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Radically Inept
Monday, June 21, 2004
  Just call me a "chemical genius"

Also via KurzweilAI.net Newsletter, but just seemed deserving of it's own post.

How smart do you want to be?

csmonitor.com, "Strange food for thought":
"The brain-enhancement revolution is already under way. The drug Ritalin, first given to control hyperactivity in children, now is routinely used by healthy high school and college students to sharpen their thinking before taking exams. The long-term health effects are unknown.

Modafinil was developed to treat narcolepsy, a rare condition causing daytime sleepiness. But now it is used by those who simply want to be wakeful and alert, and recently seven American track and field athletes admitted to using it to boost their mental preparation. Transcranial magnetic stimulation, used for nearly two decades to treat depression, has also been found to enhance problem-solving abilities in normal individuals.

Improved brain imaging, or mapping, is yielding new techniques such as 'brain fingerprinting,' which purports to be able to locate memories within the brain, raising troubling possibilities for invasion of privacy. 'There's nothing more private and personal than a person's memories,' says Richard Glen Boire, codirector of the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics in Davis, Calif."
Well, then what about the ethics?
As in the case of Ritalin, most of the current techniques for enhancing mental abilities come from efforts to treat diseases. In the 2002 book "Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution," influential thinker Francis Fukuyama called for governmental regulation of using such technologies for neural enhancement.

But even others with ethical concerns say drawing such a "bright line" between the use of a drug or other technology for therapy or for enhancement is problematic.

Pharmaceutical companies are going to want to produce and market drugs that appeal to 100 percent of the population, not just the minority who are sick at any given time, Mr. Boire points out. After all, many people would like a better memory, to be able to think a little more quickly, or to forget troubling memories.

Yet a number of issues of personal liberty are being raised, he says. "What rights does the person have to manage their own thought processes?" Boire asks. "Thought is not just something that is changed by reading a book or hearing a speaker. Now, and more and more, as time goes on, thought will be changed by pharmacological agents."

How will we be able to say yes to therapy but no to enhancement? Professor Caplan asks. He balks at the idea of telling someone "you can take a pill if you have dyslexia, but you can't take a pill if you're just a poor reader. It's very tough. It won't work."
And, you still have to dea with questions like these:
Even enhancement advocate Hughes agrees that safety remains important. The Food and Drug Administration needs to certify drug safety "and it needs to be independent of the biomedical industry in a way that it hasn't been," he says.

Mapping the brain brings its own set of concerns, Caplan adds. He foresees brain scans someday being used at airports to screen passengers. Do you have to give informed consent to have someone look at your brain? he asks. What if it can be done at a distance without your knowledge? And who's going to be allowed to keep information about your brain?

Some kind of regulation will be needed. "You don't want people just setting up machines on the sidewalk saying 'I'll tell you if your spouse is cheating on you,'" Caplan says.
Geeez. Talk about setting the stage for the Thought Police. And, is it like saying 'there is no Santa?'
The concept of a "self" does not make much sense in the framework of neuroscience, "where you and I are just big networks of neurons that can be changed by a drug or other procedure," Farah adds. On the other hand, she says, "I feel I have a self, I feel that other brains are persons, and even though this may be an illusion, it is part of my understanding of life that I am not ready to dispense with, no matter what neuroscience tells me!
A brief point on this 'mind v brain' argument. I no longer buy into the deterministic side of this argument. The reason for this, and I can't find the particular link I'm looking for, so this will have to do for now, BioEd Online: "Split personalities probed":
"One human brain can have two different personalities dwelling in it, according to a new imaging study - and each personality seems to use its own network of nerves to help recall or suppress memories.

Alternative personalities are typically developed by children who suffer severe trauma or abuse. The condition, called multiple personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder, appears to help people cope by cutting off difficult memories, making them seem as if they happened to someone else."
I was looking for a source describing how even the gamma and beta waves of the brain changed during these personality disorders, and specifically an article I remember about how a person who had one personality that was physically allergic to something (with all physical symptoms and treatment), and yet another personality was immune, and all affects would disappear when this personality was dominant. This is what convinced me that the 'mind', and not the 'brain', is the more powerful.

Also,while reading "Strange food for thought", that I recalled something I'd heard briefly on the news:SignOnSanDiego.com, "UCSD scientists study electrical stimulation to brain":
"Their study, which appeared this month in the journal Nature, suggests that chemical imbalances in the brain that lead to depression, phobias, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other conditions could be alleviated not by drugs but by direct electrical stimulation to specific areas of the brain.

'These drugs have side effects, and they don't work in all cases,' said Nicholas Spitzer, a UCSD neuroscientist whose lab conducted the study. 'We are beginning to think . . . that there might be another way.'

Neuroscientists have long believed that the connection between a brain cell and the neurotransmitter it generates is hard-wired in the genes.

A host of drugs, including Prozac and others, are designed to artificially boost or slow down the flow of neurotransmitters between neurons.

Depression, for example, is associated with low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. And there is strong, although not conclusive, evidence that schizophrenia is fueled by the flood of the neurotransmitter dopamine between neurons.

Other treatments to alter the flow of neurotransmitters have included electroconvulsive therapy, called ECT, and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, or TMS - both of which induce the flow of electrical currents through the brain in an attempt to alter the flow of neurotransmitters.

But researchers are not certain why these treatments work, said Spitzer."
So, yes these are most certainly interesting times, with some very interesting questions to be answered. What will the abuse rate be when a person can have a micro device planted that provides continuous stimulation to the pleasure zones? Do wind up the problem of people getting addicted because it's Better Than Life? And, if you try a prohibition, how do you enforce it? Seems like as the devices become nano-sized, enforcement becomes virtually impossible.

 
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