Brave Thinkers

Illustration by Quickhoney

Name: Henry Greely
Job: Director of the Stanford Center for Law and the Bio-Sciences
Why he’s brave: He’s helping “smart drugs" shed their steroid-like stigma.
Quote: “Better-working brains produce things of more lasting value than longer home runs.”


On some college campuses, 25 percent of students buy drugs like Ritalin and Adderall to help them study. Not a problem, says Greely, who advocates easier access to such “cognition-enhancing” pills and considers their use no more unnatural for students trying to improve their grades than the use of computers, sleep, or coffee. In an article in Nature, Greely and his colleagues argued that the drugs “should be viewed in the same general category as education, good health habits, and information technology—ways that our uniquely innovative species tries to improve itself.” We may recoil at the effort to treat things like sloth and indiscipline as pathologies instead of personal failings (not to mention at the effort of drug companies to package that “improvement”). But we accept without question many cognitive enhancements—from encyclopedias to calculators to the Internet—unavailable to previous generations of students. Reconciling these legitimate and conflicting impulses will be one of the primary public-policy challenges of the years ahead. Revolutionary advances in our understanding of brain chemistry are on the horizon, and society should be prepared, morally and legally, for a future in which much more powerful “smart drugs” are easily available.

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