Understanding the Brain's Wiring
Validation for "Tend and Befriend"

Better Than Human

If you could control your emotions with pills, what would you choose to do?

Most people would likely ask for a pill that made them happier and gave them more love in their lives. The intense interest in oxytocin as a drug comes, I think, from feelings of loneliness and disconnection that many of us have.

If that's so, we would probably use oxytocin drugs to connect more deeply with others. That's the premise of a paper by J. Hughes, executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. In "Virtue Engineering: Applications of Neurotechnology to Improve Moral Behavior," he disagrees with those who fear that psychoactive pharmaceuticals will make us self-absorbed emotional zombies.

He says, "Contrary to the bioconservative accusation that neurological self-determination and human enhancement will encourage more selfishness in society, it will probably permit people to be even more moral and responsible than they currently are."

The transhumanist ideal is to be able to reshape ourselves to be better humans, not worse ones, Hughes explains. For example, just a you might use a nicotine patch to help you stop smoking if willpower isn't enough, you could use a patch that would help you keep homophobic impulses to yourself.

Besides, there's evidence that endogenous oxytocin can help us learn new responses that become permanent without continual dosing. In Eric Hollander and Jennifer Bartz's experiments giving oxytocin to autistic adults, they were better able to identify the emotional tone of language not only while they were under the effects of the drug, but for weeks afterward. (For more on this, see Oxytocin Therapy for Autism Gets Closer.)

Because the brain can form new connections throughout our life, practicing connection and love while under the influence of oxytocin could help us learn how to do it every day, forever.