The pursuit for human perfection is probably as old as civilization itself. Throughout history and societies, mythology was made of gods and other superior beans, heroes distinguished for their amazing strength… and specially gifted brain. And at the same time, ever since, a part of scientific research has evolved on this quest.
Never, as today, we have been actually capable of making this a reality. And never as today we have been challenged to actually do it. As we enter the 21st century, we live in highly developed societies, more and more complex. We face an increasing flow of information, complete with demanding contexts and fierce peers pressure to perform. The result? An eternal inability to respond to the demands of the day-to-day and increasing individual pressure to tune cognitive performance.
At the same time, societies in developed countries face the health challenges posed by our own success on increasing life expectancy. As medicine evolves and allows us to live longer, human bodies respond to ageing and we are confronted with new health issues, dementias being some of the most notable. We, as individuals and as societies, face an increasing individual pressure to promote healthy cognitive ageing.
It is easy to see that temptation to help enhance brain capabilities, for either reason, can be substantial. Science already evolved in several paths that may well allow us to do so. It already does. What was until recently seen as science fiction, is now science reality. First of all, through the use of pharmaceutical cognitive doping, an already common behavior for up to 20% north American college students. The pharmaceutical products utilized to do this are not the result of specific research, but rather already in use for the treatment of depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or dementias. In other words, for healthy subjects, these medicines act by reducing stress levels, stimulating cognitive response or allowing for memory enhancement. Designing super brains.
From the same starting point – the research for new treatments that will allow the response to unmet medical needs on neuropsychiatric disorders – discussion is developing about the possibilities raised by implanting chips on specific parts of the brain, according to the cognitive need of enhancement. Or the use of gene manipulation as a possibility to delete genetic diseases. As the science that allows us to treat and most likely cure neuropsychiatric diseases is already here, scientists and doctors alike discuss the open possibilities of creating super brains. And above all, if we should do it.
Even as we speak of neuropsychiatric diseases, and the increasing individual pressure to promote healthy cognitive ageing and preventing the development of dementia, we face the same challenges. Is the development of dementia a fatality, and at what stage are we allowed to interrupt the course of the disease? To what stretch? Today we know that apart from genetic suggestion, other risk factors for the disease are associated to unhealthy life styles. More than that, today we know that biomarkers on the blood may very well allow us to predict the risk someone will have of developing Alzheimer’s dementia But, again, should we?