If drugs can safely give the brain a lift, why not bring them? Of course, if you don’t wish to, why stop others?
In an era when attention-disorder drugs are regularly – and illegally – getting used for off-label purposes by people seeking an improved grade or year-end job review, these are typically timely ethical questions.
The newest answer comes from Nature, where seven prominent ethicists and neuroscientists recently published a paper entitled, “Towards a responsible consumption of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy.”
“Mentally competent adults,” they write, “should be able to embark on cognitive enhancement using drugs.”
Roughly seven percent of most college students, or higher to twenty percent of scientists, have previously used Ritalin or Adderall – originally meant to treat attention-deficit disorders – to further improve their mental performance.
Some individuals believe that chemical cognition-enhancement is a type of cheating. Others state that it’s unnatural. The Nature authors counter these charges: best brain health are only cheating, they claim, if prohibited with the rules – which need stop being the case. With regards to drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they’re no longer 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 brain is altered by drugs, education or healthy eating, it’s being altered at the same neurobiological level. Making moral distinctions between the two is arbitrary.
However if a few people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might all the others be forced to follow, whether they would like to or perhaps not?
If enough people boost 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 initial generation of brain boosters. Next up is Provigil, a “wakefulness promoting agent” that lets people opt for days without sleep, and improves memory to boot. More powerful drugs follows.
Because the Nature authors write, “cognitive enhancements affect the most complex and important human organ and the chance of unintended adverse reactions is therefore both high and consequential.” But even if their safety could possibly be assured, what goes on when workers are likely to be able to marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?
Many people I realize already work 50 hours weekly and battle to find time for friends, family along with the demands of life. None wish to become fully robotic so as 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 is easy to do all that now with existing drugs,” he said.
“One has to set their goals and know the best time to tell their boss to get lost!”
Which happens to be not, perhaps, one of the most practical career advice these days. And University of Pennsylvania neuroethicist Martha Farah, another in the paper’s authors, had been a bit less sanguine.
“First the early adopters make use of the enhancements to get an edge. Then, as more people adopt them, those that don’t, feel they need to just to stay competitive using what is, ultimately, 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 definitely a likelihood of this dynamic repeating itself with cognition-enhancing drugs.”
But everyone is already utilizing them, she said. Some version with this scenario is inevitable – and the solution, she said, isn’t to merely state that cognition enhancement is bad.
Instead we need to develop better drugs, discover why people utilize them, promote alternatives and make sensible policies that minimize their harm.
As Gazzaniga also noted, “People might stop research on drugs which could well help forgetfulness in the elderly” – or cognition problems inside the young – “as a consequence of concerns over misuse 75dexjpky abuse.”
This could definitely be unfortunate collateral damage today theater in the War on Drugs – and the question of brain enhancement must be seen in the context of the costly and destructive war. As Schedule II substances, Ritalin and Adderall are legally equivalent in america to opium or cocaine.
“These laws,” write the character authors, “must be adjusted to avoid making felons out of people who aim to use safe cognitive enhancements.”