ArticlePDF Available

Sujetting Apocrypha from HOME


Abstract and Figures

continent. journal of media, art, and philosophy Issue 8.1-2 / 2019: Apocryphal Technologies (special issue)
Content may be subject to copyright.
Sujetting Apocrypha
from HOME
Graydon Wetzler
Introduction: Planned Obstinance
The modalization of the state of the subject - and
this is what we are referring to when we speak
about passions - is conceivable only if it begins by
modalizing the object, which, in becoming a
‘value,’ imposes itself on the subject.[1]
While models of narrative actions suffice for
describing modal transformations at the level of
story semiotics, for analysis of passional
behavior, French semioticians Jacques Fontanille
and A. J. Greimas sought the tensional dynamics
of intensive states beyond what a subject is doing
to dig differential kinematics of story – ways of
being while doing. The semiotics of passions
stresses subject/object disjunctives, and in
particular those put in play with an analytics of
“fiduciary expectation” between passional subjects
constituted not only by couplings of externalized
modalizations and internalized states, but more
vividly as tensions arising between modalizations
and diverging subjectivities thereof. Herein, the
paradoxes of `obstinacy' are particularly salient in
tensional arrangements unexhausted when
characterizing merely what is being done insofar as
in need of ascribing a particular way of being while
doing. Fontanille and Greimas schematize three
possible obstinacies, or more generally, fiduciary
a knowing-not-how-to-be (the subject
knows that he is disjoined from his object);
a being-able-not-to-be or a not-being-able-
to-be (the success of the enterprise is
a wanting-to-be (the subject wants
nevertheless to be conjoined, and will do
everything to this end).
With apocryphal things, we might find obstinacy a
natural topos for placing a technical claim, promise
or affordance along with nonbinding “fiduciary
expectation” in misattributions, reduplicative
paramnesias and pseudo-effects more generally.
Here I seek a more subtle apocrypha, or confidence
trick, in the place Richard Feynman diagnosed
science as equivalently about detecting lies as
much as getting stuck at obscurity (“you cannot
prove a vague theory wrong”).[2]
I discuss a series of DARPA hosted
meetings[3] convening neuroscientists, computer
scientists and social scientists to collectively survey
prospects for a neurologically informed and
technologically transferable science of story with / ISSN: 21599920| This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Issue 8.1-2 / 2019: 155
particular interest to apply findings to serve U.S.
strategy in international security contexts. An
especially sticky nexus animating these meetings
sought to mine theoretical neuroscience,
quantitative social science and emerging simulation
technologies to cull rhetorical strategies for
sensing, modeling and acting on cultural sentiment
(e.g., for classifying, predicting and deterring
political dissent). Heeding Fontanille and Greimas,
here we, in turn, seek fiduciary “troubles” along a
complex sujet/fabula interface revealing these
meetings as an apocryphal brittleness itself
fractalizing a thicker neuro s/t (neuroscientific and
neurotechnological) nexus. In other words, we track
the differential figure/ground relation enabling
(and cabling) neuroscience to emplot its technicity
and its techniques to in turn emplot its scientificity.
I do so by attending to a concrete modalization
given by a DARPA program manager as a “dog
that will hunt.”
More specifically, during the second meeting, a
neuroeconomist and entrepreneur summarized
ongoing inductive laboratory studies combining
games of trust with chemical infusions in an effort
to resolve the conjoint of self-interest and other-
regarding in economic decisions (especially those
where potentially high value outcomes couple to
behaviors that are costly). At the heart of these
studies are a “moral molecule” and the circuit it
operates, which the presenter consolidated
in HOME ('Human Oxytocin Mediated Empathy') -
a weighted triangle differentially cabling oxytocin,
dopamine and serotonin to mediate our
''subjective experience of empathy” (4).[4] In both
discursive and methodological
construction, HOME becomes a constellation of
particularly apocryphal technoscience when wired
into the DARPA program.
First is its participation in a technical imaginary
of neuro STS (neuroscience, neurotechnology,
neurosecurity) – that triple-helix of knowledge,
market and control (university-industry-
government) promising breakthrough recursions
through spirals of basic neuroscience, technological
transfer and statecraft. At HOME, this apocryphal
spiral promises care, control and truth.
Second, and directly related to the first fiduciary
expectation is an internal resonance, or the precise
love for what the American philosopher J.D. Trout
diagnosed as a “neurophilic fuency [that] flourishes
wherever heuristics in psychology are
reductionist.” [5] In short, the pleasure of intellectual
fluency is so rewarding as to solicit its feedback as
a positive proof of genuine understanding.
And an inseparable third apocrypha with primary
interest for me here: While presented laboratory
studies stimulated peripheral brain chemistry (with
subjects receiving puffs of nasally-administered
drugs and then operating a hypothesized circuit as
if a volume pot ``to 'turn up' and 'turn down' moral
sentiment''), DARPA targeted HOME’s address
with more nuance, patience and precision where
signal flow becomes obstinately continuous,
culturally mediated and free flowing. In other
words, we are in the presence of a theory of
immersive media coupling error-correction with
amplification: cabling attention with transcendence,
or in operational
terms, rest-and-digest with feed-and-breed.
Plugging HOME in means an apocrypha
of flow rather than force.
