If drugs can safely give the human brain an enhancement, why not bring them? Of course, if you don’t wish to, why stop others?
In a era when attention-disorder prescription medication is regularly – and illegally – used for off-label purposes by people seeking a better grade or year-end job review, these are typically timely ethical questions.
The latest answer originates from Nature, where seven prominent ethicists and neuroscientists recently published a paper entitled, “Towards a responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs from the healthy.”
“Mentally competent adults,” they write, “must be able to take part in cognitive enhancement using drugs.”
Roughly seven percent of most college students, or higher to twenty percent of scientists, have used Ritalin or Adderall – originally meant to treat attention-deficit disorders – to enhance their mental performance.
A lot of people believe that chemical cognition-enhancement is a type of cheating. Others say that it’s unnatural. The Nature authors counter these charges: brain enhancing supplement are merely cheating, people say, if prohibited with the rules – which need not really the case. As for the drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they’re you can forget unnatural than medicine, education and housing.
In many ways, the arguments are compelling. Nobody rejects pasteurized milk or dental anesthesia or central heating system because it’s unnatural. And whether a brain is altered by drugs, education or healthy eating, it’s being altered at the same neurobiological level. Making moral distinctions between them is arbitrary.
But when some people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might all others be forced to follow, whether they want to or otherwise?
If enough people boost their performance, then improvement becomes the status quo. Brain-boosting drug use could become a basic job requirement.
Ritalin and Adderall, now ubiquitous as academic pick-me-ups, are merely the first generation of brain boosters. Next up is Provigil, a “wakefulness promoting agent” that lets people opt for days without sleep, and improves memory on top of that. More robust drugs follows.
Since the Nature authors write, “cognitive enhancements impact the most complex and important human organ and the chance of unintended adverse reactions is therefore both high and consequential.” But even when their safety could be assured, what will happen when workers are anticipated to be able to marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?
Many people I understand already work 50 hours a week and battle to find time for friends, family and the demands of life. None desire to become fully robotic so as to keep their jobs. Therefore I posed the question to
Michael Gazzaniga, a University of California, Santa Barbara, psychobiologist and Nature article co-author.
“It really is possible to do all of that now with existing drugs,” he said.
“One has to set their goals and know when you should tell their boss to obtain lost!”
Which is not, perhaps, by far the most practical career advice currently. And University of Pennsylvania neuroethicist Martha Farah, another of the paper’s authors, was really a bit less sanguine.
“First the first adopters utilize the enhancements to have a good edge. Then, as increasing numbers of people adopt them, people who don’t, feel they should just to stay competitive as to what is, essentially, a whole 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 certainly a probability of this dynamic repeating itself with cognition-enhancing drugs.”
But folks are already utilizing them, she said. Some version on this scenario is inevitable – and the solution, she said, isn’t just to say that cognition enhancement is bad.
Instead we must develop better drugs, understand why people make use of them, promote alternatives that will create sensible policies that minimize their harm.
As Gazzaniga also noted, “People might stop research on drugs which may well help memory loss inside the elderly” – or cognition problems from the young – “because of concerns over misuse 75dexjpky abuse.”
This might certainly be unfortunate collateral damage nowadays theater from the War on Drugs – along with the question of brain enhancement must be found in the context with this costly and destructive war. As Schedule II substances, Ritalin and Adderall are legally equivalent in the usa to opium or cocaine.
“These laws,” write the type authors, “must be adjusted to avoid making felons out of those that aim to use safe cognitive enhancements.”