Increasing Human Rationality

Although nuclear war is seen as irrational because the consequent destruction could extinguish human civilization and perhaps all human life, the advent of nuclear war is a real and present danger. We cannot depend on human rationality to avoid it any more than we could to avoid past wars. The problem, then, is how to improve the chances for rational behavior. I don't believe that we will become twice as rational by haying half as many missiles, or by moving them twice as far from their intended

By | December 15, 1986

Although nuclear war is seen as irrational because the consequent destruction could extinguish human civilization and perhaps all human life, the advent of nuclear war is a real and present danger. We cannot depend on human rationality to avoid it any more than we could to avoid past wars.

The problem, then, is how to improve the chances for rational behavior. I don't believe that we will become twice as rational by haying half as many missiles, or by moving them twice as far from their intended targets. Rational behavior depends on the fine structure and organization of the human brain, and will be improved only by selective changes in that structure. Is such a change possible? From my perspective in the neurosciences, I believe that it is.

Many behavior patterns in adult life are determined by neurochemical and environmental events that occur in the perinatal period and in the early years of life. An intensive research program to identify the determinants of rationality, followed by the application of the results over several generations in the manner of a worldwide public health effort, could produce a population sufficiently rational to deal with the problems that are about to destroy us.

I therefore suggest that all the major powers reduce their present annual defense budgets by 1 percent and use the savings to fund a feasibility study. If, after two to three years, it is the international scientific opinion that a practical improvement in human rationality is possible, then the funding should be increased to whatever level is needed to accomplish the goal. Contributions by each nation should be unilateral and not dependent on equivalent contributions by others, or on the pressure of treaty negotiations. A serious effort in this direction would be a major international accomplishment in the cause of peace.

-Herbert L. Meltzer
York State Psychiatric Institute 722 W. 168th St.
New York, NY 10032

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