Reports | December 09, 2008 3:01

Nature: 'cognitive enhancement' is not a dirty word

pills on the chess board?Should mind drugs be allowed or forbidden in chess competition? Less than two weeks after super GM?Ǭ†Vassily?Ǭ†Ivanchuk missed a doping test at the Olympiad, scientists in Nature published an article that says 'cognitive enhancement' should be allowed in modern society.

In their commentary on the website of?Ǭ†Nature -?Ǭ†one of the most important science magazines in the world -?Ǭ†seven prominent neuroscientists and university teachers conclude that we must 'reject the idea that enhancement is a dirty word'. According to research quoted in Nature,

almost 7% of students in US universities have used prescription stimulants (...)?Ǭ†and?Ǭ†(...) on some campuses, up to 25% of students had used them in the past year. These students are early adopters of a trend that is likely to grow, and indications suggest that they're not alone.

Although the authors do not specifically?Ǭ†mention chess, it's obvious that the subject is closely related to our royal game. Indeed, the authors state that

in the context of sports, pharmacological performance enhancement is indeed cheating. But, of course, it is cheating because it is against the rules. Any good set of rules would need to distinguish today's allowed cognitive enhancements, from private tutors to double espressos, from the newer methods, if they are to be banned.

?Ǭ†This is exactly the point that many proponents of drugs in sports have?Ǭ†made in the past (and indeed on this website as well): why is some chemical substation more of a 'drug' than?Ǭ†a private tutor or wealthy parents who can afford to buy lots of chess books?

The article in Nature?Ǭ†explicitly states that 'mentally competent adults should be able to engage in cognitive enhancement using drugs', and they support their conclusions with results from peer-reviewed research. They are not blind to possible dangers, however, and they do make an exception for children. Their suggestion that drugs are to be evaluated by an evidence-based approach, and not on?Ǭ†irrational sentiments (and most anti-drug sentiments seem to be just that),?Ǭ†seems?Ǭ†reasonable and wise to us. It's probably too late for Ivanchuk, but it would be interesting to see FIDE respond to this article.

You can read the entire?Ǭ†commentary here (and more on a similiar piece in Nature?Ǭ†from last year here and here). Do let us know what you think in the comments.

Arne Moll's picture
Author: Arne Moll


Creemer's picture

an attempt at false modesty
(I really tried, sir, really, really!)

Frits Fritschy's picture

You read the article, I read the article, we disagree about what we read in it. I'll leave it here.

x y's picture

A current article in the NYT:
"Drug Maker Said to Pay Ghostwriters for Journal Articles"
Obviously unrelated to the Nature article and its authors, but just to show Frits isn't completely paranoid.

Manu's picture

You win , ill find the book.

Jens Kristiansen's picture

I read H?ɬºbners article. He is a romantic, although a symphatic and intelligent one.
Of course chess is a sport. You can also argue for that the other way around: Do you not also have to use your brain in other "genuine" sports?
And it is not - or rather: Will not be - "pointless" using drugs in chess, even though we are into some kind of science fiction regarding that.
Do not forget that brain research ( or "neurofysiology", but that is maybe too narrow a term for what is going on) is one of the fastest moving research fields nowadays - some even phrases it "the fifth revolution". This will inevitably lead to some practical means for mental enhancements. In fact it already does.
But - to set up the warning sign again - we still know very little of which mental powers are necessary to play chess at a high level. A fresh and original input to that discussion is provided by norwegian filospher (and chessplayer) Rune Vik-Hansen at chessbase:
Food for - yes! - thoughts, what ever they are.

test's picture


A few concrete examples given by top players:

Shakhriyar MAMEDYAROV: "drink a lot of coffee"

Ernesto INARKIEV: "psychological motivation"

Alexander GRISCHUK: "the desire to play"

Evgeny ALEXEEV: "striving to the victory"

Rustam KASYMHZANOV: "alcohol and coffee"

Peter LEKO: "There is no point in speaking about chess doping."

Teimour RADZHABOV: "Coffee, tea, cigarettes"

Vladimir AKOPYAN: "A strong tea"

Vugar GASHIMOV: "Chess itself"

Frits Fritschy's picture

Some time ago I read a book by the Dutch psychologist Douwe Draaisma titled 'Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes our Past'. One of the chapters retold the case as told by the Russian neurologist Luria about the 'Mnemonic man', someone who was unable to forget. Total memory didn't improve his mental performance: for example, he had big trouble recognizing faces. Not only did he have trouble to make up the sum of the total of someones features, he also saw a totally new face everytime a person changed his expression. (I'm quoting this by by heart, I haven't got the book with me at the moment.) It may be one of the reasons humans can still at some operations perform better than computers: they have the ability to forget irrelevant information and so obtain a complete picture of a problem. That may be a good defintion of intuition: it doesn't come out of the blue, it's information you've once taken in, but you've forgotten where it comes from, because that's of no importance.
How many games really are won because someone just relies on his memory? And will these people not suffer when it gets to getting 'the complete picture'? When you're out of memory-land, the landscape can become pretty scary. And within it's borders, you're not completely secure either...

