smarter_on_drugs

smarter_on_drugs - Scientific American Mind - September 21,...

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Scientific American Mind - September 21, 2005 Smarter on Drugs We recoil at the idea of people taking drugs to enhance their intelligence. But why? By Michael S. Gazzaniga Any child can tell you that some people are smarter than others. But what is the difference between the brain of a Ph.D. student and the brain of the average Joe? If we can figure that out, then a bigger question follows: Is it ethical to turn average Joes into geniuses? Evolutionary theory suggests that if we are smart enough to invent technology that can increase our brain capacity, we should be able to use that advantage. It is the next step in the survival of the fittest. As noted psychologist Corneliu Giurgea stated in the 1970s, "Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain." That said, gnawing concerns persist when it comes to artificially enhancing intelligence. Geneticists and neuroscientists have made great strides in understanding which genes, brain structures and neurochemicals might be altered artificially to increase intelligence. The fear this prospect brings is that a nation of achievers will discard hard work and turn to prescriptions to get ahead. Enhancing intelligence is not science fiction. Many "smart" drugs are in clinical trials and could be on the market in less than five years. Some medications currently available to patients with
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memory disorders may also increase intelligence in the healthy population. Likewise, few people would lament the use of such aids to ameliorate the forgetfulness that aging brings. Drugs that counter these deficits would be adopted gratefully by millions of people. 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. In a way, with these new compounds, we are reliving the stories associated with better-known illegal psychoactive drugs. Morphine is a terrific help with pain produced by burns and other somatic ills; it is also a mind-altering substance that in some areas of society causes tremendous social and psychological problems. Do we stop developing such painkillers just because they might be misused? Even when the issue is simple memory enhancement, we profess great social concern. Why do we resist changes in our cognitive skills through drugs? The reason, it seems to me, is that we think cognitive enhancement is cheating. If, somehow, someone gets ahead through hard work, that's okay. But popping a pill and mastering information after having read it only once seems unfair. This position makes no sense. Among the normal population are men and women with incredible
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smarter_on_drugs - Scientific American Mind - September 21,...

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