Watching the movie “The Good Shepherd” got me thinking about something: are truth serums real? And if so, has any been proven to work? There was a scene in TGS where a prisoner who was believed to be lying was administered LSD. Now obviously THAT wasn’t a real truth serum (unless you want to hear about the innate truth of teacups or something), but if the CIA was using LSD they were likely using other candidates as well.
Lets just assume for a moment that there existed some potion that extracted the truth from people, rendered them unable to lie when questioned. Wouldn’t that negate free will?
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Not so much in the religious sense of the word, but rather in the sense of information or confessions being freely given. It would certainly change our judicial system, where criminals are seen as repentant if they confess their crimes and parole boards would be pretty much moot. My feeling is that our secrets are part of what defines us. I don’t mean secrets like cheating on a spouse or child abuse or something, but rather the thoughts and small actions that we choose to keep to ourselves. Couldn’t it be said that you may define yourself by what you do when no one’s looking–that that is really ‘who you are’? Imagine if that inner life and sense of privacy was taken away by the sheer notion that the truth about ANYTHING could be taken from you, at any time, at will.
Yeah, I’m kinda going off on an Orwellian tangent here, but something about the idea of truth serums makes me think about torture. Maybe it wouldn’t qualify per se, but the idea of betraying yourself, and being helpless to that fact, would be pretty awful. I don’t much like the thought of the US using them or trying to develop them; its like a slap to scientists who want to use science/chemistry for good.
A recent article in the Washington Post called “Some Believe Truth Serums Will Come Back” discusses the issue:
“There is a large number of neural circuits that we are on the verge of being able to manipulate — things that govern states like fear, anxiety, terror and depression,” said Mark Wheelis, a scientist at the University of California at Davis and a historian of chemical and biological warfare.
“We don’t have recipes yet to control them, but the potential is clearly foreseeable,” he said. “It would absolutely astonish me if we didn’t identify a range of pharmaceuticals that would be of great utility to interrogators.”
Recent research with the hormone oxytocin is especially provocative in this regard.
Produced by the brain, oxytocin is best known for stimulating uterine contraction during labor (when it is sometimes given under the trade name Pitocin), and for promoting milk “letdown” during breast feeding. Animal studies have shown it is also important in mate bonding and social attachment.
In a study published last year, Michael Kosfeld and Markus Heinrichs of the University of Zurich set up an experiment examining oxytocin’s effects on trust.
About 130 college students were randomly given a snort of oxytocin or placebo. Half were then designated “investors” and were given money. They could keep or transfer some or all of the money to a student “trustee,” whom they did not know and could not see.
The act of transferring money tripled its value, creating a big payoff for the trustee receiving it. That person could then keep it all or acknowledge the investor’s trust by returning some portion.
The investors getting oxytocin on average transferred more money than those getting placebos, and twice as many — 45 percent vs. 21 percent — showed maximal trust and transferred it all. Interestingly, oxytocin had no effect on how much money trustees shared back with their investors, suggesting that the hormone acted specifically to promote trust in situations where there was risk and uncertainty.
Paul J. Zak, a neuroscientist at Claremont Graduate University in California, helped supervise the Swiss experiment. He later went to a meeting called by DARPA and presented the findings. When he was finished, a military scientist asked him: “How do I use this stuff tomorrow?”
Zak said he dodged the question. He observed that classic interrogation techniques, in which one person acts as the “good cop” and creates a bond with the prisoner, probably already makes use of the brain’s own oxytocin. He added that, “we are just showing you the neurophysiology behind it.”
And that ended the conversation.
Addendum: DARPA also scares me.