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Sumesh Kassie

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Nootropics - The intellectual equivalent of talking politics or religion in polite company.

Given the intellectual and cognitive challenges we individually and collectively face in a rapidly expanding age of human technological and scientific advancement, is it not strikingly unusual that we are comfortable debating issues related to augmenting and enhancing every life function except human intelligence? It's as if we have moulded human intellect into some sort of new 'god' that is to be revered but never tampered with.
Or could it be that we see intellect and intelligence as that one last bastion of exclusivity that puts as apart from the 'rest'?
We have been seeking cognitive enhancement for as long back as we can recall, starting with caffeine. Some cultures claim the use of marijuana as a cultural heritage based on enhancing neurocognition.
Lately we have seen the rise of prescriptive drugs like methylphenidate, modafinil, piracetam, etc. being used for the sole purpose of cognitive enhancement and augmentation. These drugs are often not indicated for such uses yet continue to find their way into the bloodstream of academics purely for the purpose I have described. As a medical doctor I am acutely aware of the 'illicit' drug usage that goes on within the 'conservative' hallowed walls of academia.
I feel it is time we discussed and debated this issue of 'Nootropics'. It is imperative we commence on that path of defining a moral and ethical consensus OPENLY. Is it a problem because we have made it a problem owing to our possible embarrassment at discussing it lest we be labeled 'augmented average intelligence'?
I'm hoping the debate that ensues from this will light up further discussions so as to finally allow us to rationally illuminate the path of cognition augmentation.


Closing Statement from Sumesh Kassie

The debate centred around the morality and fear surrounding cognitive enhancement. The TED jury seemed somewhat unanimous that the abuse potential of a manufactured cognitive dissonance was not something our species can be trusted with ad yet.
Prior to this debate I had not considered the fact that every technology we develop, we use as leverage in scaling the dominance hierarchies. Modalities of cognitive enhance would not differ...or would it.
It must be borne in mind that cognitive enhancement may be the ONE thing that will move us away from the primitive urge to kill or subjugate one another.
But sadly I agree that the gamble is not worth the risk given the irreparable downside.

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    Dec 19 2013: Dr Kassie, I had to look this up .. Nootropics (/noʊ.əˈtrɒpɨks/ noh-ə-TROP-iks), also referred to as smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers, are drugs, supplements, nutraceuticals, and functional foods that purportedly improve mental functions such as cognition, memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration. Is this a acceptable definition?

    You statement ... As a medical doctor I am acutely aware of the 'illicit' drug usage that goes on within the 'conservative' hallowed walls of academia. ... I have viewed this in the military, Industry, and in law enforcement and prison life. It is amazing how many kids are given "permission" through their parents actions and/or lack of involvement.

    Many parents have little interaction with their children and attempt to buy their love with money and material things ... kids then seek acceptance through other groups / means. By "permission" I mean that parents / family members do it so it must be a good thing ... they steal booze, some pills, a little of their stach,

    These enhancers are, in my opinion, a result of the entitlement society ... where you do not have to earn it ... you are entitled to it. Why work for better grades if I can take a pill and be smarter ... drugs are not dangerous and are a victimless crime ... there is no damage to my body either short term or long term .... Why work, you should share your wealth with me ..... etc ...

    The body has needs ... rest, nutrition, hydration, and reasonable exercise and activity. When abused or assaulted by excesses, it rebels ... becomes out of balance ... and over time deteriorates. Some are instant such as trauma and others are long term.

    Part of the problem is denial and another part must be parents ... and medical professionals who are pushing medications and enabling abusers.

    Make abusers work a trauma center for a month to see the truth.

