Sumesh Kassie

This conversation is closed.

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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      Jan 16 2014: Very enlightening.
    • Jan 16 2014: Thanks, Brendan for your comment, it makes a lot of sense !
      As you correctly stated,linear alphabets, print, reading "strongly stimulates the abstract, linear, and sequential left brain." That's what made our western civilization possible with all its technical-self -glorifying achievements and flaws that came out of it.
      But...i can't help mentioning Plato :

      "The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction."

      What if Internet IS a caused reaction in opposite direction ?
      New media ( invisible medium ) shapes our mind differently.
      How ? I mean, what is the change ?
      The trick is to recognize a new pattern of our perception before it becomes obvious, for when it does we wont see it any more.

      So, what do you think on 'How ?' ?

      Thank you !
  • Dec 22 2013: I was never aware of these brain enhancers, I must have slept through that advancement, so can this question be observed by our cry out for body enhancers? Baseball/ steroids, cycling/ steroids....when made aware to the general public there was a cry for fairness. The drug use was found to help set new records set by those who did not use them in prior history. Are we to say the same with Aristotle, Einstein, achieve greatness as of those mentioned do we need to subscribe to drugs and if so what is that saying about humanity and natural advancement. Have we valued our egos greatness/vanity to a point of unfair practices by our so called leaders. This leads me to think that advancement at any cost may cost us greater losses in the end. I will put out there that society needs to rethink brain enhancement advancements into other fields other then drugs. Try removing the multiple distractions that are out there in our life and substitute that with quiet mindful meditations, this I am sure will lead one brain to understandings with out the use of drug stimuli.
    Slow down people your in a race to get no where fast.
  • Dec 22 2013: The simple ,easy and harmless way to stimulate,awaken,enhance,invoke,boost and increase the power of brain,imagination,intelligence,knowledge,intuition is to through Music,Love and Meditation rather than drugs.

    Music,Love and Meditation has the power to increase and boost all the A to Z Quotients of the brain. Like;

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    Dec 18 2013: A few things to consider.

    1) We have no idea what the long-term sociological and physiological impacts are.
    2) Dependency becomes an issue.

    This is not "enhancement" this is "alteration" and is not necessarily indicative of positive physiological changes.

    Enhancement is a prosthetic arm not a drug that alters normal functions in the brain.
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      Dec 19 2013: and your point is that a prosthetic arm is bad? suppose in the future there is a procedure to replace your heart with an enhanced plastic-metal pump, would you consider that something to disdain?
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        Dec 19 2013: What part of my comment insinuates that a prosthetic arm is bad?
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          Dec 19 2013: i tried to make the most sense out of it, and i admit failure if you want, but i'm not sure whether it is me or the post.

          so what is your point after all? nootropics enhance brain function, artificial organs enhance bodily functions, why would you support one and not the other? possible side effects are not enough, it does not makes them an invalid choice.
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        Dec 20 2013: I'm pretty sure the benefits of a prosthetic are much more obvious than drugs with little data regarding long-term side effects.

        Possible side effects are not enough? Speak for yourself. That's a pretty silly statement to make. Possible side effects are definitely....enough. More data is needed to ensure these drugs are more beneficial than they are damaging.

        Many of these "nootropics" are merely stimulants. I'm pretty sure my view on this is a common sense approach.
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          Dec 20 2013: i'm also pretty sure your views are common sense. as i have explained in another post, it stems from the fear of unknown, fear of change. it does not make it valid of course.

          being "obvious" is not a requirement. first, things are often not obvious. knowledge accumulates slowly. what we need is effective, proven by well conducted experiments.

          usual medicinal drugs have side effects too, but we still use them. it is a choice, do you want th effect as much to accept the side effects or not. it is up to the potential user to decide. therefore, i did speak for myself. you did not.
        • Dec 22 2013: What we need is more science and less suppositions, otherwise there's no clear choice and thus more risk. Somehow, there's very little science in this field yet, everybody is fearing the response?
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        Dec 20 2013: It is up to the potential user. I'm not really sure what your argument is at this point.
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    Dec 18 2013: i'm all for it, give me such a drug, how much i pay?

    according to your question on the lack of interest in the subject: instead of the proposed reason, i would suggest three alternatives:

    1. most people think it is simply not possible. that is the default mode: unless someone demonstrates a solution, people just do not consider the possibility. i don't think you could have been able to start a discussion about canned food before canned food hit the store shelves.

