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A Brain Augmentation Manifesto

Don’t mess with a good thing…

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…

And live simply, so that others may simply live.

These sound like great maxims – but are they really?

If you’re not prepared for a little mini-rant, it’s best you click the Back button on your browser right now.

The human brain is the best, most complex, and – all hyperbole aside – the most sacred thing in the known universe. If there is anything to which the sentiments in the maxims above should apply, it would be our brains.

Brains are amazing. The morphological differences in the human brain versus those of other animals have made us the dominant species on the planet. They allow us the gift of language, which has let us know ourselves. We think in narrative, we create symbols, and our insights become ideas that can be shared worldwide, across cultures and through oceans of time, surviving even ourselves. Our brains are so fantastically complex that we’re only now beginning to grasp how they really work.

And just like the world’s most skillful carpenter is going to be totally outmatched by the task of “building a rose,” our current means of augmenting our minds (through the physical substrate of our brains) is at best a blunt and awkward tool-set. We rightfully condemn the surgical lobotomies of the 1950s as fractional murders masquerading as medicine, and no doubt in the future our descendants (and our older selves) will grimace, remembering that we tried to affect specific neurological pathways with generalized application of chemicals throughout our entire bloodstream.

But we’ve got to start somewhere.

In our species’ effort to further improve our minds, there will be false starts, blind alleys, dead ends, and lives and minds wasted (literally and figuratively). But nobody said chasing the future was going to be easy.

The fact that our brains are our most precious assets is simply no reason not to muck about with them –it’s added incentive to do so. Biological evolution has brought us to an amazing launching-pad for the potential of Mind. The herky-jerk happenstance of history has helped us further, giving us the Enlightenment, a few hundred years of scientific progress, and finally, as a species we’re now ready to take toddling steps into the potentials offered by neuroscience.

It’s hard not to classify neuroscience as the most exciting field in the scientific spectrum today. It is the science of what we could become next. If we, as biological beings, are going to match pace (and continue to match wits) with our own silicon-based inventions – which are gaining intelligence at an astonishing rate – it is only by a near-fanatical devotion to neuroscientific progress that we will be able to do so.

To many people this may sound irresponsible.

Leave well-enough alone…

It’s your brain. You don’t know what the long-term effects will be…

But with the world changing at the incredible rate it is today – with feedback loops in technology and society remaking things year by year, decade after decade – we don’t know what the long-term effects of anything will be.  Anyone who is honest, intelligent and informed has no choice but to admit: We don’t know very much about the world we are preparing ourselves for.

So… Smart Drugs. The term itself is almost cartoonishly simplistic.

Are they something we should be taking? What are the risks? What are the upsides? What are the effects, and side-effects? Is there another way? Or should “other ways” simply be add-ons to a growing psychopharmacological prescription?

These are the questions Smart Drug Smarts is set up to explore. It would be dishonest not to characterize ourselves as enthusiastic advocates. Indeed we are. Brain optimization isn’t a topic for neutrality. But neither is this a region one should wander into without the best road map currently available. That is what we hope to provide.

Ultimately, for us it is about curiosity as to where Mind is going, and what we can do – individually and collectively – to look as far into that horizon as possible. We’ve come a long way since the paramecia of primordial night. But at the same time, dawn is only now breaking.

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