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Rethinking Cognitive Enhancement$
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Ruud ter Meulen, Ahmed Mohammed, and Wayne Hall

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198727392

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198727392.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 05 August 2021

The evolutionary limits to neuroenhancement

The evolutionary limits to neuroenhancement

(p.179) Chapter 11 The evolutionary limits to neuroenhancement
Rethinking Cognitive Enhancement

Ralph Hertwig

Thomas Hills

Oxford University Press

In this chapter we focus on the pharmacological enhancement of cognitive traits and ask why traits such as attention and memory have not been more enhanced through evolution. In particular, we provide evidence that the current understanding of cognitive evolution is at odds with the more-is-better vision of neuroenhancement (use of drugs to improve cognitive functioning in normal individuals). We demonstrate that the evolution of the mind has arrived at a delicate balance between too much and too little of cognitive traits such as memory and attention, as evidenced by the prevalance of inverted U-shaped performance functions. Moreover, enhancements—even routinely used ones, such as coffee—have side effects on other traits. Combined, these within-task (exemplified by optimal control problems) and between-task trade-offs (associated with side effects and a gain‒loss asymmetry) place firm evolutionary constraints on neuroenhancement, constraints that both users and promoters of neuroenhancers dismiss at their own risk.

Keywords:   neuroenhancements, cognitive enhancement, trade-offs, constraints, evolution, side effects

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