If drugs can safely give your brain an enhancement, why not drive them? Of course, if you don’t desire to, why stop others?
In a era when attention-disorder drugs are regularly – and illegally – getting used for off-label purposes by people seeking a greater grade or year-end job review, these are typically 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 by the healthy.”
“Mentally competent adults,” they write, “must be able to take part in cognitive enhancement using drugs.”
Roughly seven percent of most students, or higher to 20 percent of scientists, already have used Ritalin or Adderall – originally created to treat attention-deficit disorders – to further improve their mental performance.
Some people reason that chemical cognition-enhancement is a kind of cheating. Others say that it’s unnatural. The Character authors counter these charges: brain enhancing vitamins are merely cheating, they claim, if prohibited by the rules – which require not the way it is. When it comes to drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they’re no more unnatural than medicine, education and housing.
Often, 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 with the same neurobiological level. Making moral distinctions between the two is arbitrary.
But if some people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might everyone else be forced to follow, whether they want to or otherwise not?
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 very first generation of brain boosters. Next up is Provigil, a “wakefulness promoting agent” that lets people go for days without sleep, and improves memory on top of that. Stronger drugs will follow.
As being the Nature authors write, “cognitive enhancements modify the most complex and important human organ and the chance of unintended adverse reactions is therefore both high and consequential.” But even though their safety might be assured, what will happen when staff is likely to be effective at marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?
A lot of people I understand already work 50 hours a week and battle to find time for friends, family and the demands of life. None wish to become fully robotic to keep their jobs. And So I posed the question to
Michael Gazzaniga, a University of California, Santa Barbara, psychobiologist and Nature article co-author.
“It is easy to do all that now with existing drugs,” he was quoted saying.
“One must set their goals and know when to tell their boss to get lost!”
That is not, perhaps, probably 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 get a good edge. Then, as increasing numbers of people adopt them, those that don’t, feel they have to simply to stay competitive as to what is, in effect, a fresh higher standard,” she said.
Citing the now-normal stresses made by expectations of round-the-clock worker availability and inhuman powers of multitasking, Farah said, “There is certainly a risk of this dynamic repeating itself with cognition-enhancing drugs.”
But everyone is already using them, she said. Some version on this scenario is inevitable – along with the solution, she said, isn’t to simply claim that cognition enhancement is bad.
Instead we should develop better drugs, understand why people make use of them, promote alternatives and create sensible policies that minimize their harm.
As Gazzaniga also pointed out, “People might stop research on drugs that could well help forgetfulness inside the elderly” – or cognition problems inside the young – “as a consequence of concerns over misuse 75dexjpky abuse.”
This would definitely be unfortunate collateral damage in the 21st century theater from the War on Drugs – and also the question of brain enhancement has to be seen in the context of this costly and destructive war. As Schedule II substances, Ritalin and Adderall are legally equivalent in the United States to opium or cocaine.
“These laws,” write the character authors, “ought to be adjusted to protect yourself from making felons out of people who seek to use safe cognitive enhancements.”