Arne Moll's picture

Jens, with all due respect to Lasker - when he said those words, not a lot was known about the function of memory (or Turing machines for that matter). Both Fischer and Kasparov had prodigious memories which they used heavily during opening preparation, as in fact do all top players. If we are to believe Lasker, none of us should even bother to play chess or study it at all. I think what he said should be interpreted either as a joke or as an atttempt at (false) modesty.

Jens Kristiansen's picture

A joke? False modesty? Come on, Arne, the sentence cited is from the last chapter of "Chess Manual", titled: "On education in chess".
Yes, at that time, the 1920es, they did not know of Turing-machines, and at least that did not lead them to false analogies between human mind and computers.
But of course they knew something about the function of memory, if only from their practises in thinking. In his theorising Lasker was obviously on the track of something
Fi. Vik-Hansen writes in his recent article at
"Chess thinking and playing might thus be explained as subconscious chucking away information, just like a statue is carved out of a marble block, though in our case the information explicitly discarded leaves us with moves which might be said to arise out of the shared context called exformation. Subconscious chucking away information is exactly what makes automatic behaviour possible since, if brought to the attention of our time consuming consciousness, it would render the activity anything but automatic."
IF you should use the computer-metaphor, then let us say that you during the game have access to the whole Mega-Base. That would not help you very much, if you did not know what you were looking for, would it?

GeneM's picture

I predict that if someday a drug is invented that is truly highly helpful to chess players, it will be a drug that helps them during their TRAINING, not during their live game.

As a possible example, a future drug might extend the time span that the neuronal gates to long-term memory formation remain open (from perhaps 500 milliseconds to 666 milliseconds).

This would help the player when he memorizes opening ideas, endgame rules, shot puzzle patterns, or practices thought processes he wants to know by rote.
Then during his live OTBoard games, the player has more information that might become available to his mental processes.

How long would such a drug remain in the person's system? Would it be chemical identical to a natural substance in the body, thus pointless to test for?

Today's drugs like amphetamines are likely of little value to a chess players, unless he was awake all night before a game.

The drug tests refused by Ivanchuk exist only because Kirsan has an ill-conceived IOC Olympic dream. The Olympics would mean nothing to chess, just like they currently mean nothing to tennis.

I know who won the latest Wimbledon title, but I neither know nor care who won the little tennis dog & pony show at the latest Olympics.
Chess already has Anand and Kosteniuk as its World Chess Champions; which makes a chess title from the Olympics unimportant.

GeneM , for FRC-chess960

Manu's picture

I understand Kirsan , if chess goes Olympic FIDE will receive more money and It would be imposible to get ride of his administration. The preassure of not having serious sponsors would disappear and all GMs would have less power to resist FIDE?Ǭ¥s orders.
IMO its better for chess to be the only super sponsored game of the world than to become the most corrupt and insignificant of all sports.
The doping control process should be adjusted to fit the needs of the game and not viceversa.

Jens Kristiansen's picture

That could very well be, GeneM...
"...a future drug might extend the time span that the neuronal gates to long-term memory formation remain open..."
"This would help the player when he memorizes opening ideas, endgame rules, shot puzzle patterns, or practices thought processes he wants to know by rote."
Yes, but you also need to strenghten the connections between the neurons so you can get access to all this information at the right moment, that is when the patterns or stuctures at the board calls for it. The human mind is NOT a Turing-machine.
It could very well be that access to too much information would damage your play.
On that we should still listen to the old wise man, Emmanuel Lasker:

"Chess must not be memorized, simply because it is not important enough. If you load our memory, you should why. Memory is too valuable to be stocked with triffles. Of my fiftyseven years I have applied at least thirty to forgetting most of what I have learned or read..."

Manu's picture

@Frits:I am curious now , why is it that Life Speeds Up As You Get Older?
pls dont make me read the book , im not only curious but lazy too.

Arne Moll's picture

@Jens, Vik-Hansen's article is very interesting, but the topic is also extremely difficult and I wouldn't want to quote him out of context or judge what he's saying without refering to other sources. It only confuses the discussion.
Let's just say that memory is a tricky concept, and Lasker was in my view not making a specific point about memory in chess, but a general point about how to study chess. But the relevance of memory in chess simply cannot be denied - whether it's conscious memory or subconscious - whatever that means.

Eric's picture

"Memory is too valuable to be stocked with triffles."

Ha - Sherlock Holmes thought so, too. But of course, memory is never 'stocked' with anything, since it's not a container.

Frits Fritschy's picture

As you are too lazy to read the book and I am too lazy to explain it here, I guess you just have to get older to find out.

Richard DeCredico's picture

No, Frits is neurotic, if anything, not paranoid. In this case his initial skepticism is warranted regarding authorship, but his underlying premise about drug-use is ultimately incorrect.

Insert applicable smiley/emoticon here.

Frits Fritschy's picture

Richard, I'm glad you don't call me paranoid and I might be neurotic, but for the rest, I haven't got a clue what you mean. Try to apply clarity in your writing instead of those silly emoticons. What is 'initial' about my skepticism, what is this 'underlying premise' and what is incorrect about it?

