Futurestan, the nation that deals with its problems by shooting them into space, has a serious problem. You see, their economy is largely dependent on industrial processes that, among other things, produce a lot of gaseous carbon waste. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, because they have extremely efficient methods of harvesting this carbon and converting it into a more socially conscious form of pollution.

Unfortunately, these "carbon harvesters (patent pending)" depend on a certain form of GMO potato and their neighbors to the north Other Different Futurestan own the patent for this potato's genome and have withdrawn shipment from Futurestan unless they amend the Treaty of the Before Times to exclude the article preventing Other Different Futurestan from changing its name to "Other Better Futurestan" (for the record Other Different Futurestan is objectively better than Futurestan). This situation threatens to escalate into war.

One of the ways that ODF is objectively better than Futurestan is its military might. You see they realized a long time ago that robots are simply better than humans at pretty much everything up to, and including, war so their entire military force is robotic. Futurestan, however, has a crippling fear of the robot apocalypse largely brought on by a state religion loosely based on the Matrix and Terminator trilogies and thus refuse to militarize robots.

Futurestan's solution is to create cloned super humans that can be quickly mass produced on the cheap. Then, to take it a step further, they remove these cloned super soldiers emotions via a process vaguely resembling sticking a hot wire in their brains and jiggling it around. The original plan was to remove all of their emotions, but after they lost their entire standing army to mass suicide, they decided on a new plan.

THE PLAN: Remove the minimum amount of emotions (one) from each of their super soldiers.

THE QUESTION: What happens when they execute said plan? Specifically what would be the best emotion to remove to create super soldiers? What are the consequences on said super soldiers?

BONUS POINTS: Would removing different emotions be better for different military positions and how and which ones? How would "compound" emotions work?


  1. The removed emotion is one of the basic emotions of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, or surprise.
  2. Other than removing the emotion nothing else is done to their brain after "birth".
  3. This process does not damage the brain any more than described.
  4. The super soldiers are basically created to be physically and mentally the best at whatever their military role (Enhanced reaction time/strength/senses/etc.), but not necessarily good at anything else.
  5. The brain works in a way that allows you to fry one emotion without damaging the others.
  • $\begingroup$ Backstory is the spice of creative thought. . . . Sort of. $\endgroup$
    – Jake
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 0:16
  • $\begingroup$ Are we including the highly complicated follow up issue of how those who have not had an emotion removed feel about the treatment of these "humans" who are short one emotion after the war is over? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 0:58
  • $\begingroup$ You can if you want. I like detail. Detail is also the sort of spice of creative thought. That said, there is a whole lot of Texas sized free space in space. $\endgroup$
    – Jake
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ I know this is irrelevant however there are cases whereby a concerned mother with small body frame could lift a car probably half a ton to save her child, sometimes we seems capable of possessing hysterical strength when our emotions are being compromised. Instead of throwing our feelings away why not control them and harness that power. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ Are you actually writing a Futurestan Saga or just using your creativity to amuse us? $\endgroup$
    – Ixrec
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 13:37

12 Answers 12


Remove Anger.

While Anger can sometimes cause miracles and make your soldiers fight better, more often than not it is a hindrance, and can cause your soldiers to fight recklessly. It's a very unpredictable emotion that can cause a lot of damage to your own army.

Removing Anger allows your soldiers to fight with a cool head, possibly improving their response time and creativity (an important trait to have in any war) since they can think more clearly. (I've never been able to think creatively while angry - all my thoughts are on destroying xxx or getting rid of yyy or why I hate zzz)

Fear cannot be removed. It is essential to keep your soldier alive. If your soldiers aren't scared of things, they're liable to go headfirst into danger and die. Removing fear would also make traps more efficient against the army. Fear is quite often a byproduct of gut feelings of danger (and the essentially the only way to get that gut feeling across is by using fear); if you remove "fear", then the gut feelings will never be acknowledged. Yes, you'd have a much more logical army, but a logical army is one that's predictable and liable to lures and baits.

Removing Disgust does nothing good for your soldier. Disgust can actually help your soldier avoid bad food, which is good.

Removing Sadness is bad because sadness is typically a byproduct of war and not part of the battle itself. Not having sadness could also produce insane killers after the war, since there's nothing to make guilt and no reason for them to stop killing people.

