Psychedelic Warfare? Exploring the Potential of Psychoactive Weapons
An Interview with James Ketchum, M.D.
By David Jay Brown
James Ketchum, M.D. is a retired Army colonel, a Board Certified psychiatrist, and an Assistant Clinical professor of Psychiatry at UCLA. He received his M.D. from Cornell Medical School, and is the author of the book Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten.
During the 1960s, Ketchum was a research director for the Army’s Chemical Center at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, where thousands of U.S. soldiers served as volunteers for the secret testing of psychedelic and deliriant drugs as incapacitating agents. The goal was to develop non-lethal military weapons, which could be used to temporarily knock people out without necessarily hurting them.
I found Ketchum’s book Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten to be absolutely fascinating and difficult to put down. It’s a treasure chest of rare information, compiled from a massive amount of research that I was largely unaware of. The book is filled with many interesting personal photographs, humorous anecdotes, and it is compulsively readable. Most importantly, it fills a vital historical gap in the archives of psychedelic drug research. From 1955 to 1975 several thousand U.S. soldiers served as volunteer test subjects for psychedelic drugs (such as LSD and strong cannabis derivatives), and deliriant drugs (such BZ and other belladonnoid compounds), where they were administered a battery of physical and cognitive performance tests to see how well they could perform under the drug’s influence.
While reading Ketchum’s book, I was struck by the strange historical irony, that some of the very drugs that were associated in the 1960s with the counterculture’s antiwar movement in America were–at the very same time–being researched as secret military weapons. While the thought of government-funded experiments into chemical warfare agents may give you the chills, Ketchum maintains that his research was motivated by the desire to save human lives and develop more humane, non-lethal weapons. Part of his motivation for writing his book was to clear up the misconceptions that many people in the media have about the Army’s all-volunteer research program, often confused with the CIA’s notorious and nefarious MK-ULTRA mind control program that sometimes even administered LSD to ordinary unwitting U.S. citizens.
Ketchum is a difficult man to pigeonhole, as he has always been somewhat of a maverick. In 1966 he was granted two years off from his research at Edgewood Arsenal to become a post-doc in neuropsychology with Karl Pribram at Stanford University. While in California he spent time documenting the psychedelic subculture in the Bay Area on film, and volunteered time as a physician at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic in San Francisco. Ketchum also supports research into the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis and psychedelics; he served for several years as a member of NORML (the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws) and is still active in MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research). Ketchum’s book contains a Foreword by the legendary psychedelic chemist Alexander Shulgin. Popular cyber culture commentator Ken Goffman (aka RUSirius, author of Mondo 2000) helped with the editing of the book. In 2007, Ketchum even lectured at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada, so he’s demonstrated a rare ability to communicate across some pretty varied subcultures.
I spoke with Ketchum on September 8, 2008. I found Jim to be very gracious and he appears to have a lot of integrity when he talks about his research. We discussed his studies at Edgewood Arsenal, why chemical warfare agents may be more humane than traditional weapons, the future of chemical warfare, and the possible therapeutic potential of psychedelics. To find out more about Dr. Ketchum’s work, visit his Web site: http://forgottensecrets.net
David: How did you become interested in psychiatry?
Jim: When I was eight years old I wrote a composition in class that stated I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up and “help struggling humanity.” So when I entered college I started as a pre-med student. Then I shifted briefly to a philosophy major. I left it to major in clinical psychology, and finally reverted to pre-med. I focused my eye on psychiatry when I got through all this switching around. I got the necessary training in medicine at Cornell University Medical School, but then entered the Army for my internship and residency training. It was only near the end of my residency that the story starts, as far as chemical warfare goes.
David: When you graduated from medical school, what was your initial reaction when you were first approached by the military to do secret research into incapacitating agents?
