In the near future we will have many technologies that will allow us to modify and assist our emotions and reasoning.
In this blog I want to tell you what is happening in the area of the chemical engineering of the human body.
Science is digging deeper and deeper into the structures that matter most in our body. The most interesting substances are called hormones. It is now possible to make these hormones on a large scale.
One of the most interesting hormones is the Hormone of Love. If everybody would take a dose of it everyday we could create peace on earth.
In Nov 20, 2007, James Hughes gave a lecture with the title: “Virtue Engineering: Applications of Neurotechnology to Improve Moral Behavior“.
In his talk Mr. Hughes suggests that the introduction of coffee was one of the factors that started the Enlightenment because at that time people started to meet and discuss in coffee-houses (“the foggy ale that besieged our brains, while coffee was the brave and wholesome liquor that heals the stomach, makes the genius quicker, relieves the memory, revives the sad, and cheers the spirits without making mad.”).
The coffee-houses at that time were called “penny universities” because of all the free newspapers. They were also classless. Working men and men from the middle class could go and have a conversation together.
A much more interesting subject in his speech is Love and Compassion. The most important chemical substance is oxytocin. Oxitocin is a neuroactive hormone that is released during breast-feeding and during orgasm.
Paul J. Zak and Ahlam Fakhar (Neuroactive hormones and interpersonal trust: International evidence, Economics & Human Biology) have investigated the relationship between culture and interpersonal trust.
They went to 32 countries, tested the amount of oxytocin in the blood of people then looked at a hundred different variables to see which ones were correlated with the amount of oxytocin in their blood.
They found a very high correlation between the level of oxytocin and the level of cooperation in a culture. You can imagine that the US was not high on their list.
Oxitocin is the hormone that manages the food intake of the body. When your oxitocin-level is low you are hungry. It explains easily why people that are “without love” eat too much.
Vasopressin has the opposite effect. So when you want to stop eating too much you know what to do. You can take vasopressin or find a friend. When you don’t eat enough, leave your friend.
Oxitocin, the “hormone of love“, highly influences the nervus vagus. This nerve influences the rhythm of the heart.
It explains why a “broken heart” or “being in love” changes the rhytm. To solve this problem you can take beta-blockers. They turn you into a very rational being and the feeling of love will disappear.
The chemical structure of Beta-blockers has a lot in common with vasopressin. When we look deeper we see that vasopressin and oxitocin are part of a deeper structure. They are part of a “family”, called the “molecules of emotion“.
There are many more interesting stories to tell about the relationship between hormones and our behavior but I want to address the most important subject of the speech, the future use of chemical substances.
One thing is for certain we are using chemical substances all the time. They are part of the food we eat and the liquids we drink. We drink coffee and alcohol and every piece of food we eat contains something that affects us.
At this moment we are getting increasingly more evidence what the effects are of all these chemical substances. Somewhere behind them is a simple structure with complementary chemical structures (peptides) that trigger many processes in our body.
When we know this structure we are able to control the behavior of everybody. We could even put them in the drinking water to enhance cooperation or the opposite.
We could put them in a spray and every boy could easily seduce a girl (or vice versa). This is no joke it was already done by the US Army in wartime and there is no reason to suppose that they will use chemical substances when they need them.
The most important question is how far we want to go in controlling people. If the research that is performed at this moment succeeds we are able to control the virtue of everybody.
We are able to let everynody act according to “ethical rules“. They have to be formulated by somebody (government?). It is not clear what these rules are about.
If we provide every body with its daily dosis of oxytocin we will live in peace for ever. The weapon industry and the army will not like that. They will be out of work!
If you read the whole speech you will see that Mr Hughes is very concerned about all the developments that take place in human engineering.
He even wrote a book about it called Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond to the Redesigned Human of the Future.
I don’t think he has a solution. The only think I hope is that people drink a lot of coffee when they start to discuss this issue and that people of with low levels of Oxitocin are excluded or constantly hugged by the others.