Removing Happiness... No. Just.. No. Self explanatory, I should think.

Surprise is an edge case. While removing surprise would be good for a soldier, removing surprise is also bad because surprise is a learning mechanism. Our brains work by predicting things. When things don't go the way we think they do, we're "surprised", and we learn/adapt our expectations. Throughout a war, as your soldiers fight, they're going to go up against things they've never seen before. Without surprise, they may not be able to learn/adapt enough. Surprise puts you on your guard.

Imagine if a soldier saw a new weapon, and wasn't surprised, thus assuming it did X, and when it did Y and blew him up, his friends weren't surprised. They saw and thought "Oh, it does this. Lets kill it". Little do they know, the weapon also does Z, and it kills their entire platoon.

Consider the normal soldier with surprise. He sees a new weapon and is instantly surprised. "Oh shit what the hell is that!?" He goes carefully with his team to dispatch it first because it was a surprising factor that didn't fit into their plan, resulting in them adapting their plan. Very few casualties occur and the plan continues and is a success.

Another reason why we shouldn't remove surprise is because surprise can trigger instinctual/trained reactions. When people are surprised because they trip, what's the first thing they do? Stick their arms out to grab something (or in front of them to not hit the ground). What do people do when they see that a punch is flying at their head from the corner of their eyes? Raise their arms involuntarily due to surprise and body reaction. If we remove surprise, we run the risk of losing these useful reactions that may or may not save the life of the soldier.

While surprise can also cause damage due to shock/awe/fear, I think that the benefits of removing Anger outweigh the benefits of removing surprise.

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Great answer, and I completely agree. Removing anger also ensures that soldiers will treat enemy POWs exactly as you order them to. They can't be goaded into acting rashly, and they won't destroy anything out of spite, which would make information collection more reliable. $\endgroup$
    – Liesmith
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 7:59
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure I agree on your point of fear, you could remove fear but still teach them to be intelligent enough to avoid traps and take cover when necessary. Keeping fear, though, could result in refusal to follow orders, hesitancy, panic, desertion, etc. $\endgroup$
    – komodosp
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ Anger lends courage. I think anger is pretty essential in a fight. Otherwise you just don't give it your all. If you remove anger you'll have only fear left as a motivator in a fight. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ @BlindKungFuMaster Anger is not essential in a fight. I've lost many a fight because I got angry, when keeping my cool would have allowed me to fight in top condition and win the fight instead. You can give something your all without having Anger. Loyalty (or promise of reward) can also be a motivation to fight, so I don't think it's fair to say that fear is the ONLY motivator in a fight. $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ @colmde Without fear, how do you deem that it is "necessary" to take cover? A logical approach isn't always the most optimal solution in war; gut feelings count a lot as well. While what you say about refusal to follow orders, etc, is true, it also applies to the other emotions in the same way, and since it's applicable to more than 1 emotion, it isn't possible to get rid of those traits by just removing fear. $\endgroup$
    – Aify
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:58

You shouldn't remove any of them. Doing so will only hurt your soldiers, not make them better.

I think Aify's answer covers why most of them are useful. But you should leave anger too. Sure, anger is counter-productive sometimes. But everything is counter-productive sometimes, so that's not a good criteria for getting rid of it.

Anger leads to passion. It inspires heroism, insane suicidal charges, last stands against superior forces. Anger leads people to make moves that, against all odds, surprise their enemies and win battles that should have been lost. Purely logical soldiers might look at bad odds and surrender. Passionate, angry soldiers are going to yell, "For Futurestan!", pull up their high-tech tights, and go kick some robot ass.

And sure, they'll likely lose. But they also might win, and that's better than the guys dropping their guns because it doesn't make sense to fight.


Remove surprise as it inhibits the ability to respond quickly because they are feeling surprised instead of doing something about whatever surprised them. All the other emotions play an important role in keeping a soldier alive and social adapted.

Anger won't work because it's useful motivator to fight harder when under heavy fire.

Disgust prevents eating garbage food or doing socially unacceptable things.

Fear will make the super soldier unnecassarily reckless.

Sadness happens after an action. Being sad is a key indicator of remorse and coping mechanism.

