taken down because I was receiving extremely awful comments both here and on Jess’ blog, and i just didn’t have the time nor inclination to deal with that kind of abuse.

  11. #11 Abby Normal
    October 12, 2007

    Well, my only knowledge of magic wish granting lamps comes from popular mythology, where they are strongly associated with Ifrit, a type of evil Djinn. I think it is therefore likely that any wish I make would be twisted into something horrific. Destroying the lamp might free the Ifrit. So I think my best bet would be to form a secret society, dedicated to preventing the lamp from ever being used.

    Either that or sell it on eBay, make a little profit, and let some other poor fool deal with the consequences of using dark magic as a shortcut. I?d probably toss a coin to decide which. Heads, secret society; tails, ebay.

  12. #12 z
    October 17, 2007

    Well, obviously, the best thing would be to wish to win the scholarship.

  13. #13 raindogzilla
    October 29, 2007

    I would imagine there’s no heaven and, then wish religion would go away.

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