If drugs can safely give the human brain an enhancement, why not take them? Of course, if you don’t want to, why stop others?
In an era when attention-disorder prescription medication is regularly – and illegally – being used for off-label purposes by people seeking a better grade or year-end job review, these are timely ethical questions.
The latest answer emanates 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, “should be able to participate in cognitive enhancement using drugs.”
Roughly seven percent of all the college students, and up to 20 percent of scientists, have already used Ritalin or Adderall – originally created to treat attention-deficit disorders – to enhance their mental performance.
A lot of people debate that chemical cognition-enhancement is a form of cheating. Others say that it’s unnatural. The Character authors counter these charges: best brain enhancing supplements are simply cheating, people say, if prohibited by the rules – which require not the case. When it comes to drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they’re forget about unnatural than medicine, education and housing.
In lots of ways, 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 in the same neurobiological level. Making moral distinctions between the two is arbitrary.
However if a few people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might all others need to follow, whether they would like to or not?
If enough people enhance their performance, then improvement becomes the status quo. Brain-boosting drug use could be 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 choose days without sleep, and improves memory on top of that. More powerful drugs follows.
Since the Nature authors write, “cognitive enhancements impact the most complex and important human organ and the risk of unintended unwanted effects is therefore both high and consequential.” But even if their safety could possibly be assured, what goes on when workers are supposed to be competent at marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?
Many people I know already work 50 hours per week and battle to find time for friends, family as well as the demands of life. None prefer to become fully robotic in order 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 can be possible to do all that with existing drugs,” he was quoted saying.
“One must set their set goals and know when you ought to tell their boss to have lost!”
Which is not, perhaps, by far the most practical career advice today. And University of Pennsylvania neuroethicist Martha Farah, another of your paper’s authors, was really a bit less sanguine.
“First the early adopters take advantage of the enhancements to obtain an advantage. Then, as increasing numbers of people adopt them, those that don’t, feel they have to simply to stay competitive in what is, in place, a brand new 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 surely a probability of this dynamic repeating itself with cognition-enhancing drugs.”
But folks are already making use of them, she said. Some version with this scenario is inevitable – as well as the solution, she said, isn’t to simply say that cognition enhancement is bad.
Instead we ought to develop better drugs, realise why people utilize them, promote alternatives and produce sensible policies that minimize their harm.
As Gazzaniga also noted, “People might stop research on drugs that could well help loss of memory inside the elderly” – or cognition problems in the young – “as a consequence of concerns over misuse 75dexjpky abuse.”
This might certainly be unfortunate collateral damage nowadays theater of your War on Drugs – and also the question of brain enhancement must be noticed in the context of this costly and destructive war. As Schedule II substances, Ritalin and Adderall are legally equivalent in the states to opium or cocaine.
“These laws,” write the character authors, “should be adjusted to avoid making felons out of people who attempt to use safe cognitive enhancements.”