Happiness helps counteract the trauma of combat.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ How is a soldier incapable of reacting quickly good for anything in warfare? $\endgroup$
    – Davidmh
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 4:16

If you want to remove something, fine, remove something. But in order to be complete "Futuresan" boost another emotions.

Removing Anger

Anger is choleric game-changer. When you are angry, you can do thing blindly, on purpose and with exclusive ferocity. This is good for soliders. You need them to do your orders and be fearsome and purposly effective.

If you remove this, you can end up lacking ferocity and effectiveness on a battlefield.

If you will still remove this emotion, i will boost happiness and surprise. Why? Happiness is made by good behaviour, self-satisfaction and can produce the same type of chemical reaction, but in a good way. By boosting surprise together with this, you can have very efficient tactical units but not fast and no cannonen-futter soliders with better self and enviroment awarness because of surprise effect enhacement.

Removing Fear

Fear is globaly underestimated and know as bad emotion. When you are feared, you are lacking of activity, saluting orders and you are irrational. No good for tactics. But fearless soliders will do whatever you ask and whereever you will need it.

With this i will boost anger and disgust. When you are fearsome, almost everytime angered and disgust by something, you are brute, ruthless and fearsome for oponent because nothing will stop you to kill somebody you are disgust about and anger on. You can change your solider to killing machines by this.

Removing Happiness and Sadness together

Those two are different from everything else. When you remove happiness only, you can end up with mostly desperate deeply feared army and you are out. When you remove sadness only you can end up with lots and lots of very angry and happy psychopats and killers, like psychos in borderlands for example.

But when you remove them together they will not be happy nor sad. They will just comply and do everything you need as a normal solider, with no interest in thing they are doing, with no remorse about killing man as same as woman and children with them.

Removing Surprise

With removing this emotion you can cut yourself from whatever ghost tactics and spec-ops operations. When you don't know what surprise is you can't surprise anybody else and make profit from it. This is closely connected with fear, because everybody know that feeling when somebody make "Boo!" on you at night.

So when you remove this i will suppress fear, remove surprise and boost happiness and anger. You can end up with killing machines and cannonen-futter army at your command.

But trully i don't think this is even basic emotion.

Removing Disgust

I think that only this emotion will have no effect on your army.

Hope it helps.

  • $\begingroup$ Lack of happiness is not sadness and lack of sadness is not happiness. Lack of either is a non-emotional state which most people have most of the time. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 14:26
  • $\begingroup$ Let's take it like an example not a psychological thesis. Shall we? $\endgroup$
    – Ernedar
    Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 6:13

What you really want are remorseless soldiers who do not feel bad about killing other humans. Remorse is a type of guilt or disgust.

Removing disgust means soldiers will not feel bad about about fighting for any cause, no matter how petty or evil: imagine a solider being ordered to commit genocide, or to kill over a petty insult, and feeling disgust with his orders. Seeing the slain on the battlefield may make them uneasy with their own potential mortality, but the guilt and remorse that settles in when one thinks about a slain enemy soldier's family could make them less effective or even willing to sabotage their own side.

  • anger: in battle, a soldier may feel anger at seeing a friend die. Anger without disgust would help to motivate a solider to press on and keep going: disgust without anger could cripple a soldier who feels disgusted by the death but no anger to motivate him.

  • fear is a very powerful and useful emotion. Fear can cripple anyone. I would expect a soldier to learn to manage fear and overcome it. In this sense, fear would be useful because only a truly suicidal risk would instill enough fear to cripple a trained, battle-hardened solider. In other words, removing fear would introduce unnecessary risks that could result in too many losses.

  • happiness: there is nothing happy about a war. Even when fighting for a just cause, only a sociopath would gain pleasure or happiness from combat and killing. There are far more useful emotions to remove.

  • sadness: this is an interesting one, and tied to disgust. The same events that might lead to disgust could also lead to sadness. However, not feeling disgust at the brutal reality of war would likely have a cascading effect that would make them feel less sad anyway.

  • surprise: I never thought of this as an emotion, but feeling surprised could be bad. Combined with fear this could paralyze a solider. This would be a good candidate, but I still feel disgust has more long-term benefit. Soldiers will die: good planning and recon can mitigate surprise.

