Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Scientific American Mind: Smarter on Drugs

Scientific American Mind: Smarter on Drugs

Via The Need to Know

This article brings forth several arguments. I am going to quote certain excerpts and write a little commentary.
Drugs designed for psychotherapy can also be used to enhance certain regular mental functions. Just as Ritalin can improve the academic performance of hyperactive children, it can do the same for normal children. It is commonly thought to boost SAT scores by more than 100 points, for both the hyperactive and the normal user. Many healthy young people now use it that way for that purpose, and quite frankly, there is no stopping this abuse.

I am wondering if athletes aren't allowed to take performance enhancing drugs, why are students allowed to take cognitive enhancements prior to taking a major examination. To me, it seems like cheating the system. The tests however imperfect seek to test on the actual and not enhanced abilities of the students. I don't think students are always going to take the enhancement drugs through college and may face a bitter shock when encountering courses which are beyond their normal abilities.

He further argues that these drugs should be used.
Among the normal population are men and women with incredible memories, fast learners of language and music, and those with enhanced capabilities of all kinds. Something in their brains allows them to encode new information at lightning speed. We accept the fact that they must have some chemical system that is superior to ours or some neural circuitry that is more efficient. So why should we be upset if the same thing can be achieved with a pill? In some way, we were cheated by Mother Nature if we didn't get the superior neural system, so for us to cheat her back through our own inventiveness seems like a smart thing to do. In my opinion, it is exactly what we should do.

I think people have different skills and interests, and they tend to learn those things far quicker than stuff they are not interested in. If we all using the same drugs, what would distinguish us?

My guess is that, on average, adults will choose not to use memory enhancers or the theoretically more obscure IQ or cognitive enhancers. Why? Because when memory is in the normal range, we adapt to its level and set our personal psychological life in that context. Increasing our memory capacity might send a ripple effect across the landscape of our daily lives. After all, we spend a good part of each evening trying to forget many of the day's memories. Over a lifetime we have built up our personal narrative based on the efficiency of our memory and our capacity to forget. Any significant or even slight change in these capacities will have to be integrated into the backbone of that narrative, changing the mental life of a person.

I know that I like the fact that I can forget the bad memories and move on instead of being bogged down by them. I think we remember enough if the event was really powerful/traumatic. I do think that we are stronger through the trials of life.

Enhancing memory is one issue. Making people smarter--more able to contemplate complex ideas with greater ease and facility--somehow seems more problematic. Do we want a nation full of Harvard graduates? On the surface it seems insane. But the basic science suggests that superintelligence is not far-fetched.

So, do we want a world with uber brilliant people? Who would do the occupation that don't require lightning quick thinking? Why would anyone who is genius want to work in occupations which require brawn rather than brain? If everyone was brilliant, would people work hard any more?

I guess in the end, I am more worried about abuse than anything. If ours was a perfect society, then this would be a great oppurtunity to progress at the speed of light. Well, I think we will wait and see how our world adapts itself to the influx of exceptional and smarter people.

[Listening to: Fearless - Matthew Good Band - Last of the Ghetto Astronauts (5:15)]

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