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      Dec 19 2013: I see your point and raise you this:
      Why do we insist on applying static rules and norms over as wide as possible a cross section of society as we can make a simplified rule fit? We have a fixed perception that diversity is a highly necessary, beautiful, and warranted quality for varying groups of people, experiences, interactions, and opinions...Yet, when it comes to the rules that govern productivity and creativity across varying professions and disciplines, we find diversity abhorrent!
      This is truly fascinating.
      This begs the question: should we not appreciate that the advancement of societies in improving healthcare, longevity, and overall wellbeing is of such importance that the various professions involved should have unique, purpose-bespoke rules or 'codes' that work best for that particular sector?
      Would it not be a good idea to allow academics, and professions involved in prolonged and extensive intellectual work the opportunity of enhanced cognition so as to make their contribution to society more resource efficient, productive, and safe?
      This is a radical concept and I expect it will meet a radical response, but is it not inhumane to insist soldiers enter into combat with only a handgun because society at large abhors automatic rifles and hand grenades? And why do we allow policemen to exceed the speed limit if needs be in order to provide better protection for society?
      The endless list of inequalities we actively promote/allow to maintain civility and advance society is apparent only when the gains for society at large are clearly evident. But once it becomes obscure we quickly proclaim "unfair" "unnatural" etc.
      Imagine if academics could acceptably approach a medical doctor for a prescription for medication A because it safely enhances productivity, or if shift workers could readily and openly fill a prescription for medication B so as to enhance their ability to recover from societies unnatural demands on them.
      We abandoned natural a long time ago.
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        Dec 20 2013: But Sumesh, what you say already happens anyway. People, unless it's an illegal drug can take whatever they want to enhance their cognitive functions.
        I already used Fenethylline 30 years ago.
        The US AIrforce supplies their pilots with dextro-amphetamine.
        The only real problem is, as I already mentioned, that taking pills is a momentary fix but no strategy for the future
        Our goal should be permanent enhancements of the human brain, something that can't be attained through pills.
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          Dec 20 2013: I see your points and must admit that you are right on both of them. The "can't be attained through pills" part though I must cofess is not sitting too well with me. My reluctance on that bit is not due to any specific knowledge or bias towards pharmaceutical strategies but more a fear of abandoning a possible mode of permanent enhancement.
          I wish the science behind development of many of these agents had not been motivated by our desire to empower our armies with better tools to efficiently end life! But that is the truth of the matter, that much of the development we have seen in terms of cognition enhancement as been spurred on by military requirements.
          Maybe this could be the reason for the inherent lack of permanence of effect when these drugs are developed.
          If only we could find nobler ways to fire up our desire to illuminate our minds. This is why I believe that we may benefit by making this a viable and lucrative value proposition for non military organisations and ultimately the health care industries. If enhanced cognition (even temporarily) for its own sake could be linked to improved levels of health all round including in our old age, then we may find value in allowing healthy young people to openly without fear of stigmatisation use these pills that offer momentary fixes.
          Just throwing a few ideas into the mix. I may be wrong.
        • Dec 22 2013: What if the effects are permanent and only beneficial, yet there is no dependence?
          Say, something that stimulates learning when there is learning to be done. What you have learnt will stay in your head, but you're less likely to forget it or perhaps waste time on prolonged instruction.

          Have you thought on such a class of drugs?

          The only problem I see is that it increases inequality, as the poorer will not be able to afford it on the most part or the best and latest.
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        Dec 20 2013: I appreciate, value, and accept you reply. The problem is not the public accepting the advice and prescriptions of the doctors ... it is the medical profession and the government agencies that control the medications.

        When enough money / influence / media comes to bear the government allows what is in the best interest and violates its own standing rules and obstructive habits ... such as the out break at a influential college a few months ago ... the government will allow unapproved meds to enter and be used on the student body but no one else.

        Yours is a old and honored profession that has many rules, boards, and investigative agencies. Change does not come easy to the administrators and guardians of the profession.

        Having said that even slower in this fast paced world is the cultural changes that need to occur. The general public has lost some faith as everyday come new revelations as to what is good and bad for us ... one day butter is a killer and the next it is not ..eggs ... meat .... etc .... the best scientific minds say this ... at the same time the best scientific minds say that ... so what is the answer .... hold on it is changing again ....

        It is unfortunate the direction that the USA is taking ... the government is taking control of the insurance and medical decisions through boards that will decide if the medical advice should be taken ... academia is already a whore to government grants and corporate research grants ... the bottom line is the golden rule ... he who has the gold rules ... the absolute bottom line is not the health and welfare of the people ... but the profit margin ... yep .... money.

        There are some over the counter items that are useful when taken as directed by competent authority .... but most are just a play on a willing and uninformed public for profit with little, if any, value and in fact can be abused and detrimental to the healing process.

        I am out of my element. Bob
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          Dec 20 2013: "the bottom line is the golden rule ... he who has the gold rules"
          Absolute Truth! I am going to steal that line with your permission.
          You are certainly in your element from what I can see.
          Thanks for that post.

          ps. My name is Sumesh (being called Dr Kassie freaks me out and steals my creativity)
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        Dec 20 2013: Thank you for the offer to call you Sumesh and for you kind reply.

        I wish you well. Bob.
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        Dec 20 2013: Sumesh, I think part of the problem was and still is that our knowledge concerning the brain and the mind is still patchy to say the least.
        Although, neuroscience is making big advances, we still have a lot to learn about the brain.
        I believe the better our understanding about our brain/mind becomes the more likely we will find meaningful methods to advance our mental capacities.
        As to the military, yes, I basically agree, however we also have to accept the fact that much of our modern day technology was initially invented for military purpose and then adapted for civilian use.
        So, as usual, the coin has 2 sides ;-)
        I agree with you that advancing our mind should be an important if not fundamental goal, the question is how to accomplish it. Genetic modification could be one way. Another could be the use of microprocessor implants that directly interact with brain functions.

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