    2. "naturalism". many people have this modern anti-artificial sentiment. they oppose GM, smartphones, facebook, processed food and many other things solely because they are not "natural". i mean, just look around in the conversation section, how many topics discuss the "harms" of technology or some modernities.

    3. a false sense of "fairness", aka socialism. obviously such drugs will cost money, and so the rich can access them first, and only then the masses. this gives an advantage to the wealthy, which is considered unfair by many, and therefore they want to put an end to it.

    going one step further, i think i can merge these 3 into one root cause: fear of change. people simply don't want things to be different, so they don't have to cope with things they are not already familiar with. they don't want challenge. they are happy to sacrifice the potential benefits as long as everyone else sacrifices too. absolute disadvantage does not matter, only relative does.
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      Dec 18 2013: Thanks. That was a thoughtful post.
      You've highlighted some critical points there. Given the impact this can have (and is currently unofficially having) on society it is a pity not much is being done to address these obstacles.
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      Dec 19 2013: The inequality argument (#3) seems to be nonsense. By this logic, medicine and education must be prohibited because they give unfair advantage to people who have access to them (primarily, "the rich") over people who don't (primarily, "the poor").
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        Dec 19 2013: ever heard of a country called canada? but that is only an extreme case. to some level, healthcare is socialized in every 1st world country.
  • Jan 16 2014: I'm an undergraduate student and I see the use of many prescriptive drugs for cognitive enhancement. Now most of these aren't nootropics, more often amphetamines, but I see a widespread desire for a clearer mind and greater focus. As technology advances and entertainment in all forms is able to increasingly creep into our personal lives, those who strive for success seek clarity of mind. I wish to turn my back on all forms of entertainment and socialization at times, just so that I can focus on endeavors that will reap me true rewards, but it is hard. Nootropics seem to offer an answer, a way to clear your mind and become a greater version of yourself. The same person, but one who has the discipline and cognitive tenacity to cling to his pursuits until they are finished.

    I believe cognition augmentation is not something to be embarrassed of. Simply seeking it shows that you wish to rise to greater heights, which is something that I can admire. Mass media constantly attempts to grasp control of your mind, I don't believe it is wrong to seek greater authority over your thoughts.
  • Jan 16 2014: Hi, Sumesh,
    don't you think that Internet is nootropics ?
    I think it is. The only difference is that we don't swallow the stuff, it influences our mind directly in the most all- inclusive way.

    May i ask you a personal question ?

    Have you noticed that you start to see the world/reality/events short, just see in fractals ?

    If you don't understand the question, please ask for clarification .

    Thank you !
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      Jan 16 2014: No problem Natasha,
      I understand what you mean. I mentioned something to that effect (the fractal-like inherent multifaceted nature of 'processes' in the universe from the atomic to the galactic) in one of my other posts somewhere.
      I guess one could see the internet as a non-pharmaceutical nootropic stimulant. It allows the brain to seek out and connect dots (not sure if this is always a good thing though considering some dots are so 'perfectly' placed as if it's part of a plan!)
      This whole 'mind-expansion' episode of my life did announce itself quite unexpectedly. I often wonder if it is just a part of the maturation of growth or if something weird happened.
      To add a bit of clarity to the the fractal question: I've googled the fractal-like and symmetrically expansive nature of the human body and it seems no-one has placed dots for me to join, but if you look at the human mind against the mind of a human organisation like a political system and then at the way nature orders the cellular processes of all cells and back out at the way our solar system interacts with the galaxy and back in at the way we construct comments centering around a theme etc. everything appears to be scaled differently but adheres to the same processes even though they may be separated by massive differences when we look at 'things' as separate events.
      I'm having a rare moment of inadeqaute eloquence :)))
      But I get the feeling you understand what I mean.
      • Jan 16 2014: Oh, yes, i do ! :)
        Actually, the question itself is a kind of a litmus test, if you understand the question, most likely you see that way and vice versa.
        You say :

        It allows the brain to seek out and connect dots

        iow. it stimulates right brain hemisphere or intuition that has been suppressed by linear thinking.

