The Yogurt Revolution.

(Another Nowa Fantaskyka remix)

Pick something you hate.

A government, maybe, or a church. Some multinational that treats its customers like shit. Any institution powerful enough to keep people under its thumb, to crush its competition (or at least fix prices with them) so you have nowhere else to go. Something you’d really like to see burned to the ground, although you know that’s never going to happen.

A good example, here in Toronto, would be a telecommunications giant called Bell Canada. (Rogers would also be a good candidate— they suck almost as hard— but I think Bell owns more media.) If you’ve ever dealt with these guys— and you probably have, if you’ve ever watched Canadian TV— the following scenario might warm you up at night:

Just before Just Desserts. (Photo Rene Johnston.)

Just before Just Desserts. (Photo Rene Johnston.)

Gustav runs a cellphone kiosk for Bell. Walking home from work one night, a passing stranger notices the perky corporate logo on his employee polo shirt— and punches Gustav in the face.

Gustav goes down. “Fucking Bell,” his assailant growls, kicking him in the ribs.

Gustav’s no dummy. He knows everyone hates Bell. He knows all about the bandwidth throttling, the extortionate overpriced contracts, the abusive telemarketing and contemptuous customer service, the routine surveillance of customers for the benefit of any government snoop with her hand out. But— “That’s not me!” he cries around a mouthful of broken teeth. “I don’t make those decisions— I just sell phones!

“It… doesn’t…matter!” the attacker spits out, emphasizing each word with another vicious kick. “You…knew. You… chose… to… work… for… them…” Eventually he tires himself out and wanders away, leaving Gustav to bleed out on the pavement.

Just a psycho with anger-management issues, you might think if you’re a Bell CEO reading about it the next day. Nothing for you to worry about, even if you did just cut Tech Support’s budget by another 10% because you want a fatter year-end bonus. The peasants will never get to you; you’re safe up here on the 50th floor. Shame about poor ol’ Gustav, though.

But then it happens to Shirley. And then Piotr. And Mahmoud, and George. All those underpaid drones hawking your wares at the local malls are suddenly getting the shit kicked out them by random strangers. It’s the weirdest thing. None of the attackers even have criminal records.

Now no one wants to work for you. Drones quit in droves for fear of being kicked to death like dogs in the street, and not even the unprecedented promise of a decent wage can lure in replacements. Management’s safe— they don’t deal with the public— but how can the top of a pyramid stay standing when the base just up and leaves? Bell has but two choices: go broke, or stop pissing off their customers. For the rest of us, it’s win-win.

Isn’t that a wonderful little scenario? I call it “The Justice Plague”, and I fully intend to write it as soon as I can come up with an actual storyline. So far it’s all premise and no plot.

It’s a terrific premise, though. It hinges on yogurt— more precisely, on the ways gut microbes affect your behavior.

Of course, we’ve always known that your gut affects your mood. But the extent and complexity of those effects is only now coming to light— and it goes way beyond the cramps you get from salmonella, or the tryptophan drowsiness that lays you low after a turkey dinner. It’s not much of an overstatement to say that your gut bacteria are a large part of what makes you you, psychologically. Transfer gut biota from one animal to another, and you transfer personality traits as well.

Think about that. You can literally transplant personality traits via feces. To that extent, we all have shitty personalities.

Liberté indeed.

Liberté indeed.

How does it work? For starters, your gut has a mind of its own: a standalone neural net with the computational complexity of a cat brain (no surprise there— cats are basically stomachs sheathed in fur anyway). Your gut microbes pull its strings by feeding it a complex cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters; gutnet, in turn, tugs at the brain along the Vagus nerve. (Gut bacteria also have a more direct pipe into the brain via the endocrine system. Most of your brain’s neurotransmitters— half the dopamine, most of the serotonin— are actually produced in the gut.) Via such avenues, your gut bacteria influence the formation of memories, especially those with strong emotional components. They affect aggression and anxiety responses by influencing neuroinhibitors in the prefrontal cortex and amygdala (which is responsible for fear, aggression, and the intensity of one’s response to personal-space violations). You can make rats more or less aggressive by tweaking their gut biota.

You see where I’m going with this. Engineered gut bacteria— spread through shipments of spiked yogurt, perhaps— tweaked to promote violent, uncontrollable rage in their hosts. It’s barely even speculation; rabies does that much, and it’s not even engineered.