Jim: The invitation came more than four years after completing medical school, and was actually somewhat of a happenstance. The Edgewood Arsenal program of research into chemical weapons had started to focus on incapacitating agents–which is to say non-lethality, or low lethality agents. No psychiatrist had been assigned to the Medical Labs and a disturbing psychiatric reaction had occurred in one of their studies. My mentor at Walter Reid, Dr. David Rioch, called me in and said a psychiatrist was needed at Edgewood Arsenal and would I be interested in such an assignment? I grabbed at it because it seemed challenging and really interesting.
David: What were some of the chemical agents that you studied at Edgewood and what did you learn about them?
Jim: Before my arrival LSD was the only agent that had been studied in some detail. My predecessor, Dr. Van Sim initiated and supervised most of the human research prior to 1961. But a new and different agent was provided to the Army a few months before I arrived. Over time it was referred to by a number of names, but finally was called simply BZ. I spent the better part of three years studying it intensively and eventually writing up a detailed summary. I also did, however, some additional work with LSD, and with a variant of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), provided by Harry Pars, a chemist at A.D. Little, with some technical guidance by Dr. Alexander Shulgin, primarily known, then and now, for his creative synthesis of psychedelic drugs.
It was evident that this variant of THC had several times the potency of THC found in marijuana, so there was speculation that it might be powerful enough to be useful as an incapacitating agent. It certainly was predicted to be safe, much like the marijuana to which it was related, but it lacked sufficient intoxicating effects in the dose range we studied. It was obvious that it wouldn’t be a practical agent so after a brief trial with the volunteer subjects, I turned my attention almost entirely to BZ, whose effects I thereafter studied in detail with the help of more than three hundred highly cooperative enlisted soldiers.
Convinced of its effectiveness and safety, BZ was actually adopted by higher Army echelons as the first (and only) standard incapacitating agent. It was produced in quantity and loaded into volleyball sized bomblets for delivery as an aerosol from overhead aircraft. I had very little to do with this phase, nor was I particularly interested in the dispersal aspects.
Meanwhile, we continued to study additional compounds of similar type, which is to say the “belladonnoid” category since their effects were qualitatively very much like atropine, a drug approved for use for many centuries. Some people may be familiar with atropine, used as a pre-anesthetic to reduce salivation.
BZ differs from atropine in that it is about twenty times as potent and up to twenty times longer lasting than atropine. The dose required by injection or inhalation is only about half a milligram, enough to produce an incapacitating delirium lasting 48 to 96 hours, followed by full recovery.
The other compounds that came under scrutiny after BZ were often even better. Some acted relatively more on the central nervous system, with very little effect on heart rate, or blood pressure. Such physiological effects were more characteristic of atropine and BZ. We guessed that some similar agents might even be better from a safety standpoint. Thus, we went on to study about a dozen different compounds that were structural relatives of BZ–either shorter acting, longer acting, more potent, more predominantly central in action, and so forth. But meanwhile the Army seemed to lose interest in these compounds as a group and put them aside, perhaps primarily for political reasons related to the unpopular war in Viet Nam and the growing protest against chemical weapons of all types.
David: Why do you think that chemical warfare agents may be more humane than traditional weapons, and can you talk a little about what inspired you to write the book Chemical Warfare Secrets Almost Forgotten?
Jim: It seemed obvious to me that chemical weapons that could produce non-lethal temporary incapacitation would be more humane than conventional deadly weapons. You have to go back in time and change your mindset a little to understand what I mean. Back to the early 1960s the idea of developing a non-lethal chemical weapon was generally accepted and even encouraged. The notion started out with Chief of the Chemical Corps, Major General William Creasy, who had developed the somewhat idealistic belief that LSD might be such a weapon. He became wildly enthusiastic about it and presented his arguments to Congress. As I try to point out in my book, “harm reduction” was just as important to the Army then as it is among civilians today in relation to drug problems.
Congress, in 1955, was wildly enthusiastic about Creasy’s vision of a city being temporarily neutralized with LSD in order to carry out a military mission with minimal loss of life. They voted, with only one naysayer, to triple the Chemical Corps budget, as requested, and they gave their blessing to further LSD research. I shared the enthusiasm expressed by Congress and felt I was working toward a very noble goal. My feelings haven’t changed in that regard but, after I left Edgewood in 1971, I went on to other assignments and left the whole program behind me.
