If you’re a fan of high-tech science fiction, you will be very familiar with the concept of post-humanity. Like the theory of parallel universes, used to great effect in the recent Star Trek movie and the television series Fringe, the idea of a post-human society has its roots in the non-fiction world. According to Wikipedia: “In critical theory, the posthuman is a speculative being that represents or seeks to enact a re-writing of what is generally conceived of as human . . . the posthuman is not a singular, defined individual, but rather one who can ‘become’ or embody different identities and understand the world from multiple, heterogeneous perspectives.”
In popular science fiction movies and novels, the post-human is generally someone who (with the aid of medications and computer technology), is able to achieve superhuman status. (See John C. Wright’s excellent Golden Age trilogy for a broad examination of a fictional post-human society.)
An essay published late last month in the New Yorker got me thinking about this concept. The article, written by Margaret Talbot, focuses on the growing number of students who are using (and abusing) prescription medicines to achieve greater focus and multitask successfully. Talbot writes:
“Last April, the scientific journal Nature published the results of an informal online poll asking whether readers attempted to sharpen “their focus, concentration, or memory” by taking drugs such as Ritalin and Provigil—a newer kind of stimulant, known generically as modafinil, which was developed to treat narcolepsy. One out of five respondents said that they did. A majority of the fourteen hundred readers who responded said that healthy adults should be permitted to take brain boosters for nonmedical reasons, and sixty-nine per cent said that mild side effects were an acceptable risk.”
This is a very interesting study that no-doubt worries people at the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. However, Talbot is not at all nervous about the potential harmful effects of neuroenhancing drugs. In fact, she seems to embrace their use, writing: : “It makes no sense to ban the use of neuroenhancers. Too many people are already taking them, and the users tend to be educated and privileged people who proceed with just enough caution to avoid getting into trouble.”
So, if you’re privileged and educated, abusing prescription drugs is okay – if it provides you with a needed boost? I’m not so sure people using social marketing and other techniques to prevent prescription drug abuse, would view articles like Talbot’s in a favorable light.
I think those interested in building companies designed to help usher in the post-human age, are likely to share Talbot’s view. After all, once we can routinely and efficiently manipulate the basic building blocks of the human machine, who knows what will be possible? Clearly, the future is going to be very interesting.