This interview was initially published on the website of Institut Coppet, on September 16, 2015. It was also published, in French, on the website of Institut Turgot, on October 20, 2015, and in the February 2016 issue of Agefi Magazine
Roy Barzilai is an independent scholar, who studied both Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism and Rivka Schechter’s philosophy of language, rooted in the Hebrew Bible. The synthesis of Rand’s Aristotelian philosophy, and the biblical creed of ethical monotheism provides profound insights into the ideas that shaped the Western mind. By exploring the intellectual history of Western civilization, Roy seeks to reach a greater understanding of the human mind.
As a financial analyst for more than a decade, Roy became aware of the herd mentality in financial markets. He studied the Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior and the new science of socionomics, focusing on how change in social mood affects society, its ideas, philosophy, culture, and economy. This dynamism is the engine of history.
Roy holds undergraduate degrees from Tel Aviv University in Law, accounting, and computer science. He is the author of two books: The Objective Bible, published in 2014, and The Testosterone Hypothesis, published in 2015.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Philosophers and social scientists seem to be generally hostile towards so-called “natural rights” which are alleged to belong to human beings as such and which are cited as a reason for holding that people ought not to be interfered with in their pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. As in the case of witches, unicorns or Smurfs, it is said that every attempt to give good reasons for believing that there are such rights has failed. Belief in “natural rights” is one with belief in witches and unicorns.
Do you agree with this widespread opinion?
Roy Barzilai: This hostility among intellectual circles to the concept of “natural rights” is one of the starkest manifestations of the degeneration of Western culture. It has deteriorated from a culture that once elevated the status of the individual as a free human being who required liberty to think and exercise the faculty of reason associated with the human mind. Of course, “natural rights” arise from the nature of Homo sapiens, the rational man, as a sole being that uses the faculty of reason to direct his life and well-being.
As Ayn Rand put it well, by the nature of man he must use his mind if he wishes to live and flourish. A civilized and ethical society can only exist in a culture centered on reason, the faculty of the independent mind. The attack of the intellectuals against the human mind and the individual liberty it requires in order to function to the best of its ability marks the suicidal nature of contemporary of the Western culture, on its road to serfdom, going back to the Dark Ages.
Grégoire Canlorbe: The Testosterone Hypothesis is dedicated to prove two main claims: first, that periods of falling fertility rates are a signal of collapsing testosterone levels; and second, that this declining testosterone, which links to depleted serotonin and diminished dopamine, leads to a mental state in which people worship “ideologies of death” such as socialism or ethnocentrism. In this regard, hormones engender the decay of civilizations in a similar manner that they signal the cells of an aging body to execute programmed death and bring to the end of an organism’s life cycle.
Could you meticulously come back on each of these assertions and develop the different neuroscience studies in support of your thesis?
Roy Barzilai: The effects of declining testosterone levels include compromised fertility viability as a result of declined semen quality, among other things. One study cited in the book shows that among Finnish men between 1940 and 1990, for example, sperm counts and semen volume went down as much as fifty percent. Other studies confirm drops in semen quality and testosterone levels in the same decades elsewhere in the world, correlating quite highly with declining fertility rates, especially since the 1960s. Studying the data on fertility rates, therefore, allows us to see these correlating trends and postulate that periods of low fertility rates indicate lowered testosterone.
It is the assertion of The Testosterone Hypothesis that this endocrine crisis affects the worldview of a culture: Declining testosterone, which links to depleted serotonin and diminished dopamine, creates a mindset more prone to anxiety, passivity, fear, and violence. Conversely, testosterone stimulates dopamine activity in men, which fosters focus and goal orientation, feelings of well-being and vitality. Yet a weakened psychological vitality makes entire populations susceptible to group-think, to a herd mentality, and to manipulation by controlling forces. Though empathy is an important quality in humans, if the empathizing mind is not balanced by the systemizing mind, the drive for individual excellence in a society is muted, at times even entirely squelched. Therefore, looking back through history, it can be postulated that when cultures are suppressed by tyrants—including the tyranny of the crowd—when creativity and ingenuity and prosperity are supplanted by fear and reserve and paucity, humans are engaged in worshiping, as you reference, the ideologies of death; and it is very likely that this is the effect of declined testosterone levels.
According to the research I present in the book, multi-cellular biological systems are complex social organizations that go through development cycles in a synchronized manner using hormones as chemical messengers to form communication networks. The recurring cycles of growth and decay in both an individual human organism, which is a society of cells, and in a human culture, which is composed of a great number of individuals, is controlled and regulated by growth and stress hormones.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Furthermore, you suggest that besides our social mood, our hormonal cycles regulate even our understanding of reality and our scientific beliefs. In this regard, hormones are the factor ultimately responsible for our perception of reality and science to shift from a mechanistic, Newtonian, logical view of the universe in modern science to a postmodern, mystical experience of the world as existing beyond our senses.