The big problem is targeting, of course— how to trigger reflexive aggression at the sight of a specific corporate logo. Corporations actually give us a lot of help here; they spend millions designing logos that are simple, striking, and immediately recognizable. So you could tweak responses in the V1 and V2 areas of the visual cortex— those pattern-matching parts of the brain that identify specific shapes and edges. If you could bend such circuits to your will, you could provoke a response in anyone who saw a given shape.

But it would be a lot simpler to let the brain do all that heavy lifting on its own, targeting instead those circuits that connect a general sense of “recognition” to the emotional response one feels at the sight of a given brand. You’d have to be familiar with that brand for this trigger to work— it keys on feelings of recognition, not the specific geometry of the stimulus— but who doesn’t recognize the logos of major corporations these days? The best part is that all those recognition/response macros are located in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and in the— wait for it—

The amygdala. Back down in the limbic system, where gut bugs already affect aggression.

Why, we might be able to pull this whole thing off without ever leaving the basement. We don’t even have to create the response; just magnify pre-existing resentment and let it off the leash. A thousand, a million disgruntled customers: turned into weapons of mass corporate destruction with a little help from the yogurt industry.

Hey, all you basement biologists. All you DIY Lifehackers.

Looking for a project?

Late-breaking Postscript, 0900 30/10/15: Well, look what came over the transom— from none other than Jesus Olmo, who actually wrote the screenplay for the original “28 Weeks Later”…

Here's hoping 20th Century Fox doesn't sue either of us for copyright infringement...

Here’s hoping 20th Century Fox doesn’t sue either of us for copyright infringement…

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday October 29 2015at 05:10 am , filed under biology, neuro . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

63 Responses to “The Yogurt Revolution.”

  1. Every day I expect to be exposed to a certain number of new concepts, but I confess that “weaponized yogurt” was not one that I had anticipated.

  2. It doesn’t work as a story if that’s all that happens. Especially not as one of your stories; if you leave the reader feeling happy, everyone’s going to wonder who has murdered you and started wearing your skin. There has to be a bastard somewhere.

  3. The bastard is always the corporation (those things are legally people, remember), but you’re right that it’s not a story yet. Just a premise. It’s just been a premise for a couple of years now.

    I’ll figure out a plot eventually.

  4. Once the mechanism becomes known, would the proper corporate response to gut-rage not be to re-brand (or dissolve) the company?

    Even if it were cheaper to improve corporate practices, with what probability would those changes end the gut-rage? The yoghurt-hackers would have to credibly signal that they will acknowledge the improvement in corporate strategy, engineer a neutralizing bacterium, then spread it to the same population(s) that were initially infected.

    Would the end-game (upon further refinement of engineering techniques) not be massive corporate subsidy of foods (with live-bacterial cultures), each promoting warm, purchase-y feelings in consumers?

  5. And then the company responds by releasing yogurt that causes happy emotions at the sign of their brand. And then the government gets involved with engineered responses to police uniforms. And after a few years there are so many conflicting things floating around that you can’t guarantee any particular outcome.

  6. These are pretty awesome ideas. There may be a plot in here after all…

  7. I’m just going to not eat yogurt anymore.

  8. You gotta believe me!

  9. Lower threseholds and you get indiscriminate rage. and maybe if you can tweak how we perceive cheating, then you might even get rage unrelated to seeing a logo.

    People might come to know they are having irrational reactions without being able to do much about it unless behavioral therapy works, sort of how a combo of drugs and behavioral therapy can help with compulsions.

    When that stuff isn’t enough to help, the person would have to resort to something like setting up a living/job environment that doesn’t have the stimuli. too bad about the working poor with service jobs.

    Maybe people start wearing scarves to block vision enough so they can function.

  10. Low tech clothing work-arounds could cause trouble due to laws against religious head coverings.

  11. Reminds me of Nesta Stubbs in Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net.

  12. Maybe combine this with your “game theory” idea for police reform, write something in the vein of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother about pushing back against the oppressive state?

  13. Peter Watts,

    Finding the source antagonist there could be as simple as a rival company looking to break into the market (american telcos are always trying to get into Canada…)

    You could go the eco-disrupter route, a Greenpeace-esque decides the ‘peace’ part isn’t working, and turn a million salad-laughing yogourt-swilling zoomba-gyrating berserkers loose. World peace is Ugg Boots standing on your neck for ever and ever and ever, amen.

