If drugs can safely give the brain an increase, why not drive them? And in case you don’t would like to, why stop others?
In a era when attention-disorder prescription medication is regularly – and illegally – getting used for off-label purposes by people seeking a better grade or year-end job review, these are generally timely ethical questions.
The most up-to-date answer arises from Nature, where seven prominent ethicists and neuroscientists recently published a paper entitled, “Towards a responsible utilization of cognitive-enhancing drugs through the healthy.”
“Mentally competent adults,” they write, “should certainly engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs.”
Roughly seven percent of all university students, or higher to 20 percent of scientists, have previously used Ritalin or Adderall – originally intended to treat attention-deficit disorders – to enhance their mental performance.
Some people reason that chemical cognition-enhancement is a type of cheating. Others say that it’s unnatural. The Character authors counter these charges: brain enhancing supplements are merely cheating, they say, if prohibited by the rules – which require stop being the way it is. As for the drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they’re you can forget unnatural than medicine, education and housing.
Often, the arguments are compelling. Nobody rejects pasteurized milk or dental anesthesia or central heating because it’s unnatural. And whether a mental abilities are altered by drugs, education or healthy eating, it’s being altered at the same neurobiological level. Making moral distinctions between the two is arbitrary.
But when a number of people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might everybody else have to follow, whether they would like to or otherwise?
If enough people enhance their performance, then improvement becomes the status quo. Brain-boosting drug use could develop into a basic job requirement.
Ritalin and Adderall, now ubiquitous as academic pick-me-ups, are merely the 1st generation of brain boosters. Next up is Provigil, a “wakefulness promoting agent” that lets people opt for days without sleep, and improves memory to boot. More powerful drugs follows.
Since the Nature authors write, “cognitive enhancements change the most complex and important human organ and the chance of unintended unwanted effects is therefore both high and consequential.” But even though their safety might be assured, what will happen when staff are likely to be competent at marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?
A lot of people I know already work 50 hours every week and battle to find time for friends, family and the demands of life. None want to become fully robotic so as to keep their jobs. Thus I posed the question to
Michael Gazzaniga, a University of California, Santa Barbara, psychobiologist and Nature article co-author.
“It is possible to do all of that now with existing drugs,” he was quoted saying.
“One has to set their set goals and know when you ought to tell their boss to obtain lost!”
That is not, perhaps, one of the most practical career advice nowadays. And University of Pennsylvania neuroethicist Martha Farah, another from the paper’s authors, had been a bit less sanguine.
“First the early adopters use the enhancements to acquire a good edge. Then, as more people adopt them, those that don’t, feel they need to simply to stay competitive in what is, in place, a brand new higher standard,” she said.
Citing the now-normal stresses manufactured by expectations of round-the-clock worker availability and inhuman powers of multitasking, Farah said, “There is surely a probability of this dynamic repeating itself with cognition-enhancing drugs.”
But people are already using them, she said. Some version of the scenario is inevitable – as well as the solution, she said, isn’t to merely state that cognition enhancement is bad.
Instead we must develop better drugs, realize why people rely on them, promote alternatives and make sensible policies that minimize their harm.
As Gazzaniga also stated, “People might stop research on drugs that could well help loss of memory from the elderly” – or cognition problems from the young – “due to concerns over misuse 75dexjpky abuse.”
This could certainly be unfortunate collateral damage today theater of the War on Drugs – along with the question of brain enhancement should be found in the context of this costly and destructive war. As Schedule II substances, Ritalin and Adderall are legally equivalent in america to opium or cocaine.
“These laws,” write the Nature authors, “should be adjusted in order to avoid making felons out of those people who attempt to use safe cognitive enhancements.”