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12/10/2008

Enhance Thyself!

Colleagues at Stanford and Penn have published a piece in Nature extolling the virtues of cognitive enhancement. The simple conclusion: enhancement is no longer a dirty word.

Greely, Sakahian, Harris, Kessler, Gazzaniga, Campbell, and Farah begin the argument by stating that a significant portion of students are striking deals on college campuses for brain enhancing drugs. (Not to mention of course that their professors are on the stuff, too.) But they don’t just say that it IS happening but that it SHOULD be happening. These ethicists go so far as to say that mentally competent adults should be allowed to enhance their brains–that it is a morally acceptable goal.

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Beyond that, the authors acknowledge that their are concerns in a neurologically altered world. Will it be safe? It must be. We can’t have people walking around with half-cooked brains, can we? Moreover, whether this is something that we allow children and adolescents to do is of great concern. For my money, I think that adolescents should stay off the brain-modification wave. When to get to college, if you want to get on Provigil and stay up for a week straight, have at it. But until then, sleep my child. Sleep.

I couldn’t agree more with the authors of the Nature paper more that a culture of neurologically changed persons could result in certain parts of our society–in the educational system or the military, to name a few obvious places. The only way to prevent this is if WE say we don’t want it and to let our moral views and our voices speak out against it now before our actions and our policies let it happen. Particularly in the military, where things happen behind closed doors, the likelihood that freedoms will be taken away is particularly great. The only way to prevent it is to speak out against it now.

Where children are concerned the only way to prevent certain uses is to say, in advance, how we don’t want cognitive enhancing drugs to be used in children before, during and after they are used in children. If we don’t like how Ritalin is used in children in school now, we can STILL speak out against it. Why do we think nothing will change?

I applaud this essential discussion by our colleagues–the time has come. We all are enhanced in one way or another. Cognition has seen its time come as well.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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