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 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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