  14. On a less germane note, a small bacterial culture in free drinks handed out in advance of a protest rally?

    Bacteriophage viruses for reprogramming the existing common gut biomes (because yogourt’s expensive).

    The fact that serotonin and dopamine comes mostly from the gut is very interesting. A pharmaceutical company sees a quarterly report brewing that looks bad to the investors? Why not commit to a little gut hacking and give a lot more people good reason to buy and use dopamine/serotonin affecting anti-depressants?

    But let’s take it further.

    Let’s weaponize it into a pacification device. Let’s make every food court and chain restaurant an outlet for enforced world peace. CIA buys Yum Industries, or just plants some workers in the cheese-product factories. Or simpler yet supplies the bacterial culture for the cheese products. And so forth and so on. Where McDonald’s lands in the world, peace spreads.

    And someone has to figure out how to hack their trick, and fight back.

  15. Sheila:
    Lower threseholds and you get indiscriminate rage. and maybe if you can tweak how we perceive cheating, then you might even get rage unrelated to seeing a logo.

    I remember the studies that chimpanzees value fairness and do similar things as humans do when play the Ultimatum game… reject unfair offers even when it still, on an objective level, benefits them (they’re still gaining 10 more raisins than they had before, even if their parner only gave them 10/100).

    So yeah, I could see tying this to the “but that’s unfair!” instinct, and launching a violent reaction to somebody giving them an unfair deal, rather than on sight of a specific corporate logo (which, although they’re designed to be eye catching, also usually change every few years just to keep fresh, so either it’s useful for a very short timeframe–which might be a feature, not a bug–or the trigger has to focus on subtler common elements among all variations of the brand, and in the process get a lot of false positives).

    I wonder how difficult it would be to transform somebody’s in-group/out-group indicators off of things like skin color, eye shape, etc, and onto presence or absence of corporate logos, colors, etc. Not everybody would act on it, but some people are already inclined that way… I mean, what happens when the KKK no longer has a problem with other races, but hates Walmart employees>

    Maybe people start wearing scarves to block vision enough so they can function.

    Shades of Langford’s Blit/basilisk-stories starting up now.

  16. First reaction is smiling so hard I can’t see or think.

    But really think the only way to win at asymmetrical is by punching up. One-for-one grunt exchange doesn’t seem like a winning strategy, though that’s some interesting fallout scenario.

    Wonder what Stratfor’s real damage was for the digital arson enacted upon it. Doubt we’ll know any time soon. They turned it into a paper shuffling financial trick, I’m sure, once the predetermined “damages” claim was rubber stamped by the judge.

  17. And, conspiracy corner here, what if the stats on cab drivers being the most dangerous profession were somehow fudged by Uber? Maybe they beat…get it?…us to it. Hm, you can replace Monsanto and farmers with that as well.

    “I like it. Front page, bottom panel,” says the Perry White in my head. 😉

  18. And what happens when a corporation or government discovers they can target Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Foundation, Amnesty International?

  19. Oi. Yoghurt already causes happy emotions. It’s a milk product, and as such has neurological effects; a serving is a pain reliever about 1/10th the strength of a shot of morphine. Plus there’s sugar added to many commercial yoghurt brands, and that’s both calming and mood-elevating.
    The story idea for “The Justice Plague” is anything but far-fetched. People are already being fed neurochemically active substances in processed food. These substances promote other things instead of targeted homicidal rage.

  20. Just recalled that Greg Bear had custom bacteria causing behavioural changes in unwitting subjects in his novel “Vitals”. Might be worth reading, even if just because Bear is more a physics guy and you could tear apart his science.

  21. Another Mark beat me to it up above. And this is not to say it can’t be done again.

    Still, part of the plot of Bruce Sterling’s ISLANDS IN THE NET from — good god! — twenty-seven years ago, hinges on yoghurt’s psychoactive effects as they prime a genetically-tweaked Caribbean assasin/soldier to do his job.

    Also, the Soviet bioweapons program, Biopreparat, had a few interesting ideas that didn’t leak out widely, but that you can probably find someone knowledgable to talk to you about. (If you haven’t already.)

