—I had a dream last night.
—Did you, now?
—I did, maybe. Sort of. I was kind of half awake. The landscape was dreamlike, but the rest…well, you’ll see.
—What did you dream of?
—I was telling a story, or someone was telling me one. I can’t be sure which. It was about this panacaea, this miracle cure. This souped-up white blood cell that could cure any ill. It went in your bloodstream and found diseased cells, and then it repaired them, as good as new. It couldn’t stop death from trauma, or from old age, but it could revert any diseased cell to its pre-diseased state.
—Okay. I’d buy that.
—So would I. So would everyone. And most people did. It was tested, found safe, and released to the market. Not everyone got it, but that didn’t matter. The miracle cell mutated, and became contagious. Everyone caught it, or as close as makes no difference.
—That’s quite a detailed dream.
—I told you, I wasn’t sleeping, or not all the way. It was morning already, almost time to wake up. Anyway, with disease out of the picture, human culture underwent a sea-change. Folks got more peaceful, more optimistic, open to new experiences. This was attributed, initially, to a global sigh of relief—a universal unburdening—only, that wasn’t it.
One man, a cruel and violent man, lost his sadism overnight. His family was thrilled. They all started saying how much he’d become like his grandpa Wilson. And he had, in a literal sense. His miracle cells had interpreted his sadism as a disease, and had reverted a small part of his DNA to a state closely resembling his grandfather’s.
A famous pianist, for whom playing had been agony, but also his sole obsession, one day skipped practice to go for a walk. On his walk, he heard kids talking about a game they were playing, and, in an uncharacteristic burst of curiosity, he decided to try that game for himself.
—Yes, uh-oh. His desire to perform never returned. And all over the world, scientists lost their curiosity, mathematicians lost their yearning to impose order on the universe. Anything that might frustrate, anything that might lead to the slightest psychic or physical discomfort, was identified as an illness and removed from our genome.
By the time anyone noticed, it was too late. Within a generation or two, nothing recognisable as human remained on earth.
—[Bulging eyes emoji]
—It reverted us to something simpler, something passive and soft. I couldn’t say what. I didn’t dream that far.
—That’s a terrible dream.
—But, wait. I’m not finished. The whole time I was telling—or maybe hearing—that story, I was playing quite happily in a beautiful pond. A pond with clear water, and flowers all around. It had an island in the middle, shaped like the moon. I wasn’t interested in the story, just in the pond. My other friend, ah, I told him about my dream, and he said the pond was proof positive the story was nonsense. I was playing happily in the pond, my curiosity intact. How could such a thing ever read as pathological?
—Curiosity killed the cat.
—I’m a person, not a cat. Also, I think I’d like to go back to that pond.
—Bring a pen if you do. In case you hear more stories.