1. Nut Under the Bedroom[6]
"Neuro-Narratology does not exist
yet…" (Schneider 2017)[7]
"…it’s a very shy molecule that degrades
rapidly." (Zak 2011)
The neurochemical oxytocin has emerged as a
watershed spanning R+D in neuroenhancement,
normative medicine, attention economies and
geopolitics. This molecule will be of keen interest
to matters of apocryphal technoscience for its
particular resonance and resistance to signal
aesthetics mediating the wet and dry of current
circuits of communication, control and care. In a
longer future work, I combine Adele Clark's
intersectional empirical method (situational
analysis) with critical constructs introduced by
Michel Foucault (biopower), Bernard Stiegler
(technicity as pharmakon) and Eve Sedgwick (peri-
performativity) to locate some vectors for
intervening on some of the dry and wet of
oxytocin’s larger media ethology. While alluding to
these thinkers, here I focus on Foucault’s late
notions of milieu and (counter-)conduct as well as
Franco “Bifo” Berardi’s suggested Foucauldian
update with “biogenic cabling” to traffic in
oxytocin (OT) as both an empirical and conceptual
circuit. A few talking points therefore on patching
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 156
the former to the latter and into apocryphal
Following American botanist Vincent du
Vigneaud’s (1928) success revealing this molecule’s
unique handedness and his subsequent (1953)
synthesis in an 8-bit form, OT’s shelf life had
predominantly been associated with peri-
reproductive functions for inducing milk letdown
reflex, stimulating uterine contractions during labor
and initiating (but not maintaining)
maternal/offspring attachment. Synthetic OT also
collaborated in instituting an ideal “labor curve.”
Beyond these peri-reproductive functions, OT is
more generally conceived to act differentially along
male and female affect curves.[8]
�� OT is therefore an intrinsically gendered
Physiological effects become behavioral affects. OT
is said to evoke feelings of contentment by
reducing social anxiety while triggering motivation.
Endogenous OT is thought to increase trust
between strangers by inhibiting the amygdala and
to modulate intergroup dynamics by increasing “in-
group” bonding and “out-group” biasing. In other
words, OT amplifies in the presence of “familiar or
‘safe’ conspecifics.”[9]
�� OT is therefore an intrinsically political circuit.
OT acts both locally (e.g., producing other
neuropeptides) and at a distance (e.g., recurrently
cascading through periphery and CNS). OT acts
non-linearly (e.g., differentially modulating a
serotonin, dopamine and testosterone curve
with …!!!!!). Moreover, basal OT is near zero and
degrades rapidly upon production.
�� OT is therefore a complex, unruly, epigenetic
circuit with, as I show, a vibrant apocryphal signal
I trace these and related OT technoscience
apocrypha in the scope of a single case introduced
in the next section where I also elicit a pair of
narrative analytics to help us track the
figure/ground switches between empirical and
conceptual circuits. The subsequent section puts
Foucault in concert with Berardi in helping us
to understand how this “very shy molecule”
conduced an apocryphal promise of spurring non-
standard signals for HOMI (human oxytocin
mediated immersion).
2. Biogenic Counter-Cabling
Existing critiques of DARPA’s so-called Narrative
Networks program emphasize the Cold War
technical imaginaries put in play. One
representative report for example alludes to
coercive apocrypha -- “pharmacologically
incapacitating the psychological defenses of
interrogation suspects,”[10] and appeals to
instituted norms by citing the Chemical Weapons
Convention defining any chemical for inducing
‘‘temporary incapacitation’’ as a ‘‘toxic chemical’’
and therefore banned. A more infinitesimal
(Stieglerian) pharmacological structure of toxin and
cure is needed where adversarial incapacitation is
replaced by a neuroeconomics of immersion.
Fabula/syuzhet is the formalist narratological
interface of an event with its emplotment.
Postmodern theorists alerted us to the productive
etiolations put in play by a presupposition of
interleaved perspectives. It is in this latter sense
that I deploy obstinacy as a passional configuration
differentially attached to its being-while-doing. In
media ecological terms, the latter signals a
complex interaction between figure/ground
With the concept of security, Foucault’s key
narrative construct was the ‘milieu’ that he
understood as a fundamental axis through which
security deployed. Security does not react to a
‘milieu’ as a discrete existential threat as much as
the finding of “a project, a political technique” for
its apparatuses to emerge in order to “work,
fabricate, organize, and plan” its form
(38).[11] Whereas sovereignty operates on legal
entities acting through volition and discipline
operates through panoptic optics on some
multiplicity of bodies performing normative rules,
the milieu instead affects “precisely, a population”
(37). Foucault specified the milieu’s conditions of
possibility as “Lamarckian,” and more importantly
distinctly “Newtonian” insofar as needing “to
account for action at a distance of one body on
another” (36). These also operationally bind the
milieu with the operation of security:
“Let’s say then that sovereignty capitalizes a
territory, raising the major problem of the seat of
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 157
government, whereas discipline structures a space
and addresses the essential problem of a
hierarchical and functional distribution of elements,
and security will try to plan a milieu in terms of
events or series of events or possible elements, of
series that will have to be regulated within a
multivalent and transformable framework. The
specific space of security refers then to a series of
possible events; it refers to the temporal and the
uncertain, which have to be inserted within a given
space. The space in which a series of uncertain
elements unfold is, I think, roughly what one can
call the milieu.” (35)
More succinctly, the milieu is “the medium of an
action and the element in which it circulates” (36).
Security targets the milieu as an agglomeration of
‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ givens, and ‘a circular link’ is
established between effects and causes. The milieu
gives security its project as a phenomenon of “a
certain number of combined, overall effects
bearing on all who live in it.” The milieu enables
security to become self-referential. As an analytic,
security focused Foucault on the micro-powers
“not confined by definition to a precise domain”
nor “determined by a sector of the scale, but as “a
point of view, a method of decipherment which
may be valid for the whole scale, whatever its size”
In this setting, fundamental to Foucault’s
characterization of bio-power was its distinguishing
“not simply a relationship between partners,
individual or collective” but more importantly a
modulation of relations and their relative flows, or a
“way in which certain actions modify others”
(789).[12] Critical for Foucault is to attend to the way
power acts indirectly and with delay on subjects.
