Home › Dialogue Page › Human Redesign: Pharmaceuticals, Bioelectronics, and Genetics › Cognitive Enhancements
March 1, 2016 at 11:47 pm #5745
Bess’ chapters discuss the advancements and mechanisms of pharmaceuticals and bioelectronics in the terms of human enhancements, which are already very much part of our modern world, but through physical, cognitive, or emotional traits of pharmaceuticals and different aspects of bioelectronics, such as boosting senses, controlling machines, augmenting memory and cognition and monitoring/altering states of one’s mind, society will soon, at a steady pace, be able to mechanize the human race. The most prevalent of these to our modern college life is apparent as cognitive enhancements. Students go out of their way to get diagnosed for conditions such as ADD and ADHD to receive cognitive enhancements, such as Adderall, and others buy these prescriptions from those who already have them. Regardless, such enhancements create an edge, an intense competition throughout college campuses that makes it almost impossible for those who do not take the enhancements to compete. This phenomenon raises the question of morality. Some individuals find it more gratifying to stay true to their morals and intrinsic values than to enhance their way to the top. Furthermore, it raises the question of ultimate goals. What is the purpose of cognitively enhancing ones self? To get a better grade? To get a scholarship over someone else? To get a better job?
March 5, 2016 at 7:49 pm #5746
A good point! One question that I would like to know more about is how effective these cognitive enhancement chemicals actually are in practice. Since I haven’t tried them myself, I can’t speak from experience, and the range of reported responses to these chemicals goes from Blah (nothing happened) to Wow (What a difference!). Until truly scientific studies are done, we will be in the dark about the efficacy (and risks) of these first-generation enhancement chemicals.
March 27, 2016 at 2:52 am #5814
In reference to your example about ADD and ADHD, what would the regulatory environment surrounding pharmaceutical enhancement be? Would individuals be subjected to a battery of tests similar to those done in testing for ADD and ADHD? In this case, would a black market develop for acquiring these pharmaceutical enhancers as seen on college campuses today?
April 7, 2016 at 7:51 pm #5836
It seems likely to me that if pharmaceutical enhancements became available under high regulatory conditions it is likely that a black market will develop. This is largely already happening today, as drugs like Adderall are very common on college campuses among students without prescriptions. If such pharmaceutical enhancements were going to be made more available to the public I believe it would need to be on a universal scale. A black market seems inevitable if the drugs give some a significant advantage over others. If further restrictions are put in place regarding who can receive these drugs, the black market will surely expand. Thus the only way I see to avoid this would be to give everyone equal access. This however comes with a whole new set of problems. If pharmaceutical enhancements became legal and available to everyone, it is likely that the wealthy would use them much more frequently than others because they could afford to purchase them. I believe this would result in an unfair cognitive advantage for the wealthy simply because they can afford these enhancements. In order to combat this, the government would have to subsidize these drugs to make them for equally available, adding additional issues to his already complex problem.
April 8, 2016 at 2:44 pm #5838
One extremely interesting field that is currently facing the effects of pharmaceutical enhancements is professional video gaming. These cognitive enhancements are being cracked down in an industry that any enhancement can mean a tournament victory, company sponsorship, and fame. Electronic sports (e-sports) have elevated to a level of competition where almost every professional gaming team has their own gaming house where players live and train. Professional gamers (just like physical athletes) can over-train, but, on average, professional gamers are still putting in 12-14 hours a day playing the video game that they are a professional in. Enhancements could provide these electronic athletes the focus to make every click, button press, and in-game decision quicker and push off fatigue for longer.
When gamers are all playing for 12 hours a day, the athlete that can play for longer and continue to practice with more focus is going to start pushing himself above the competition. These gains in precision and muscle memory have immediate benefits for e-sports athletes because when an individual or team wins a large tournament they almost immediately pick up sponsors like Monster Energy, Dell, Microsoft, and HTC that make up a lot of the income of a player. When a lot of people think of cognitive enhancements they think of medical students, Wall Street analysts, and lawyers that look for the edge in their competitive fields. But, there are a lot of other industries that can use cognitive enhancements — are there any other interesting fields that could use pharmaceuticals to gain that important edge?
April 12, 2016 at 4:26 pm #5848
I think that these cognitive enhancements would be pervasive in almost any industry. When they become completely pervasive in our society people who decide not to take the drug will be at a complete disadvantage. Even now on college campuses people who do not take the drug feel at a disadvantage from people who do take the drug. I believe that at some point they will become legal to everyone to use. I am wondering, however, how this will take place. Will the black market become so abundant that the government (state or federal) will have to pass legislation allowing for it legal use by everyone? Will it follow a similar trajectory as marijuana legalization? Will doctors feel compelled to write more and more prescriptions for people who don’t have ADD/ADHD? Doctors in the United States are already way more likely to write prescriptions for ADD medication than doctors in the United Kingdom, it is very difficult to get these medications. I am wondering if at some point prescriptions at all will be thrown out and there will be a more open access to these cognitive enhancements, particularly as more are developed.