  22. I like the idea of gut biota causing people to attack what essentially is the macro-equivalent of a corporation’s gut biota. That’s pretty cool.

    The technical problem I see with this is the mode of distribution, which is essentially statistic. If it’s in supermarkets, won’t the most susceptible subject to the new biota’s effect be the corporation’s workers themselves?

    Sorry if this is a re-iteration of previous comments, didn’t get to reading them yet!

  23. If you want really effective gut bacteria changes, though, a fecal transplant is much more effective than yogurt. Come join our cult with the enema baptism!

    And they’re already looking into fecal transplants to affect obesity. That popular weight loss suppository may be affordable because of the other effects it has on you…

  24. Although one way to get around the statistic problem would be to introduce a countering agent that only company workers would be exposed to. Spiking their coffee supply or air-fresheners or something, maybe?
    That would put the company under attack in the position to cure by recruitment, especially if the effects of the mal-biota are cumulative, which could be an interesting twist.

  25. Peter Watts: the corporation (those things are legally people, remember)

    They are still legally people. These days I often see the argument that corporations are emergent artificial intelligences.
    Remember my word – in years to come some court will create a precedent in which no human person will be culpable for actions of a legal entity.

  26. Mind-altering yogurt..
    The future, no doubt. Multiculturalism fails because people fear and don’t get other cultures. But it’s good for the bottom line, drives down wage costs and makes people feel virtuous.

    Why not dissolve the people and elect another?

  27. Max Kaehn:
    If you want really effective gut bacteria changes, though, a fecal transplant is much more effective than yogurt. Come join our cult with the enema baptism!

    “Join our cult, where we can be the first to proudly admit, we’re full of shit!”

  28. Like a lot of bio-weapon ideas, this suffers from targeting and control issues. Yet consider that we’ve figured out how to make fractal antennas much smaller than the wavelengths they receive, and there are several documented organisms that grow metallic do-dads that allow them to sense the Earth’s magnetic field.

    Combine the two, and you have mood-altering gut bacteria that can be remote controlled. Probably only a handful emotions, but you can still do a lot.

    So your initial scenario still occurs. However, instead of bio-hackers, it’s cyber types who got a bootleg copy of the control app.

    The actual originating entity (it has to be a Silicon Valley Bro Startup called “Startup Culture” just for the yogurt pun, I think) is mostly using the “make you happy” setting to make megabucks selling yogurt at the moment, but that’s just stage 1.

    Their megalomaniac CEO is forced to move up his plans (to force the techbro sociopolitical paradigm on the whole world, with him as CEO) because the hacking incidents are going to blow the secret.

    It could work.

  29. “To that extent, we all have shitty personalities.” Rimshot.

  30. But that could be defeated with mass administration of antibiotics. So big bad CEO collaborates with big pharma to lace food or water supply with antibiotics?

  31. “It’s a purge planet. They’re peaceful and then, y’know, they just purge.”

  32. Hugh:
    And what happens when a corporation or government discovers they can target Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Foundation, Amnesty International?

    Already happened.

    Re: Uber. Monsanto…would increase insurance premiums making sole proprietorship more financially onerous.

  33. Aaron,
    if you leave the reader feeling happy, everyone’s going to wonder who has murdered you and started wearing your skin. There has to be a bastard somewhere.

    Fear not Aaron. Here’s how I see it playing out for our characters.

    Although not directly mentioned, consider the person who would actually put this plan into action. Hey, Passing Stranger: you’re going to jail on assault/attempted murder charges for several years, and will carry the guilt of maiming Gustav for the rest of your life. I’m going to giggle as I watch the YouTube footage uploaded from someone’s phone. Yes I’ve ruined your life, but it’s for a good cause. Sacrificing others is so much less painful.

    Qualifies as a bastard IMNSHO.

    Assume Gustav survives. At the next election the New Democrats (?) or Greens (?) promise to regulate the greedy and abusive corporations. The Conservatives promise more cameras, more armed police, and possibly emergency provisions allowing employees in targeted companies to carry handguns in the workplace. Gustav is voting Conservative.

    After a few years, the truth about the yoghurt will come out. Passing Stranger doesn’t feel guilty any more and may even be released from jail early. That’s the good news. Does anyone think he’s going to sympathize with the anti-corporate movement that got him jailed? He too is voting Conservative. He may also have a new hobby, beating the shit out of anyone wearing an “Occupy” T-shirt (of his own volition).

