Caveat lector: This blog is where I try out new ideas. I will often be wrong, but that's the point.

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Cognitive enhancement goes Hollywood


My pals Kevin and m1k3y over at grinding.be recently posted about a little viral-intent video for the upcoming movie starring Bradley Cooper: Limitless.

I'm intentionally trying to not read too much about this movie beforehand, so I can't really give a plot synopsis beyond what I've gathered from the YouTube video and Wikipedia write-up. But from what I've gleaned, apparently Bradley Cooper's character gets hold of an experimental drug ("NZT"), and quickly finds that it greatly enhances his cognition. Like, to super-human levels, such that he becomes super-focused and an information-integration machine to the point that he can predict the outcome of future events based upon careful observations. Cool stuff! The movie has a ton of potential and could be very fascinating.

Now, for those of you who've been paying attention, this is a bit of an old topic. Scientists and bloggers have said pretty much everything that can be said regarding the ethics of cognitive enhancement. I can't really add too much, so I will instead direct you toward the relevant information.

There was a commentary in Nature a few years back titled, "Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy," by some big name ethicists and neuroscientists. They take a nootropic-positive viewpoint, but offer some careful, cautionary words.

That commentary was released around the same time as the famous Nature cognitive enhancement poll of scientists that showed that 20% of scientists had used nootropics.

Bradley Voytek nootropic Nature

Not surprisingly, this got a ton of press, especially in new-media outlets such as Wired and boingboing. (It's also worth reading the April Fool's prank coordinated by PLoS Biology EiC, Jonathan Eisen, with his conspirator, Bora Zivkovic, among others, about this topic.)

I've long been a fan of science fiction and, as I get older, I've also come to appreciate the role that sci-fi plays in non-fi society. Science-fiction can bring difficult topics of future possibilities into the cultural zeitgeist and get people talking about them. It can also help generate entirely new ideas to inspire future scientists and engineers. There's a great discussion from April of this year on NPR about just that. Specifically, Ira Flatow from Science Friday interviews Michael Okuda about the work he and his wife, Denise Okuda, did for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both of them worked as set and prop designers, and supposedly their work inspired the iPad, 23 years later. (Stories such as that abound in U.S. science and engineering!)

So anyway, I'm looking forward to the movie. Hope they do the topic justice.

Greely, H., Sahakian, B., Harris, J., Kessler, R., Gazzaniga, M., Campbell, P., & Farah, M. (2008). Towards responsible use of cognitive-enhancing drugs by the healthy Nature, 456 (7223), 702-705 DOI: 10.1038/456702a

Maher, B. (2008). Poll results: look who's doping Nature, 452 (7188), 674-675 DOI: 10.1038/452674a