While a relationship of violence “acts upon a body
or upon things” in direct manner, bio-power does
not require an inimical subject to operate.
In seeking for the right term for organizing an
analytics of power in this setting, Foucault suggests
the term ‘conduct’, for perhaps its “equivocal
nature” as “one of the best aids for coming to
terms with the specificity of power relations” (789).
He is remarking on the available multiplicity of
interpretations registered in the term that (more
explicit in French) is at once ’to drive’ and ’to
behave,’ and as the translator notes, “whence la
conduite, ‘conduct’ or ‘behaviour’” (later we might
attempt to fold ‘to bring in, or forth’). In the
productive equivocation of ‘conduct’, Foucault
brings into focus that power is only mistakenly
associated with confrontation, when it more
accurately should be understood as the proper
generality of governing action in terms of
possibility. In this regard, for Foucault,
‘conduct’ both situates an analytics of coercive
mechanisms that conduct behaviour as well as
brings into presence “a more or less open field of
possibilities” (789). In both interpretations, but
more immanently in the second one, Foucault
stressed that there is no “position of exteriority
with respect to power” (Foucault 2013, 125-
7).[13] Instead, a notion of ‘counter-conduct’ is
possible that shares with ”conduct,” as Foucault
writes, “a series of elements that can be utilized
and reutilized, reimplanted, reinserted, taken up in
the direction of reinforcing a certain mode of
conduct or of creating and recreating a type of
counter-conduct” (27).[14]
In “Biopolitics and Connective Mutation,” Berardi
(2011)[15] suggests updating Foucauldian analysis
within our contemporary horizons of differential
control. With salience, he calls on Deleuze as “a
great reader of William Burroughs” who
anticipated a coming shift from molar to
molecular dispositifs “which are intrinsic to the very
genesis of the conscious organism” and suggest
replacing ‘control’ with ‘cabling’:
“We move here from the phase of industrial
discipline to that of the mutation of the organism,
taking place through the inoculation of mutagenic
principles, and the cabling of psychic, cognitive,
genetic and relational circuits. We might replace
the word ‘control’ with ‘cabling’. Biogenic cabling.
Techno-linguistic cabling of the human brain’s
printed circuit, cabling human brains in
With particularly bite here, Berardi identifies
another operational level cabling beneath molar
control and multiplexing “the production of techno-
linguistic means of production,
psychopharmacology, media production and the
production of the imaginary.” He continues,
“My ‘point of observation’ is exactly this: the
pathologies of the organism in the mutagenic age,
the indeterminate and stochastic nature of the
morphogenetic process in which the organism is
looking for a new balance. In particular, my interest
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 158
is focused on the processes of cognitive cabling
induced by communication technologies and by
techno-linguistic and techno-perceptual dispositifs.
The latter produce a psycho-pathology which
presents endemic features. By working on this
indeterminacy and on the psychopathologies
derived from it and by following the Guattarian
schizoanalytic method, it is possible to rethink
radically our notion of politics. Politics should be
reconceptualized as the art of interference in the
relationship between the techno-mediatic universe
(dominated by specific agencies which act on the
production of the imaginary and on the production
of knowledge and are identifiable in the global
capitalist corporations) and the ecology of mind.”
OPOCRYPHA: Return to Fisherman’s Wharf
April 2011. I am attending a two-day workshop
hosted by the Defense Sciences Office (DSO) of the
Defense Research Projects Agency (DARPA).[16] The
agency has convened an interdisciplinary group of
scholars and defense industry contractors to survey,
discuss and synthesize across disciplinary
approaches linking narrative processing,
neurobiology and story stimulus (for example by
cuing sentiment, creating identities, and inciting
political violence). Towards this, the meetings had
“five mutually reinforcing and overlapping goals”:
1.To assay narrative effects on our basic
2. To understand the narrative impact on the
neurobiology of memory, learning and identity.
3. To assess the narrative influence on the
neurobiology of emotions.
4. To examine how narratives influence moral
5. To survey how narratives modulate other brain
mechanisms related to social cognition.
Dr. Paul Zak is the lone presenter for a special
afternoon session, “Narrative and
Neurochemistry,” during which he briefed us on his
neuroeconomic laboratory studies on the
conjectured modulation of human empathy by the
neurohormone, oxytocin (Zak 2011).[17] More
precisely, Zak and his lab were endeavoring to not
only ”directly link oxytocin to the subjective
experience of empathy, and show that distress can
inhibit empathy”; but more even more ambitiously
attempting to deploy a control model (“Empathy-
Generosity model”) as a means “to ‘turn up’ and
‘turn down’ moral sentiment” via ”physiologic
manipulations” (Zak 2011). Zak’s central axiom
states that a “person’s physiologic state affects his
or her decisions”, and his principle signifier
organizing the study of oxytocin is by
“characterizing the HOME circuit” and then,
simply, ”coming home” to ”identify situations in
which moral sentiments will be engaged or
disengaged”. Oxytocin is thus tagged, the “moral
molecule.” This effectively chemically programmed
and affectively computed algorithm is also scale-
free: The scope of said molecule in Zak’s estimation
spans ”health and welfare policies, organizational
and institutional design, economic development,
and happiness are presented” (1). Oxytocin is an
apocryphal superobject (from inter-personal to
institutional, fiduciary to sentimental, evo-devo to
obstinate obsolescence), or to call upon Timothy
Morton’s non-countable nomination
as a hyperobject. Zak’s claim/promise to implement
HOME with a volume pot is similarly scale-free, or
perhaps more aptly colloidal in spanning, without
resolving, macro, meso and nano.
