Isn't it lucky?

Martin Brisbane mbrisbane at
Thu Jan 9 14:32:51 EST 1997

Michael Hucka <hucka at> writes:
>   mbrisbane> Isn't it amazingly fortunate that every way that the brain can
>   mbrisbane> be influenced aperceptually, IE without going through the five
>   mbrisbane> senses, is either impossible or unsubtle? Unsubtle meaning, for
>   mbrisbane> example, surgically implanting electrodes. Just think if that
>   mbrisbane> weren't the case! Surely we'd be a planet of zombies by now!
> I won't argue with the last sentence, but as to "subtle" manipulations of the
> brain, I think there are many ways to do it without going through the 5
> senses.  Chemical means are probably the most obvious; foods and drugs can
> cause subtle changes in various aspects of brain and behavior, and most
> people probably wouldn't consider such manipulations "perceptual".

I will certainly grant you most of what you say: chemical means are
aperceptual; they can alter brain function and behavior powerfully;
introducing chemicals to the unsuspecting poses few barriers to stop a
would-be dictator.

But where you say "subtle changes in various aspects of brain and
behavior", I think you have a shade of meaning in mind that is at odds
with our topic. Do you mean something like the way that sodium pentathol
makes you talkative, and from a neuroscientist's point of view that
"sure is a subtle change in function"?

But from the point of view of a would-be dictator, it would be a
hopelessly coarse (unsubtle) effect. What exactly would a dictator do
with a babbling populace? And who would be the "middle
management"/"lesser nobility"? More babblers? How could a dictator
target it timewise? How could a dictator target it person-wise? That's
more difficult than simply putting it in the water supply.

Similar objections apply to every psychoactive chemical I can think of:
It is difficult to target precise individuals at precise times.
Controlling people who are already prisoners, perhaps, but controlling a
populace, no way, impossible.

It's like the old "flouridated water" fears. (Not that I believe
flourine is psychoactive) Making the population docile at precise times
and circumstances would certainly have been done (What, me cynical?),
but making all the population docile all the time, what's that
accomplish except to get the dictatorship invaded from outside?

By the way, I'm curious as to why you say there are "many" ways to do it
without going through the 5 senses. Chemicals I grant you, surgery we
dismissed for unsubtlety, and the only other way I can think of (TCMS)
requires very prominent, powerful magnets and therefore can also be
dismissed as being too unsubtle.


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