Tuesday, May 2, 2006
First Aired: 
Tuesday, March 22, 2005

What Is It

Progress in neuroscience may soon make possible an age of neurocosmetology: the use of drugs to let people affect the way their brains work, so as to make them more effective, more attractive, and more like their "cognitive ideal." A world where all the women are beautiful and all the men handsome might be bearable if boring. But would a society full of type-A's work at all? Can it be rational to choose to change in ways that may change who you are? Should there be moral or legal prohibitions against healthy people messing with their own brain chemistry? John and Ken put on their best face with Sam Barondes from UCSF, author of Better than Prozac: Creating the Next Generation of Psychiatric Drugs.

Listening Notes

Neurocosmetology is the use of drugs to change your cognitive habits, plastic surgery for the brain so to speak. How would the use of drugs to change your mind any different from going to a therapist? Ken introduces Sam Barondes, professor of psychiatry at the University of San Francisco at San Francisco. Barondes says that psychiatrists talk to their patients for a while before they really proceed. Most plastic surgeons do as well. Would the same procedure work for cosmetic neurology? Shyness is a good example of a problem for which there are already drugs to fix the problem. Is it possible that we could develop drugs that make people smarter with no side effects? Barondes says that it is doubtful that side effects will go away since the neurological interactions is so complex. 

Should we take the optimistic viewpoint that cosmetic neurology will make the world a better place or the cautious viewpoint that we don't know enough to do that sort of thing? Barondes thinks a middle path is the best position to take. Will neurological drugs change the psychiatric profession into a life consultant career? Is it ethically acceptable for pharmaceutical companies to profit off neurologically enhancing drugs? Is there a difference between taking prozac and meditating? Should people take drugs when therapy of some sort will do the same thing? How are neurological drugs different from, say, steroids? 

Is it possible that drugs would create a neurological “arms race”? Barondes thinks that there is an upper limit to improving the mind. Evolution has fine-tuned the human mind over millennia. Why should we mess with nature's design? Barondes emphasizes the good that neuropharmacology has done for people with neurological disorders. 

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:35): Amy Standen interviews Peter Ravens, professor of psychiatry, about the ramifications of neurocosmetology on the psychiatric profession. 
  • Conundrum (Seek to 46:40): After recalling his childhood practice of killing ants for pleasure, Tom from Oregon wonders how a benevolent god could torture someone for eternity.