Off-license users of modafinil—a drug developed to treat various sleep disorders—have known for some time that it doubles as a surprisingly effective cognitive enhancer, and with very few side effects. A new systematic review shows it’s true, raising some important ethical questions about the use of smart drugs.
Modafinil, which is sold under such brand names as Alertec, Provigil, and Modavigil, is a wakefulness-promoting drug used to treat conditions such narcolepsy, the effects of shift work, sleep apnea, and other sleep disorders. But it’s also used off-license by people—especially students—hoping to exploit its nootropic qualities.
Biohacking and transhumanist advances (including nootropics, extended longevity, cybernetic implants, better behavioral and genetic self-understanding) will materially advance our quality of life and productivity in the coming decade, but we need to be thoughtful about the potential social and ethical pitfalls as we transform. Google Trends shows a marked uptick in searches for “nootropics” and related biohacking fields, so now is the time to have the conversation about the direction we’re headed.
“For the modern mad men and wolves of Wall Street, gone are the days of widespread day drinking and functional cocaine use. Instead, in this age of efficiency above all else, corporate climbers sometimes seek a simple brain boost, something to help them to get the job done without manic jitters or a nasty crash.
For that, they are turning to nootropics,” writes Jack Smith IV on the cover story for an April 2015 edition of the New York Observer.
If you are one of the millions who have been suffering from glaucoma, then smoking marijuana can help you get the best eyesight and relieve pressure from they eyes. Intraocular pressure can increase in certain individuals, especially those who have diabetes. Glaucoma is serious disease that can cause blindness.
A vomit bucket sat on the old wooden floor in front of me, a roll of toilet tissue to my right, and when the shaman sung that low sinister note of the first icaro I puked until I naively thought that I could puke no more only to immediately puke again in some kind of volcanic eruption.
In return I was greeted by the indistinguishable sounds of whatever surrounded our jungle hut that dark night deep in the Amazon jungle. I thought that I was in a dream—except that this was no dream that I’ve ever had nor will ever want to have again.
Nootropics, more colloquially known as “smart drugs,” are in the zeitgeist. Hollywood productions like Limitless and Lucy to a CNN profile of a tech millionaire - Dave Asprey - spending $300,000 to hack his own body with research chemicals have certainly raised the profile of nootropics in the mainstream.
The argument from abandonment and suffering is a specific version of the problem of evil. Erik Wielenberg defends the argument in his recent paper ‘The parent-child analogy and the limits of skeptical theism’. That paper makes two distinctive contributions to the literature, one being the defence of the argument from abandonment and suffering, the other being a meta-argument about standards for success in the debate between skeptical theists and proponents of the problem of evil.
A year ago, I was traveling across the world. I had just moved out of my house, taken a leave of absence from my part-time job, and left without a lot of money or a good sense of whether I would be employed when I got back.
I slept on hard floors, in hostels, on couches, and in rooms that were built on rooftops. I went without warm showers for a long time. I hiked up into the mountains of Nepal, witnessed the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution firsthand, and tried to figure out what to do when a street fight broke out around me in Moscow.
Have you ever been in an online community where you trying to discuss information that you are deeply invested in and then someone, seemingly out of nowhere, begins to deliberately sow discord among the group? The intentional introduction of inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic posts with the deliberate intent of disrupting regular on-topic group discussion –commonly known as Internet trolling – has become a favorite pastime of many Christians in the world today. Unfortunately, many folks haven’t yet learned that one cannot serve both God and Internet trolling.
Discoveries in neuroscience, and the science of behaviour more generally, pose a challenge to the existence of free will. But this all depends on what is meant by ‘free will’. The term means different things to different people. Philosophers focus on two conditions that seem to be necessary for free will: (i) the alternativism condition, according to which having free will requires the ability to do otherwise; and (ii) the sourcehood condition, according to which having free will requires that you (your ‘self’) be the source of your actions. A scientific and deterministic worldview is often said to threaten the first condition. Does it also threaten the second?
Terry Hyland is Emeritus Professor at University of Bolton, UK and Lecturer in Philosophy at Free University of Ireland, teaching courses in mindfulness. He has written over 150 articles, 19 book chapters and 6 books. His book Mindfulness and Learning was published by Springer in 2011. I interviewed him via email.
Meaning is important. People want to live meaningful lives. They want to make a ‘difference’. They want for it all to ‘matter’. Some people think that this is only possible if God exists. They say that if God does not exist, then we are doomed to live finite lives on a finite planet in a finite universe. Everything will eventually collapse, crumble and die. It will all be for naught. But if God does exist, there is hope. He will save us; He can guarantee our eternal lives in the most perfect state of being; He can imbue the universe with purpose and value.
