If drugs can safely give your brain a lift, why not drive them? Of course, if you don’t wish to, why stop others?
Within an era when attention-disorder drugs are regularly – and illegally – 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 originates from Nature, where seven prominent ethicists and neuroscientists recently published a paper entitled, “Towards a responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs with the healthy.”
“Mentally competent adults,” they write, “must be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs.”
Roughly seven percent of college students, and up to 20 percent of scientists, have previously used Ritalin or Adderall – originally created to treat attention-deficit disorders – to enhance their mental performance.
A lot of people reason that chemical cognition-enhancement is a kind of cheating. Others state that it’s unnatural. The Type authors counter these charges: brain enhancing vitamins are just cheating, they claim, if prohibited through the rules – which require not be the truth. When it comes to drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they’re no longer 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 mental abilities are 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 when a few people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might all others have to follow, whether they need 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 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. More powerful drugs will follow.
Because the Nature authors write, “cognitive enhancements modify the most complex and important human organ and the danger of unintended adverse reactions is therefore both high and consequential.” But even if their safety might be assured, what goes on when staff is expected to be able to marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?
A lot of people I am aware already work 50 hours weekly and battle to find time for friends, family as well as the demands of life. None desire to become fully robotic so as to keep their jobs. 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 with existing drugs,” he stated.
“One has to set their set goals and know when you ought to tell their boss to have lost!”
Which happens to be not, perhaps, by far the most practical career advice today. And University of Pennsylvania neuroethicist Martha Farah, another from the paper’s authors, was really a bit less sanguine.
“First the first adopters make use of the enhancements to have a good edge. Then, as increasing numbers of people adopt them, individuals who don’t, feel they have to only to stay competitive in what is, in effect, a whole new higher standard,” she said.
Citing the now-normal stresses produced by expectations of round-the-clock worker availability and inhuman powers of multitasking, Farah said, “There is surely a likelihood of this dynamic repeating itself with cognition-enhancing drugs.”
But everyone is already using them, she said. Some version of this scenario is inevitable – and the solution, she said, isn’t to simply claim that cognition enhancement is bad.
Instead we ought to develop better drugs, discover why people use them, promote alternatives and produce sensible policies that minimize their harm.
As Gazzaniga also noted, “People might stop research on drugs which could well help forgetfulness inside the elderly” – or cognition problems in the young – “as a consequence of concerns over misuse 75dexjpky abuse.”
This could easily be unfortunate collateral damage in the 21st century theater of your War on Drugs – as well as the question of brain enhancement should be found in the context on 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 people who attempt to use safe cognitive enhancements.”