After 1970, I knew the Army was winding down this research, and that I had done all I had set out to do with incapacitating agents. I let the subject slip to the back of my mind, since I had many other new things to do. After most of the documents from the 1960s were declassified most of the physicians involved had gone their separate ways and had no further interest in such work. But I believed that perhaps I should be putting all this together in some form, because no on else had done it. I had such an intention for quite a while, but my various other assignments–substance abuse treatment, drug education, and so on–prevented me from finding time to do it.
But it recently has become obvious that there is a reticence on the part of the government to talk much about what went on in the 1960s. Gradually it all seemed to fade from collective memory and the reports were relegated mostly to seldom-opened file cabinets.
Some people didn’t even know that there had been a program. One of the chemical officers was asked two decades later “What about that volunteer program back in the 60s?” and hiss response was “What program? There was no volunteer program.” The Army, of course, had not denied its existence, but it spent very little time telling anyone the details of what research had been done. I became upset because I felt that that the experimental work was extensive, detailed and important scientifically for the medical and pharmacological community to know about.
What pushed me past the edge of indecision, ultimately, was the 9/11 disaster, which soon led to a marked increase in public concern about chemical weapons, as well as with other so-called weapons of mass destruction. By the way, I make a point in my book that it’s really not accurate to refer to chemicals as weapons of mass destruction. In practical terms, only a small area could be effectively blanketed by an airborne chemical fog–certainly not a city or any large number of people (unless in a closed facility such as a domed stadium).
I finally sat down and started working on my book in 2002, at the age of seventy. It took me about four years to get it all together and I decided to publish it myself. Since then, although I’ve sent out less than 1,000 copies, it’s been purchased by readers in 16 or 17 countries, the latest being Russia.
David: Many people in the media have confused the Army Chemical Center’s research into psychedelics and deliriants in human volunteers, for use as non-lethal weapons, with the CIA’s MK-ULTRA project. Would you like to clarify the difference between these two programs?
Jim: They were entirely separate, and that was another stimulus to me to write this book. The public had acquired the notion that the CIA operations back in the 1950s–when they actually gave LSD to unwitting citizens–was somehow tied to the research that we did at Edgewood Arsenal with the same compound. In fact, it was not. The program that the CIA ran was so secret that most of the other members of the CIA didn’t know much about it. When it finally came to light, its leader, Dr. Gottlieb, arranged to destroy all the records, so it is no longer possible to know who actually received it surreptitiously.
Edgewood, on the other hand, had a fully transparent program that was approved by the Surgeon General, the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of Defense, so the program was not any kind of secret. Furthermore, the MK-ULTRA program conducted by the CIA was aimed at seeking drugs that could produce actual changes in behavior. They thought that perhaps they could give LSD to someone and make him confess to something he was holding back, or carry out some mission he had been told to carry out while under the drug’s influence. None of this was achieved, fortunately, and while these illegal experiments in progress, our laboratories at Edgewood began a totally different approach to the development of chemicals that could temporarily incapacitate without any lasting effects. They would be used only for short-term military purposes, and there was no thought of changing personalities, or getting people to do anything they wouldn’t otherwise do.
In short, I wanted to articulate that these two programs were completely different, and I went to some length in my book to do so. I hope I succeeded because, really, I still feel quite proud of what we did while working for the Chemical Corps. As you can tell, I didn’t feel very good about the CIA work. A few years ago, in fact, I testified against the CIA in Federal Court as the sole expert witness for the prosecution. Much time was required before the trial writing reports and rebuttals on behalf of a former Deputy US Marshall. In my opinion, he was one of the “ordinary American citizens” who were given LSD covertly in the late 1950s, at the same time other black CIA operations were being carried out close to his place of work.
