If drugs can safely give your mind a lift, why not drive them? Of course, if you don’t would like to, why stop others?
Inside an era when attention-disorder prescription medication is regularly – and illegally – used for off-label purposes by people seeking an improved grade or year-end job review, they are timely ethical questions.
The most recent answer comes from Nature, where seven prominent ethicists and neuroscientists recently published a paper entitled, “Towards a responsible utilization of cognitive-enhancing drugs through the healthy.”
“Mentally competent adults,” they write, “should certainly participate in cognitive enhancement using drugs.”
Roughly seven percent of all students, or higher to 20 % of scientists, have previously used Ritalin or Adderall – originally intended to treat attention-deficit disorders – to further improve their mental performance.
A lot of people argue that chemical cognition-enhancement is a kind of cheating. Others state that it’s unnatural. The Nature authors counter these charges: best brain enhancing drugs are only cheating, people say, if prohibited through the rules – which need not the truth. When it comes to drugs being unnatural, the authors argue, they’re no more 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 on the same neurobiological level. Making moral distinctions between them is arbitrary.
However if a number of people use cognition-enhancing drugs, might everyone else have to follow, whether they need to or otherwise?
If enough people increase 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 select days without sleep, and improves memory to boot. More powerful drugs follows.
As the Nature authors write, “cognitive enhancements affect the most complex and important human organ and the potential risk of unintended negative effects is therefore both high and consequential.” But even if their safety may be assured, what goes on when staff is likely to be competent at marathon bouts of high-functioning sleeplessness?
Many people I understand already work 50 hours weekly and find it difficult to find time for friends, family as well as the demands of life. None want to become fully robotic in order 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 with existing drugs,” he stated.
“One has to set their goals and know when you should tell their boss to obtain lost!”
That is not, perhaps, by far the most practical career advice nowadays. And University of Pennsylvania neuroethicist Martha Farah, another of the paper’s authors, had been a bit less sanguine.
“First the initial adopters utilize the enhancements to acquire a position. Then, as more people adopt them, those who don’t, feel they have to just to stay competitive as to what is, in effect, a whole 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 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 ought to develop better drugs, understand why people make use of 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 loss of memory from the elderly” – or cognition problems in the young – “as a consequence of concerns over misuse 75dexjpky abuse.”
This could definitely be unfortunate collateral damage nowadays theater from the War on Drugs – and also the question of brain enhancement should be noticed in the context of the 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 Nature authors, “needs to be adjusted to protect yourself from making felons out of those people who seek to use safe cognitive enhancements.”