  34. I’m buying shares in yoghurt companies! In any scenario, they seem to be the real winners!

    A culture of control…

  35. I don’t know if your intention was to be humorous but your post made me smile at the end of a shitty week. Thank you. For the smile and the info. I knew gut bacteria are a big deal just not how big.

  36. And did I mention Carlyle {Bush 41s old company, owns 97 year old contractor BAH} has big shares in Dunkin’ and Dre Beats headphones?

    Dunkin’ FroYo calories.

    “It’s won’t be the calories that kill you, Mr. Bond” – Blofeld in Yogurt, Only Lick Twice.

  37. Working my way through the ideas. Connecting it to a particular logo or icon requires instilling psychological triggers.

    Clown beheaded, at least one journo decries, “Think of the children.”

  38. Hey, it happens here Israel, without any tweaked bacteria, just a bunch of mullahs spreading memes.

  39. Did a similar plague spread among border guards?

  40. Peter Watts: The bastard is always the corporation (those things are legally people, remember),

    If a corporation is a person made of a lot of persons, and you can control a person with yogurt, why not just control the corporation with yogurt?

  41. Fun premise. Depending on tone and context could make for a darkly funny tale rather than a straight horror one. In fact, this premise would make a great story arc for the comic series Chew (John Layman and Rob Guillory). I would love to see some of your wilder notions rendered by an artist like Guillory – real and surreal, dark and silly, all at once.

  42. Joseph Hertzlinger:
    Did a similar plague spread among border guards?

    Magic 8 ball says, “Signs point to yes”:

    However, the opposite effects of microwaves, in increasing the mobility and aggression of animals, has also been shown for a different exposure modality.

    US Army FOIA on NLWs, 1998, declassified 2006.

    WIRED article.

  43. carl: If a corporation is a person made of a lot of persons, and you can control a person with yogurt, why not just control the corporation with yogurt?

    This idea can be the head cheese in his rifters novels combined with hedge fund algorithms (he’s got a blog post about them iirc) where the decision processes made by a corporation gets tied in to the algorithms that at this point would be running on a vaguely alive substrate that is powered by yogurt.

    or maybe the rat brains making decisions for flying drones, and the rat feed re-programs the rats.

    I still think it would be too hard to control, but you’d get sabatoge from people who don’t care or who are mislead. e.g. spoiler-person medicating spoiler-person in spoiler book.

  44. Read this review of a book that seems to resonate with some of the themes in Echopraxia: Why do we sing?

    As for the yogurt anything that’ll stop me farting quite so much will work for me, even if I have to inflict some GBH on the way to the store.

  45. Mark:
    Reminds me of Nesta Stubbs in Bruce Sterling’s Islands in the Net.

    Indeed it does. You’ve got a sharper memory than mine, I remembered Sterling as the author and that’s about it. But if I recall correctly, Stubbs was engineered, rather than the yogurt being engineered. Yogurt was just the best possible nutrition payload for his gut bacteria that IIRC he generally kept intentionally underfed.

    This also reminds me of a certain Brunner story, a cautionary-tale segment that I won’t spoil for those who have yet to read the Sheep Look Up. That was my inspiration back in 1992 or so when I wrote of an intentional distribution of a genetically-modified giardia that would take up residence in victims’ guts and start churning out the ergotamines. However, the notion of writing it to make people attack corporate logos, this didn’t occur to me. Possibly through enhancing some mechanism comparable to that responsible for the Crucifix Glitch? But then all that the intended targets would need to do to save themselves would be to change the logo.

    In any case: this might be a really fun exploration of the biology involved in an intentionally launched modern version of those medieval ergotism epidemics where a whole village might eat tainted bread and be exhorted by the village priest to attack a neighboring village.

  46. I can see gut-biota-borne incitement to random rage and violent actions during that rage. Calibrating the amount of rage you get in different people with the same yogurt seems very tricky. Everybody’s gut is different, and the threshold for action is different. You can’t even make sure how much yogurt people are gonna eat in a week.

    Controlling when and how that rage and violence “went off” seems the even tougher. Having people associate the corporate logo with mindless rage would take some pretty specific programming.