For a passional configuration to animate laboratory
work, Zak solicits a classic economic aporia - the
conflict between self- regarding and other-
regarding behavior – then fleshes with canonical
form in the conflict between Adam Smith’s
seemingly antagonistic works on morality (1759)
and wealth (1776). Zak writes:
“How can Smith’s two views of human nature be
reconciled? First, self-interest and a desire to help
others are not mutually exclusive. One may work
hard to help an ailing parent or contribute to a
charity. Second, self-interest and empathy may
operate in different situations and environments.
Someone may clip coupons to save on groceries,
and also open up one’s home to displaced disaster
victims. Third, automatic empathic responses in the
brain may or not affect decisions. We may feel
empathy for a homeless person, but still choose not
to give him money, perhaps out of a fear that we
will ’enable’ him. We are both empathic and self-
interested, and constantly adapt to varying social,
economic, and institutional environments by
changing the amount of self-regarding and other-
regarding behavior.” (2011)
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 159
In order to reconcile the drift between these
estranged Smiths, Zak will set oxytocin loose to
close the circuit in metal by neuroeconomically
testing the unitary handedness of market and
morality with a conjecture: “if moral sentiments are
real and measurable, they should also be
manipulable” and he continues, “I will describe
how I have manipulated moral sentiments
physiologically to understand if they are real and if
so, how they work” (2011:2).
The Empathy-Generosity-Punishment Model
Zak bases the above model on four reasons that
also motivate the study of neurophysiology in the
context of moral sentiments. First, privileging
physiologic foundations avoids the weaknesses of
standard economic models of “prosocial behavior”
by going directly to the brain mechanisms
producing the observed behavior. Second,
grounding in brain mechanisms also avoids the
naive “assumptions of (hyper)-rationality” - that
is, presupposing human actors (and nation-states)
are always and everywhere rational” (3). Zak
instead assumes “rational rationality” that
predicts “people will invest scarce cognitive
resources in solving a decision problem only when
the expected payoff is sufficiently large”. This
model gives a more nuanced, contextual and
affectively situated ecology of decision making “by
including emotional influences while still optimizing
using the preferences-beliefs-constraints
framework”. Third, and dovetailing with the
previous, Zak assumes nonlinearities factor in
making decisions (see Zak and Barraza 2013,
Barraza and Zak 2009).[18] In other words, it is not
only “direct effects” in play, but also ”cross
effects” (e.g., guilt and shame are posited):
“participants in many experiments poorly and
inconsistently report the reasons for their choices”
(Zak 2011:3). Relations of self are unreliable, so
additional modalities beyond self-report are
Welcome HOME
Zak’s research is organized around previous
findings concerning the neurohormone oxytocin,
and more specifically on a brain circuit he posits -
”Human Oxytocin Mediated Empathy” (HOME). I’ll
cut thinner to summarize these settings. According
to Zak, previous studies ”directly link oxytocin to
the subjective experience of empathy and show
that distress can inhibit empathy” (4). What is
oxytocin? Zak is aware of OT’s ancient pedigree in
motivating care for offspring, monogamy, and its
hypothesized role in privileging biparental care
units. Here Zak conjectures the maternal as a sticky
template for more general other-regarding
behaviors. He reminds us that,
“In addition to its role in the brain, OT is also
released peripherally in body (Zak et al., 2005b).
Peripheral OT binds to receptors in the heart and
vagus nerve (which innervates the heart and gut),
reducing heart rate and blood pressure thereby
reducing anxiety (Porges, 2001). Thus, OT affects
both brain and body, and informs the emotion
regulation of fear/safety and approach/withdrawal
behaviors.” (4)
More schematically, Oxytocin
Is a neuropeptide synthesized primarily in
the magnocellular neurons of the
paraventricular and supraoptic nuclei of the
Has peripheral (hormonal) actions, and also
has actions in the brain.
Has its actions mediated by specific, high-
affinity oxytocin receptors.
Is primarily known for its peripheral actions
through secretion from the pituitary gland
principally serving peri-reproductive
functions for cervical dilation before birth,
contractions during the second and third
stages of labor and causing milk to be ‘let
down’ into subareolar sinuses, from where it
can be excreted via the nipple.
Oxytocin routes centrally, and projects through the
periphery, and is speculated to act as a meta-
system (a system of systems), conducting relations
upon relations, like modulating the subjective
experience of subjectivity – whence state becomes
object projected back as valence:
“Oxytocin evokes feelings of
contentment, reductions in anxiety, and feelings of
calmness and security when in the company of the
mate. This suggests oxytocin may be important for
the inhibition of the brain regions associated with
behavioral control, fear, and anxiety, thus allowing
orgasm to occur. Research has
also demonstrated that oxytocin can decrease
anxiety and protect against stress, particularly in
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 160
combination with social support.”[19]
Where is HOME? It is a brain circuit posited by Zak
and his lab to be the basis for moral sentiment by
triggering the release of OT. As a circuit, it doesn’t
’act’ alone. The HOME circuit itself operationalizes
two neurotransmitters, dopamine (DA) and
serotonin (SERT). DA has been linked
to “goal-directed behaviors, drive and
reinforcement learning” (Zak 2011:4). As a mode of
subjectivity, DA conduces one to “feel good”, and
thus, in turn, compels them to ”to seek rewards
such as food and sex”. In short, the DA wing of
HOME conducts “prosocial behaviors rewarding,
and provides a feedback loop to sustain them.” In
addition to the excitatory transmitter dopamine,
HOME operationalizes the inhibitory transmitter
SERT known to attenuate anxiety and thereby is
conducive of “effects on positive mood”. With
reduced anxiety comes prosociality satiating “our
evolutionarily old fear of isolation.” Zak
summarizes, “HOME makes being around other
humans nonaversive and even pleasant.”