Although there were several other factors that pointed definitely to the covert use of LSD in that case the judge, unfortunately, didn’t buy it. She said it was possible, but not fully proven and the hearing was ended prematurely. His attorney took it to the Appeals Court and tried unsuccessfully to bring it to the Supreme Court, but so far has been unsuccessful. This poor guy’s life was ruined as a result of his erratic behavior after consuming the drug in a drink at a Christmas party. In short, he was an unwitting victim of the CIA’s unethical behavior, in my opinion, and experienced something he didn’t understand and couldn’t handle. That sort of deception is really the differentiation I have tried to make between the CIA activities and the Army’s later bona fide research with LSD.
David: What sort of reactions have you received from government officials and others who have read your book?http://mavericksofthemind.com/blog/?p=344http://mavericksofthemind.com/blog/?p=344
Jim: It’s interesting. Somehow, I seem to have managed to walk a line that didn’t require me to be a strong advocate in any particular direction. I wasn’t arguing for or against these incapacitating agents. But I thought we should be talking about them, and I thought the public ought to know what we did back there in the 1960s. My book is really a truthful story, supported by pharmacological data, and it was well received by the Chemical Corps people when they learned about it. A number of them bought copies and surprisingly, I was even invited back to Edgewood Arsenal after thirty years to give a keynote address at a major international science conference. It must have been favorably received because I was invited back the next year to give a similar presentation.
So, from the Chemical Corps’ perspective, my revelations of previously unpublished data seemed to present no problem. It was reviewed positively in military publications. It caught the eye of Steven Aftergood, who publishes Secrecy News Daily. USA Today, in turn, chose to write an illustrated article about me and the book. This was followed by a number of published reviews, mostly positive in tone.
The counterculture, on the other hand, which you might think would be skeptical of anything the Army approved of, also liked the book. I think that this was because of the informative content, including the details of the effects of LSD, THC, and other compounds that weren’t available anywhere else. A number of them have written me letters of congratulations and thanks, and have told me that I’ve preserved a bit of history.
Of course I feel good about it and this may sound funny, but I’ve also had no crank phone calls, no letters of protests. I’ve had very few negative comments about the book. There were some reservations expressed by some reviewers, mostly on the matter of informed consent. I argue, however, in some detail, that we really provided more informed consent than many research programs did in those days, but some people think that because we didn’t reveal the name of the drug, these weren’t truly ethical studies.
However, with regard to informed consent, subjects rarely felt they had been insufficiently informed. We created several hoops to jump through, before even being invited to spend two months with us, and consent forms were required not only on arrival, but before each and every test. Many volunteers were not averse to receiving two or more different agents. Some even agreed to undergo a high dose BZ test twice, to permit double blind procedures. Much preparation, in the form of baseline testing, preliminary discussion with the responsible physician and, if films or TV recordings were to be used, an additional consent in writing was required. Subjects spent a full day and the night before each procedure, during which they were familiarized with the test environment, and the performance and physiological measures required to establish reliable baselines. Thus, they had an extended opportunity to get to know the nurses and technicians who would be with them during the actual testing.
Although we adhered to the Nuremberg Code, if you read it carefully, it doesn’t really address the subject of testing drugs. There are two provisions that either require the responsible doctor to discontinue the experiment if it appears that it may be producing adverse effects, or to stop it immediately if the subject does not feel able to continue. If you give someone a drug, especially when you have no effective antidote available, there is no way to stop it until the drug itself wears off. So, obviously, the drafters of those provisions of the Nuremberg code weren’t thinking about drug testing but more probably of a physical procedure such as isolation, or tolerance to extreme cold–procedures that can indeed be interrupted at any time at the discretion of the physician or the subject.
While the general nature and duration of each test were explained in some detail, we were not allowed to reveal the name of the drug for security reasons (although subjects often figured out among themselves whether they were on a BZ or an LSD test). There was much paranoia about the Soviet Union learning from our experiments, so we used classified numbers to identify the agents being tested. Most of them had no ordinary names, so knowing their number or even their structure would be of no practical value if medical attention were required in the future.