        ".. dots are so 'perfectly' placed as if it's part of a plan! "
        Pretty much so, in a way, they should. :)
        Why are you afraid of it ? The idea of purpose/ god's plan was eliminated by Newton Darwin...that crowd and it lead to fragmentation and industrial revolution.' Atoms that randomly run' is not an option now. 'random walk' is seen now as an order of infinite complexity.
        Probably we should elaborate more sophisticated understanding of a plan.
        Are you acquainted with D, Bohm's ' quantum potential ' ?
        Rupert Sheldrake's idea of ' morhpic fields' ?
        Probably those ideas have a lot to do with it.

        "I often wonder if it is just a part of the maturation of growth or if something weird happened."

        My questions, exactly :)
        Thank you ! I am relieved , i see it's not that weird !
      • Jan 16 2014: And to add to the body-nature-galaxy fractal, please, listen to this guy :
        Apparently, you are rght, all epigenetic stuff is included .
  • Jan 9 2014: We are superstitious about our "minds". This superstition is so strong that some people even attempt to identify the "image of God" mentioned in Genesis as human cognition. This raises troubling questions about those born with deficient cognitive ability or those who lose their cognition through injury or disease. At one time, the heart was considered the "organ of identity".
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    R H

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    Jan 7 2014: I would offer that it's the 'demonization' of drugs that would heavily influence this aversion to (even) the discussion of mind-enhancing substances, let alone the actual 'use' of them. 'Mind-enhancing' is too close to 'mind-altering' and elicits a 'voodoo hypnotism' on people (in 'polite' company) regarding its consideration. Humans have sought relief and enhancement from 'drugs' since they first chewed on plants. But modern civilization has depicted the use of drugs as strictly for the repair of maladies, or the destructor of lives through their abuse. To discuss the use of drugs to stimulate the mind would be similar to a conversation on personal sex habits - uncomfortable things we'd never admit to, but love to try in secret. Also, wouldn't drugs to enhance the mind be like 'steroids' for thinking, which brings up feeling of 'fairness' and authenticity to the individuals production?
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    Gord G

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    Jan 1 2014: I think Hollywood presented a plausible scenario in the movie "Limitless".

    Albeit sensationalized... I think the introduction of less than ethical players and decidedly nefarious characters is a very real possibility. The movie clearly demonstrates the difference between intelligence and morality. It's a brutal existence when enhancement is applied to the immoral... or the immoral devise the enhancement for profit.

    It seems to me there is a very real possibility the only thing that will be enhanced is the divide between the empathetic and the ambitious.

    Unfortunately I think this point may be moot as genetic modification gains acceptance.
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      Jan 1 2014: Hi,
      Just to touch on a few points you mentioned elsewhere first,
      I don't think the industrial revolution was as impactless as regards humane benefit as we would like to believe - Pollution, Deforestation, etc. Yes I agree! But...
      The trade off has been the ability to advance communication and collaboration amongst humans across the globe. Good or bad, I'm sure the ratio of winners to losers have remained the same pre and post industrial revolution, but we now have the ability to appreciate the plight of the less fortunate, and can do something about it.
      Given all the harm it has purportedly brought, I doubt anyone would want to go back to a time pre industrial revolution and defy 'progress' as their children die from diseases while they are unable to call an ambulance, get medical help or even voice a 'heretic' opinion in the safety of easily accessible on-line verification of facts, figures, and data.
      We are a species that WILL push the boundaries and no amount of convincing will stop us.
      The sooner we realise we are on the brink of a biological and cognitive revolution, the better off we will be in terms of preventing the so-called "disasters" of a revolution - be it industrial, communications, technological, biological, etc.
      Personally I find the word revolution quite odd considering a revolution is 360 degrees which brings you right back to where you started. but Hemi-Revolution sounds less menacing - which betrays what a revolution is all about - MENACE!
      And that is where we stumble.
      You see this with a jaundiced eye and a disapproving heart, but it will march on like all the other Menace-olutions. If left untempered by reason, just governance, moral and ethical guidance and consensus, and equitable distribution of benefits RIGHT FROM THE WORD GO, we will watch the greedy and immoral rapidly embrace this next game-changer at the expense of the rest.
      Our biases must not retard our duty of responsibility to future generations.

      ps. Welcome Back ;)
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        Gord G

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        Jan 11 2014: I'm sure you've heard this argument but...

        The effects of the industrial revolution were inert. Modern science is now creating organisms (living technology) that can replicate and evolve. In addition, as science tinkers with the biological fabric of the world, there is little to no advances being made regarding the moral or ethical repercussions.

        The industrial revolution is a poor analogy because the growth and overall momentum pales in comparison. I only mentioned it because people can relate to the environmental damage caused by it.