    I think it’d be funnier to have the rage yogurt event _accidentally_ get triggered by a specific logo – some kind of mild brainwashing or suggestion in commercials designed to get consumers “revved up” to buy a specific brand of phone/jeans/soap synergistically and accidentally causes frothing rage in yogurt lovers.

    Haha, now that is something that would actually happen! Big techno-conspiracies are hard; technology randomly fucking up something else in a way never considered before it was used? That is the mankind we know and love.

  47. Also in Vernor Vinge “Rainbows End”… a mysterious mild flu epidemic that leaves its patients slightly but measurably more likely to buy chocolate crunchie bars.

  48. Christina:
    I can see gut-biota-borne incitement to random rage and violent actions during that rage.Calibrating the amount of rage you get in different people with the same yogurt seems very tricky.Everybody’s gut is different, and the threshold for action is different.You can’t even make sure how much yogurt people are gonna eat in a week.

    That’s so. What we probably didn’t realize back in the 50s was that trauma and isolation alone can cause shifts in the gut bacteria balance. We noticed it in the document on Soviet/Chinese brainwashing but assumed the cause was purely above the neck.

    This is another reason that torture, shock and awe, and things like solitary confinement in prisons are all backwards policies that will actually do the opposite of that advertised. Assuming there aren’t people who realize “renewable enermies” aren’t real is being naïve in my biased-but-informed opinion. Recycling people. We knew it would happen somewhere down in the gut.

  49. Christina:
    […] rage yogurt event […]

    This place is always such a gold-mine for punk-rock band names and concept-album concepts.

    For reasons I cannot quite connect in my head, I am thinking of helicobacter pyelori, which causes gastric ulcers. For years before the serendipitous discovery that large long doses of the right antibiotics would kill it and thus end most of the ulcers, all sorts of things were attributed as the cause of this, with the leading theories at the time of the discovery being “nerves”. The big debate was whether it would be Freudian or Jungian analysis which would be most likely to resolve the internal psychic conflicts manifesting as bleeding into the stomach. Ultimately that compares to being treated with antidepressants for a thyroid deficiency — more commonplace than many people know — though it’s better than putting out fires with gasoline.

    The whole rage-yogurt event thing seems a bit extreme, or at least with the level of (lacking) finesse you’d expect from a single actor without a long-term goal. What companies like Monsanto might do with it, or maybe are doing with it (as above, from “whoever”), would probably be considerably more long-range in the planning and ultimately driven by profit motive. Considering the level of science involved, who knows: they might actually intend to do something beneficial, but how could it not backfire, sooner or later, probably in fairly small populations. This could be comparable to the sort of people who basically go insane from exposure to chemicals which to the rest of the world are what you use for air-freshener in campus high-volume air-conditioning systems.

    You could get some really scary dystopian scenes out of imagining a perverse implementation. Imagine that someone wanders in from outside of a system pacified by ubiquitous dispersal of microorganisms distributed in food, colonizing the gut to emit mood stabilizers. Imagine it being tweaked so that the odor of anyone not infested with these biota would set off a psychotic rage. Even if our hero manages to free people from the tyranny, through antibiotics for example, they instantly become targets themselves. The Invasion (of the Body Snatchers, Nicole Kidman version), explained! If you wanted to attack organized religion in a story, use a plot element of the biota being distributed in the Sacrament.

  50. That just reminded me the Reavers in Firefly were driven insane by a government programme to mass anaesthesize a population into passivity. A small percentage had the opposite reaction and became crazed killers instead.

  51. @ Nestor

    Yep. Some of that in Maelstrom, too, IIRC, though the doped beach people didn’t wind up rebelling. Then the whole Lubin/Desjardin problems.

    Been trying to guess at how this evolutionary synergy came about. Was going to go with the war with the neanderthals, but don’t know my migration theories very well. Seems to affect Asians as much as Westerners, so must be a pretty old event that weeded out Those Who Would Not Change cuz trauma.

  52. @Nestor, whoever,

    A few months ago, discussing Echopraxia, Our Gracious Host responded to a query of mine regarding how ubiquitous would be use of “cognitive enhancers”, whatever was the exact term, in that fictional future. Dr Watts said something to the effect that such stimulant and/or nutritional supplement use was already pretty widespread through the academic/post-academic environment. I already knew that drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall (and occasionally magnesium pemoline etc) were back in vogue for cramming for exams even in middle-school in the States. I seem to recall that the exchange concluded with me mentioning that I cannot do that sort of chemicals, even mere pseudoephedrine makes me about half crazy beyond what’s the normal for me.