Different positions

There are really three broad categories of soldiers. The front-line enlisted, the officers who lead them, and the high-ranking officers who plan strategy and command large amounts of military units.

The analysis above is for the enlisted, but I think disgust is also good to remove for the officers as well.

The company-grade officers (CGOs) are the ones charging into battle with the enlisted: they have the same concerns as them. However, these are honed leaders who should have fewer weaknesses. Disgust would benefit them as well, but removing fear starts to become a viable option as well. If a leader can commit to a plan of action and be the first one to put himself in danger, that does a lot to earn the respect of his soldiers and they are more likely to follow him even if they are also afraid.

The field-grade (FGOs) and senior officers (generals) might not need any emotions removed. They are further from the front lines, and have proven themselves over a long period of time to be able to make the tough decisions. If anything, anger would be a viable second option. With their own life not on the line and without being on the front lines of combat, many other emotions will not be an issue. However, they could feel anger at losing troops, and possibly make a bad, rushed decision. I would expect their years of experience to counteract that tendency, but if I had to pick one, anger is the highest risk emotion.


Guilt is the a combination of sadness and disgust (according to various emotion charts). Removing sadness and disgust would negate guilt. Then it would be easy to defend ourselves against Other Different Futurestan.

For the bonus, high level leaders could have anger, surprise, fear, and disgust removed. All these are rather reactionary, which is needed when you have time to deliberate (leaders in the field would still have these.)

P.S. I propose a sanction against Other Different Futurestan: renaming it to Lessor Inferior Futurestan. After all, has it even taken any precautions against robot apocalypse. How objectively better is this. Besides, clones are better than robots.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ If you remove guilt, how do you prevent your soldiers simply deciding that it is OK if those robots kill you, and they have better things to do than to fight for you? They won't feel guilty about betraying you. $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 7:32
  • $\begingroup$ Guilt is not really an issue if you fight a robot army. After all, we don't feel guilty for dismantling a toaster. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ @BlindKungFuMaster Oh, whoops $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 18, 2015 at 17:10

It sounds like you want to switch off subjective consciousness, but leave the rest of the higher-order functions untouched. Reasoning skills and creativity take a punitive hit, but for your rank-and-file soldiers, this is fine - your soldiers are effectively zombies that can take instructions.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ See Blindsight by Peter Watts $\endgroup$
    – Deolater
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 15:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Deolater, actually got the idea from Echopraxia. I reference Watts' books in here on a weekly basis. You could say I'm a fan. $\endgroup$
    – user6511
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 23:06

It sounds like you want to create an army of sociopaths. Since these soldiers will have no compassion or feelings towards fellow human beings, they should be able to contemplate killing or injuring enemy soldiers and civilians as an interesting problem to solve, rather than a potential source of paralyzing guilt, fear or other emotional distress.

Of course the downside of sociopathic soldiers is they won't form cohesive teams (one of the keys to having an effective fighting force, or sports team, or business, or...). Sociopathic soldiers will be unlikely to come to the aid of a fallen comrade, or act in cooperative manners under stress (or even in garrison, for that matter). It is questionable as to how well they will even follow orders.

Of course you might consider that emotions can be manipulated to creating the effects that you (seem to) want. Stanley Milgram did an experiment called "Obedience to Authority" where the person was told to administer a shock to the "test" subject if they answered a question incorrectly, and the severity of the shocks would increase each time an incorrect answer was given. If the person questioned this, the white lab coated "researcher" would assure them it was all right, continue with the test. In reality, the person answering the questions and being "shocked" was an accomplice, and wasn't receiving any real shocks, but the person (the true test subject) would continue even when the "subject" was in obvious distress, because they were either reassured by the presence of "authority" or ashamed not to be following the orders of an "expert". It is also thought that many of the guards at concentration camps, or NKVD secret police in the Soviet Union were motivated by fear of being seen to be weak for refusing their assignments and orders; in short they were afraid of being called sissies rather than being steely eyed killers.

So rather than lobotomize the troops, develop skillful ways to play on already existing feelings of fear and shame, and you will have a horde of killers who are actually under some sort of control.