Could you explicit and develop this key statement?
Roy Barzilai: The dopaminergic mind is a function of a human brain that operates with high levels of dopamine and is a characteristic of the high-testosterone personality. Our neocortex is a pattern recognition machine composed of billions of neurons. But it is the neurotransmitters, primarily dopamine, which associate feelings and give meaning to the information our mind gathers and thus forms our interpretation of ideas. The mode of integration according to which our brain is motivated to operate is determined by the level of these neurotransmitters.
Humans tend to form one of two general worldviews. The first I would call a reality-oriented worldview, in which we seek to find patterns of order in nature for the purpose of controlling it to sustain and further our life on earth. The second is when we wish to escape from reality into otherworldly dimensions of Platonic mysticism and sacrifice our life and well-being on earth. Both of these are determined by the hormonal configuration of our brain. Hence, the Newtonian orderly view of the universe that came to prominence during the Enlightenment was a product of the rise of the dopaminergic mind that seeks to know nature in order to command it in order to enhance human life.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Very much in line with Ayn Rand, your intellectual mentor (along with Rivka Schechter), you hold the following phenomena for heavy signs of our contemporary civilizational degeneration:
* The collapse of family, with high divorce rates and the rise of single-parent households;
* The popularity of rap and hip-hop music that celebrates gangster themes while disparaging the rule of law and extolling violence against women;
* The predominance of postmodern philosophy and cultural relativism in the academy, denigrating the Western political model of capitalism and the family values;
* And above all, the cultural emasculation of men, with female attraction to more feminized men, attacks on all societal fronts from a young age of traditional characteristics of masculinity and rampant rise of wholesale promotion of homosexuality and pansexuality.
Such denigration of masculinity was particularly highlighted and denounced by Ayn Rand, among the symptoms of Western decay. “For a woman qua woman, she wrote, the essence of femininity is hero-worship—the desire to look up to man. “To look up” does not mean dependence, obedience or anything implying inferiority. It means an intense kind of admiration […]. Hero-worship is a demanding virtue: a woman has to be worthy of it and of the hero she worships. Intellectually and morally, i.e., as a human being, she has to be his equal; then the object of her worship is specifically his masculinity, not any human virtue she might lack.”
Could you elaborate on this vehement analysis of our cultural suicide and, in particular, bring to light the hormonal mechanisms involved?
Roy Barzilai: Biological evolution is a process involving organisms adapting to changing environmental conditions. The primary engine of life on earth is solar radiation and the solar cycles are the moving force that governs life cycles on earth through hormonal regulation according to the circadian rhythms, the daily cycles of light and darkness. However, the modern science of evolution is still resting on the false Aristotelian premise that the sun is a static force that emits constant levels of energy. In chapter 6, I clearly demonstrate that sexual reproduction patterns in the history of the growth and decline cycles of Western cultures are actually a product of changing levels of global electromagnetic radiation.
In this sense, what our culture describes as trends of women’s emancipation or liberation through socialist revolutions as we witnessed in the 1960s and today, are nothing more than societal responses to declining levels the growth hormone testosterone and other happy chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, in the human brain. The decline of the dopaminergic mind that has a long term perspective and seeks to create long term relationships and systems, both men and women are no longer willing to build families, which require a very long range commitment to raising and educating their children. This is evident in the 1960s sexual revolution that seeks short term sexual excitement even if it ends in abortion and a single-motherhood at the expense of the children.
The rise to dominance of postmodern philosophy in academia in the 20th century is a clear consequence of the collapse of the dopaminergic mind, which seeks to demolish the order, logical and reason based scientific foundations which were built during the Enlightenment and created modernism and the culture of individual rights. The anxiety and fear associated with lowered serotonin level are characteristic of the kind of nihilism in which postmodernism has its roots.
Perhaps the most obvious cultural manifestation of this biological mechanism—declined testosterone—is the emasculation of men through homosexuality, asexuality and radical feminism which all defy the traditional family values and call for the end of sexual differentiation in order to create a homogenous society. The socialist ideal of equality and similarity of all is rooted in the collapse of hormones that induce growth and differentiation patterns in both the cell biology and social interactions in human society.
Grégoire Canlorbe: According to Ayn Rand, “competition is a by-product of productive work, not its goal”; in other words, “a creative man”, i.e., a dopaminergic mind, “is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.” I personally contest this Randian dichotomy between the desire to achieve and the desire to beat others.