    I’m reminded of one of my favorite stories of all time, Dean Koontz’s “Mouse in the Walls of the Global Village” in which almost everyone on earth is fitted with a technical device effectively enabling something experienced as telepathy. Not too much different from a smartphone, I suppose, or a gaming set or implants as in much SF. But really: what does happen to those who cannot adapt?

    Bruks is old-school as well as being a roach, but he’s not a technophobe, he just really doesn’t like that stuff enough to have it surgically implanted. He can tolerate the “cognitol” (IIRC) but takes it by mouth. It’s not entirely because of this that he takes his sabbatical wherein the tale begins, but it couldn’t have helped. What of the people who cannot take the “cognitol”, nor endure implantation, etc etc?

    I suspect it would always be human nature to deride and eventually abuse anyone who didn’t have what almost everyone else had. If the Neandertals couldn’t speak well, while the Cro-Magnons were spouting the iambic pentameter in staggered couplets with the final word of each couplet also being another word in a meta-sentence, perhaps the Neandertals weren’t killed off, they were just embarrassed to death. What future could I possibly have when I have to struggle along with my natural 105 IQ (on a good day) when everyone else is gulping down a brain juice cocktail every morning that gives them 100-percent learning with 100-percent long-term recall and a temporary IQ in the very high hundreds? Will the future be — for those who cannot participate in the enhancements most will consider de-rigeur — much like the experience of being a blind resident of a bus-free suburbia where you cannot do anything without a car?

    Most people would probably be kind enough to include a blind neighbor in their carpool… but what if our future enhancements to the intellect had a side effect of being unable to care much about those less “fortunate” than themselves? Maybe those are the people who will need a rather different new brand of yogurt than Our Gracious Host proposes. Or perhaps the next folks to go the way of the Neandertal will be the people who can’t stand trendy drugs.

  53. Hm. Flipping that around causally, not sure that sociopaths are on the whole smarter per se, they just don’t have emotions to contend with during decision-making which may make them act smarter. But then we have to agree on what constitutes success in order to measure the outcomes and where it may all lead.

    Which again makes you wonder how we wound up with this temporary behaviorial “patch.” Assuming, OK, being enslaved and abused by the big-browed guys brought about temporary insanity via gut bugs changes, allowing the prey to become the predator, or perhaps less predictable and pliable. War ends, winter/ice age takes out the few who escaped the genocide because they required more calories and H.S. winds up dominant.

    Then, what? Next generation pops out back at relatively fluffy in comparison, “Wow, gramps is a pycho, don’t get him started with his war stories,” so the community doesn’t fight amongst itself too much? Just kind of weird worked out this way as opposed to some more permanent hereditary change.

    PS and abrupt turn: Seeing that PKD’s The Man in the High Castle is a series or mini-series but will only be available on Amazon Prime {that a new Transformer?}.

  54. I’m not up on my latest in the brain sciences, but I am pretty sure that facial recognition is a pretty deep rooted function of the brain. There is Facial Pareidolia and I know that some, after strokes, lose the ability to recognize faces of even their partners.

    It would be more ethical and efficient if specifics of a face could be the trigger, and then a mass compulsive aggression could be pointed directly at a CEO and crowds of millions could converge on the headquarters or homes of the company and go directly for management and owners.

    No need then to beat up any of the lower level workers.

  55. Not sure if you’ve already covered this, but an interesting thought that resonates somewhat with the themes: http://slatestarscratchpad.tumblr.com/post/132776145751/pistachi0n-slatestarscratchpad-people-keep

  56. @whoever: I don’t see how this might apply specifically to yogurt, but I suppose I can see how you might see evolution (or genetic conservation) of a set of traits allowing for abstracts or minor details becoming triggers for rage. Imagine that at some times in the dynamics of the population growth/trimming cycle, people are reduced to eating some kind of food that is normally shunned. For example, let’s suppose some sort of fungus, such as mildly psychotropic mushrooms, or food that would normally be avoided because of obvious fungal/bacterial contamination. People eat it and get a little crazy. Ordinarily they might be basically non-violent and cooperative, because common survival through cooperation is a major benefit to getting through times of scarcity. Yet under the influence of this usually-shunned food, the non-violence/cooperativeness is overridden somewhat.

