Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Smart Hall of Fame

Okay, okay, you guys are gonna get bored with me, but I have read something else that has made my mind freeze and my thoughts go "pause." This is something I want to think about, and I want to think about its implications. (There are so many puns in that opening, but only puns to me since I know where I am going...)

This is just an open conversation with myself here -- you may want to go and see what's on Bravo or play another game of Grand Theft Auto IV.

I just read the essay, "Brain Gain" by Margaret Talbot, in the New Yorker from its April 27, 2009 issue. (I so stay behind on these -- thank goodness, TNY are not a timely magazine.)

I can't believe the coincidence that I read this article after completing the Ishiguro novel.

Whoa. Is this divine intervention?

I am not going to make the segue for you since if you haven't read the novel and you might still desire to, I don't want to give anything away.

The gist of the Talbot article is that we have entered the age of "cosmetic neurology" for those, of course, who can afford it or should I say those who want it. I'm thinking that I may want it. I mean, I do, but then I don't, and then I have to think about it.

There is an ever increasing awareness that certain drugs like Adderall, a stimulant prescribed for children diagnosed with attention deficit, can give any of us an added brain boost. If you have too much on your plate, you can pop a few milligrams of a drug like this, and presto, you can stay up later, focus better, and even perhaps score better on a test. Does this sound like a good thing for our competitive society?

Maybe? Maybe not?

Talbot did interesting research -- she interviewed a Harvard student who took this "cognitive enhancement" in order to finish a essay, conduct a organization meeting, and, of course, to do the quota of necessary "partying" associated with attending college.

She discussed these drugs with psychologists, researchers, drug executives, as well as a professional poker player who made millions while taking a drug that allowed him to focus on the play at hand. No pun intended, of course. (He already had a natural propensity to succeed at poker -- in no way did it make him have the ability to play -- it just enhanced his concentration.)

In our world, America, where "over the top" is a the norm, this idea that we can chemically enhance ourselves to be better students, better workers, and perhaps, better competitors with world markets, is a tempting concept.

Do we go there? I guess, it doesn't matter since it looks like we already have.

Talbot made comments, some tongue in cheek, about this "lifestyle improvement market" that is so typical of our society, as we hurry from one entertainment to the other. If the eventual "quality of life consultants" want to prescribe medication to make us "think" better, then who am I to say, "Oh no, let's do it the old-fashioned way."

How interesting would this have been in my classroom where my previous students could hardly concentrate on Spark Notes -- when they could have not only had the ability to concentrate on Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, but to maybe, gasp, have them talk "smarter" about it?

*shudders for a moment*

Shazam. This sounds like teacher's nirvana.

But is it?

I hear the Twilight Zone music as well as remember Shakespeare's words.. "it's a brave, new world." The folks in The Tempest weren't sure they wish to embrace it... do we?

Is this ethical?

Do I want a little milligram or two to go with my morning crossword? To allow me to have more stimulating conversations with Harold at Publix? To help me sort out the technology of my Apple TV instructions?

As Talbot points out -- is it any different than caffeine, nicotine, or the the idea that we were encouraged to eat "fish" right before taking our SATs?

Talbot concludes that we are living in a "knowledge based economy" (boy, are my former students in trouble) and that if we need the "mental energy, fitness, or horsepower" to get the job done -- is there any fault in that?

Will "academic steroids" keep us out of the Smart Hall of Fame? That's my question.

What do you think? (without the Adderall)

*tee hee*


  1. You'd kill a lot of time by having lunch with me and chris :D

  2. Hmm. I'm a bit old fashioned in the sense that I seek a proper ordering of reason, emotion, and appetites. I sincerely want to function well and I believe this is the key to happiness in life. I suppose that's due to too much Plato and Aristotle in my education. I myself have never taken the drug but I've known others who did. It doesn't seem to make one smarter but simply more capable to concentrate. I believe if something is truly important then concentration won't be an issue. If I know I might fail a test my mind can't help but be consumed by doing well on the test. This is logically equivalent to me saying if has a problem concentrating then it's not important (enough) for that person. I often use the analogy of smoking to explain this point. We all hear the warnings, the statistics, and so forth. But I believe that our foresight is so limited that we don't fully comprehend the damage we will do to ourselves. Thus, we don't really know how important an action is that we do now, for how it effects our future. For studying, I propose the same 'turn,' which is that the drug might help a person study, but it's needed because the person doesn't fully comprehend the situation they're in. Reliance on drugs for this problem only temporarily solve the matter from a practical stance, but not an ethical one. If anyone wishes to function well in life they need to know what is Good for them, and then the emotions and appetites will follow suit to succeed for some good reason. In short, I think it's unethical (not to be confused with immoral), for the simple sake that the victim does him/herself great injustice in relegating their own well being to a temporary drug effect rather than self-discipline that will help them function well for life. I think this functioning leads to a moral life but that's another story :D