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Bioethics

The Brave New World of War

How long will it be before some countries try to put the latest in brain science to evil use?  Consider this study:

The story of SM, a 44-year-old woman whose rare genetic condition has selectively destroyed the brain's twinned set of amygdala, shows the clear downside of a life without fear. . . .

This fearlessness may be fine in the safety of one's living room, but it turns out that SM makes her own horror films in real life. She walks through bad neighborhoods alone at night, approaches shady strangers without guile, and has been repeatedly threatened with death.

Much of the discussion of the abuse of biology has to do with destroying or modifying embryos' genetic code.  As we learn more about the brain, surgery might become another option.  Would a nation try to create an army full of men who literally are incapable of fear?

Categories > Bioethics

Discussions - 4 Comments

As Mac Owens, for example, has put it, military training is to overcome the paralyzing effect of fear on the battlefield. So why wouldn't some nation, if it technically could, genetically or surgically arrange for amygdala-less warriors?

Well, one reason might be if that nation had civil direction of the military (another Mac Owens theme), and of human bioengineering (a Peter Lawler theme), and would not consent to that kind of transhuman experiment on citizens.

And, there might be good scientific and philosophical reasons to proceed slowly. Although the NYT article describes the SM as "otherwise normal," it's not clear that the losing the amygdala didn’t (or doesn’t) also affect the parts of brain connected to decision-making, motivation, cognition, memory. Did she accidentally, in the normal course of running her life, walk into bad neighborhoods, or did she seek them out mindlessly or rashly? Scientists may find that the brain is essentially a whole or a particular balance of necessary parts -- as Plato and Aristotle held that the soul is essentially a whole, though complex (just as the person is a whole, though complex, composed of soul and body). And, correspondingly, a similar kind of wholeness exists with virtue – one can’t be courageous apart from being prudent, moderate, and just.

And apart from being a loyal, law-respecting citizen, one could add. Amygdala-removal might bring fearlessness, though not necessarily courage, and perhaps outlawry or outrages. If courage means fearing dishonor more than death, could one be courageous while truly fearing nothing (and therefore daring anything)? Could one still be human? (Consider the fearless Macbeth’s retort to his wife’s provocation, “I dare do all that may become a man;/Who dares more is none.”)

Progress in neurobiology reveals important aspects but also raises important questions about being human, which might direct more persons outside the physical sciences, to the answers in the classics.

Exec summary: no.

In battle you would lose a lot of these people, and they would still be quite expensive to train. They would also be really, really hard to discipline.

1) That's awesome.
2) China will use this.

Wouldn't we prefer amygdala or subgenual anterior cingulate cortex. suppressants? Alcohol seems to work like that in some people. I note that while there is discussion of areas of the body that produce fear and suppress courage, there is no mention of an organ or set of neurons that make courage, which might suggest that courage is our default state. Isn't that interesting? Suppress that which inhibits courage and we are all about courage?

It makes sense that natural selection would favor those with a well-developed amygdala, doesn't it?

Temporary suppression via drugs will be the answer. There is no need to make anyone permanently fearless for this information to be useful. Like steroids or analgesics mask pain, something will be developed that masks fear, better than a few beers, too. That will help paratroopers before they jump or soldiers before they storm the beach. You don't want permanent fearless warriors. Temporarily fearless ones have always good enough.

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