Memory Enhancing Drugs .... I forget the names, but the faces are clear

December 21, 2004 00:31 by keithkaragan
I just read this article on the LA Times website (found via Slashdot ) about the new frontier in smart pills, memory enhancing drugs, drugs for a new society ... Pretty interesting read, and it raises some interesting points about the potential hazards of such drugs.
Personally, I'm intrigued by the prospect of having better memory and initially my reaction was that this sounds cool. By the finish of the article, I formed the conclusion that the effects are likely to be more detrimental than beneficial.
Consider the scenario where you start to use these compounds to cram on a subject (be it in an academic situation, or personal exploration of a subject), if the results seem to be positive what is the likelihood that you'll use this method again and again, and that sub-consciously you will become crippled in the ability to learn without the compound? I'd say that in a world where most adults are co-dependent and only able to function under a guise of delusion, the risk is high. For folks in very competitive and highly pressured lines of work this can easily become an occupational hazard - A 12 step program for recovery would follow suit rather quickly.
All this without considering the risk of physical addiction - which would be another physco-drama waiting to unfold.
These issues aside, there is also the issue of quality that is touched upon in the article. A main focus of the pro argument seems to be the ability to multi-task. I've always had issues with this. Yeah, I can multi-task - but I'm not a computer. I get distracted. If I really want to do high quality work, I don't multi-task - I focus. I turn off every distracting device and hide away in a place where I won't be disturbed and do my craft until I'm done, or reach a sane place to stop. In an interview with Tom Waits in an issue of PASTE I picked up, talked about the reasons he doesn't have a TV and other technological artifacts in his life - and it makes sense to me. I've also hear others pontificate on this same theme recently.
What is the point of this obsession with doing more than we can do well? In everyday life we are forced to do this: as parents, as workers, as citizens - why the hell would we want to volunteer to more things less well? Make you (or at least me) wonder who this really benefits in the end, somehow I think the masses that could be casualties in this revolution will fail to reap any benefits from being the proletariat of this wave except for being further exploited and enslaved to the workplace, while feeling more superior about their mental acumen - That is until they are no longer able to continue to contribute, and are stripped of their mental steroid - falling into a potential canyon of depression and inferiority. Sounds fun.
Anyway, back to focusing ... where are those pills?
Another pitfall suggested is that the overly focused user will fail to see the forest through the trees, and obliviate any real deep understanding of the content and it's context, and fixate on the minute details of the material. This sounds like a sort of mental illness, doesn't it? A kind of 'Rainman' syndrome. What if this attention to detail 'disorder' continues when consumption of the compound is stooped - can this illness persist? Definitely a bad deal if it was to.
Why the skepticism? Well, consider that the military is keen on exploring these compounds in their quest for bioengineering themselves a 'better' soldier that can operate on less sleep and be more effective. Don't take this as a dig to military people (or do, I can't control your thought patterns), but the military doesn't want a soldier that is to broad in thought. They want smart soldiers, but ideally the realms of things they need to be focused on are narrowed to the situation and tasks at hand - otherwise the enhancement would be a detriment, and the soldier would be thinking deeply about the meaning of Hemingway novel rather than scanning the operational theater for the enemy - or whatever task the individual was to be acutely focused on.
So, if that is their goal (in general) and these compounds assist in this goal they would seem to be incompatible with greater societal interactions necessary for everyday life. Any we know that people using these compounds aren't going to constrain their use to only academic pursuits, right?
Perhaps I'm degenerating into a Luddite - perhaps a conspiracy theorist - perhaps both. But I'm definitely skeptical about rapid adoption of items like these. Not because of immediate physical side-effects, or even the chance of death - That's the responsibility of the people who become early-adopters - but of the effects on society that 'me' focused technologies have on our greater common experience and quality of life. As the Baby Boom generation ages, and the smaller generations rally to drive social progress forward while respectfully caring for our parents and elders, can we afford to have more focus inward instead of outward?
'Put in your earplugs, put on your eye-shades, you know where to put the ball ... We're not gonna take it!'
'Hey, man ... can you spare $10 for a guy with his IQ down - I just want to consider a little Quantum Physics ... just one more time'
...And what you you call the unattended children of smart pill addicted parents? hmm.
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