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.