There are many times when people today are unwilling to label certain works as “science-fiction” due to the stigma surrounding the genre. Often viewed as something “nerdy”, certain movies tend to slip under the radar and avoid the classification. A good example is the movie “Limitless.” In the movie, the main character is given access to a drug called NZT that allows him to access “100% of his brain.” In short, it makes him a genius. Here’s an advertisement for the smart-drug from the movie:
Now I challenge you to go out and find somebody who wouldn’t take NZT if given the opportunity to. How could you turn it down? In the movie, NZT end’s up causing debilitating side-effects once you stop taking the drug, but towards the end the main character says he develops an improved version without those side-effects. Its pretty hard to find a con to this pill if all it does is make you smarter.
So do smart pills really exist? Check out this bit on Modafinil from CurrentTV:
Modafinil is used for a wide variety of applications all around the world. Here’s a list of some of the organizations currently using or investigating the use of Modafinil:
Seems like at the very least, it’s very useful for enhancing cognitive function in sleep deprived subjects. The Times ran a piece titled “Popping Smart Pills: The Case for Cognitive Enhancement” that shows that this phenomenon has spread much further than just college-students cramming for tests, military operations, and astronauts. Drugs like Modafinil, adderal, and ritalin are all being used around the world to help people accomplish a variety of goals. A surprising amount of professionals in various fields have admitted to using these smart pills to improve their performance. Here, a masters candidate in bio-ethics argues for the allowance of cognitive enhancers in a university setting, even admitting to using them to write his masters thesis. I find the most interesting part of the article to be the discussion of this image:
Here, you see the effects caffeine has on the brain vs. cognitive enhancers. With caffeine, the entire brain lights up more than normal. There is more activity, but there is also an abundance of over-stimulation. While a person may be more awake, they don’t necessarily focus any better. With cognitive enhancers however, you see how certain areas of the brain light up more, but others actually go darker. This is why it is so easy to focus on one task when using these drugs.
Traditionally, these drugs have been used to treat disorders such as ADHD, but have recently seen a huge rise in use across college campuses with students using it to study for exams or complete papers. Is there anything wrong with students gaining a pharmaceutical edge in their studies? Some argue that it’s like steroids for students and provides an unfair advantage. There may be some truth to this claim, as many athletes have been caught using modafinil as part of their doping regimens, such as baseball slugger Barry Bonds.
Regardless of the ethical implications, the existence of these drugs brings up some very interesting questions. How will we be able to manipulate our brain in the future? Substances that improve mental functioning in some way or another are currently labeled under the term “Nootropics,” and advancement in this field may lead to some very interesting developments. One day we may find ourselves able to manipulate our brain in intricate ways to bring about very specific results. Neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s will eventually be cured.
The technological singularity doesn’t only apply to machines, but to biological fields as well. We may very well find ourselves living in a future where we are all enhanced by Nootropics in one way or another on a daily basis.