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Ethical Brain: Chapter 5 
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Post Ethical Brain: Chapter 5
This thread is for discussing Ch. 5 - Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs. You can post within this framework or create your own threads. ::179

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 11/1/05 12:27 am



Fri Sep 30, 2005 3:38 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs
Some thoughts on chapter 5...

1. One locus point for the consideration of the ethics of pharmecoligical enhancement of intelligence or memory is that of identity. Training remains "intrinsically acceptable" because its connection to individual identity remains palpable -- no individual trains consistently unless they have traits, like determination or tenacity, which are identifiable parts of their character. Pharmecological enhancement reduces the level to which the person's identity is involved -- the act of popping a memory pill is a momentary part of your character.

So when it comes to tests like the SAT, the issue is something like that of cheating, although not necessarily for the sake of fair play. When schools look at the results of standardized entrance tests, they're looking for aspects of the individual. Pharmecological enhancement nullifies any assumption on the part of the admissions boards that your performance reflects a consistent character trait. Well, maybe not any assumption. As Gazzaniga points out, enhancements like these don't exonerate the subject from work altogether. But given their choice between a person who is willing to study long hours in order to learn a concept and someone who is willing to study less but score higher because they've taken Ritalin, colleges would probably prefer the harder worker. So apart from the issue of whether or not it's playing fair against other test-takers, enhancement makes it more difficult to assess identity, character, elements that are important to those administering the tests and making decisions based on their results. In that sense, it may be cheating the system, and the result, ultimately, is that the system won't work as its intended. But that's more an administrative than ethical point -- unless we imagine the SATs to be the most ethical way of choosing college candidates.

2. More to the issue of ethics, there should be some concern over what effect these drugs have on identity itself -- not just the perception of identity. Oliver Sacks tells a story (and I'm sorry I don't have a citation so you guys can double check my retelling) of a patient with Tourette's syndrome who underwent a treatment to control his vocal and physical ticks. I believe the drug in question was L-dopa, but that's immaterial next to the point that this was a pharmecological intervention. The treatment worked with some success, but nonetheless the patient decided to discontinue treatment. When Sacks inquired as to why, he discovered that the patient played drums with a jazz outfit, and was prone to fairly exciting improvisations. While the treatment began to stifle his ticks, they also stifled his improvisations, and that interfered with his enjoyment of performing music. Playing in the jazz outfit was one of the singular joys of his existence; without the improvisation instigated by his Tourette's, he enjoyed it less; forced to choose between the two, he chose the music.

I repeat this story because it raises the question of what's normal, and why? We regard Tourette's as an abnormal state, but for the man in question, it was so integrated into his happiness that he couldn't find sufficient reason to seek what we would consider the norm. Tourette's, whatever it may have been initially, has become a part of his identity. That said, the story also serves as something of an exception, since what Gazzaniga is talking about is the enhancement of otherwise healthy (that is, normative) individuals. Even so, I think that the question is applicable because, as Gazzaniga points out, all drugs have side effects. For that, if for no other reason, we have to proceed cautiously when dealing with questions of identity.

I'd like to hit on that topic more, but I'll leave it where it stands for now, and wait for some reaction.

3. There's a brief bit about "cheating Mother Nature back" (p. 73) which I think is fairly unfortunate. I can excuse the anthropomorphism, for the most part, although I do think it confuses the issue. But I'm not sure that there's any ethical consideration involved in the person's relationship to nature, as such. Ethics is normally a concern that arises in the interaction of one person with another. That we should have any more obligation to achieve a particular physical or intellectual norm, despite the accidents of our birth, doesn't seem any more an ethical imperative than the suggestion that we should build colonies on the moon to spite nature for making us terrestrial by birth. What Gazzaniga apparantly means is that we ought to have some ethical imperative to level off the inconsistencies that arise between people as the result of nothing more blameable than the accidents of birth. But I don't know that it's as clear cut as that. There seems to be the underlying spectre of that argument about Progress which I noted in another thread. That we "should" craft for ourselves superior intellects seems to be, for Gazzaniga, an imperative simply because "using the brain" is "the ultimate human skill"; doing so makes us "more human." (Ch. 3, p. 53) This is ethics in the service of Progress, and it seems to me that we would do better to put Progress in the service of ethics.

4. From page 73: "One could argue that evolutionary theory suggests that if we are smart enough to invent the technology to increase our brain capacity, we should be able to use it." It may be that Gazzaniga doesn't agree with this position, but he also lets it stand without much argument. Again, that's a naturalistic fallacy: that something is natural -- by reference to evolutionary theory -- does not make it ethical. This becomes patently obvious when you remove the phrase "increase our brain capacity" and replace it with "vaporize entire civilian populations." Reference to "the natural state" rarely ever suffices to replace rational, ethical consideration of a subject.

5. Something interesting and perhaps telling occurs at the end of this chapter. On page 84, Gazzaniga writes: "The government should stay out of it, letting our own ethical and moral sense guide us through the new enhancement landscape." Gazzaniga has stepped away from the ethical consideration and is considering, instead, the role that government plays in the legality of the issue. That may be a trend throughout the book. That's all fine and well, although, in a book about the effects of neuroscientific discoveries on ethical thought, I'd rather see a consideration of the ethics, rather than the legality, of drug use. That this is the foremost issue in Gazzaniga's mind is probably due to his role on the President's Council, where his job likely is colored with questions of whether or not the government has any place intervening. I just wish that hadn't distracted from what I thought was the focus of the book.




