Lab Rats in a Big Smart Drug Experiment

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The rise of cognitive enhancers is a mass social experiment

On Human Experiments Are we all just lab rats in a big smart drugs experiment?

Want to sign up for a massive human experiment? Too late. You’re already a lab rat. There was no ethics approval or informed consent. You weren’t asked, you never signed up, and now there’s no easy way to opt out.

“Cognitive enhancer” is a broad term for any of a number of different drugs and devices that – depending on which academic or you listen to – will sharpen your mind. To get the gist, check out this preview of Neil Burger’s film Limitless:

Ritalin, modafinil, and donepezil are further examples of medications normally prescribed to people with disorders that do-it-yourself brain-hackers are trying to repurpose for cognitive enhancement. And for the less adventurous – those who don’t want to nab their grandparent’s dementia pills – there’s a growing range of over-the-counter “nootropic” supplements, which enhance memory and other cognitive capacities, available at pharmacies and from online retailers.

A diverse range of people including video gamers, students, neuroscientists, entrepreneurs, classical musicians, and public servants use cognitive enhancers. We reckon there’s a good chance that you too, dear reader, are sampling the options. Or if not you, then perhaps your partner, neighbours, or work colleagues. The rise of cognitive enhancers is a mass social experiment

But here’s the catch. While cognitive enhancement might feel like a free choice at the start, once everyone round town is doing it, an insidious form of social coercion sets in. Just as the use of beta blockers has become widespread in the classical music scene, so too cognitive enhancement threatens to become a new “normal”, a de facto standard that pressures everyone to bio-hack their brains to keep up.

Obviously we can’t divine the future. But predicting the social side effects that safe, effective, and inexpensive cognitive enhancers are likely to have in competitive societies like ours seems like a no-brainer. Our bet is that it will result in an even more work-obsessed culture, and even less time than we currently have for other pursuits that enhance human life. Human Experiment: Are We All Just Lab Rats In A Big Smart Drugs Experiment? | Focus News