We usually ended up with three to four times the number of volunteers that we could accept for any given two month assignment. Then, after they arrived, we examined and interviewed the subjects, and classified them into one of four levels. Only the “group A” individuals were considered eligible for the higher doses of psychoactive drugs. These would be soldiers who appeared to be unusually stable, based on their personal histories, MMPI profiles, lab tests and psychiatric interviews. We avoided volunteers who had a history of drug abuse or any criminal behavior. Overall, we had really superior subjects, with above average IQ’s, and half of them had at least a year of college education. In summary, they certainly weren’t “unwitting guinea pigs,” as so often described by the media.
David: One of the things that you hinted at in your book, just briefly, was that one of the LSD subjects might have experienced some sort of therapeutic benefit in one of your studies. What sort of therapeutic value do you think that psychedelic agents might have?
Jim: That’s a big subject. Actually, we weren’t looking for therapeutic effects. We weren’t trying to treat anyone. Nevertheless I observed one subject who seemed to undergo a therapeutic experience, as I detailed in a chapter. You might call his improved social behavior an unanticipated beneficial consequence.
In general, I think that the field of psychedelic drugs is a very fascinating one, and that such drugs ought to be studied with respect to their beneficial potential, rather than dishonestly outlawed as dangerous. It’s strange to me how vehement and irrational the prohibitory sanctions have become. With governmental approval, I think that some of the synthetic psychedelic drugs might indeed be useful medications. Actually, that’s starting to be recognized, in the case of MDMA (the drug called “Ecstasy” which Alexander Shulgin introduced to the public), and now a few limited therapeutic studies with LSD are also being carried out. LSD was, of course, widely studied and used as an aid to psychotherapy until it was made illegal in 1965.
That put a stop to what was a promising avenue of research into the psychological and, some would say, spiritual potential of psychedelics. The draconian prohibitions and penalties our own government has established are both outrageous and, in the opinion of many including myself, unconstitutional. These drugs are not addicting. Psychedelics are certainly not to be compared to cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, morphine, or even alcohol, as far as addiction potential and medical harm are concerned.
Psychedelic drugs do seem to have the ability to open up an individual’s awareness of many surprising things that are actually hiding in their heads. Major insights can occur and people are often astonished “at what’s in there.” Sometimes the world appears in a totally new and propitious light. Bad feelings that they’ve had about themselves, for example, can often be alleviated by realizing that we’re all part of one universe and one family of human beings. And these insights often seem to carry over, long after the drug effects are gone.
Many people have described LSD in particular (and perhaps some of the other psychedelic drugs that haven’t been tried in more than a few people) as having these unique properties. Some really treasure the experience, and believe that it reshapes their life in some way. LSD has even been found to alleviate the suffering of dying individuals. Aldous Huxley was one of the first to advocate its use for this purpose. LSD given to patients during the final weeks or months of their illness, often seems to provide a much more serene feeling about death. The dying patient can see that death is part of the life cycle and that he or she will somehow continue on as part of the universe, even after death. One can only hope the government will eventually allow scientists to continue research with psychedelic drugs and allow their appropriate use by physicians and qualified therapists!
David: What was your personal experience with LSD like, and how did it affect your perspective on the research that you were doing at Edgewood?
Jim: I have to say that it was somewhat anticlimactic. I took it because, at a conference I attended in 1965, it seemed that everyone working with LSD had taken it one or more times. So I thought, “Gee, I’ve never even tried it. I guess I ought to.” And, with a little bit of trepidation, I took a relatively small dose–80 micrograms–which wouldn’t be considered in the incapacitating range by our testing criteria. I took it under the same conditions that I required of the volunteers–namely, being in a padded cubicle, doing arithmetic tests every hour or so, having to Draw-a-Man periodically, fill in checklists, and have my blood pressure, temperature, pupil size, respirations and heart rate checked by the nurses at frequent intervals.
