December 8, 2008

Should drugs be used to enhance memory and concentration?

Technology Review wonders if we should use brain boosters. Their article is in reaction to a recent Nature commentary, "Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy." The position statement was written by a group of ethicists, psychologists, and cognitive neuroscientists who are making the case that "cognitive enhancement, unlike enhancement for sports competitions, could lead to substantive improvements in the world."

Michael Gazzaniga, director of the Sage Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and one of the authors of the commentary, provides this great quote:
"All new technologies are at first resisted, even the typewriter. When changing mental states, people get antsy, especially when it appears to enhance capacity. There is somehow a sense one is cheating the system. Well, so is chemotherapy. When all of these new technologies are used in moderation and the right social context, they are a good."
Entire article.


Go Democrats said...

What is "the right social context," and how does one go about creating a social context where it doesn't exist? That is the question. How would you encourage the cognitively enhanced to use their enhancements for good and not for evil?

Relatedly, I have a child with inattentional ADD, who takes a prescription drug for that, and it seems to help somewhat, but even that step, remedial rather than enhancing though it may be, seems controversial to some people. You'd be up against some big, well-funded groups, like the Scientologists, if you wanted to increase social approval of cognitive enhancements.

James Peden said...

I already feel that our education system is too focused on the math and science components and this is causing our youth to become underdeveloped in the areas of creativity and language. With enhancing drugs like these, it would get even worse because it would fuel competition at new heights for people at such a young age.

With these "brain pills" that will apparently simulate a hormonally balanced diet or a good nights sleep, poeple will stop doing those key functions and rely on the medication because it is easier. Inventions like the calculator made us forget how to do basic math. Technological ideas like computers and engines transformed us from "hunter gatherers" to the fat useless people we are today. I am not saying we should be cavemen or anything. What I am saying is that stupid ideas like this are taking us dangerously far from our natural state as a species.

If you want to achieve a hormonal balance, eat a balanced diet. If you want to be fit and healthy all you have to do is exercise. And lastly, if you want to feel energized like you just had a nights sleep but you are too important to waste your time sleeping; BUILD A BRIDGE AND GET OVER YOURSELF. Nobody has a job that is more important than their body. If you can't because your job is too restricting, you need to get a new job because you are trading your life for a pay cheque.

Christopher said...

I'm thrilled to see a paper like this in such a high-impact journal and with such distinguished authors. Few things seem as capable of speeding up scientific development and the spread of a modern, progressive mind-set as does the prospect of widespread brain enhancement. But I want us to acknowledge how enormous this transition will be. Many social norms will not survive the change and many others will need to be updated.

One issue I'm baffled by is how we will think about the use of drugs to make school-children more attentive and compliant. The authors in this paper here call for policy to prevent coercive use of cognitive enhancers in children. But at the end of the day the fact is that teachers are already doing everything they can (often unsuccessfully) to focus the attention of their pupils. A drug that enhances attention seems like a natural next step. Would it damage creative thinking in children if they went through school on Adderall? I guess that's one of the topics the authors call for more research on, but it's also a social or existential issue: how compliant do we want our children to be? I was a hell-raiser in school; I would have been VERY different on Adderall and would be a different person now. But maybe this is just our first shaky step into a new era of responsibe, neuroscientific design of children; maybe the next generations of Ritalin, Adderall and Modafinil will be designed specifically to enhance creative thinking and brain growth (BDNF anyone?).