Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If this is the placebo effect, I'm going to look like a fool.

To try and make ends meet while unemployed, I have been taking part in a study of the effects of Adderall on memory, concentration, and personality. For that work this morning I took a pill which was either Adderall or a placebo, watched an hour of the Planet Earth documentary while the drug kicked in, took a personality test, and took part of the SAT.

The drug's effects are likely still with me as I compose these thoughts.

This was my first time taking a pill for the study, but I feel pretty confident that this one was the real stuff. The sharpest changes I notice are an increased need to concentrate and increased self-awareness.

I say "need to concentrate" rather than "ability to concentrate" because I feel a drive to go deeply into whatever is my focus. I dove deeply into each separate task on the SAT, yet switching gears was unpleasant. I wanted to be absolutely immersed in each task while I was doing it, and having to come back to the surface before diving into a different task was unpleasant.

This behavior made clock management a little more difficult. Rather than having the back of my mind tethered to the big picture of completing the entire test as best as possible, I wanted to delve fully into every problem and task for its own sake, spurning the larger task at hand.

While I was able to concentrate more and attack problems with fiery zeal, I don't think I necessarily performed better. For instance, at the beginning of the math section there were several problems which I had trouble completing, yet with which I was fairly sure that I would not normally have much trouble. I felt as though there were a couple of circuits in my brain not connecting well.

I think the increased self-awareness I notice may not be directly due to the pill, but rather due to my curiosity as a scientific observer of myself in changed circumstances. Nevertheless I found myself thinking about my posture and my motion on my bicycle in ways I don't normally, which are the kinds of observations I wouldn't be making just based on searching for the pill's effects.

The questions lurking behind any such study are, first, can we actually expand human capabilities with this pill? Second, should we?

The consequences of answering those questions with respect to Adderall are pretty benign, since its effects in any rate aren't dramatic. Whether we do or we don't, most people's lives probably don't stand to change much.

But those answers will follow us once we open the door to more dramatic "enhancements." Our ability to change who we are and our descendants will be undoubtedly will increase, whether by taking drugs to change our minds and our bodies, by altering our genetic code, or by other means. In my opinion, the answer to the first question (can we?) is a clear yes.

I wonder whether many who are providing those yeses to the first question will give the second question a second thought. To most I expect it, too, leads to an obvious yes.

The specter of transhumanism has already graced our baseball players and our Olympic athletes, and it looms larger in the future as we journey inward. Should we? I hope to write more later.


l e i g h c i a said...

Drinking yerba mate seems to be my "brain drug". It makes me think faster and make connections between ideas more easily. All my best ideas and revelations seem to occur to me after consuming copious amounts of yerba mate... Funny enough, I haven't really taken any mate in the last few years... Seem too lazy to deal with the gourd and the straw.

Tim. F said...

Really interesting acute self-observation. Glad you decided to share with more people than just the ones who are paying you.

M. Weed said...


Stefanie said...

i'm going to ditty m. weed on this one :)

but only because i've been up all night memorizing the unique features of each of the 33 vertebra.

you can scale up your question, to ponder what new fancy drugs and treatments will do to effect humans and transhumanism, and you can also scale it down, and ask if the same thing is done by addiction to coffee (Guilty!), or even just personal routine and daily habits that we can't seem to get through the day without

ok, off to go consume my drug of choice, caffeine. mmmm las drogas. :)

Tim. F said...

Are these the ones researching you?

Nicholas said...

Leighcia - Sounds like good medicine.

Tim. F - Why yes, those are the people researching me. Dr. Martha Farah is the one in charge. I hadn't seen that article - thanks for pointing it out. It seems to highlight a few of my concerns.

Stef - Are you implying that because most people have no problem with drinking coffee, "scaling up" the question should similarly give us no reservations? I note that, while it would not be hard to put caffeine in a pill and indeed I'm sure you can purchase such a thing, very few seem comfortable making their use of that substance so explicit.