In my opinion, these two forces are not incompatible; they can exclude each other just as well they can go hand in hand; and it is ultimately through their proper balance that a (true) productive mind can discharge its inventiveness. In this case as in others, opposites are joined at the hip; their cooperation allows an unleashed, fluidized and optimized generation of spiritual and material novelties.
But it comes as no surprise that a standardizing and mutilating metaphysical system such as Objectivism, asserting that “A is A” (and denying in this regard the fact that opposites may not only coexist but go hand in hand), fails to recognize this ambivalent dimension of a creative mind.
Upon reflection, do you endorse this criticism toward Ayn Rand?
Roy Barzilai: When analyzing the philosophy of Ayn Rand one has to consider that it is a product of the extreme dopaminergic mind that seeks perfect order in nature and complete sovereignty of the mind. I completely agree with Rand that the productive mind seeks only to dominate nature and not man. This is evident in the American Declaration of Independence which stands for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, during the period of Enlightenment, which is clearly a product of the dopaminergic mind.
However there is merit to your assertion that nature uses contradictions in its process of creation. This notion is most famously embodied in the Hegelian dialectic, looking at the progress of history as cycles of creation of individualism and their destruction as a whole, only to bring another repeating such cycles on an ever greater scale. This relationship is studied in modern mathematics as fractal geometry, of self-similar fractured structures repeating on different scale to create the whole.
Nature works through both periods of growth and creation when it elevates the dopaminergic mind to create order and complexity, and periods of consolidation and destruction and return to primitivism only to prepare the ground for the next cycle to come.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Memetics, a theory of mental content initiated by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 best seller, The Selfish Gene, argue that human culture is composed of “units of information”, which are “hosted” in the minds of one or more individuals; and which can reproduce themselves, by jumping from mind to mind, in the manner of a “cultural virus”. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as a certain set of neurobiological processes leading an individual to adopt a belief is here seen as an idea-replicator “infecting” the mind. Our neuronal activity is the work of our culture, not the other way around.
Do you recognize some relevance to this emergentist approach or do you irrevocably condemn the memetic hypothesis?
Roy Barzilai: I think ideas evolve as a continuous process at the interplay between the cultural heritage of a society and hormonal drivers that motivate the human mind to bring different interpretations and novel approaches. This is clear when you analyze the well-documented history of the West. If you look at ideas as the DNA of our cultural gene pool, consisting of basic units of information, that give rise to our culture, or the society as the phenotype, the organism, than our Judeo-Christian heritage is actually an amazing chronological database of four millennia of cultural evolution. Hence, by applying the similar methods to the ones we use to study biological sciences to the study of the social sciences, we can gain tremendous insights and enhance our knowledge through integration of various disciplines.
So in this aspect I agree with Dawkins on applying the concept of genes as they spread in biological systems to the spread of ideas in human cultures. However, Dawkins has a tendency for a pessimistic, Kantian view of the human mind as disconnected from reality and incapacitated from having any degree of free will. Observe that his two bestselling books were published in periods of extreme negative social mood, associated the collapse of the dopaminergic mind (driven by decline is solar radiation as shown in the Ap Index chart in chapter 6 of my book). The Selfish Gene was published in 1976 and The God Delusion in 2006.
Ap Index 1932-2008. (Courtesy of David Archibald)
Grégoire Canlorbe: In his 2010 essay, The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-vision of Capitalism, Howard Bloom proposes a radically naturalistic approach of boom and bust cycles, according to which depressions and good times are a manifestation of “a cosmos Googling her potential” through our cyclical mass emotions. As a firm believer in socionomics, what influence has this analysis exerted on your own thought?
Are you in line with the Bloomian perspective on emotional cycles underlying the fluctuations of human economies?
Roy Barzilai: I completely agree with Blooms’ analysis of the biologicals roots of the cyclical nature of social mood, which exhibits itself in the history of economics and financial markets. Bloom’s original line of thinking is exactly what is lacking in our contemporary academic culture and we must come to a much higher level of understanding of our complex nature than the reductionist approach which dominates the sciences today. The same process of evolution that creates the biological cycles of growth and decay, of thriving new species followed by mass extinctions, regulates the volatility of our cultural history, from periods of prosperity and growth to great depressions and wars of mass extermination.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Both Ayn Rand and Friedrich Nietzsche hold man’s life for the proper criterion of moral values, while developing and promoting two diametrically opposed conceptions of life.
