The Brave New World of Chemical Romance

Brian Gallagher:

Love drugs harken back to fairytale fantasies about potions and spells, but the notion isn’t purely fiction. The authors of Love Drugs—Julian Savulescu, an Oxford philosopher, and Brian Earp, a Yale doctoral candidate in philosophy and psychology—make plain that our brain’s love, lust, and attachment systems can be affected by real-life neuro-technologies. With cogent arguments, vivid experimental detail, and engaging storytelling, the authors show that chemical interventions to foster, enhance, and diminish love will only become more sophisticated as scientists discern the biochemical nature of the romantic bond.

Aficionados of Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and Brave New World will find Love Drugs both entertaining and sobering. In fact, Love Drugs was almost titled Brave New Love. “There is a part of me that still prefers Brave New Love,” Earp says. “I think a lot of people think this is a pro-love drugs book. We tried not to do that. This is not ‘science will fix all of our problems.’ A title like Brave New Love says, ‘There’s a real danger here.’ Maybe if I could wave a magic wand I’d go back to Brave New Love. But it is what it is.”

I was excited to speak to Earp, a research fellow in the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at Oxford. I first learned of him in 2011 from YouTube. At the time, Earp was getting his master’s degree in psychology at Oxford, which was where philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris happened to be giving a talk on his then-new book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. Earp, skeptical of the ostensible novelty of his thesis, incisively asked him to defend it. The recording of the exchange has almost 2 million views. In our conversation, Earp didn’t disappoint. He was as thoughtful and careful and smart in his responses to me as I expected him to be.