April 13, 2016 at 7:52 pm #5856
I am actually surprised that the black market for ADHD medications is very prevalent on college campuses but has only slowly expanded into the workforce. Students frequently use ADHD stimulants to cram for exams, pull an all-nighter on a paper, and meet course deadlines, but often the only thing on the line is an A- vs. a B+. While there are certainly competitive pressures on students that compel many to use cognitive enhancers, it would seem that the stakes are much higher for a lawyer, nurse, or business development analyst. Yet, several recent New York Times articles have indicated that few employees have opted to use cognitive enhancers such as Adderall or Vyvanse. It would certainly be beneficial to financial analysts and lawyers meeting deadlines or to doctors performing a several hours long surgery. Perhaps they find it more difficult to justify stimulant use or are unwilling to face the legal ramifications if they caught illegally obtaining ADHD prescriptions. However, it is possible that Adderall use in the labor force would skyrocket if it is legalized in much the same that marijuana has been legalized in several states. Why do you believe Adderall and Vyvanse use has largely remained a college phenomenon?
April 13, 2016 at 9:16 pm #5859
JWV, I think that Adderall and Vyvanse comparison with the legalization of marijuana is an interesting one. On the one hand, some proponents of marijuana’s legalization argue for some of the benefits of its use in treating harmful side effects of cancer treatment like nausea. Other marijuana legalization advocates argue that marijuana should be legalized for recreational use because they see it as less harmful than currently legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco and as a potential stream of lucrative taxable revenue. If a company were to create a stimulant that mimics the effects of Adderall or Vyvanse while providing scientific evidence of minimal dangerous side effects one wonders if the company would be able to sell this drug separate from the prescription model. Indeed, if this drug were truly game-changing in terms of productivity in the classroom and the workplace, would the government be foolish not to legalize a non-prescription form of cognitive enhancement for popular consumption? By taxing the sale of the new sales, we could realize both the increases in productivity and another stream of revenue. Given the success of taxing marijuana in Colorado ($135mm in 2015 tax revenue), one could imagine the benefits of legalizing a truly game-changing drug like Adderall for public use.
April 13, 2016 at 10:40 pm #5863
I think that everyone has been making very interesting points about the use of cognitive enhancers in academic and professional settings; however, one area where I think that cognitive enhancers are extremely interesting to study is their use in the military. The use of amphetamines can be traced back to World War II. The United States military as well as the German Wehrmacht introduced the amphetamines Benzedrine and Pervitin respectively, which were both powerful amphetamines that helped soldiers stay alert after long hours. An additional effect of these medications was that they also made soldiers feel “good”. Reports from the American side during the war indicated that soldiers often felt “elated” and “confident” while under the influence of these drugs. On some occasions soldiers felt so confident that they committed extremely brave acts by entering into situations that they may not have entered if they had not taken the amphetamines. This raises the question of whether prescribing soldiers these amphetamines is ethical? On the one hand, giving soldiers every advantage they can get over their enemy is absolutely essential, and militaries around the world should be obligated to provide their soldiers every advantage possible. However, on the other hand, the use of amphetamines could be interpreted as “drugging” soldiers so that they will put themselves in dangerous situations. This strikes me as unethical. However, is this different from giving soldiers improved body armor that doesn’t guarantee them full safety but may increase their confidence in battle? I ask these questions because the United States military still gives United States Air Force pilots amphetamines today. These amphetamines have better scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness, but the question of their ethics still remains.
April 14, 2016 at 2:13 am #5875
I think anon2 raises a great point about the use of amphetamines and their use in the military. I agree tend to agree that it is unethical to use these types of drugs to increase a soldier’s willingness to throw themselves into dangerous situations. Even it is optional, there would be significant social pressures whether it was from superiors or peers to not let them down, and take that pill of courage to do the best you can. Therefore, I believe it is unethical. I see armor in a different light, as the soldier would not be changed mentally, and therefore be making rational decisions without a change from a drug, but instead from an outside factor. They would be able to take it into consideration, but it would not dominate their decision in the same way. As this moves forward, though, this line will be blurred as the bioenhancements fundamentally change the person, and therefore the way they look at and consider themselves. Ethically, the challenge is similar, as they look at themselves differently and therefore consider the implications differently. For me, though, I am on the opposite side, as these type of enhancements will likely be common knowledge to anyone before joining the military, in a way that amphetamines are not.
