Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Reverse decision-making is an amusing and informative exercise in which a group is asked to list what they would do if they were trying to produce a disaster. In no time, various actions such as "Don't seek legal advice" and "Alienate your best customers" may be on the board. As the participants ponder the list, someone usually says, "You know, we're sort of doing that third one and we're definitely into the seventh."

It's a good mind-stretcher because it breaks the usual pattern and forces us to think anew. [Some people are great mind-stretchers but that's a subject for another day.] I was reminded of mind-stretchers while reading The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, the novelist whose Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became the classic film Blade Runner.

The Man in the High Castle explores a dark world in which Germany and Japan, after winning the Second World War, have carved up various nations, including the United States. Dick raises interesting questions, such as what would have happened if FDR had died before Harry Truman was vice president and a less capable replacement stepped into the White House. He does a good job of illustrating how so many major developments can be near-run things and how one person in a key position at a particular time can make an enormous difference.

What are other mind-stretchers? I'd recommend:
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Doomsday by Connie Willis
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Tears of Autumn by Charles McCarry
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Any additions?


Dan Richwine said...

I just re-read the "Foundation" books by Asimov, which come off a bit dated, but still present a sweping view of not only an alternate future, but a different way of looking at the future and the past.

One thing Asimov could do was present history as an interaction of forces, in which men and women were players limited by the events and beliefs surrouding them. While I don't subscribe to the theory that all future can be predicted, ala Hari Seldon, I do think knowledge of the forces surrounding us is useful to our ability to guide and shape such forces. You can't start knowing what forces shape us and our world until you start looking, and Asimov makes you look.

Michael Wade said...


Thanks for the recommendation. I have not read those and will give them a try.