Figure 1: Zak’s conjectured HOME circuit. Image by
HOME relates three conductors in a circuit - OT,
DA, and SERT - such that “a positive social stimulus
causes OT release that potentiates the discharge of
midbrain DA” while at the same time, released OT
causes synaptic SERT to rise in turn “producing
calmness and a positive effect on mood by binding
to 5-HT1A (serotonin) receptors in the temporal
cortex and prefrontal cortex” (Zak 2011:4-5). Zak
explains that “the DA leg of HOME motivates
people to action, and reinforces prosocial
behaviors by making them rewarding while the
SERT leg reduces the fear of social interaction and
improves mood. Importantly, stress markers such as
epinepherine and cortisol have a nonlinear effect
on HOME: moderate stress increase OT while high
levels of stress of fear inhibit OT release and thus
the functioning of the HOME circuit” (4-5). An
empirical convenience is also at work: “OT release
can be measured in blood, urine, and cerebral
spinal fluid, and synthetic OT can be infused into
human beings intravenously or intranasally to
demonstrate its effect on behavior.”
AXIOM. – Pleasure is measurable, and all pleasures
are commensurable; so much of one sort of
pleasure felt by one sentient being equateable to
so much of other sorts of pleasure felt by other
What is needed is a model predicting certain
outcomes related to the manipulation of HOME.
Zak tells us that, “I have discovered that the
Empathy-Generosity is [a] related model introduced
in a footnote by the prominent Irish statistician and
economist Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (1845-1926) in
his book Mathematical Psychics: An Essay on the
Application of Mathematics to the Moral Sciences”
(5). In a double-Foucauldian shift, the borrowed
model oscillates in an arousal-reason-norm helix. In
the original sink, Edgeworth normed Jeremy
Bentham’s “Hedonic calculus” with an appeal to a
Fechnerian experiment,[21] supplementing a moral
arithmetic with moral differential calculus and
compelled by what Edgeworth himself suspected
as being of apocryphal expression:
“Equimultiples of equal pleasures are equateable;
where the multiple of a pleasure signifies exactly
similar pleasure (integral or differential) enjoyed by
a multiple number of persons, or through a
multiple time, or (time and persons being constant)
a pleasure whose degree is a multiple of the
degree of the given pleasure.”
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 161
Or, “notwithstanding personal differences, as of
activity or demonstrativeness,” one may “accept
identical objective marks as showing identical
subjective states” (396). A moral differential
is economic – the management of home towards
pleasure in full generality, MAX!O(h). In situ, the
model challenges two people, “denoted person 1
and person 2,” within an arena of a bounded
decision made by 1 on how much of a fixed amount
of resources (pecuniary or nonpecuniary) to offer 2.
To test the model, participants play iterations of
’the ultimatum game (UG)’ that measures prosocial
behaviors in terms of players matched in pairs
where “decision-maker 1 (DM1) offers a split of a
fixed endowment M to decision-maker 2 (DM2)”
(6). The stakes in UG enter in terms of DM2’s
responding by either accepting or rejecting DM1’s
offer - in the case of the former, both DMs are paid
and the game ends; in the latter case, both DMs
receive nothing.
In the experiment, physiologic manipulations have
three variations: oxytocin (OT), arginine vasopressin
(AVP) and testosterone (T). OT is the target to
manipulate empathy directly. The other two
indirectly circumscribe OT. The model for instance
predicts that AVP infusion would not ”affect
generosity towards others, but would affect the
threshold to punish other for being ungenerous,”
while T is in a sense the juridical molecule proper:
”besides reducing generosity, we also expected
that raising T pharmacologically would cause men
to engage in more individually costly punishment of
those making ungenerous offers relative to
themselves on placebo” (7). In addition to proving
the latter two predictions, Zak claims that his lab
studies have found that by raising OT levels ”we
could more than double the number of subjects
who trusted a stranger with all their money” He
also explains a more subtle perspective on OT: “At
the same time, OT did not affect objective risk-
taking tasks or change cognition or mood. Instead,
OT appears to subtly alter the balance between
appropriate levels of trust and distrust of strangers,
moving people towards greater trust” (7).
STORyNET/N2: From Cuddle to Cuticle
Figure 2: STORyNET poster (2011).
To arrive at the apocryphal receptor of OT’s story
kinematics we need to place Zak’s research, and
the San Francisco workshop in the context of its
two handles, both adjoined by a presupposition
that “[n]arratives exert a powerful influence on
human psychology; because of these influences,
narratives are important in security contexts”
(Casebeer 2011). Whereas ostensive drivers of the
San Francisco agenda attended to care (PTSD
etiologies of memory, empathy, prosociality, etc.),
its STORyNET[22] progeny embedded narratives in
the exceptionalist political discourse of
securitization insofar as, “understanding the role
stories play in a security context is a matter of great
import and some urgency.” To make a story
operable entails “ascertaining exactly what function
stories enact, and by what mechanisms they do
so... Doing this in a scientifically respectable
manner requires a working theory of narratives, an
understanding of what role narratives play in
security contexts, and examination of how to best
analyze stories—decomposing them and their
psychological impact systematically.” STORyNET
meetings thus sought to answer the philosophical
question what is a story? first in securitas:
“What role do stories play in influencing political
violence and to what extent? What function do
narratives serve in the process of political
radicalization and how do they influence a person
or group’s choice of means (such as violence) to
achieve political ends? How do stories influence
bystanders’ response to conflict? Is it possible to
measure how attitudes salient to security issues are
shaped by stories?”