April 14, 2016 at 11:34 pm #5886
When discussing the topic of cognitive enhancement, ethics and value are often called into question. Sure, the individual who takes Adderall recreationally may score higher, but that individual values their academic achievements more than the integrity of their work. Is it really still one’s accomplishment if they use cognitive enhancements? This reminds me of when Alexander Rodriguez got caught using steroids, and his baseball successes were immediately undermined by the public. Or the same with Lance Armstrong and the oxyglobin situation. Although they were naturally incredible athletes, the use of these substances took away from their accomplishments which they valued more than the means of getting there. My point is, if someone values hard earned grades or professional success, they would not need to use enhancements. In society, we still value this even if it is harder to compete. I agree with Bess that there will need to be quotas in professional settings to avoid an unfair divide between cognitively enhanced individuals and those who opt to not use the enhancers. I would be curious to see how this will change academic settings for younger children and students if these enhancements become popularized.
April 15, 2016 at 3:12 am #5890
In response to JWV– pharmaceutical enhancements like Adderall and Vyvanse are actually quite prevalent not only in schooling systems but also in the workforce. I find it interesting how some experts believe stimulant use in should be not only permitted but also regulated, as monitoring students’ and workers’ use is regarded to be safer than having a black market for these pharmaceuticals. In addition, others view taking these enhancements to be as moral as receiving extra help after classes or paying for a tutor. By allowing them to be accessible to every student (under parental consent), doctors can potentially provide pharmaceutical enhancements to anyone who finds them conducive to a more effective education. Although there are potential health risks that must be further studied, some argue that if a student and his/her parents agree to the use of such enhancements, that student should have the right to the enhancements just as he or she would have the right to play a dangerous sport like Football or chug a coffee before a test. However, if future studies find that stimulant use may boost exam and test scores temporarily (rather than increasing learning capabilities), then regulation of its use during tests or standardized exams may possibly be needed.
- This reply was modified 7 months ago by DavidCho.
April 15, 2016 at 3:30 am #5895
I agree with many earlier posted beliefs that widespread use of cognitive enhancements will benefit those that are wealthy much more than those that are poor. Just like any new technology, these enhancements will be expensive and so only those with money will be able to afford them. This will dramatically increase inequality because only the rich would be enhanced and therefore only the rich will be more productivity. This increases inequality because in our society those that are more productive are rewarded with higher wages and with more productive workers, businesses need to hire fewer workers to produce the same amount of goods. Clearly the business is going to keep the more productive workers so the poor enhanced workers will lose their jobs, thus their income decreases, while the income of enhanced workers simultaneously increases. I believe this increased inequality will eventually lead to a creation of two “types” of humans; enhanced and non-enhanced. Due to the higher productivity of the enhanced, I believe they will eventually view themselves as “better” than the non enhanced. Throughout history, this has often led to an “us” against “them” mentality that really divides society in two. When one group views another as lesser it often holds back the other group, which will most definitely be the case. The enhanced are the more productive workers, therefore they will probably have the most powerful and influential roles and jobs. In these roles they can limit the opportunities of the non-enhanced if they view them negatively. Ultimately, this inequality and non-cohesiveness will create a far less enjoyable and productive society all around because society is at its best when everyone works together and has the opportunity to be successful.
April 15, 2016 at 2:44 pm #5914
OP argues that stimulant use makes it almost impossible for non-using students to compete, but the playing field of academic enhancement is a very complicated one. To address Dr. Bess’ question, bioassays of common stimulants are indeed mostly positive. A 30mg Vyvanse in the stomach of someone whose use has not been sanctioned through medicalization will likely produce a startlingly strong effect. A student may find themselves hunched over their laptop for six or seven hours, writing furiously, before they even notice how much work they’ve put in.
At the same time, however, we would do well to avoid looking at this problem as a simple upgraded or not-upgraded problem. Someone might have taken a 5mg Adderall once their sophomore year to aid in driving home safely from a spring break trip; someone else may self-diagnose ADHD but be unable to get a prescription due to their parents’ uncooperativeness or their status as a foreign exchange student. What I’m getting at is that we cannot look at this as a users versus nonusers problem. Caffeine is a socially sanctioned stimulant with real addictiveness; it causes real headaches, hypertension, and lack of sleep. Amphetamines and modafinil are stronger in degree (with the prior——higher DA and NE affinity, for example) but do they constitute a qualitatively different category? It’s important to frame all of our moral discussion in a socially relative way. Modafinil is available over-the-counter in India, so do Indian colleges not have an issue of fairness (or is it a bigger issue)?
Drug use is something that almost all humans do in one regard or other. It is a highly complicated matter of degree, substance, purity, intent, and unique bodily reaction. Drug use is not a simple yes or no.
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