Taking a pill to learn Shakespeare
August 11, 2014
by Mark Ollig

Imagine years from now, being able to acquire information on any subject, simply by taking a pill with a glass of water.

Envisioning this might seem improbable, but one day, it could happen.

After watching a thought-provoking TED Talks video by Nicholas Negroponte, I came away thinking future generations may have the option of using “knowledge pills” for specific subject learning.

Given the advances in computer science, biology, engineering, and nanotechnology, one can foresee a day, many years from now, when chemically-programmable, cell-sized neural nanomites will be taken in pill form for knowledge attainment.

After this “smart pill” dissolves in our stomach, its chemically-coded information would be released into the bloodstream. The pills’ pre-programmed data would seek out, and then attach its information to certain neuron receptors in the brain.

The brain taps into this information whenever our mind requests it.

That’s my simple understanding of how this smart pill could work.

In any event, look at what a time saver taking a smart pill would be.

Imagine not having to spend hours learning algebra and computer coding, or worrying about flawlessly reciting the lines from Shakespeare, or your high school musical.

Having participated in three-act musical plays while in high school, yours truly knows about the time and dedication it takes to get one’s lines down.

So, if you needed to learn about a subject, or memorize lines for a play, would you consider using a special pre-programmed smart pill to accomplish this?

In 1975, if I could have instantly learned all the lines of Mr. Hurley, the character I played in my high school musical “The Yankee Doodle,” by taking a pill, what difference would there have been?

This smart pill would also have needed to provide specific muscle-memory instructions, in order to perform my dance number, direct the band, and know where I was supposed to be on stage.

In addition, I would have needed to take a “song-learning” pill before I sang my much acclaimed and still-remembered-to-this-day rendition of George M. Cohan’s “Mary’s A Grand Old Name.”

Yes indeed, folks, modesty escapes me, but yours truly once sang this song reasonably well; I can only thank Sister Jean Marie, our director, for her instruction – and abundant patience.

Getting down to the difference I would have noticed most. I suppose it would have been the feeling of regret.

I would have regretted missing out on all the fun and camaraderie with the director and fellow student actors during those many evening rehearsals we shared.

While I am nostalgically remembering this musical, if any local community theater company out there ever considers presenting “The Yankee Doodle” and needs someone to play the part of Mr. Hurley, send me an email.

Besides ahead-of-its-time knowledge and song-learning pills, other futuristic technological visions have been discussed.

In 2007, I wrote about one such futuristic idea called the “space elevator.”

The idea was, instead of using rockets to get into space, why not build a working, physical elevator, using a type of unbreakable cable extending from the ground to some counter balanced object fixed in a geostationary-orbit many miles above the Earth.

It would be a reusable space elevator, with one end of its ribbon-like cable anchored into the earth, and the other end traveling many miles into space, where it would maintain its stability and equilibrium by being attached to a counterweight traveling parallel with Earth’s orbit.

This miles-long ribbon cable, made from nano-tube, strength materials, would be the physical medium used to transport, or elevate from Earth into space, an attached cargo capsule.

In one of his last interviews, Arthur C. Clarke was asked about the space elevator, which he wrote about in his 1979 book, “The Fountains of Paradise.”

In the interview, Clarke mentioned he was often asked when the space elevator would be built. “My answer is, about 10 years after everyone stops laughing,” he said.

So, will future generations be acquiring knowledge by ingesting smart pills?

Could students, 100-years from now, be taking an assortment of science, technology, engineering, and math learning pills, instead of studying these subjects using traditional, old-school methods?

Or, will folks still be laughing at the idea of a smart pill.

I imagine myself as a third- grader, getting ready for school 100 years from now, and hearing my mother say, “Mark, did you take your multiplication intelligence pill this morning? Remember, you need to know your multiplication tables for your test in school today!”

In fact, I was in third grade when I learned those multiplication tables – the old-fashioned way.

Mom would quiz me using multiplication pocket flash cards.

The time and perseverance she spent working with me to learn them paid off.

I remembered every combination of multiplication facts on all those flash cards, and aced that third-grade multiplication test, too.

It’s been many years since third grade and high school musicals, and yet I still have those multiplication answers (and a few lines from “The Yankee Doodle”) stored in my brain’s neural hippocampus – all without the use of any smart pills.

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