And then in definiendis through a triangular
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 162
analytics of digitalization, Fechnerian law, and
evolutionary (even parasitical) dynamics:
“How can we take stories and make them
quantitatively analyzable in a rigorous, transparent,
and repeatable fashion? What analytic approaches
or tools best establish a framework for the scientific
study of the psychological and neurobiological
impact of stories on people? Are particular
approaches or tools better than others for
understanding how stories propagate in a system
to influence behavior?”
Figure 3: Freytag triangle-driven narratives
differentially modulate dopamine release linked to
liking/disliking reactions. Adapted from
Casebeer[23] by the author.
Tertiary ''slice'' endoporeutic |+| diuretic
The terminating tertiary convergence, “Modeling,
Simulating and Sensing Narrative Influence,” took
as a control variable the knot with which we began
to hunt non-standard sensing suites for the
influence with an apocryphal promise to spur and
co-evolve, or perhaps simply seduce, “the basic
science of stories to produce neuropsychologically-
informed tools for warfighter.”[24] Attention was on
(achieving) three (perceptual) control variables:
1. analysis: advance methods to quantitatively
decompose stories systematically,
2. neurobiology: quantify the influence of stories on
human psychology in neuroscientific terms in (a)
trust, (b) reward and (c) belief fixation domains,
3. tools: exploit that understanding to develop
Department of Defense tools useful at tactical-to-
strategic level, including hardware (sensors),
software (simulations), and suggested doctrinal
Note how the promised scale of storied operations
in (3) matches Zak’s OT conjecture. To take us
home along the Aristotelian triangular unity of
tragic plot, we need first to educe pliancy and
return into Freytag’s otherwise brittle pyramid. The
full third of (3) above hunted “non-standard sensor
suites keyed to the variables identified in improved
influence models” by asking,
“Are critical variables missing from current
influence models? How can those variables best be
identified and detected? What environmental
variables are most critical for the influence process
and how are those measured? What is the current
state of standoff assessments of indirect measures
of neural activity (capillary dilation, galvanic skin
response, eye pupil dilation, etc.) and more direct
measures (sensing detectable neurobiological
compounds)? What technologies must be
developed to enable improvements in those
Non-standard sensing suites presented during the
third meeting included catalytic biosensors, and
microneedles made via microstereolithography for
transdermal electrochemical sensing and delivery
of small molecules through the skin.[26] The keyed
import of this dog being to disjoin an intended
transformation from its doing by subtly repurposing
the details, a stand-off sensing platform tuned
specifically to detect (and possible deliver), for
example, oxytocin uptake and cascading. In this
setting, oxytocin is what is called the sensing
sensor's 'analyte' - the chemical species that is of
interest in an analytical procedure. In other words,
via the HOME circuit operationally linked to a stand-
off sensing platform, Casebeer can at least
conjecture a clandestine method for manipulating a
person's subjective experience of empathy.
The title of the third meeting thus itself becomes a
triangular schema for promising “a dog that will
hunt.” [27] Zak's research gives the narrative theory
within the neurobiology that supports it. The
former aspect describes moral narrative in terms of
a servomechanism feeding part of its action back
HOME to calculate an optimal experience of
empathy in the scene (distress, cost, etc.). The
latter gives the effective structure for
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 163
calculating, although the relevant computation is
not digital, but rather a continuous, and
contextually situated, differential. Together, these
also yield a control model. Simulating narrative
influence means taking the model to the empirical
scene and analyzing the dynamics - toggling the
two geographies (communicative and cerebral).
This provides a specific control model.
When pressed for what successful research
selected for this well-funded DARPA project would
look like, Casebeer offered the following
continuously differentiating algorithmic theatre.
Imagine an iPhone lies on the table between us. It
has been loaded with a stand-off biosensor tuned
to HOME through a conflation of oxytocin with
meaning. Now imagine we are in fact adversaries
negotiating a ceasefire. Casebeer was in fact black-
boxing a rubber-band negotiation with a Taliban
leader. His servomechanism is reduced to a circuit
(a calculably effective procedure) mediated by
oxytocin wherein a continuously differentiating
conjoint of OT-SERT-T is being cognized by an
iPhone and eventually fed back (e.g., through an
earpiece) as a control parameter. Casebeer’s
speculated terminus is more nuanced however.
Rather than a zero-state machine, OT-SERT-T is raw
fabula and HOME is a cooked syuzhet, their recipe
being susceptance.
The trick is to recursively load different input story
styles until your interlocutor’s over-compensations
begin to conduce trust. We are arguably in the
presence of what Sedgwick would’ve signaled as
hyperbolic and periperformative. Like tuning an
analog radio until the knot matches the dot, the
other’s subjective experience of empathy,
negotiation becomes asymmetrical - a pure
conductance of conduct acting upon relations of
[1] A.J. Greimas and J. Fontanille, The semiotics of
passions: from states of affairs to states of
feeling (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,
1993), 4.
[2] For explanation optimal import here, see Dusko
Pavlovic “Logics of Authentication, Lieing and
Obscurity” (2013).