  • $\begingroup$ Not all the emotions are taken away, just one. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ Sociopathy removes compassion....I am suggesting you go the other way and play on an emotion $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 2:25
  • $\begingroup$ The experiment was performed by Stanley Milgram, not Miller. $\endgroup$
    – jscs
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ Psychopaths act in their own benefit. They don't care about homeland, duty, or whatever. They will perform their duty for as long as it suits them (easy money in peace time); and then stop (when you need them most). $\endgroup$
    – Davidmh
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ They are going to fight robots. Compassion will not be a problem. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 11:06

If you're limiting it to removing one emotion entirely, and not just cloning great soldiers who won the Futuriffic Cross, you probably want to remove panic and PTSD. That said, removing anger could make them less likely to mutiny and less feared by civilians afterward. They don't really need it to motivate them, any more than it would be useful for pro athletes to feel genuine anger at either their opponents or their teammates, or worse, their owner and coach.


Here are the emotions you need to remove, to make them better at war.


Remove this. Surprise is a form of psychological weakness that emotionally stuns a person for a brief time. A lot of quit martial arts and military tactics depend on "surprising" the opponent. Without surprise, the soldiers would be ready to face any situation without losing a blink.


For a short term, guilt tends to make a person weak. In the long run it makes the person much stronger than pre-guilt conditions. If you want to use your soldiers as gun-fodders then remove guilt. If you value them as respected citizens, don't remove it.


It killed the cat. It has killed a lot other creatures too, not belonging to the cat family. If you don't want them getting killed, remove it.


And this one, too. Melancholy is for poets, writers, lovers and travellers.


A soldier caught in a moment of indecision is a dead soldier. You cannot "remove" it from their brains, but you can train them to make quick decisions accurately.

  • $\begingroup$ Surprise: Your soldiers will be over-confident, since nothing ever surprises them. They will not last long. Guilt: Your soldiers won't be loyal because they don't feel any guilt betraying you. Curiosity: Your soldiers will not try to find out anything about the enemy. They will also not be interested in what they get told about the enemy. They will try to fight without any substantial knowledge. Not a good idea. $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ Not being surprised and being overconfident are ghastly different things. I won't be surprised to see a large venomous snake in my courtyard, but that doesn't mean I would act foolhardy and rush into it, trying to choke it. That's not going to happen. Curiosity and following orders are two things. The top officers of the military are definitely going to be "normal" humans, not altered ones and they are going to "order" recon mission with clear instructions. And it is not guilt that keeps a soldier loyal to his service, it is loyalty. Guilt comes AFTER doing something, not before. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2015 at 7:52

What you are talking about is inducing a degree of alexithymia in your soldiers. In real life, lack of emotion leads to inability to choose a course of action when more than one option is presented, the inability to interpret or respond to normal social cues, inability to follow directions (orders), inability to self regulate.

Physiologically, emotion happens in one part of the brain and is interpreted in another party. By severing the connection between those parts of the brain, you can induce the condition. To see what is really like, look at boxers or martial artists that have "taken one too many hits to the head".


Remove empathy. Remove the ability to feel that of which we think others are feeling.

in some situations, it could be helpful to feel less empathy for a particular group of people. For example, in war it might be beneficial to feel less empathy for people you are trying to kill, especially if they are also trying to harm you.

To investigate, we conducted another brain imaging study. We asked people to watch videos from a violent video game in which a person was shooting innocent civilians (unjustified violence) or enemy soldiers (justified violence).

While watching the videos, people had to pretend they were killing real people. We found the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, typically active when people harm others, was active when people shot innocent civilians. The more guilt participants felt about shooting civilians, the greater the response in this region.

However, the same area was not activated when people shot the soldier that was trying to kill them.

The results provide insight into how people regulate their emotions. They also show the brain mechanisms typically implicated when harming others become less active when the violence against a particular group is seen as justified.

This might provide future insights into how people become desensitised to violence or why some people feel more or less guilty about harming others.

Our empathetic brain has evolved to be highly adaptive to different types of situations. Having empathy is very useful as it often helps to understand others so we can help or deceive them, but sometimes we need to be able to switch off our empathetic feelings to protect our own lives, and those of others.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Answers are expected to have some content to back up or explain why they are correct. Can you add in why you think removing empathy would be the best solution? $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Jan 14, 2018 at 20:03

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