Consider the following passage from Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement. It concerns one of the novel’s characters (Briony) as she philosophically reflects on the mystery of human action:
She raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes done before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or did it have some little life of its own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking. If she could only find herself at the crest, she thought, she might find the secret of herself, that part of her that was really in charge.
In his 1932 “My Credo” Albert Einstein wrote “I do not believe in free will.” In the best-seller Free Will, Sam Harris declares the notion “incoherent.” Neuro-philosopher Garrett Merriam opines in an IEET interview “the notion of ‘free will’.. [is a] useless concept… I have high hopes that neuroscience will…eliminate [it]…”
After several decades of relative obscurity Transhumanism as a philosophical and technological movement has finally begun to break out of its strange intellectual ghetto and make small inroads into the wider public consciousness. This is partly because some high profile people have either adopted it as their worldview or alternatively warned against its potential dangers. Indeed, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama named it “The world’s most dangerous idea” in a 2004 article in the US magazine Foreign Policy, and Transhumanism’s most outspoken publicist, Ray Kurzweil, was recently made director of engineering at Google, presumably to hasten Transhumanism’s goals.
I have been interested in the above topic since taking a wonderful graduate seminar in the subject about 30 years ago from Richard J. Blackwell at St. Louis University. Recently a friend introduced me to a paper on the topic, “Bridging the Is-Ought Divide: Life is. Life ought to act to remain so,” by Edward Gibney who argues (roughly) that the naturalistic fallacy has no force. Gibney is not a professional philosopher, but I found myself receptive to his argument nonetheless.
Setting aside differences of metaphysic, how closely do the core values of utilitarians/abolitionists and Buddhists coincide? If suffering and its abolition are central to life on Earth, can differences between the two traditions be resolved to questions of means, not ends?
TMS involves using a computer controlled array of electromagnetic coils placed on or close to the scalp and then activated in such a manner that magnetic “waves” stimulate neural activity in selected areas of the brain. There are essentially two types of TMS technology largely defined by the power levels used. A lot of contemporary research (circa 2005CE) uses extremely high power levels, in many cases involving peak powers flowing in the coils in the megawatt region, to directly “kick” the brain in selected locations.
Let’s assume technological unemployment is going to happen. Let’s assume that automating technologies will take over the majority of economically productive labour. It’s a controversial assumption, to be sure, but one with some argumentative basis. Should we welcome this possibility? On previous occasions, I have outlined some arguments for thinking that we should. In essence, these arguments claimed that if we could solve the distributional problems arising from technological unemployment (e.g. through a basic income guarantee), then freedom from work could be a boon in terms of personal autonomy, well-being and fulfillment.
Psychedelic substances are resurging into the popular culture in ways unrivaled since the starry-eyed, long-haired baby boomers of the 1960’s dropped acid and discovered peace and promiscuity. However, today’s generation of visionary psychonauts are making a much more measured movement to the mainstream than the hundred thousand hippies who descended on San Francisco in 1967’s summer of love.
If selling afterlife perks is your business, then getting people to believe, attend and give “voluntarily” is the whole game.
Churches just got a new way to figure out who is sleeping in on Sunday morning: facial recognition software that scans the congregation and tracks who showed up. Churchix is a product of Skakash LLC, which sells Face-Six for law enforcement, border control, and commercial applications. According to CEO Moshe Greenshpan, 30 churches have already deployed the new software and service, which could be used to target members who need a nudge or to identify potential major donors among those who attend faithfully.
Four years ago I wrote a trio of essays that generated a barrage of hate mail. The feedback I received wasn’t 100% venomous, but it was more than 50% negative, with one essay getting a thumbs-down 80% of the time.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about puppets. I know that sounds way too paleo-tech, and weird, but hear me out. Puppets are an ancient technology, which, for all the millennia that passed before, and up until very, very recently, were the primary way we experienced animated art. For the vast majority of human history the way we watched projected figures in front of us playing out some imagined drama was in the form of shadows cast on the walls.
I’ve been thinking a lot about connectivity lately. On many levels. From the fact that Comcast really is just a horrible ISP, to the connection between the ecosystems on Earth, I think it’s safe to say we’re not separate entities. We are intimately connected within webs, both virtually (which is why when we all want to stream Netflix in the neighborhood, our internet slows around here) and materially (which is there is a link between an increase of flesh eating bacteria on our beaches after a major oil spill—those little guys just love a good tarball.)
If you voluntarily consume alcohol and then go out and commit a criminal act, should you be held responsible for that act? Many people seem to think that you should. Indeed, within the criminal law, there is an oft-repeated slogan saying that “voluntarily intoxication is no excuse”.
In the wake of news that scientists in China modified the DNA of human embryos, a number of scientists and bioethicists have called for a global moratorium on experiments that could alter the human germline. The White House has come out in support of such a ban — for now.