Monday, December 3, 2012

Mind Mangement: Researchers Explore New Ways to Influence Minds

Positive Futurist
by Dick Pelletier

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) wants to understand the science behind what makes people violent, and then find ways to hijack their minds by implanting false, but believable stories in their brains, with hopes of evoking peaceful thoughts: We’re friends, not enemies.

Critics say this raises ethical issues such as those addressed in the 1971 sci-fi movie, A Clockwork Orange, which attempted to change people’s minds so that they didn’t want to kill anymore.

Advocates, however, believe that placing new plausible narratives directly into the minds of radicals, insurgents, and terrorists, could transform enemies into kinder, gentler citizens, craving friendship.

Scientists have known for some time that narratives; an account of a sequence of events that are usually in chronological order; hold powerful sway over the human mind, shaping a person’s notion of groups and identities; even inspiring them to commit violence. See DARPA proposal request HERE.

In another area of mind management, some believe we should focus on genetic components. Scientists at the University of Buffalo recently surveyed DNA from 711 subjects and discovered what they refer to as the ‘niceness gene’, a gene that dictates whether people will be nice or are prone to antisocial behavior.

Contrary to popular knowledge, being kind to others may not be something that we can only learn about from those who raised us. It seems some people are simply born ‘nice’, and others, nasty.

Researchers found that people who see the world as a ‘threatening’ place were less likely to help others – unless they had versions of the receptor genes that are generally associated with niceness.

Today, scientists have yet to master the ability to change this genetic programming, but by the 2030s, many predict that modifying these genes (with patient approval, of course) will become routine.

Others say mind management with drugs offers the best solutions. This science could reform criminals more efficiently than a jail sentence. However, many ask how ethical is it to interfere with people’s minds?

In their recent ground-breaking book, Enhancing Human Capacities, co-authors Julian Savulescu, Ruud ter Meulen, and Guy Kahane explore how society will benefit when we use technology to alter moods, boost memory, and increase intelligence levels; along with the ethical concerns these technologies raise.

Kahane says scientists are discovering new behavior-altering procedures that make us more likeable, sociable; open to other people’s views; and will curb many of our desires for vengeance and violence.

Drugs that affect our moral thinking and behavior already exist, but we tend not to think of them in that way. Prozac lowers aggression and bitterness, making people more agreeable. Oxytocin increases feelings of social bonding and empathy while reducing anxiety.

Some question, though, whether society will want a pill that would make them morally better. Being more trusting, nicer, and less aggressive could make people more vulnerable to exploitation.

However, proponents believe the benefits are too important to ignore. Pursuing all of the technologies mentioned in this article holds great promise to curb crime and violence worldwide, improve personal and career relationships, and raise happiness levels everywhere.

In another area of the behavior-altering arena, memory-management drugs are about to take center stage. Data experts at Memory Pharmaceuticals, a leading New Jersey drug information firm, believe researchers will soon develop drugs that will dim, or permanently erase traumatic memories.

An even more radical technology, downloading knowledge directly into our brains will be possible in the 2030s, says Georgia Tech graduate student Peter Passaro. Mind-machine interfaces will allow us to receive data in our brain, immediately convert it to memory; bypassing the need to learn the information.

Clearly, the road to mind management science winds around unknown turns, but this forward-thinker believes the overwhelming benefits of reducing violence and criminal acts will push this bold idea forward as we move further into what promises to become an incredible 21st century future.

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