        It has never been a question of denying the benefits of science. Clearly science has provided many advances that have improved our lives. The problem has always been the hubris of intellect. This driving desire to change for change sake. The comment I use is ..."push brooms at ground zero".

        If we are to believe Popper, science is based on falsification. Unfortunately we have reached a point in our intellectual evolution where we may not get the opportunity to correct our mistake. In that sense there is no comparable model in history.

        Unfortunately your last statement is undoubtedly true. And equally unfortunate, it doesn't justify the dubious outcome. It simply acknowledges the inevitability of our actions..
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    Dec 30 2013: JB E,

    An interesting comment... I too had a child who was deemed had attention disorders... and the school insisted that I put him on medication. I didn't, I put him in another school. He turned out relatively normal... Well, he attended college for a dozen years when they finally told him to declare a major and graduate... He went on to get a M eD and become a school teacher.
    Point is.
    I am very much afraid of mind altering drugs in children, I am not sure and neither are so many people of the effects on young brains... it has been shown that these drugs can suspend mental maturity and may have led to serious consequences in adult life. ADHD as I understand is not determined by absolutes, but by observations of people.
    Get a lot of observations, one teacher and and doctor, are no where near enough observation. I have too many acquaintances who tell me that their adult children have real problems but, they had ADHD meds when they were kids. Cause or Effect?

    I had behavior problems in school when I was a kid. They didn't have meds then and look at how I turned out....
    OK bad example, but really be-careful of your kid, you may be dosing them to a troubled adulthood.
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      JB E

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      Dec 30 2013: Yes, I agree that giving kids these drugs is dangerous. My personal situation is complicated in that I'm divorced and my x wife has legal custody of my daughters. She only cares about results and has no interest in attempting alternative treatments for the behavior issues of my one daughter, even after I voiced my concerns for long term side effects. The main issue I have with the current ADHD meds is that they "bath" the entire brain in these stimulants were the part of the brain that is at the heart of the issue is only a small part. Personally I feel the behavior issues can be mitigated better threw diet and vitamins and maybe in severe cases the trans cranial direct current stimulation or some form of bio feedback therapies. This is dangerous territory though as no one wants their children to be experiments and therefore very little clinical studies are done and the only evidence for or against is anecdotal.
      I personally don't think ADHD behavior is abnormal if you consider that it may have been a naturally selected behavior of ancient humans that enables better survival. I refer to the "farmer / hunter" theory of early human evolution. The behavior only now is deemed detrimental because of modern society, with this being said I think people with such behavior traits are best suited by finding places in society that cater to it, like active career fields. I read a story once of a girl who was severely ADHD and could not do school under normal structure and her parents refused the medications but instead put her in dance school, she turned out to be a famous dancer.
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      Dec 30 2013: Hi. Apologies firstly for my own scarcity. It's the festive season mandatory-destress stress... where we all rush to spend more time doing pointless things that 'other people' dee, poignant and meaningful. :)
      Ok, I wax cynical.
      But back to your point, i agree with you 100%. I'm anti ADHD gagging and silencing using neurotoxins decided upon by an industry with much to gain financially.
      I started this conversation aimed at adult usage, yet you bring up a valid point, and that is if not children, then why not?
      I will expand on this in the coming days,
      For now I wish you well over this festive season and hope you usher in 2014 with much fanfare.
      Happy New Year.
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        Dec 30 2013: Hi Sumesh,
        What little I've read on the subject of these drugs, is that they do have some benefits for treatment of bipolar and such disorders. Even some of the more serious mental illnesses can be treated with these medications. But, they are being used for non prescribed illness (I believe that is the term) for treating other conditions. And that is the problem.
        I have seen children on these drugs. They are quiet and complaint... they are stoned. You have probably heard of the tragic shootings that have occurred here in the USA in the last few years. It has been reported that some if not all of the perpetrators have used these drugs as children. Could these drugs have led to these actions. No one seems to be looking carefully at these questions.

        You will welcome the New Year before me and that is OK. Have a great 2014.
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    Gord G

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    Dec 17 2013: Interesting question. How do we define enhancement?

    A psychedelic such as peyote alters cognition and perception and has few side effects and low toxicity. Many Beat writers believed peyote (mescaline) inspired their writing. Is that enhancement? Cannabis is believed to be a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Is that enhancement?