[3] Narrative Networks (N2): Modeling, Simulating
and Sensing Narrative Influence (June 29-30, 2011,
Arlington, VA).
[4] Zak, Paul J. 2011. “The physiology of moral
sentiments.” Journal of Economic Behavior &
Organization, 77: 53-65.
[5] Trout, J. D. (2008). “Seduction without cause:
uncovering explanatory neurophilia.” Trends in
Cognitive Sciences 12 (8):281-282.
[6] Marks, J.H. “A neuroskeptic's guide to
neuroethics and national security.” AJOB
Neuroscience, 1(2): 4–12, 2010. In discussing
“neurophilia,” and “neuroskeptism,” J.H. Marks
(2010) pointed out that subthalamic nucleus inserts
Greek derivative between two Latin ones
vulnerable to mistranslating as ‘the nut under the
bedroom” (180). The mistranslation equally
captures the section nonetheless.
[7] Schneider, Ralf Dipl.-Chem. Dr., Per Krogh
Hansen, J. M. Pier, Philippe Roussin and Wolfgang
Schmid. “Is There a Future for Neuro-Narratology?
Thoughts on the Meeting of Cognitive Narratology
and Neuroaesthetics.” (2017).
[8] This history forms part of my longer study. A
compact summary here reads: In seeking to
systematize ergoline effects (more uterine than
psychedelic like the ergot
derivatives, methylergometrine and lysergic acid
diethylamide), Sir Henry Dale accidently discovered
a naturally occurring oxytocic analog after injecting
human postpituitary gland into a cat in 1906. After
observing roughly equivalent labor induction in
both pregnant and virgin felines, Dale christened
this natural analog in a Greek conjoint
of oxy (quick) + tocos (birth). By 1928, ‘Pituitrin’s’
apocryphal brand would see Parke Davis
pharmaceuticals rebrand ergot under, ‘Pitocin.’ In
fact, Dale’s conjectured unitary effect would
subsequently be discerned as the hands of distinct,
if nearly chemically indiscernible, agents- both
posterior pituitary gland extracts, but one linked to
uterine contractions and the other to raising blood
pressure and antidiuresis. With this distinction, and
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 164
following hundreds of thousands hog and beef
gland extractions, in 1953, the American chemist
Vincent Du Vigneaud synthesized the molecule, as
well as the first “true” neuropeptide as such (Du
Vigneaud et al., 1953a), receiving the Nobel Prize
in recognition two years later. Synthetic oxytocin
would nonetheless preserve its title to be
administered through today via intravenous
labeled, Pitocin®.
[9] Zak, P. J. (2018). The Evolutionary Origins of
Cooperation and Trade. Journal of Bioeconomics.
DOI: 10.1007/s10818-017-9259-6.
[10] Tennison MN, Moreno JD (2012)
“Neuroscience, Ethics, and National Security: The
State of the Art.” PLoS Biol 10(3): e1001289.
[11] Foucault, Michel, Michel Senellart, François
Ewald, and Alessandro Fontana. 2009. Security,
territory, population: lectures at the Collège de
France, 1977-1978. New York, N.Y.:
Picador/Palgrave Macmillan.
[12] Foucault, M. "The Subject and Power." Critical
Inquiry 8, no. 4 (1982): 777-95.
[13] Foucault, M. (2013). Lectures on the Will to
Know (Ed. A. I. Davidson, 1st ed.). New York:
Palgrave Macmillan.
[14] Davidson, A. I. (2011). “In Praise of Counter-
Conduct.” History of the Human Sciences, 24(4),
[15] Bifo “Biopolitics and Connective
Mutation.” Culture Machine Vol. 7, 2005.
[16] N2: The Neurobiology of narratives.
[17] Zak, Paul J. “The Physiology of Moral
Sentiments.” Journal of Economic Behavior &
Organization, vol. 77, no. 1, Jan. 2011, pp. 53–65.
[18] Barraza, Jorge A., and Paul J. Zak. “Empathy
Toward Strangers Triggers Oxytocin
Release and Subsequent Generosity.” Annals of the
New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1167, no. 1,
June 2009, pp. 182–189
[19] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v.
“Oxytocin” (accessed July 24,
[20] Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (1879) "The
Hedonical Calculus", Mind,
Volume 4, Issue 15 (July), p.394-408.
[21] Fechner Psychophysik, ix. 6: “The non-linear
relationship between psychological sensation and
the physical intensity of a stimulus […] became
known as the Weber–Fechner law”
[22] Stories, Neuroscience and Experimental
Technologies (STORyNET): Analysis and
Decomposition of Narratives in Security
Contexts (Charlotesville, VA, February 28, 2011).
[23] Lt Col William D. Casebeer. “Stories,
Neurobiology and Political Violence: Exploring the
Neural Mechanisms of Narrative Psychology to
Develop War Fighting
Tools.” STORyNET presentation (Charlotesville, VA,
February 28, 2011).
[24] Narrative Networks (N2): Modeling, Simulating
and Sensing Narrative Influence (June 29-30, 2011,
Arlington, VA).
[25] Narrative Networks (N2): Modeling, Simulating
and Sensing Narrative Influence (June 29-30, 2011,
Arlington, VA).
[26] The array of tech included the development of
electrochemical, acoustic, optical, and cell-based
sensors applicable to CW/BW agent detection and
medical diagnostics.
