We once believed depression was a mental problem, but recent studies suggest it is caused by imbalances in part of the brain called Area 25 (Insel, 46). Other mental illnesses can now be linked to physical problems as well, and it won’t be long until all our emotional states can be catalogued in the same way. So what kind of world will we live in once that happens?
The more we learn about how our brains work, the easier it becomes to manipulate them. Many sci-fi dystopias are based on this idea. In fact, it’s been done too many times, and I’m not interested in writing another one. My question is what would a functional, stable society do to keep itself from degenerating into 1984, Brave New World, or Uglies?
We struggle today with freedom of speech, so how much harder would the struggle for freedom of emotions be? It might require legal definitions of what is and is not a normal emotion. They may enact constitutional protection for your emotional rights. The future’s highest law may be that brain surgery must be voluntary, but then can a truly mentally ill person make a voluntary decision?
A better understanding of the biology of the human brain could also lead to personality modification. Shyness is not a mental illness, but someday new technology could take it away… perhaps by tampering with the hypothalamus (Staff). Modifications to the amygdala could make a person harder to frighten, which would be good for anyone in a dangerous profession like law enforcement (Insel, 48).
Advancing science does not have to lead to a dehumanizing future. With the proper laws and cultural values, everything we learn about the brain could be put to good use in a happy, healthy society. Of course, no civilization is flawless. That would make a very boring story.
Insel, Thomas R. “Faulty Circuits.” Scientific American April 2010. Pages 44-51.
Staff, P.T. “The Shy Brain.” Psychology Today November 1, 1995. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199511/the-shy-brain