    It seems to me intellectual enhancement is subjective. It's qualitative, and depends on what a person or a society values. Couple this with the limits of emerging cognitive science and the elusive nature of our consciousness, I feel enhancement is exceedingly difficult to define. Which makes it exceedingly difficult to frame a discussion that isn't fragmented by an assortment of cognitive biases.

    For example, personally I don't believe in taking any drugs or artificial supplements. I believe in a healthy life style, and I think our immune system has evolved in harmony with our environment. But this is a position easily adopted because I have the good fortune of having a strong genetic inheritance. Someone dealing with an imbalance would consider my position idealistic.

    And what are we enhancing? The enhancement of our intellect is being driven by performance anxiety, so it certainly isn't enhancing our well being. It seems to me it's a symptom of competitiveness (the misdirected idea opposition is somehow more effective than cooperation in the advancement of our species).

    I feel ultimately artificial enhancement isolates us and circumvents natural growth … perhaps inhibiting our natural evolution toward empathetic beings.
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      Dec 18 2013: Some of the points you have mentioned I agree with. The aspects of your comment I have to take you up on relate directly to the 3 major aspects of your post:
      1. Defining enhancement and nootropics
      2. The interpretation of evolution as a linear function.
      3. The separation of biology, psychology, and morality - and creating a hierarchy from them.
      To succinctly expand on these I believe one must accept that awareness of oneself as the essential basis of consciousness. Once conscious, one must negotiate the fulfillment of biological needs and then wants in order to stave off noxious internal and external stimuli that serve as the 'parameter limit alarms' in the brain. These alarms may be somato-sensory(hunger, cold, etc) or psycho-social (feelings of adequacy, or failure, contentment, etc)
      The ability to successfully, repeatedly, and resourcefully expedite the above is success. Enhancement is what gives one improved ability to do so at no cost or minimal cost to our biology of survival individually or as a whole.
      Nootropics have a specific (too long to type) definition. They enhance cognition in every productive way with minimal or no cost. But not all cognitive enhancers are definitive nootropics.
      Imagine if we evolved unassisted by our own hand (literally and figuratively). Had we not opted to augment our hands and eyes during the industrial revolution you and I would would not know the beauty of debating constructive abstract thought instantaneously across oceans with little thought of the cost in terms of time, finance, and other resources.
      Evolution is not under the exclusive 'ownership' of DNA. It's fair to say 'DNA ALSO evolves'. Cognition is not just the fire behind evolution, but also operates under evolutionary principles. And who are we to separate and stratify the various forces that drive evolution? These are arguments that must make their uncomfortable entry into the fray.
      How you feel is how I FEEL too. But rational thought urges us to overcome this.
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        Gord G

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        Dec 19 2013: Sumesh - I don't believe we feel the same way (so I'll step aside in this conversation).

        I think we disagree at a fundamental level. The underlying difference is our interpretation of evolution. Evolution is first and foremost a natural process. A process that responds to the environment (natural selection). It's in harmony with the universe. Physiological manipulation is based on our truncated understanding of it.

        Imagine someone making dramatic changes to a building without having a comprehensive understanding of the overall structure of it. That's where the scientific community is presently in regards to understanding how we're entwined in the fabricate of the universe.

        Fortunately, the collapse of our house is inconsequential to the universe.
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          Dec 19 2013: :(((
          Without being facetious I can honestly say that this debate is poorer for your loss of input.
          But I understand where you are coming from both in terms of your appreciation of evolution and in your choice to step back from the discussion. I hope you change your mind but if you don't then I am sure I will have the good fortune of engaging with you on other topics in the near future.
          Go well.
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        Gord G

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        Dec 19 2013: I appreciate your kind words Sumesh. It's nice to know my rambling occasionally contributes to the compelling conversations on TED.

        It's a great question and I certainly don't have a definitive opinion regarding the nuances of it. In fact, I'm stepping back because it is a great question. My off line life is busy at the moment and I don't feel I have the time to give the question the attention it requires.