For Rand, being alive consists in sustaining and furthering one’s own existence; in this regard, a moral behavior consists in thinking rationally and trading goods or services with others (on the basis of comparative advantages) in order to survive. For Nietzsche, the significance of life is not simply to exist but to move ahead, to conquer and to dominate; in this respect, as he eloquently sums it up in paragraph 259 of Beyond good and evil, a healthy code of values includes “appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation”.
Nietzsche condemns on this basis the non-aggression principle and the equality of rights, adamantly defended by Rand a few decades later; he stands up for aristocratic societies, which believe in a long scale of gradations of rank and differences of worth among human beings, and which practice slavery in some form or other. To put it in an anachronistic manner, aristocracy is the work of testosterone: it arises from the uninhibited strength of will and ardent desire for power of the noble caste. Reciprocally, its recent disappearance (in favor of egalitarian societies) is the product of a decline in testosterone among the ancient masters.
Such a civilizational change is ultimately symptomatic of “a will to the denial of life”; for “[any] organization within which […] the individuals treat each other as equal—it takes place in every healthy aristocracy—must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organization, do all that towards [a subordinate body], which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other; it will have to be the incarnated will to power, it will endeavor to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy.”
As a professed Objectivist scholar, what would you retort in favor of Rand’s conception of life and her politics?
Roy Barzilai: I think Nietzsche’s dire view of human nature, including his anti-reason and pro-animal instinct view of human drives, and his vision of society as a struggle or competition for domination between tribal groups or classes, are all rooted in a his upbringing in the Prussian, Lutheran tradition which has a fundamentally malevolent worldview. As I analyze in The Objective Bible, he is another one in a long line of German Lutheran philosophers, from Luther himself, to Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and finally Heidegger, who paved the way for the rise to domination of the death drive under National Socialism in Hitler’s Germany. This was the ideological and cultural consequences of the gradual decline and final collapse of the dopaminergic mind in the period 1800-1933 due to the decline of testosterone.
As I well demonstrate in my book, the high-testosterone personality seeks to dominate nature in order to promote life. Nietzsche’s anti-testosterone philosophy wishes to dominate man in order to destroy life and his idealization of group conflict and ethnocentrism are actually a product of high-stress hormones and oxytocin.
In contrast, Ayn Rand exalts the virtue of reason, the ethics of life and system of capitalism to promote it.
Grégoire Canlorbe: The Testosterone Hypothesis concludes by suggesting that for humanity to break free from the machinations inherent in our brain structure, which was developed over the course of hundreds of millions of years of evolution, and let the human mind, or pure reason, associated with the modern neo-cortex, gain sovereign over the primitive parts of the brain, we should heed the guidance of Bacon: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” Since testosterone is a growth hormone that creates the dopaminergic mind, to increase its efficacy in people, to intervene on the arbitrary cycle of nature, would be a rational and moral endeavor. It is in our best interest as a species to create a human culture that transcends biological deterministic processes.
Could you specify the means you envision for the purpose of this radical update of our species? Do you hold transhumanism for a positive path towards that ambitious aim?
Roy Barzilai: My research demonstrates that hormones are the regulating mechanisms that drive history, but we will also have to understand the algorithm, or mathematical concept, behind the creative powers of evolution, in order for humanity to achieve its ultimate triumph and learn to control to the process of creation itself. The rise of the transhumanist movement, led by high-tech futurists like Ray Kurzweil, is actually a product of our inherent tendency to change and evolve during periods of perceived high-stress to our biological system, in order to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Evolution has woven the drive to evolve into our DNA, but as the rational species, we hold the key to our own evolution by transcending our own biological limitations and being able to reprogram ourselves and control our control mechanism – our hormones.
Grégoire Canlorbe: Thanks for your time and your insights. Would you like to add anything else?
Roy Barzilai: I want to add that we are at a very important crossroad for mankind as we stand at a peak of a period of centuries of great technological advancement, but our own brain, with the decline of the dopaminergic mind, is turning against us, signaling us to stop the advance and return to the primitive. Freud called it the death drive that motivates an organism to die and return to the inorganic. It is our mission, if we want to live and prosper, to redefine the program of evolution in order that we can continue to fill our leading role and drive our own destiny to a better future.
I was glad to have this wonderful opportunity to interface with such a thoughtful man as yourself.
Grégoire Canlorbe, a journalist, has conducted several interviews for journals and reviews such as Man and the Economy, founded by Nobel-Prize winning economist Ronald Coase, Arguments, and Agefi Magazine; and think tanks such as Gatestone Institute. He’s also collaborating with sociologist and philosopher Howard Bloom on a conversations book. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org