Polls suggest that as many as one in five scientists already take brain-boosting drugs -- usually the stimulants Ritalin, Adderall, or Provigil.
And there's nothing wrong with that, suggest the authors of a provocative editorial in this week's issue of the science journal Nature.
"We call for a presumption that mentally competent adults should be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs," they write. The editorial also calls for further research into the risks and benefits of using drugs in this way.
It's a prominent list of authors:
I'm no scientist, but I am my own ethicist, so I went to my doctor a couple of months ago and asked him for a prescription for Provigil, which I wanted in order to check out the anti-sleepiness effect and the cognitive boost. Mostly the latter. He said No, it wasn't indicated, and he was cautions about the possibility of severe side effects, as small as the odds may be.
"Get more sleep," he told me. Yeah, I know, but that's just not working out. Not enough time in the day to do the things I want to do.
Is it cheating or unnatural to use brain-boosting drugs?
Yes, say critics such as Leon R. Kass, MD, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics. It is cheating. But even worse, it's unnatural.
"One major trouble with biotechical (especially mental) 'improvers' is that they produce changes in us by disrupting the normal character of human being-at-work-in-the-world ... which, when find and full, constitutes human flourishing," Kass wrote in 2003. "With biotechnical interventions that skip the realm of intelligible meaning, we cannot really own the transformations nor experience them as genuinely ours."
This loss, Kass argues, subtracts from our humanity.
Bullshit, Dr. Kass. Bullshit.