        I look forward to future discussions. Take care.
  • Jan 1 2014: I want to go to the basics to come closer to an answer. Can we deal with and want an augmentation of intelligence? [ - "there is no shame in rallity"] What seperates us from the monkeys is about 1% of DNA, just imagine we make a 3% Progress in intelligence and someone is left out - that would be treating everyone who does not participate like dogs.
    But this is rejecting Progress and this is what our species is exrtemely good at. Most individuals do so, most Organizations behave similar, yet it is the wrong thing to do for evolution. We always protect what we are right now and what we feel lazily comfortable with. (This applies to almost everything - it explanes why studying is "uncool" in school, why we do not have an ancestor of Kyoto-Protocoll and why most people lack way behind of what they want or could achieve)
    We thrive for the benefit of our selves, this is stone age behavior, when we still competed with animals. (self drugging to gain advantage) Actually we face the challenge to be the first species to ask the question "how do we challenge our selves as a species and forget our pimate behavior patterns"
    The Major improvement we work on (but no one realized yet) is intelligence in a literary higher level. The brain is a bulk of processors that are liked together. This is where we move as humanity everyone is becoming a brain cell in the more and more global network of "second level intelligence" becuase the neurons are already "intelligent". (The planet is becoming a brain of a magnitute we can no longer individually understand)
    Yet we have little research and only little progess in this field, instead many companies research on how to adress our basic instincts to sell stuff to us. Really guys? Really?
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      Jan 1 2014: 1. It doesn't matter what we can deal with or want. It is here and it gives the competitive advantage to those willing to go that route. The real question is: since we are not going to stop this, let's take off its taboo label and DEAL WITH IT!
      2. I agree that a widened competitive advantage is unfair. But this is not 'us' talking about 'them'. This is all 'us'.
      Whether you like it or not it's going to remain biased enough to divide the human race. So hating it, disliking it, disapproving of it, trying to moralize it away is only going to make it worse. We must open this up and make it equitable.
      3. I agree with the rest of what you say and if I could add just 2 points to it it would be these:
      * 'This Planet' will soon need more specificity. We are now a 'space-faring species' to quote Elon Musk (see his TED talk). This implies a greater demand on human cognitive skills and permanent augmentation will be a great advantage.
      * We have little research as regards mainstream academic research... but, we have a wealth of data available from blogging sites, and websites dedicated to these topics where posters post their personal experiences, altered regimens ('Stacks' as they refer to it), and poorly designed trials for want of a better way of doing things considering mainstream science is avoiding this topic like the plague.
  • Dan F

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    Dec 28 2013: Hi Sumesh,

    Relevant topic for our evolving state of organic chemistry and growing knowledge of biology, not to mentions personal motives galore to seek an advantage in the competitive world environment most obvious in business and sports.

    Obviously afflictions of the human condition that can be help via such drugs is the most justifiable use of such treatments, but from there it likely becomes more problematic for many of us. Issues of safety, fairness, profit, etc, can enter the areas of concern when motives can be linked to self serving advantages at the cost of others, or perhaps even the user.

    Interesting topic and resulting discussion, thanks.
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    JB E

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    Dec 24 2013: Fascinating topic, I have a unique perspective in that one of my daughters is ADHD and must take Adderall to function normally in school and my other daughter is gifted and doesn't need anything or anyone to excel academically. I personally experienced brain trauma that has left me with cognitive deficits so I have experienced the loss of cognitive ability, not to be confused with losing intelligence.
    IMO we should get on top of this otherwise we will see the use of these for personal gain and dominance over others, we already have a dangerously wide inequality gap no need to add to it. I have personally looked into the use of Intracranial direct current stimulation or IDCS the same thing the military is using to cut the training time in half for the drone pilots but thus far only experimental trials for alzheimer's are available to me. I think a pharmacological approach to enhancing cognitive abilities will in the end be problematic as anything ingested must be processed threw the liver, but I have also experienced compelling evidence that omega fatty acids play a huge role in brain function and use of supplements has helped me.
    I propose the use of cognitive enhancements on human population is imperative and will ultimately be part of our evolution, perhaps in the distant future be written into our genetics, like being born with the ability to perform calculus equations or fly a jet airplane. whether those enhancements are chemical, electrical, bio-mechanical (cybernetic) or genetic remains to be seen. To the average person saying intelligence can be written into our genetics may seem absurd but there are examples all over nature of very similar things already, insects with complex behaviors that are not taught for example. It's just a matter of time and if the human race can stay alive long enough to figure it out.
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      Dec 24 2013: I totally agree. 100% with you on that one. The competitive advantage is being grasped and assimilated by those willing to flaunt stuffy convention and do what it takes to get where they need to cognitively. I say: Don't compare this to doping in sport because sport really is just fun and it benefits only the participants. Compare this to military combat or war. The soldier is allowed to be augmented in a way no sportsman would ever be allowed. Why? The answer is simply that the soldier's success and efficiency impacts on the welfare of a nation.
      The people using or looking into substances or modalities of neurocognitive optimisation are usually the type who want to be better and more productive for themselves and their societies.
      We wouldn't be where we are today had we listened and obeyed the conservative opinion. We must continue this trend if we are to prevent ourselves slipping into that dangerous sea of complacency. The unfair advantage is already upon us.
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        Gord G

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        Jan 1 2014: Where exactly are we today Sumesh?