Thu Oct 13, 2005 5:51 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs
I didn't have any sticky notes on this chapter. After reading Mad's comments, "From page 73: "One could argue that evolutionary theory suggests that if we are smart enough to invent the technology to increase our brain capacity, we should be able to use it." It may be that Gazzaniga doesn't agree with this position, but he also lets it stand without much argument. Again, that's a naturalistic fallacy: that something is natural -- by reference to evolutionary theory -- does not make it ethical. This becomes patently obvious when you remove the phrase "increase our brain capacity" and replace it with "vaporize entire civilian populations." Reference to "the natural state" rarely ever suffices to replace rational, ethical consideration of a subject", I remembered feeling the same way as Mad about that page. I wonder if others agree. Does anyone think that if we are capable of inventing technology that we must also be able to use it? Mad certainly supplies us with one example to the contrary. I would also venture to say that Jared Diamond's book, Collapse... provides us with some evidence to the contrary as well. What do you think?




Sun Oct 23, 2005 4:20 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs
The tourettes guy sounds just like Billy in "Six Feet Under." He didnt have tourettes...he was just a narcissistic spaz...and an artist...when he took medicine to quell his narcissistic spasticity he could no longer render art or conversation...




Wed Oct 26, 2005 5:43 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs
My impression was that Gazzaniga started with his conclusion "The government should stay out of it..." and then came with justifications to support that conclusion. Some of his reasoning, as some of you pointed us, was suspect.

When discussing college students using drugs to improve their memories, Gazzaniga said that "nothing can stop this". However, organizations do make rules that restrict the usage of various body-enhancing drugs, such as steroids. While we can debate whether particular drug should be legal, restrictions are clearly possible. Also, even if a drug is available, each individual must weigh the ethics of whether to take the drug.

Here's a concern he didn't raise. Support that an expensive drug raised your intelligence. Then only wealthier people could afford the drug, giving them another advantage compared to people who are less well off.




Mon Oct 31, 2005 1:53 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs
Then only wealthier people could afford the drug, giving them another advantage compared to people who are less well off.

That's a concern that struck me throughout the book. There are socio-economics issues at play here, and these technologies could very easily contribute to the stratification of the rich from the poor, with consequences that aren't always easy to predict. If, for example, it turns out that these techniques cause permanent side-effects, you're likely to see the well off hit more heavily that the destitute.




Mon Oct 31, 2005 3:07 am
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Post Re: Ch. 5 - Shaping the Smart Brain with Drugs
Mad,

Definitely had a lot of the same comments on page 73, particularly point #4. I think your comments farther down the line about the socioeconomic issues involved are spot on.

The conclusion that he comes to scares me. Taking the pill would create a coercive pressure for everyone to do it. What about places where they can't afford it? Would people there be considered 'stupid'? But does the above argument suggest we should not persue the research? Mmmm.....




Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:00 am
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Chapter 5
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p 73 When you think abou it, this makes no sense.


Another reason might be because we don't know about other, more subtle effects or worse, that they might create some horrible mutation in some rare case.




Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:03 am
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Chapter 5
discussion at the end of p74 with the experiment where the person is put in the smarter surroundings. To be honest, i don't think i understood his point. Is he saying it is ok for only some to get the 'smart pill'? What about those left behind? If we all took it, there would be no more stimulating environment to 'graduate' too.




Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:09 am
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Chapter 5
one thing i defintely agree with is his comments on page 77 about if the smart pill is created, people will use it. Look how futile our fight against illegal drugs has been.

I guess this might actually be a great argument not to do the research: If we build it, we will use it. but if we use it, we may not be aware/able to predict all the possible side effects and htey may not be desireable.




Mon Nov 14, 2005 1:16 am
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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Chapter 5
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p 77 My guess is that normal functioning adults will choose not to use memory enhancers or the theoretically more obscure IQ or cognitive enhancers.


He's got a real weak argument around this. Will the perspective usere be able to fully realize the consequences of this choice a priori? Would they be able to go back to 'normal'? Think of the sci-fi possibilities!




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Post Re: Ethical Brain: Chapter 5
Page 73 is definitely a page that sparks controversy. What I find true is that memory and the ability to retrieve information is a great advantage in scoring high on tests, rather norm referenced or standardized. The question of rather society should control memory aides isn’t just a matter of ethics – it’s also a matter of economics. If the Food and Drug Administration is able to control a drug and the side effects are not disastrous for a significant majority of the population, then a substance will be approved and those who can afford it will be able to purchase it. Those who are indigent will continue to suffer until the black market catches on.


What about holistic enhancers? What further implications would FDA regulations impose upon society as a whole? How would policies placed on FDA approved brain enhancers indirectly affect individuals who utilized holistic remedies? Let’s not forget that nutraceuticals include herbal supplements and mineral, and vitamins and are not subject to FDA regulations and requires no doctor approval.


More ethical concerns will be considered as well. With the numerous educational reform movements, including Obama’s Race to the Top, it would seem that the students (and parents) would be pressured to attain smart drugs. However, if the drive to compete causes a person to act out on character flaws such as dishonesty, then could we somehow justify the use of enhancers for this greater good? Or would society resort to drug testing for students before testing?

Although there are side effects with both pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals, only the FDA requires that these effects are listed. The side effects of neutraceiticals are believed to be less severe. It is also believed that nurtaceuticals are less effective than prescribed medications.



Sun Jun 27, 2010 9:02 pm
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