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March 15th, 2017

Products that Make Me Smart and Strong

I've noticed that some of my social media acquaintances have started to give public endorsements for a new generation of so-called "smart drugs." That's what we called them in the late 80s and early 90s. I don't know if anyone describes products like Qualia or Alfa BRAIN as "smart drugs," but I have seen them described as "nootropics," another word from the previous craze for cognitive enhancement supplements.

I wondered, publicly on Facebook, whether this is pure advertising or if there has been some pharmaceutical revolution. Based on the responses I got, these substances seem to have some noticeable effect, but this sort of feedback is hard to separate from the expected placebo effect that a certain percentage of people taking something billed as a cognitive enhancer will report.

One person asked, "Do you really think you need to "boost" your cognitive ability? Why? Do you not think it's good enough as is? I truly do not understand this."

I did not reply to his question. I took it as rhetorical.

But I'll give it a shot now. I didn't go looking for these kinds of products. I don't feel a burning need to boost my cognitive abilities. It was the advertising and the fact that people I know were putting their public seal of approval on these products that prompted me to ask the question.

Still, I did ask. So I probably do have an interest. What's that about? I'd like to maintain my focus for longer periods and avoid getting distracted, but I think adjusting my electronic environment is more of a high leverage point than adjusting my bodily composition. Also, a little additional self-discipline in the mornings aimed at avoiding unproductive activities at the time of day when I find it easiest to concentrate and access creative states would likely move me in the direction of fulfilling my creative ambitions.

At present, I take a teaspoon of creatine monohydrate once a day. The stuff is dirt cheap. I also use some whey protein powder that I buy in bulk. It's not as cheap as the creatine, but compared to the new crop of brain boosters, it's still quite cheap. If I were going to expand my dietary supplement regimen, I might add a pre-workout fuel or an amino acid supplement, but brain boosters will not be in my budget anytime soon. Not until they develop something that has undeniable effects.

I know none of this really gets at the reader's question. "Why do you want to enhance your thought process? Is it defective?"

My memory is not what it used to be. I know I'm not as quick on the uptake as I used to be. Just like I'd like to be able to do a bunch of pull-ups or run an easy mile, I'd like to be able to take in information like I did back when I was in grad school. I studied a lot then, for long periods. That's the equivalent of being a mental gym rat. If I want to have the mind I used to have, I'd need to push it the way I used to, and just as with physical exercise, I will remember doing more in my youth than I will be abe to achieve in the present. If some product that promised to give me my 25-year-old physical capabilities back actually delivered, I would make deep financial sacrifices to secure a supply. The same is true with mental performance.

But why? Isn't that agist? Shouldn't I savor my current capabilities and not pine for what I've lost?

I don't see any reason to make a virtue out of falling apart. Good health is its own reward, and the slow degradation of time represents a creeping loss of something that is worth having. Wanting to retain and even restore mental and physical capabilities requires no elaborate justification. It's good to have a pliable young body that responds to exercise, and it's good to have the mental energy to focus on a task for many hours at a stretch. I don't hold out any hope that medical science will make me immortal, but when it does offer up something that genuinely restores lost function at a price I can afford, I'll take it.

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