So, although I was more of a “witting guinea pig” (if you will), not much occurred in the way of new insights. In fact, I didn’t even have any marked perceptual distortions. At a higher dose, however, such effects would no doubt have been more prominent. So, personally, I was a bit disappointed in my “trip.” It did not, however, influence my overall view of the research we were doing. In fact, it reassured me that an LSD trip was something that one could actually go through and emerge intact. It helped corroborate my beliefs about the safety of the drugs that we were studying. They weren’t harming anyone as far as we could tell and we were learning much of value from testing them.
David: Did any of the subjects who were given LSD at Edgewood ever have anything resembling a mystical experience?
Jim: In this setting, I don’t recall hearing anyone say he did. The men certainly had a variety of experiences, but I’m not sure that the term “mystical” would apply. We used fairly low doses, for one thing. As I described in the book, the responses varied from being highly amused to being fascinated with the amazing otherworldly colors that they saw. Subjects did sometimes become irritated with the routine questions being asked, and sometimes they became paranoid about the whole situation. But I don’t recall any so-called “mystical” or “spiritual enlightenment” experiences. I think a lot depends on the setting and the intent of the study. If you give a drug to see how people will perform under the influence, then you mainly tend to ask “how well can you perform under the influence?”
If you give LSD to someone in a therapeutic setting–as with Cary Grant, who took it more than a hundred times as an adjunct to psychotherapy, as did many other luminaries in that era–then you tend to get more reports of a spiritual nature. Some degree of suggestion may play a part, by the way, but I don’t want to pour cold water on the notion that these drugs can indeed be very enlightening. LSD, for example doesn’t always produce a mystical result, but frequently it does, as testified to by many users. Some report it provides a new view of the world–a sense of belonging to a larger system. Some even believe they have been able to be briefly in touch with God or, for that matter, the entire universe. These are undoubtedly very memorable experiences. Although it doesn’t always happen, I do believe such an epiphany happens often enough to justify responsible use of such drugs. These drugs may also provide an enhanced basis for psychotherapy. But, of course, one can’t expect them to answer all of one’s psychological needs.
David: How do you envision the future of chemical warfare?
Jim: Oh boy, I don’t know. As mentioned, there’s strong opposition to chemical warfare agents in any form, including the incapacitating agents. In 1966, I exchanged letters with Matthew Meselson, a leading anti-proliferationist. His opinions haven’t changed much–he presents pretty much the same point of view now as he did then. We did have a cordial exchange. He argued that incapacitating agents might be okay in themselves, but he feared they would open the door to the use of more destructive chemicals. This is basically the familiar slippery slope argument so frequently invoked to discredit some new strategy. It was used by a Republican administration to justify the Viet Nam war, for example. Recently, however, I did seem to succeed in persuading a few people, active in the anti-proliferation movement, that incapacitating agents perhaps could be used safely, and could possibly save lives.
Ironically, this was clearly demonstrated by the Russian successful use of a fentanyl-type gas in November, 2002 which enabled them to rescue more than 80% of the 800 members of a Moscow theater audience taken over by Chechen terrorists. Gas was apparently delivered through the air conditioning system and through holes in the floor and roof, putting everyone into a narcotized unconscious state. Then, 30-40 minutes later, special troops entered and started bringing people out. The doctors used naloxone, the favorite antidote for morphine-like compounds, to reverse the narcosis. I think that overall it was a marvelous result, but, unfortunately, it’s been looked at by some skeptics as a kind of a tragedy. They say, look, 130 people died. Well, I think that 130 is better than 800, and it’s also better, as a secondary consideration, not to have to blow up a beautiful theater.
Whether this dramatic use of an incapacitating agent is going to be picked up by anyone, including the United States, is difficult to predict, because we’ve signed (somewhat foolishly, I believe) the 1993 Chemical Warfare Convention treaty. The treaty outlaws the use of any chemical weapon during any aggressive military action.
Unfortunately, perhaps for political reasons, we were allowed to tie our own hands. Even tear gas, for example, is a forbidden chemical weapon, except when used for police actions in one’s own territory. I believe that has to be changed. Either we have to draw ourselves out of the treaty, which would necessarily take quite a bit of guts, or we have to persuade the world that some chemical agents are less lethal than conventional weapons and that people can be spared death through their proper use in selected circumstances. I’d certainly like to see it go that way.
