Redefining the X and Y-Axes of Cognitive Enhancement
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Another fascinating idea that repeatedly came up during the panel focused on how cognitively enhancing drugs would shift or flatten a society’s own bell curve. Ethical considerations ranging from universal access to drugs to how these enhancers may change our definition of disability were brought up. However, throughout the discussion I gradually realized that before we begin discussing the bell curve’s distribution, we must also consider what exactly is on the y-axis; the panelists had a discussion about what exactly these drugs are helping, and one noted that cognitive enhancers strengthen already established neuronal networks that enable the user to be better at what they already knew was beneficial towards their self-gain. The movie, for example, did not discuss Cooper’s ability to predict and understand what others were thinking; yet a user’s theory of mind is part of their cognitive ability, too. Cooper’s sensory abilities and emotional intelligence were also not profoundly enhanced, but these abilities, too, are cognitive in nature. I went up and spoke to the panelist about this thought, and he told me that he felt that “cognitive” enhancement is a misnomer. These drugs do not enhance all cognition, but rather they strengthen already existing cortical networks to perform tasks that were previously learned such as typing on the computer, learning a new language, or computing a math problem. They are not creating a new person per se, they are rather bettering the old one.
Ethical considerations such as drug access for all and drug safety were repeatedly brought up during our Neuroethics debates in class as well as during the conference. However, there is a critical need to reassess our own perspective on how this debate really should be structured. Cognitive enhancement’s effects have already made deep inroads into our society , so a debate representing its efficacy across multiple parameters is necessary in order to safely control the regulation of this neurotechnology. Increasing globalization also means that cognitive enhancement is likely to affect societies other than our own, and thus there is a need to reframe the debate to have a global lens as well. As I learned from the Neuroethics Network, if we reframe the debate to reflect the reality of cognitive enhancement’s potential and limitations of the current technology and the multiple stakeholders affected by these neuroscientific developments, we will be more able to propose more fruitful uses of such neurotechnologies.
1. Mehlman, Maxwell J. “Cognition-Enhancing Drugs.” The Milbank Quarterly 82, no. 3 (2004): 483-506.
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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