Tag Archives: nootropics

This is your brain on smart drugs…

Medical ethicists are starting to get worried about the possibility of employers requiring their workers take smart drugs to boost productivity. Hence this report entitled When the boss turns pusher” in the Journal of Medical Ethics:

…the possibility of discrimination by employers and insurers against individuals who choose not to engage in such enhancement is a serious threat worthy of legislative intervention. While lawmakers should not prevent individuals from freely pursuing neurocognitive enhancement, they should act to ensure that such enhancement is not coerced.

It’s an interesting question. Another point concerns the anti-egalitarian nature of smart drugs. If their use confers a genuine advantage, but they remain expensive, it will be yet another exclusive tool of advancement for the rich. The JME suggests:

…objectors argue that neurocognitive enhancement is anti-egalitarian because these technologies are expected to be costly and the wealthy will have significantly more access to them.

This is indeed likely to be the case—unless society chooses to subsidise enhancement, as it does public education and (outside the USA) healthcare.

However, similar inequalities are generated by private grammar schools and tutors for the SAT (a college and university admission test) and Ivy League universities, yet few suggest outlawing these threats to distributive justice.

So the issue of equality is another political ballgame (I’d love to be able to get some memory enhancers on the NHS). Anyway the approach suggested vis a vis smart drugs by the JME seems very positive and enlightened.

[When the boss turns pusher via article on Macleans.ca, via Sentient Developments][image fron jenlight on flickr]

Plastic Fantastic: Developing Fluid Intelligence

A recent topic of interest in the reputable journals of opinion, including Wired Magazine and The Independent has been the possibility of artificially enhancing human intelligence. Methods suggested include Viagra for your Brain, or nootropics: drugs that are thought to enhance intelligence and cognitive ability.

Examples include ritalin, a drug used primarily to help ADHD sufferers which is also claimed to promote alertness and concentration in healthy people, and modafinil, a drug designed to combat sleep disorders but which is also being used to extend the period for which people can stay awake and active.

Fortunately there are also options for squares like myself who don’t have the guts to pop pills bought on the Net: algorithmic approaches to learning, and most recently the possibility of boosting IQ by enhancing fluid intelligence:

Most IQ tests attempt to measure two types of intelligence–crystallized and fluid intelligence. pillsCrystallized intelligence draws on existing skills, knowledge and experiences to solve problems by accessing information from long-term memory.

Fluid intelligence, on the other hand, draws on the ability to understand relationships between various concepts, independent of any previous knowledge or skills, to solve new problems.

The research by brain boffins Susanne M. Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl appears to occupy the class of scientific experiments entitled confirming the bleedin’ obvious (facetiousness aside, this is of course as necessary and laudable as any scientific endeavour :-)) :

Researchers gathered four groups of volunteers and trained their working memories using a complex training task called “dual n-back training,” which presented both auditory and visual cues that participants had to temporarily store and recall.

Participants received the training during a half hour session held once a day for either eight, 12, 17 or 19 days. For each of these training periods, researchers tested participants’ gains in fluid intelligence. They compared the results against those of control groups to be sure the volunteers actually improved their fluid intelligence, not merely their test-taking skills.

The results were surprising. While the control groups made gains, presumably because they hadneurons practice with the fluid intelligence tests, the trained groups improved considerably more than the control groups. Further, the longer the participants trained, the larger were their intelligence gains.

“Our findings clearly show that training on certain memory tasks transfer to fluid intelligence,” says Jaeggi. “We also find that individuals with lower fluid intelligence scores at pre-test could profit from the training.”

So practice makes you better, if not perfect. As I’ve mentioned before, combining a better understanding of learning methods with drugs that have a direct affect on cognitive ability will have a huge impact on life over the course of the next century, even changing what it means to be human.

[main story via PhysOrg][other stories from The Independent and Wired][images by e-magic and LoreleiRanveig]