    Logically, at the first view, it makes sense to move to reduce the population before widespread malnutrition provides favorable ground for pandemic. But who to kill? Because there’s a deep foundation blocking attacks on kin groups, one might tend to choose non-kin, and that’s one view of our evolution with war. Yet war is not entered into lightly. Perhaps it takes chemical assistance in the form of some food people usually shun. Perhaps the fungal/bacterial contamination (or psychotropic mushrooms etc) reduces the blocking against violence but does not reduce blocking violence against kin. Kinship recognition is probably a very deep evolved trait. Probably there’s research out there providing some detail on the way we distinguish between kin/non-kin, and possibly there’s research on how to elevate or suppress aspects of that. But there may well be some really exploitable built-in mechanism to cause group action against a perceived outgroup, and possibly there are ways to tweak what is perceived as “other”. But I think I’m suggesting that you could probably develop chemical triggers for ethnophobic violence long before you’d be able to trigger a focus for that violence based on a corporate logo. I easily imagine a scenario where people who are not lactose-intolerant get tweaked yogurt that makes them aggressively racist against those who are lactose intolerance and thus have no smell of yogurt. Extant examples to the contrapositive of that would be the noted disdain of many non-caucasian ethnics for the odor of lactose-tolerant peoples (NW european ancestry for example) who are sometimes referred to as “milk baby” or “sour milk”.

    My guess would be that if you wanted people to go after the CEO, you could probably do it but you would probably find it easiest to make them hate his smell, since olfactory perception and response are some of the oldest and deepest centers we have. But how can you broadcast his smell so that people will know to hate him?

  57. Connection to yogurt is that trauma can cause similar changes in gut bacteria.

    There are some theories supporting what you’re suggesting. The psychotropic mushrooms were a suspect {though mostly rejected} for Viking bersekrers. Also of course ergot, the basis for LSD, in wheat leading to lycanthropy legends. But generally speaking doesn’t seem as though people who use either are more inclined toward violence. Maybe the mind altering aspect allows for easier transition from things like gatherer or farmer to warrior, though; where belief and sorta placebo effect meet perceived necessity.

  58. Only a bit off-topic.

    And would you look at this idio—oh, wait.

    IAMA Failed Mass Shooter AMA.

  59. Greetings, back with a fun link to US Public Broadcasting System’s David Eagleman (PhD, I guess). While not precisely on-topic to yogurt rage event technology (Our Gracious Host should be pissed if it was, television implies lead time), there’s a really nice “neuro” examination of brain processes and systems which contribute to dehumanization and genocide. Please see the homepage for “the Brain”, complete with streaming. The episode exploring the neurology of racism and genocide etc is episode 5, “Why Do I Need You”. To be sure, it examines basic human needs, at a neurological level, for interaction with other humans, examines the brain centers and systems involved in comprehension of theater/cinema, takes a peek into the brains of sociopaths, reviews rather old experiments regarding creation of out-groups and then reversing those roles the next day, focusing on the effects on the individuals involved, examines the nature of propaganda in the dehumanization of out-groups etc etc.

    Readers of Our Gracious Host’s stories and of this blog are doubtless already passing familiar with much of this, yet this may cover some new ground and it may be put together in ways which are novel to the readers. Aimed at an audience with a fairly high degree of education — though likely not aimed at an audience with that high education in human neurobiology for whom this might be “recap 101” — this is really quite watchable. Thought I’d share, and now back to streaming it from Episode 1.

  60. @ Mr Non-Entity

    Great show. Been plugging it a lot lately. One experiment in most recently aired episode showed it only takes one derogatory word to flatline empathy towards out-groups. Yogurt-schmogurt.

  61. @ Mika

    And
    separation of twins v WaPo
    . Didn’t go quite like the after school special PR would indicate.

  62. All I could think of was this:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/10/02/when-the-yogurt-took-over-a-short-story/

  63. Latest The Brain, “Who Will We Be?” has hemispherectomy, expanding sensory input, human stasis, more. Very much a science of Blindsight episode.