December 10, 2008

Get Smart

Hatched by Dafydd

I found an article on improving brain function biochemically, instead of by, say, higher education, sexual abstinence, and ideological purity of essence -- three proven failures. "Smart pills," that is to say.

Some earthbound IQs on both left and right are wringing their hands at the very idea of boosting intelligence or concentration via psychopharmacology; but as an old student of Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson (I took multiple multi-day seminars from each over a number of years), it's old home week for me.

The ethical questions such intervention raises are interesting; but ultimately, I don't think the neophobes (a.k.a., Luddites) have an argument to stand on: There is nothing inherently unethical about making people smarter, though I agree that smartening up alone will not solve our most pressing problems.

It would certainly help, though; I consider intelligence increase to be a necessary but not sufficient component of evolving the human race into something more advanced. (For the killer arguments on this issue, I call your attention to Poul Anderson's early novel, Brain Wave, 1954.)

Here is the somewhat shallow and ham-fisted way the Associated Press "analyzed" the questions:

Healthy people should have the right to boost their brains with pills, like those prescribed for hyperactive kids or memory-impaired older folks, several scientists contend in a provocative commentary.

College students are already illegally taking prescription stimulants like Ritalin to help them study, and demand for such drugs is likely to grow elsewhere, they say.

"We should welcome new methods of improving our brain function," and doing it with pills is no more morally objectionable than eating right or getting a good night's sleep, these experts wrote in an opinion piece published online Sunday by the journal Nature.

Needless to say, in this dark age of science, the idea of better thinking through chemistry has stirred up a hornet storm:

Some health experts agreed that the issue deserves attention. But the commentary didn't impress Leigh Turner of the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics.

"It's a nice puff piece for selling medications for people who don't have an illness of any kind," Turner said.

Note the implication: If you don't have what Ms. Turner would call an "illness," you have no business altering yourself chemically. How liberating!

I personally consider stupidity a disease caused by a malfunctioning brain, leading to a lack of intelligence that society would be well advised to eradicate, if it can. But the same holds true for sociopathy -- which I envision as a lack of empathy leading to amoral, criminal, or unethical behavior.

In reality, civilization would be immensely benefitted by increasing both intelligence (chemically or otherwise) and traditional morality, which must go hand in hand, or catastrophe ensues:

  • Increasing intelligence without increasing morality leads to a world of Adolf Eichmanns and A.Q. Khans;
  • But increasing morality without increasing intelligence leads to a world of Prince Charleses and PETA-people, well-intentioned dimwits who do just as much damage as the mad scientists; how? By successfully palming off their own follies and foibles onto the nation as a whole.

I say hurrah for increasing intelligence! Or to put it in a Learyesque context, hurrah for Space Migration, Intelligence Increase, and Life Extension (SMI²LE), by any means necessary. So long as we simultaneously work just as hard to increase traditional moral understanding -- also necessary but not sufficient, and upon which our entire civilization of freedom, liberty, Capitalism, and individualism is built.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 10, 2008, at the time of 3:32 AM

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The following hissed in response by: snochasr

I think you have to distinguish between intelligence and education, or between stupidity and ignorance, as the opposites.

The difference between intelligence and stupidity is that there is a limit to intelligence. Ignorance can be fixed by education, but stupidity is forever.

Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are by most assessments highly intelligent individuals. Yet their policy prescriptions can only be called stupid. Boosting their intelligence would not help one whit, without the knowledge and understanding of history, economics, and yes, moral underpinnings of what makes America great.

The above hissed in response by: snochasr [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 10, 2008 12:32 PM

The following hissed in response by: YOURMOMMA

The proof of intelligence is in behavior, in everyday life, on IQ tests, and in coursework. The idea of chemically enhancing intelligence has been around for a long time, but being more intelligent is quite different from feeling more intelligent. So far, there are no data to indicate one gains intelligence by taking pills, although pills may make one feel more intelligent. But, the only use for feeling more intelligent is in playing the game, "Just look how smart I am." We've already got too many of those players. And, adding to their numbers by engaging in a "get smart quick" scheme, is only for suckers and con men.

The above hissed in response by: YOURMOMMA [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 10, 2008 4:03 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh


Intelligence is to a large extent biologically based, whether genetic or environmental. Thus, the odds are very high that it would be possible to boost intelligence (in any of its aspects) biochemically... whether we can do it today or not.

It's similar to embryonic stem-cell research: We can very likely today, this very minute, extract stem-cells from an embryo and create a new stem-cell line without harming the embryo; but even if we cannot, we will soon be able to do.

You can never properly talk about science as a static collection of facts; it changes constantly, sometimes even unpredictably.

We cannot reliably boost intelligence today, but we certainly will be able to do so some time from now, probably within our lifetimes. So it's foolish to refuse to discuss the issue: Space migration, intelligence increase, and life extension will all come along, whether we wish them to or not. The only question is whether America will be in the forefront, or tagging along behind other countries.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 10, 2008 9:42 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dick E


I like the idea of me being able to take smart pills. But not you -- or anybody else, either.

The problem is, if everyone has what we now consider to be a superior intellect, who’ll be left to dig ditches? It’ll be beneath everyone’s dignity -- besides boring us all to tears.

For that matter, why would anyone be interested in doing anything we currently call “work” in a world where everyone has an IQ of 250? (350? 500?) That’s not to say that all those pulsing, quivering brains wouldn’t find fulfilling activities to occupy themselves. Anyone that smart will find a way. Maybe.

My IQ is a tad below 250, so I’m not sure what interests such geniuses. But I suspect we’d have to develop ways to replace essentially all manual labor with technology, from the aforementioned ditch digging to flying airplanes. And who’d be interested in any phase of manufacturing, from materials extraction through retail sales?

I’m sure that with all those really smart people around, we would find a way to muddle through. But would we really be happier? I dunno.

It’s like human cloning. It may become possible, and if it’s possible someone will likely do it. But should it be considered a good thing to do?

(Maybe we could achieve a much lesser improvement than I surmise above. Perhaps we could merely become a big Lake Woebegone, where everyone is above average. That still doesn’t make it a good thing. And if a little improvement is possible, science will likely march on to higher and higher IQ’s.)

The above hissed in response by: Dick E [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 10, 2008 11:47 PM

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