By this time the soma had begun to work. Eyes shone, cheeks were flushed, the inner light of universal benevolence broke out on every face in happy, friendly smiles.
—“Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley (1932)
“’Isn’t it amazing?’ she said. ‘It’s what everyone says about this damn drug, that it makes people feel love.’”
— Harriet de Wit, quoted in “How a dose of MDMA transformed a white supremacist,” by Rachel Nuwer, BBC (June 14, 2023)
Some things don’t change, as they say. So it is with attempts to alter human behavior. For millennia, people of various cultures and for various reasons — some good, some evil — have experimented with ways to alter human perception and behavior as a way to improve society. This was the premise of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World, published in 1932 and which described a society uniformly and purposefully addicted to and controlled by the drug “soma.”
Now, almost a century later, there still are those trying to accomplish what Huxley wrote about as fiction.
A recent study conducted by Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science Harriet de Wit at the University of Chicago used not the fictitious soma but a real drug —