        We're still reeling from the damages of the industrial revolution. The environment plunged into an almost irreparable situation because of the hard science of the 1800's.

        And the changes championed at that time, did not have the ability to replicate or alter our physiology.

        I don't think science has ever been conservative. I think the scientific community pursues anything they've discovered... and business promotes and capitalizes on it.

        Look at the perversions of the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Dec 21 2013: Do you envision drug testing before exams?
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      Dec 22 2013: Yes sadly. I don't think we will arrive at a globally accepted concensus before we reach the point where usage becomes so rife and pervasive. These classes of drugs that do a multitude of things (nootropic or otherwise) are gaining popularity whether the nay sayers like it or not. The users of the drugs and pharmacological agents I refer to do not use them for entertainment purposes but to enhance their minds processes so as to become more efficient and effective. The non users are at a disadvantage no doubt and many young professionals, students, academics, and old professors! are finding it too difficult to match the 'new' productivity. We are sitting on a bit of a powder keg and it won't be long before those who cannot, will not, or do not use pharmacological enhancers will want the playing field leveled.
      So I see testing coming. The only difference is in sport, equality is enforced for the sake of entertainment and competitiveness. In life it is about productivity.
      • Dec 22 2013: The academic world may do it (interesting question about k-12 ability to do it). I think that in the business world, where money/productivity is king, a blind eye may be used. Similar to the use of chemicals in sports if it improves the bottom line, it will be ignored until there is a monetary penalty.
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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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    Dec 19 2013: I've heard of some new ways to stimulate brain activity with electrical impulses. Is this technique in the same category as nootropic drugs?

    As far as I know, use of electrical impulses to stimulate muscles or treat injuries is allowed in sports.

    There are people who cannot use their full intellectual capacity due to the lack of connections between different brain areas. I believe, I've heard this mentioned as a cause of autism, for example. Why would it be unacceptable to try fixing these issues by stimulating neurons electrically or chemically?
  • Dec 18 2013: Maybe the subject should include diet, and what's being done to food right now.

    If only, because for the majority of Nootropic's are directly available in the food that we eat.

    We should remember the pharmaceutical companies did not invent caffeine, 5-htp, l-dopa, acetylcholine et al. For the most part they just repackage it.
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      Dec 19 2013: it is a usual pattern, isn't it? nature gives many useful substances, but usually not in the required dosage, and also sometimes quite expensive. so we make concentrated, enhanced versions.
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    Dec 17 2013: Taking this class of drugs as cognitive stimulants isn't much different from taking drugs for athletic enhancements (doping).
    I think that neither doping, for intellectual or athletic purpose, is a long term strategy to enhance our overall capabilities.
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      Dec 18 2013: Nootropics are cognitive enhancers but cognitive enhancers are not necessarily nootropics. We (society at large) tend to conclude our opinions on subjects like this far too readily and sadly lose much value in so doing. I don't think using analogical arguments to derive a moral or even at times medical opinion on a topic like this is reasonable. This issue of our cognition and mental abilities is so fundamental to our development as a species that it rightly deserves investigation in its own right.
      Words like 'doping' do as much to help the perception of constructive, safe and desirous advancement of the human mind as 'blasphemous' did for the advancement of science and reason.
      I could argue that the 'long term strategy' using non natural methods to enhance human competitiveness and progress has long been decided on ... examples are all around us and often no further than this keyboard that my index finger glides across in the task of communicating with you instantaneously and securely whilst I wait for my microwave lunch to heat up next to my fizzing glass of dissolved vitamins.
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        Dec 18 2013: "I could argue that the 'long term strategy' using non natural methods to enhance human competitiveness and progress has long been decided on"
        This is not the problem. I'm fine with that, however taking drugs to get your cognitive high, can't hardly be seen as a strategy but rather a short term fix.
        This is very different from advancing the human mind, which can't be done by taking your daily pill.
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          Dec 18 2013: I wholeheartedly agree. Hence the reason I want to debate the morality of Nootropics - precisely because of the benefits sans all the bad points you mentioned.
          nb. Nootropes actually avoid stimulation or euphoric highs. Have long lasting effects. No potential for addiction, etc.
          There are drugs that are being developed that seem to be coming close to ideal yet the stigma associated with any form of cognitive modulation is all generally negative based on exactly the perceptions you've described. I am all for knocking down the obstacles to opinion revision but I cannot claim any significant support even from the 'secret' users of 'dirty noots'.
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        Dec 18 2013: Hi Sumesh, I think the term "nootropic" is too broad. Nootropics could be drugs, vitamins or even some foods.
        If we take Piracetam for example, it seems to have few if any side effects. On the other hand, Modafinil is already a bit more serious.
        Modafinil is also a good example of a drug that, although it can enhance cognition it also is used as doping agent in sports.
        So I think each agent should be evaluated on its own. Do you have any particular drug in mind ?
        In any case, whatever drug it might be, you'll experience the cognitive improvement only as long as you take the drug, so it's not really an advancement of the mind which would be something permanent.
        I'm doubtful that any drug can lead to permanent advances of the mind. Genetics is probably a more viable route to go.
        • Dec 22 2013: Not exactly, you might still keep what you have gained due to improved function at the time, assuming you were not wasting it.

