Printed: 2018-05-25

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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Transhumanism: The Future of Mental Health

Alex Nichols

Ethical Technology

October 28, 2014

With the increasing attention Transhumanism is gaining in the media, there are numerous articles focusing on the gadgetry and cutting edge innovations on the horizon. We seldom turn our attention to pick apart the results of many current and older inventions. With respect the mental health, I believe Transhumanists have just as much responsibility to emphatically state their promise of a future rich with cutting edge technologies as they do to formulate exceptional approaches to breach barriers surrounding current notions of mental health.

There might have been a time where Transhumanist thinkers would endorse the mass marketing pills thought to generously sprinkle a relieving pixie dust on psychological health. Given the complex task of diving into where prescription drug use is appropriate and for what conditions, this alone merits the attention of such visionary thinkers as we find so generously in Transhumanist groups. 
As a footnote, I am not making any claims about those with very serious mental health conditions would would otherwise be clinically dysfunctional in absence of certain prescription drugs. I am however, targeting the population of individuals that are exacerbating mental illness perpetrated by absurd advertisement painting a reality that is too easily endorsed. Moreover, the abuse of these drugs for minor/moderate psychological malaise. It seems that a majority of people are taking advantage of marketing psychological well-being in the convenience of a pill.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Addiction, one American dies every 19 minutes from prescription drug abuse (UPI). Yet, our first inclination is to "ask your doctor" about a conveyer belt of symptoms stemming from Psychiatrists Bibles at the first inkling of an unsettling experience. So we're promoting both an infectious neuroses and synthetic zombie candies polluted with a pharmaceutical tattoo of approval. 

On another end of the drug use spectrum, Graham Hancock masterfully discuses the emergence of this 'War on Consciousness' in his 2013 TED talk on Ayahuasca and its potential mental health benefits. It was promptly taken down by TED due to its controversial nature followed by nagging questions. In brief, Hancock's discussion  addresses the powerful implications that psychedelics (such as Ayahuasca and Psilosybin) have on the profound debilitation that frequently accompanies addictions.
(For articles related to psychedelics and addiction treatment along with statistics on drug abuse in the US, refer to the end of the article).
There are so many problems with the word 'drug' and 'drug abuse'. You can abuse lots of things, like waffles and maple syrup. You can drink too much water and die. You can a hammer and build a house or commit a murder. Does this mean we should make waffles and maple syrup, water, and hammers illegal? No. The resounding issue is more how we use these tools and ultimately, what are technologies we've created.
The reality of life can flood our sense of grip on things. And people that are already wounded, masking unresolved issues, or distracting themselves from solving a problem through the use of drugs to manipulate our common concept of neurotypical functioning, shouldn't be reprimanded. They're already exhibiting cries for help. Instead of forcefully categorizing society into more distant layers of those functional and the mentally ill, we ought to pay more attention to the gap and its implications. Overdose, over-prescription, and over-thinking the simplicity of mental health screams a number of issues.
I think a first step for those in the front seats or on the stage of Transhumanist conferences, is to find a way to help us think more clearly about how to tackle the political barriers impeding us from progressing as a society when it comes to mental health. It shouldn't be fear of punishment and signs of monetary profit that govern behavior at a cultural level. Neither should hushing those who might have found important scientific research with psychedelics to treat mental health.
Transhumanism can help us upgrade and enhance our consciousness by exploring the very fabric underlying motivations, rationality, logic, emotion....etc. Where instinctively, we might have thought that pills and powders were a mean to upgrade oneself, it is hardly the case when we speak of pharmaceutical drug abuse and I would suspect, the imagined 'upgrading' or 'disintegration' of underlying issues that we hope to eradicate.
The mind is far more complex than popping a pill and looking at the clock for results. We need to cultivate a enduring curiosity about exploring our own behavior and as a culture so as to move closer to solving the unsettling history of mental health and prescription drug abuse in the United States. 

Alex Nichols currently lives in San Francisco California working at Lyft. Attending the University of British Columbia in Vancouver BC, he graduated with a BA in psychology and a minor in philosophy where he studied under the tutelage of two pioneers in health and cultural psychology.


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