The Morality, Pitfalls, and Questions of Neuro-Enhancing Drugs


Trent Wolbe:

Evolution is a nice, big idea. It connotes the glacial pace of an unmeditated act unfolding upon species, concepts, and ecosystems. It certainly doesn’t usually get branded as a feeling. But a couple months ago I felt this thing. Maybe a little like what a mommy feels when her fetus kicks the wall crossed with how the baby feels when it gets its pre-K diploma, and the best word I can come up with for it is evolution. Not the glacial kind, but the real-time, Matrix-flavored kind. I was too busy barreling through the wicked pipe of a 30-milligram Adderall to think about it much when it happened, though. Half an hour into my sunrise dose, I logged into, the extraordinarily put-together training site used by corporate operations to keep their employees up on hot software trends. As an avid Monday Night Football chyron fan, I had promised myself for years that I would learn After Effects as soon as I had the free time; the chemical wave pushed me through an especially potent laziness that has always kept me from becoming the motion graphics expert I knew I wanted to be.

In many respects, the evidently widespread fascination with Adderall (and neuro-enhancers in general) stems from the indication that current chemicals can be mixed in such a fashion that induces a state of consciousness in which productivity is honed to a bleeding-edge of capability. Feeling unproductive, tired, and distracted? Take thirty milligrams of Adderall and watch mountains of work dissolve before your pin-pointed eyes.

The experience is nothing short of revelatory. Previously encumbered by the bounds of your fallible human brain, Adderall highlights the scientific potential to unlock and whittle the human experience into whatever shape a person may desire. And yet, for all of the possibility, there are questions of endless importance that require answering: what side-effects might such enhancement pose for growing minds? What disruption might occur to our evolutionary process if the population becomes increasingly chemical-dependent? Are the benefits truly deserving of the cost — both financial and physiological?

In my eyes, the rise of Adderall poses many of the same troubles as the introduction of calculators into the classroom. With the ubiquity of tools capable of solving complex mathematic equations with little human intervention, the learning mind foregoes the historically necessary process of logical discernment. Without careful regulation, the learning mind can become dependent upon such tools — their minds incapable of contending with such complexity without help. Such is the concern with Adderall, insofar as its usage enables far greater human capability for intellectual work.

Although built for sufferers of A.D.H.D., Adderall — in my opinion — warrants sincere and balanced discussion. Technology enhancing the tangible human experience is becoming the primary goal of the industry, and I doubt it’s long before such experiential enhancements extend to the brain itself. Beyond the questions of morality, the scientific potential for human improvement is truly boundless. Just as we encourage the process of rapid innovation in the consumer and medical spheres, it’s fair to ask why this process should not extend to the human mind. Equally, it’s fair to recognize and discuss the evident human penchant toward cheating our environment.

Raising a great many of these important questions regarding the state of our digitally-distracted society, the morality of chemical performance enhancing drugs, and the potential danger such substances may pose to our evolutionary processes, Wolbe’s personal treatise into his Adderall addiction provides for an utterly riveting read. Equally, I would suggest Margaret Talbot’s 2009 piece for the New Yorker entitled, ‘The underground world of “neuro-enhancing” drugs.’

"What Apple's Money Can Buy"

Apple Innovation

In an article for The New Yorker, Nicolas Thompson has posed an interesting thought regarding Apple’s cash reserves. Nicolas writes:

Apple should take a big chunk of that money and put it into broad-reaching research and development. It should create something like DARPA, which has an annual budget of three billion dollars, or the old Xerox PARC or Bell Labs, or even like the old General Electric Research Laboratory, which in 1909 hired a brilliant young scientist named Irving Langmuir and told him to work on whatever interested him. He went on to help invent the incandescent light bulb, and he became the first industrial chemist to win the Nobel Prize.

Honestly, I think this is a brilliant notion.

Given Apple’s recent successes, the folks in Cupertino have a heretofore unseen capacity for experimentation and industry leadership. Having pioneered in a number of industries, Apple has developed a reputation for redefining previously uninspiring product categories. Whether it’s music or tablets, Apple has shown a repeated propensity toward the recognition of misguided concepts, and has impressively sought to reinvigorate innovation in such fields.

Now, however, Apple is at the peak of virtually all industries it touches. Barring the oft-rumored Apple Television, I can think of few more established marketplaces that Apple could upset.

Accordingly, Mr. Thompson’s vision of a dedicated DARPA-esque development wing is thoroughly appealing. Unbridled engineering coupled with Apple’s penchant for aesthetics makes for a compelling prospect — an entity with a distinct capability for entirely redefining the way in which we comprehend computing (again).

Google, of course, has its hushed development division but, lacking any design clout, such an organization lacks the truly affable characteristics that an Apple competitor might boast.

Thompson’s conclusion is particularly striking:

Apple doesn’t have an obligation to build stuff, show it off to overcaffeinated twenty-four-year-old geniuses, and then get stamped on. But technology advances most when basic research is done and ideas are shared. Apple could do a lot for the world, and a lot for itself, if it took some of that cash that’s sitting abroad and started telling chemists, physicists, and engineers to come to Cupertino and just dream.

An attractive prospect, n’est pas?