Spilling the brain in a bottle

Joseph Heckler 2010/10/28 23:25

Spilling the brain in a bottle. Why do we take drugs? To feel better, cure an infection, maybe get a high and alter our perception. Perception is an interesting choice of words here because what I’m going to be talking about is just that. The ability to alter it for our benefit, not just go on a rollercoaster ride of colors but to actually interoperate our world in such a way that gives us an advantage to navigate through the physical world. I wanted to talk about brain electronics but I felt the subject was not relevant enough to our time and that biological reactions to chemicals seem more current. I also want to go into the cause and effects of just creating these drugs and what long-term benefit their might be not just short term i.e. the effect on the current user their children and of society as a whole.

Let’s say you’re in a horrible car crash, you have lost an arm and burns cover 40 percent of your body. You would probably be on a constant drip of morphine if not kept unconscious because of the pain. These drugs are administered by experts in their field who have had many years of training and work experience. On the edge of the coin for this let’s say you are at any party you have ever been to that has involved a keg of beer. Your there to have a good time and you have control over how much you are going to alter your perception. Both of these cases are acceptable, taken in extreme both could be fatal but we are using them just as they are. Lastly on the dark side of the coin would be the kid who loves to “build” model airplanes or the effect it gives him while “building” them. This case is sad but can be used to represent what happens when an not sound of mind individual gets a hold of airplane glue. The drug in this case has negative effects in the long-term but short term gains and the intention is not for benefit in any area except sense experience alteration.

Neuroenhancement can be used in my opinion in one of these three ways. First is the medicinal use to help the mentally unstable or deficient. The second would be the social use for the layman’s increased mental capacity to compete with others in the workplace or maybe even fun. Lastly and what worried me is the unregulated use of powerful neuroenhancement drugs by individuals who are self medicated. Let’s say we could have the effects of heroin at will without the side effect of poverty, family wrecking, and life destroying. It still stinks of hedonism and I believe there should be a strict regulation of the public’s use of this type of neuroenhancemnet drugs. There will always be those who take things into their own hands and misuse drugs although that is not to say we should not develop brain enhancing drugs but to account for the deviation in human action when these become mainstream. We put our children on brain altering drugs as it is so they can “concentrate in school”. It feels wrong that we have to put children on something to alter their behavior so that they can get better grades. I can understand if the case is insanity or autism, as a parent, to drug up the kid all day, but for the relatively normal it worries me. The problem I have with it is that the developing brain shouldn’t have crap put in it, maybe after 20 something go have a rock and a line if you want because then you have more of a choice and the ability to plan ahead.

It seems to me there is less of a choice when it comes to medically indicated use of neuroenhancement so I guess the real jist of this whole paper is whether it would be beneficial or not shorter or long-term of the individual and society to benefit from a beer like brain booster. By beer like brain booster I mean a mild to medium brain enhancer with mild to medium side effects that would be socially acceptable. The weak - Mild benefit, mild unwanted effect.

On a personal level I drink my share of coffee and I tend to become very intense and more focused in what I do, not because I am more awake because I am over awake. I can tell when the coffee is working in that I feel better about everything, I’m generally more happy, I become more excitable maybe even obnoxious at times. I literally change who I am and how I interact with people. I change some of the aware parts that are me and I think are its better. Apparently I don’t mind the effect because I keep drinking coffee. The downside of this is I can be a big dork, and be pretty sleepy later on in the day. Both of which I can deal with. I’d call coffee a weak neuroenhancer not because of any official medical science but because it helps me think mildly and perform tasks better.

The medium - Substantial benefit, substantial unwanted effect. I’m not sure if we are here yet but let’s say there is a drug that gives you 10-20 points up on your IQ score with maybe a long term determent if you stop taking the drug. You become addicted to it (like nicotine) or you get headaches every so often (once or twice a week) but you can really notice the effect and it seems to have helped you make better decisions. We could trolley car this example all day so I want to say that if the use is like example above I don’t see a problem with it. The heavy - Become god, might meet him.

Something out of science fiction or a comic book, tremendous increase in human capacity to think but at the loss of something, gender, ability to walk maybe a loss of humanity ie empathy. This I imagine would be very individual specific and probably illegal for the layman. This would have to be medically indicated or maybe the use of it would prevent mass casualties in some great war. Even if someone who is not going to follow the directions and O.D.s on the drug dies it could still be a viable option. We have deaths from drugs all the time to for an argument against a neuroenhancer on the basis of lack of strict control would be insane. I can see this aspect of neuroenhancement being politicized and it worries me that we might write this off because we could lose a few weak/bad eggs.

After researching what other scholars thought I’m inclined to say that if I were to care about our society and individual freedom, freedom to choose seems the best course of action. Although we don’t seem to have the heavy artillery as of yet I think we are not going to know unless we try. Human life is a sacred thing, even more so if you don’t believe in a soul. So if we can improve the human condition of living I’m all for it. But it should not take the place of parenting and self control. There are no miracles besides what seems to be the cosmic accident of our existing. I don’t think that neuroenhancement in our near future has the bottled brain but even if it did I imagine we will tread slowly down this road out of caution.


Nagel, Saskia K. “Too Much of a Good Thing?” Springer Science: 109-19. Neuroethics. 30 Apr. 2010. Web. 25 Sept. 2010. <http://www.springerlink.com/content/dr051h88w045km5p/fulltext.pdf>.

Dees, Richard H. “Better Brains, Better Selves?” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 17.4 (2007): 371-95. Http://muse.jhu.edu.proxy1.nku.edu/journals/kennedy_institute_of_ethics_journal/v017/17.4dees.html. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Web.

Schermer, Maartje, Ineke Bolt, Reinoud De Jongh, and Berend Olivier. “The Future of Psychopharmacological Enhancements.” Http://philpapers.org. 11 Feb. 2009. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. <http://www.springerlink.com/content/d2u526x57x57txt1/fulltext.pdf>.


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Very interesting discussion. You've raised some great questions. I think it would benefit from the distinction between therapy (needed to get back to normal) and enhancement (going beyond normal). You hint at this when you mention medicinal uses of drugs as opposed to social uses. You also have found some good sources. It would be nice to explore a more principled response to when and why enhancement is permissible.

The credibility of your exposition would benefit from using those sources (referring to them in text with citations) along the way. I suggest some formatting (into subsections). Use complete citations in your bibliography: cite journal if article was published as well as the URL.

101/essays/spilling_the_brain_in_a_bottle.txt · Last modified: 2010/12/09 18:37 by hecklerj1