This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.
I am a Senior at Emory University and am currently pursuing a double major in Neuroscience and Chemistry. Currently, I am applying to medical school. My interest in healthcare lies primarily in understanding the behavioral motivations of patients as they navigate through various healthcare systems. I also wish to study how to effectively translate innovations powered by biomedical research into accurate health information for patients and optimized healthcare delivery. Neuroethics allows me to focus these interests onto patient dignity and rights when considering the role of novel therapeutics and interventions in treatment. Studying this fascinating field has given me a perspective on the role that deontological considerations play in both neuroscience and medicine as a whole. It is with this perspective that I hope to approach my patients with a balanced worldview, taking into account both individual rights as well as stakeholders and developers participating in a rapidly changing field.
Hearing from leading scholars at the Neuroethics Network was a once in a lifetime moment for me. Participating in a wide-ranging, multi-faceted discussion about frontiers in the field proved to be really engaging and fostered my development as a student. Each seminar challenged my understanding of various topics both within and beyond the field of neuroscience, and each speaker gradually enhanced my appreciation of what is a growing field.
One session that I particularly enjoyed focused on Science Fiction and Neuroethics. During the session, we viewed the movie Limitless. In the movie, Bradley Cooper takes NZT, which allows him almost unlimited cognitive abilities. He gains fame, fortune, and myriad positive and negative consequences. The movie asks us to consider both the benefits and drawbacks of cognitive enhancement; Cooper’s character eventually realizes that the drug not only enhances cognition, but this enhancement is to the detriment of his physical health. Compounded with the drug’s side effects are looming parties attempting to get their own fix, which put Cooper’s life in significant danger throughout the movie. In the end, the movie aims to balance out its own plot by blessing Cooper’s character with this drug followed by having him discover and contend with his own Achilles heel.
After the movie, the panel delved deeply into discussion about the movie’s themes, particularly what we can learn from science fiction when understanding science. The movie shows a young white male winning victories through the Western lens of success – i.e. an individualist and capitalist society’s perspective on what it means to truly win. Eventually, a member of the audience noted that the current debate on cognitive enhancement is Western-oriented, and thus provoked an intense discussion on how the movie and different societies perceive enhancement and success. One of the panelists noted that if a person from a collectivist society were to be offered cognitive enhancement, they would be concerned about whether their own social networks have access to enhancement as well. The fact that the drawbacks of NZT affected Cooper only physically could also be taken into consideration as a uniquely Western portrayal of enhancement. A movie from a collectivist society could have easily defined the drug’s side effects to include hampered ability to connect emotionally with others (or to be excluded from a group) and thus affect their ability to actively participate in society despite their newfound intelligence. Therefore, Limitless is a uniquely Western (perhaps even uniquely American) portrayal of the benefits of drugs that enhance our cognitive abilities. Yet, cognitive enhancement has the potential to affect all societies, not just our own.
|Image courtesy of Flikr.|
1. Mehlman, Maxwell J. "Cognition-Enhancing Drugs." The Milbank Quarterly 82, no. 3 (2004): 483-506.
Want to cite this post?
Das, Somnath. (2016). Redefining the X and Y-Axes of Cognitive Enhancement. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2016/08/redefining-x-and-y-axes-of-cognitive.html