          It's not like nootropics make you forget everything you did after you stop taking them, have brain fog effects (at least not all) or other kind of dependence.

          It's similar to how steroids help build up muscle mass (along other effects, many deleterious) that then you only have to maintain. There's no need to take them all the time unless you want immune suppression.
  • Dec 17 2013: What constitutes an "enhancement" and what constitutes a means of imposing a mere fashion whim or means of control?
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      Dec 18 2013: I believe enhancement is the ability to improve the efficiency and resourcefulness of a process for a given end result.
      Caffeine enhances one's ability to maintain wakefulness and is certainly not fashionable, neither is the ability to switch on an albeit fashionable artificial light in the first world so as to study late at night.
      There is a lot of science behind nootropic agent development but sadly the public at large is not willing to see this beyond "cheating natural processes".
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        Dec 18 2013: I think people are naturally hesitant about rushing into something with apparent immediate or short-term gains that could have unexpected side effects in the longer run. The longer-term health effects on users of over-indulgence in steroids and the issues of antibiotic resistant bacteria as a result of over-prescription and over-use of antibiotics, make people cautious.

        Even in literature through the ages, people hear a cautionary message in cases of people making trades for short term gain with long term cost. The tale of King Midas, Picture of Dorian Gray, Faust... I mention these to add another dimension beyond "cheating natural processes."

        Of course many, many people are quite willing to leap!
      • Dec 22 2013: Caffeine is VERY fashionable in the USA, and the "enhancement" it brings is very small and soon ends up reducing overall efficiency if more than an optimal dose is taken.
  • Dec 17 2013: Aren't the prescriptive and non prescriptive drugs, psychoanaleptic and temporary in effect?
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      Dec 17 2013: Proponents of some pharmaceutical preparations (eg. Bacopa Monnieri and certain classes of racetams) make anecdotal claims to irreversible enhancements of certain components of cognitive enhancement. These claims are from individual users and not reproducible level 1 studies. This is the reason we need to open up our minds (pardon the pun) to the issue of nootropic usage. I personally would love to know what can make me smarter forever and what won't.
      There are certain drugs that fall into a grey zone by permanently enhancing aspects of mental ability that augment overall cognition. Desmopressin is one of those. Though highly dangerous and lethal if misused, an intranasal dose (aerosol preparation) is said to Profoundly enhance memory for a few hours. Users claim to be able to recall learned data from that "session" months later with exquisite clarity.
      • Dec 22 2013: There aren't enough studies. What we have is very limited and of quite poor quality mostly, and not enough to make a decision. That said, when there are no known side effects at dosages up to , trying it out in a self-made blind or double blind trial is quite tempting.

        The problem is that the effect/dose relationships are likely nonlinear (e.g. U or inverse-J shaped) or perhaps even personal, adding an unfortunate confounder.

        Heck, we don't even fully know response curves of certain common phytochemicals.

        Interesting point about desmopressin. Do you have any source on this?