TED Conversations

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 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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