Joseph Knoll: The Future of Mankind


Joseph Knoll’s reply to Laszlo Gyermek’s commentary


            It is my pleasure that my old friend, Laszlo Gyermek, a neuropharmacologist with lasting contributions in structure-activity relationships and drug development related clinical pharmacology, commented on my book.

            Gyermek and I studied medicine and earned our MD (1950 and 1951, respectively) at the Medical University in Budapest (now Semmelweis University). We both started research in neuropharmacology and received our PD degrees in 1955. However, after the defeat of the Hungarian revolution in 1956, many of the most talented intellectuals left the country. I remained in Hungary, Gyermek immigrated.

            In 1949, I was invited by Professor Bela Issekutz, the great old man of Hungarian Pharmacology, to join, as a medical student, the research staff in his Department of Pharmacology. I began working there in February, 1949. After Professor Issekutz retired, I was the Head of the Department from 1962 until 1992. Until nearly the end the 1960s, the role of the acquired drives in the mammalian brain was the center of my interest and since the 1970s the discovery of the enhancer-sensitive regulations and the development and analysis of the synthetic enhancer substances, with a special attention to counteract the regressive effects of brain aging. Since 1949, I have never stayed away from my lab for longer than a one month period.

            Laszlo Gyermek immigrated to the United States in 1957, where he made his career first as a famous neuropharmacologist and later as Professor of Anesthesiology at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, Torrence, CA. He is an enviably multi-talented scientist and true Renaissance man. Besides hundreds of his scientific papers; he has written excellent travelogues; inherited his father’s painting talent and created, among others, marvelous copies of Monet’s famous series of cathedrals. He is an expert in wine tasting, wine making; art photography; classical music; and has cultivated some sports (tennis, skiing, sport-flying). Fortunately, we still meet yearly in Budapest.

            Regarding his comments, I agree that since the English translation of my book’s title is “The Future of Mankind. Considerations on the basis of cortical mechanisms responsible for the human society’s birth and development,” Gyermek’s proposed shorter title would be more suitable for an English version of his book! 

            I also fully agree with Gyermek’s analysis that the “myths’-directed” human society is still not ready for the transition into the “ratio-directed” version. When I started my behavioral studies in the early 1950s and discovered the ability of rats to acquire an unnatural drive, I soon realized that this cortical mechanism may explain the manipulability of more sophisticated mammalian organisms. With the evolution of brains capable of acquiring drives, species appeared whose members could manipulate each other's behavior and act in unison. This was the condition sine qua non for the evolution of social living, a form of life that enabled the species to qualitatively surpass the performance of any given individual. It goes without saying that training members in the skills needed to act in unison proved the quality of life. The mouse, a rodent closely related to the rat, trained under the same experimental conditions as the rat, was unable to acquire the glass-cylinder-seeking drive. Thus, it was a reasonable conclusion that vertebrates can be divided into three groups according to the mode of operation of their brain: (a) those that operate with innate drives only (the majority); (b) those with an ability to acquire drives (a minority); and (c) the ‘group of one’ that operates almost exclusively with acquired drives (Homo sapiens sapiens ).

            It is in harmony with the physiological function of the acquired drives that the evolution of mammals with a brain capable to fix acquired drives was the last qualitative change in brain development.  This change reached its peak level with the development of the human brain, a functional network with over 100 billion interrelated nerve cells and 1011 bit capacity. With this system, whose operation is inseparably connected to conscious perception, life on earth reached its most sophisticated form. Furthermore, the human being, primarily a social creature, is a building block in the creation of a gigantic product: human society. The birth and development of human society, a moment in the endless history of the universe, necessarily means everything to us. It is often taken for granted that at the birth of human society, probably somewhere in South-Africa, very small groups formed a micro-community working together. Due to learning, practice, and experience, their community life became more and more efficient, and the accumulation of basic knowledge allowed for a more rapid development, reflected in population growth.

            By the end of 1953, my experiments with the glass-cylinder seeking rats strongly urged me to shape the working hypothesis that the appearance of the mammalian brain with the ability to acquire drives produced species fit for domestic life, i.e. to live in intimate association with and to the advantage of humans. This ability of the mammalian brain ensured the interaction of the individual and the group, and led finally to the evolution of the most sophisticated form of organized life, the human society. After 16-years of research, I formulated my theory regarding the peculiar role of the acquired drives in the evolution of mammalian life in a monograph (Knoll, 1969). The physiology of the acquired drives furnishes knowledge about the most important brain mechanism which created the society: the manipulability of the cortex. Humans possess the most manipulable brain among all living creatures on earth.

            Developing a rat model to study the nature of an acquired drive catalyzed the discovery of the enhancer-sensitive brain regulations and the development of DEP and BPAP, the first synthetic enhancer substances. After 36-years of research, results were summarized in my second monograph (Knoll, 2005). 

            HHHomo sapiens sapiens, the unique mammal operating almost exclusively with acquired drives, arrived at the revolutionary age of enlightenment to a level of development which resulted in an unprecedented acceleration in science and technology. Let me demonstrate the enlightenment-induced acceleration in science and technology with one convincing example:

George Stephenson created the first steam engine in 1814. His passenger train covered in 1825 its first 39 kilometer distance with 24 kilometer/hour speed. Only 62 years later, in 1876 Nikolaus Otto discovered the four-stroke combustion engine. Benz and Daimler created the automobile and Benz prepared in 1885 the first automobile fit for use. Only 18 years later, in 1903, the Wright brothers developed the first airplane: 274 kg in weight, flying with 48 kilometer/hour speed. The rocket technique developed soon with dramatic speed. The era of space research started, and Gagarin, the first astronaut, left the earth on April 2, 1961, only 58 years after the first efficient airplane was created.

            Mankind used the horse for thousands of years and after the spiritual revolution of enlightenment, science and technology arrived within 147 years (!) from the first steam engine to the era of space research. Science, the irresistibly developing human brain product, cares for the termination of the regrettable but inescapable “myths’-directed” first phase of human society’s history. However, the dense ignorance of the overwhelming majority of the world population, which is in harmony with the requirements that can be expected from an average citizen in the “myths’-directed” first phase of human society’s history, explains that despite the breath-taking acceleration of science and technology more time, may be a few hundred years are still needed to firmly establish and stabilize the “ratio-directed” human society. As analyzed in my monograph (Knoll, 2005), it is obvious that in the “ratio-directed” phase of human history everyone is educated to find and fix the acquired drive(s) which give in science or art lifelong passionate satisfaction. Science and art are the two intelligent fields of human activity which expectedly remain human activities in the “ratio-directed” human society. As a matter of fact without science mankind would not survive, without art it would not be worth to survive.


April 27, 2017