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All In The Mind - 14 June 2008 - Brave New Mind: Smart drugs and the ethics of neuro-enhancement

The show will only be on air for a few weeks.

Can anyone attach the audio file to this post?

 

Listen Now - 14062008 |Download Audio - 14062008

 

An April Fools prank this year saw the launch of the World Anti-Brain Doping Authority. Jokes aside, drugs like Ritalin for ADHD and Modafinil for sleeping disorders are now being popped by people who want to be weller than well. Some argue that the spectre of 'smart drugs' and 'cosmetic pharmacology' pose a challenge to our authentic selves. Do we know the long term risks? And in the classroom, would brain-doping be cheating?

 

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Transcript

 

Natasha Mitchell: Time for your smart-drugs, listener. Natasha Mitchell joining you for All in the Mind on ABC Radio National. Welcome. On April 1st this year, yes you get the picture, a new 'World Anti Brain Doping Authority' was launched to respond to concerns that growing numbers of scientists were popping pills that give them intellectual edge over their colleagues. April Fools jokes aside, this issue is a crucial one, as you are about to hear. We are entering an era of cosmetic pharmacology, or neuro-enhancement, with kids already trading the ADHD medication Ritalin in the playground and healthy heads popping drugs designed for serious sleep disorders just to help them stay alert, be weller than well—smarter than smart.

 

Walter Glannon: Caffeine for many people is a form of enhancement, but with psychotropic drugs—even if it is a matter or a difference of degree rather than kind, it's a very significant difference—that the effects of these agents is more immediate, more significant than caffeine or other substances that many of us take every day.

 

Francis Fukuyama: I think the problem comes when you begin talking about human enhancement, actually consciously taking over the evolutionary process—and I think that's problematic for me for a number of reasons. I mean there are totalitarian safety concerns, but beyond that I think there are some real philosophical issues about whether we actually know enough as to what constitutes an improvement in the human species—and look at the last 200 years where people have tried to socially engineer better societies using very crude things like labour camps and agitprop and so forth—and now it seems to me we are beginning on a period where you're going to be able to come at this problem again, but you're going to use tools like neuropharmacology and a lot of technological ways of manipulating the way we humans are, that I think could easily have as disastrous social consequences as 20th century social engineering.

 

Natasha Mitchell: Are we—as we increasingly take cognitive or neuro-enhancing or smart drugs—are we moving towards a new normal and losing touch in a sense with our authentic selves?

All In The Mind - 14 June 2008 - Brave New Mind: Smart drugs and the ethics of neuro-enhancement

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Natasha Mitchell: Are we—as we increasingly take cognitive or neuro-enhancing or smart drugs—are we moving towards a new normal and losing touch in a sense with our authentic selves?
I don’t think so – or, in any case, I don’t think we’re any less in touch with our “authentic selves” than humans have been for the past several millennia.

 

Humans, and many non-human animals, have since before recorded history used psychotropic drugs to enhance their productivity, whether by increasing alertness and arousal with stimulants such as coffee or amphetamine, or decreasing it with relaxants such as alcohol. Even when no foreign substance is ingested, humans and animals have proven adept at stimulating their internal psychochemisty to produce equivalent – and in many cases chemically identical – mind-altering substances. Many of these endogenous psychotropics are produces without much awareness on our part – when relaxing in a pleasant social situation, when experiencing anxiety, in response to exercise or injury, and, arguably among of the most profound psychochemical triggers, when we are in love.

 

IMHO, a person who avoids all foreign psychotropic drugs in the hope of being more “pure” or “authentic”, shows ignorance of neurochemistry. A person who, aware of the many endogenous psychotropic chemicals that regulate normal human emotion and behavior, purposefully attempts to suppress them, is far less authentic than a person who does not.

 

Clearly, people should be as aware as possible of the risks of drug abuse and make wise decisions accordingly. Regardless of our choices, however, we humans are unavoidable awash in potent psychotropic chemicals – this is simply how our nervous systems work.

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