Colonel John Alexander, an unconventional weapons consultant to the Department of Defense, has long been arguing forcefully for the use of incapacitating agents. He read my book and told me: “You’re on the right track.” Alexander, of course, is primarily an expert in physical incapacitating agents, such as sticky foam, bright lights, snares, nets and other devices that can control crowds or stop vehicles. He suggests many ways to neutralize enemy troops without killing them. Since he’s not a physician or pharmacologist, he claims less expertise in chemical weapons. John has proven to be an ally, supporting my views in writing, hoping to promote my book. But he represents a small minority among decision makers in Washington. There is still a great deal of reluctance to talk about, or underwrite, further research with chemical incapacitating agents. Even if there were a renascence of such an effort, there is, alas no longer a volunteer program, and no longer any proper facility in which to do the required testing.
The latest pharmacological proposals that have being advanced are kind of ridiculous, because the drugs suggested are generally far more lethal than the ones we studied, at least in terms of safety margins. But it’s sort of been decreed that we can’t go back to what was done in the Sixties. A white paper–written under contract by three university pharmacologists–contains almost no reference to anything done in the 1960s, other than a passing mention of BZ. These professors are younger than I am and perhaps have little familiarity with work accomplished 40-50 years ago. The chemicals they suggest just don’t make practical sense. They include Prozac, Valium, or perhaps some enzyme or hormone in the brain that might reduce the tendency to fight. None appear to be feasible, and I doubt any of them will ever become acceptable agents.
So I think there would have to be a return to a more rational approach. I hope my book can stimulate reconsideration of the drugs we abandoned in 1973, despite their impressive safety and effectiveness. Whether this will ever happen, who knows?
David: Do you think that the human species will ever learn to live in peace, without war?
Jim: It’s not likely, based on history. Aggression seems to be built into the human condition, as some innate defensive response to those who try to either hurt us or take what we own. It’s built into the biology of the people in this world, and will remain there until we can find some way of modifying that biology. I’m speaking now, not just about pharmacology, Perhaps through genetic engineering we may be able to reduce aggressive tendencies and help people become less inclined to kill, hurt, steal power, or take territory from other people. It’s only a possibility. But to me, it’s science that offers the one shining hope for the future of mankind. Just how that will evolve is very difficult to say.
David: In general, are you optimistic about the future, or do you think that the human species is doomed to extinction?
Jim: I’m optimistic. I think that there will be an increasing number of new technologies coming along in the near future. They’re coming now at a very rapid pace, enabling us to look into the brain more closely, for example, and better understand what’s going on. And perhaps we will eventually be able to connect up those events with behavior and mental attitudes. I’m not as pessimistic as many scientists are. I think, yeah, we might blow ourselves up–but we might also find a way to calm down and live peacefully. That’s my hope–through science.
David: What do you personally think happens to consciousness after death, and what is your perspective on the concept of God?
Jim: I don’t know how to answer that. I definitely have a personal belief in God. It’s not within a particular religious framework, although I grew up in a religious family. I feel a personal connection with God that I don’t understand. I’ve met people who express similar thoughts. They sense a higher power, but they can’t really describe it. The idea that there may be a creative intelligence in our universe gives me some hope that maybe, as one person put it, “God invented the universe to discover his own identity.” That’s a challenging and difficult concept, I suppose, but it appeals to me.
David: What are you currently working on?
Jim: Right now, I am in state of suspended animation. My book is out there, and it’s selling to some extent. I hope for sufficient energy to promote it, but I’m not emotionally tied to it. I have other interests, totally unrelated to science. I like to do video editing, and have a vast collection of pictures and films, so I’m not expecting to write anything significant in the near future. I’m willing to talk at a few meetings and I still get invitations. I’m very happy to accept them, but I don’t foresee myself as an agent of change beyond what I’ve done in the form of a book.