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 165
[27] I am quoting DSO Program Manager LtCol
Casebeer’s quip for potentially “sticky” (fundable)
research proposals. Casebeer also cited research
linking narratives to belief fixation with
independent behavioral evidence that storytelling
modulates “sacred values.” The neural correlates of
those sacred values were of interest in order to
hunt the hypothesis that stories can differentially
move beliefs along the sacred/non-sacred
“indifference” curve. For a summary, see “The
Neurobiology Of Political Violence: New Tools,
New Insights” (A Strategic Multilayer Assessment
Workshop, 1-2 December 2010).
Powered by TCPDF (
Graydon WetzlerIssue 8.1-2 / 2019: 166
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
National security organizations in the United States, including the armed services and the intelligence community, have developed a close relationship with the scientific establishment. The latest technology often fuels warfighting and counter-intelligence capacities, providing the tactical advantages thought necessary to maintain geopolitical dominance and national security. Neuroscience has emerged as a prominent focus within this milieu, annually receiving hundreds of millions of Department of Defense dollars. Its role in national security operations raises ethical issues that need to be addressed to ensure the pragmatic synthesis of ethical accountability and national security.
Full-text available
Empathy is related to a variety of prosocial behaviors, but the brain mechanisms producing the experience of empathy have not been fully characterized. This study investigated whether the experience of empathy raises oxytocin levels and affects subsequent generosity toward strangers. Short video clips of an emotional scene and an unemotional scene were used as stimuli. Participants rated the emotions they experienced and then played a $40 ultimatum game to gauge their generosity. We found that empathy was associated with a 47% increase in oxytocin from baseline. We also found the empathy-oxytocin response was stronger in women than in men. Higher levels of empathy were also associated with more generous monetary offers toward strangers in the ultimatum game. Our findings provide the first evidence that oxytocin is a physiologic signature for empathy and that empathy mediates generosity.
Adam Smith made a persuasive case that "moral sentiments" are the foundation of ethical behaviors in his 1759 The Theory of Moral Sentiments. This view is still controversial as philosophers debate the extent of human morality. One type of moral behavior, assisting a stranger, has been shown by economists to be quite common in the laboratory and outside it. This paper presents the Empathy-Generosity-Punishment model that reveals the criticality of moral sentiments in producing prosocial behaviors. The model's predictions are tested causally in three neuroeconomics experiments that directly intervene in the human brain to "turn up" and "turn down" moral sentiments. This approach provides direct evidence on the brain mechanisms that produce prosociality using a brain circuit called HOME (human oxytocin-mediated empathy). By characterizing the HOME circuit, I identify situations in which moral sentiments will be engaged or disengaged. Using this information, applications to health and welfare policies, organizational and institutional design, economic development, and happiness are presented.
Without access to Michel Foucault's courses, it was extremely difficult to understand his reorientation from an analysis of the strategies and tactics of power immanent in the modern discourse on sexuality (1976) to an analysis of the ancient forms and modalities of relation to oneself by which one constituted oneself as a moral subject of sexual conduct (1984). In short, Foucault's passage from the political to the ethical dimension of sexuality seemed sudden and inexplicable. Moreover, it was clear from his published essays and interviews that this displacement of focus had consequences far beyond the specific domain of the history of sexuality. "Security, Territory, Population" (Foucault, 2007) contains a conceptual hinge, a key concept, that allows us to link together the political and ethical axes of Foucault's thought. Indeed, it is Foucault's analysis of the notions of conduct and counter-conduct in his lecture of 1 March 1978 that seems to me to constitute one of the richest and most brilliant moments in the entire course. Is is astonishing, and of profound significance, that the autonomous sphere of conduct has been more or less invisible in the history of modern (as opposed to ancient) moral and political philosophy. This article argues that a new attention should be given to this notion, both in Foucault's work and more generally.
Credibility is a cherished currency in science, but its cues can be counterfeit. A novel series of experiments by Weisberg and her colleagues show that non-expert consumers of behavioral explanations assign greater standing to explanations that contain neuroscientific details, even if these details provide no additional explanatory value. Here, we discuss the part that this 'placebic' information might play in producing a potentially misleading sense of intellectual fluency and, consequently, an unreliable sense of understanding.
The semiotics of passions: from states of affairs to states of feeling
  • A J Greimas
  • J Fontanille
A.J. Greimas and J. Fontanille, The semiotics of passions: from states of affairs to states of feeling (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 4.
Marks (2010) pointed out that subthalamic nucleus inserts Greek derivative between two Latin ones vulnerable to mistranslating as 'the nut under the bedroom
  • J H Marks
Marks, J.H. "A neuroskeptic's guide to neuroethics and national security." AJOB Neuroscience, 1(2): 4-12, 2010. In discussing "neurophilia," and "neuroskeptism," J.H. Marks (2010) pointed out that subthalamic nucleus inserts Greek derivative between two Latin ones vulnerable to mistranslating as 'the nut under the bedroom" (180). The mistranslation equally captures the section nonetheless.
Is There a Future for Neuro-Narratology?
  • Ralf Dipl Schneider
  • Chem
  • Dr
  • J M Per Krogh Hansen
  • Philippe Pier
  • Wolfgang Roussin
  • Schmid
Schneider, Ralf Dipl.-Chem. Dr., Per Krogh Hansen, J. M. Pier, Philippe Roussin and Wolfgang Schmid. "Is There a Future for Neuro-Narratology? Thoughts on the Meeting of Cognitive Narratology and Neuroaesthetics." (2017).
The Evolutionary Origins of Cooperation and Trade
  • P J Zak
Zak, P. J. (2018). The Evolutionary Origins of Cooperation and Trade. Journal of Bioeconomics. DOI: 10.1007/s10818-017-9259-6.