Friday, April 11, 2008

Replies to Catherine

In response to This post

I'm not sure what I think. I'm personally not a fan of drugs,1 and we do have sanctions against doping in such things as sports events. So why would this be any different?

I want to draw the readers attention to another set of disciplines that has associations with drugs: the creative arts. Music, in particular (at least according to my musician friends) has a thriving drug culture, far in excess of scientists in terms of the variety and regularity of consumption. And yet, while these artists may be committing crimes, it is not often expressed in terms of their cheating their field by taking drugs, which (and especially I suspect, considering some of the modern art scene) may enhance the `creative process.' It would seem that artists dope quite heavily in terms of using substance to enhance performance. And yet, despite the legal and health problems associated with drug use, it does seem to be a bit of a norm in society that painters, musicians and other dramatic and creative artists will use drugs.

This isn't just to target the arts. Any fan of my good mate Hunter S. Thompson will be aware of a certain precedent his story and indeed popular media (he says after watching an episode of about a drug-using journalist portraying the journalism industry as a bit drug-oriented, although perhaps I could go out on a limb and say that's less hallucinogenic (Thompson aside) and my stimulant-based.

So what would be wrong with scientists? I guess one way to look at this is to compare our intuitions as to which one of any of the variety of drug-using sections of society scientists can be most closely identified with, and what the drugs are actually doing. If we identify them with athletes, and the use of drugs to augment the scale of their performance based attributes, i.e. steroids, HGH, and diuretics all augment an attribute that directly relates to the performance of the skill of the athlete: strength, muscle building capacity, or weight. It is also very goal-driven: the drugs are consumed with the end of the drug use being a short period (generally) of competition.

It would seem that the use of scientists is more long-term - they use drugs to aid them in staying focused over long periods of time. In this case, I would compare them to journalists: they use stimulants or anti-anxiety meds to allow them to remain focused for long periods of time. The drugs (the study aid capacity of Ritalin I imagine is based around it's affects of ADHD - it actually allows you to think about one thing longer, while keeping the frantic energy of high-stress jobs intact) are designed not to enhance an attribute. If they were taking drugs to enhance data retention, mathematical ability, or some other cognitive function, we could compare them to the doping of athletes. If their drugs made them more creative, then maybe artists, but it seems to me that the primary end of these drugs is that one that escapes us all: time. Time not worrying, not procrastinating (he says writing in a blog instead of his thesis); time to study. That's a journalist mentality.

So the question now remains is: is this morally permissible? And that's a harder problem to examine. I can't go to the moral high ground here: I've had more than my fair share of 3am, wired-on-inconceivable-amounts-of-caffeine mathematics sessions during my honours thesis and previous to that in undergrad. What I can say is that it does reinforce a certain preconception about the sciences: that the big leaps in science is a young man's game. It's played like a high-stakes game, as the study shows with the higher proportions of drug users being in the younger age groups. Is this acceptable? In terms of data retention, the job of the young scientist (he'll need it all for later studies!), and mathematics that borders on the divine, it sure as hell helps. But I can't seem to grasp an opinion. My primary concern is that it promotes the increasing drug-oriented culture of our society, which I have some problems with on an intuitive level. I think that life needs to slow down, but I can understand why some people can't. Maybe the scientists should get into yoga? That is meant to help concentration. I can speak with personal experience on the advantages of meditation in improving composure and concentration.

But pills are a lot easier.

1Okay, that's not the whole truth: I am a big fan of coffee, but after 4.5 years of strenuous study as a physics major I've developed such a tolerance to it that it doesn't do anything anymore to me, apart from the emotional feeling of contentment I get from the smell.


liedra said...

Hah! I like the response, thanks Nick!

I agree that this isn't something new in the workplace (whether that be an office, on the field, in a studio, whatever), but something I thought was interesting about your response was that you brought up the "increasing drug culture", which made me think: perhaps this is what human enhancement is going to be like "in the future"? Drugging ourselves so we can perform harder, faster, can reach certain "levels" of consciousness etc. I know this idea has been the subject of various cyberpunk type novels and probably endless conspiracy theories but I just think that it's an interesting thought (woah the human race is evolving!).

Now get back to work, young whipper-snapper!

Nick said...

Young whipper-snapper? Why you... no, that's actually pretty accurate.

I agree that there has been some discussion about human enhancement facilitating some type of proto-evolutionary leap in the human race. I'm a bit of a traditionalist in this regard, in that I believe human salvation (I mean, that I'd even use that old-fashioned saying is evidence of my traditionalist notions) will not be gained through such methods, but rather, through a synthesis of older methods to live in harmony with the discoveries of this new, exciting age. I'm a technophile, make no mistake, but I also thin that the human body and mind are exceptional pieces of technology on their own, and that a little more exploration of our own ability is required, before we try and trade up for the next model. The age of technology has created great advances, but I don't believe for a second that we can outrun nature, and unless we clear that particular delusion, we're in for a bumpy couple of future centuries.