Creemer's picture

Enough testosteron in the comments here to make the world just a little bit more dangerous.
And, as a matter of fact, meditation is by far the most effective way to 'enhance cognitive abilities'. A better way to say it is that is clears the mind. It's the unlocking of potential, nothing can be added, nor enhanced.
As for pharmaceutical companies and their periodicals (like Nature): stop paying mind.

Manu's picture

This is a very interesting topic, however there is one example that we are not taken into consideration.
There are some drugs that doesnt improve your performance because they enhance some skill , some drugs can help your play by repressing certain factors of your personality.
This drugs are well known and have been widely used for military purposes from a long time.Snipers use this nerve suppresors when they have important shots that have to be done under enemy fire or in extreme situations
Lets take the current situation of Ivanchuk as an example.
As everybody knows Chucky is well known for having some problems to control tense situations and that his nervousness costed him important games in the past.
Ok , what if Chucky uses the same type of drugs that this snipers use in war ?Or something that completely stops his nevousness for some hours?
Wouldnt that change the result of some games?
My point is that is very difficult to understand what should be forbidden and what is a natural human choice (like having a cup of coffe) , and that this work is not done yet.
A lot of research must be done if we want to keep ( or make!) this game clean.
Anyway , electronic doping should be the first priority at this moment, i think we have some surprises ahead of us on that subject.
BTW i dont think that Ivanchuk is capable of cheating at all, he is an inspiration for a lot of people including myself.

Richard DeCredico's picture

Agreed. Electronic doping is a nice line to draw and stand behind.

Is marijuana performance enhancing?

Janis Nisii's picture

Probably it is worthy reporting the opinion of IM Luca Shytaj, 3rd board of Italy at the last Olympiad, who I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve interviewed for Torre&Cavallo Scacco!, an Italian chess magazine (December 2008 issue).
Following the Ivanchuk case, I asked the 22-year-old Biology graduate and Genetics Masters student his opinion on the anti-doping rules in chess.
Among other things he said: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìI believe that one of the reasons supporting the anti-doping rules is to give a healthy image of sports: sportsmen shouldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t take chemicals dangerous to the human body, regardless of the fact he/she does it to have a head start over the opponents?¢‚Ǩ? .
While I had to cut his comment a little bit (the article focuses on the Italian team Olympic experience), I remember he also added that a drug should be included in the ban-list only if scientific researches prove that it is actually dangerous to the human body.
While I cannot speak on his behalf, I had the clear impression that he was being sceptical ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú or at least wanted to have further information -- about the process that brings to include a substance/drug in the anti-doping list.

Peter Doggers's picture

@Manu: good point. About "A lot of research must be done if we want to keep ( or make!) this game clean." - one could even argue that allowing Ivanchuk to take such a drug to lose all nervousness. would make his chess utimately "clean". ;-)

Peter Doggers's picture

May I remind you that we have a contact page. Or rather, try sending an email to

Alez's picture

Or, you may as well go to his website by clicking on the link down the list, and find out why he has stopped :)

thorex's picture

"why is some chemical substation more of a ?¢‚ǨÀúdrug?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ than a private tutor or wealthy parents who can afford to buy lots of chess books?"

A weird comparision. When their's no money for chess books, it will also not be available for drugs. And furthermore even with enough money, drugs are not buyable for everybody. For example the rather harmless Dextroamphetamine (on your photo) is not legally available here in Germany without a prescription. What exactly should I tell my doctor?

In addition I think it is ethically wrong. Sports should compare humans and not drugs. Today these drugs are not very effective, but if they can improve the calculation abilities directly by let's say 20% or even 200%... what will this have to do with a competition of humans anymore? Especially when Player A can afford the generation 2 drugs, Player B only the generation 1 drugs and Player C doesn't want to take anything at all!

test's picture

Most of these drugs are for people with a certain disability, disease or condition.
For a normally healthy person most of these drugs have no more effect than a cup of coffee. At least with coffee we know there are no side effects. These drugs don't make you smarter, at best a bit more alert when you are tired or sleepy.

Since they have almost no benificial effect on your chess playing ability, why bother forbidding them or invite a ton of trouble and cost all around with doping tests. If some people want to take chances with their health that's their problem.

And take into account that many of these so called proponents of "smart" drugs have a vested interest one way or the other (books, lectures, web-sites, pill-peddling, shares in farmaceutical companies).

Jagdish Dube.'s picture

I m aware of the fact that is suspended by its originator/innovator.from 25th November.When it will resume?Please give an idea.
Jagdish Dube.USA.

Arne Moll's picture

@Frits, I will not go into a detailed discussion about inductive and deductive reasoning, syllogisms and what not, since readers would probably become bored very fast, I will just say that the authors in my opinion really are not saying anything shocking or illogical when they compare drugs to food or other ways to enhance brain functions.

More serious is your inplication/accusation that the authors of the article are biased because they may have commercial interests, or may otherwise not be 'value-free'. Note that the article has seven authors, and only two of them have possible competing interests. What about the other five: are they mere puppets controlled by the other two? But even if all authors had competing interersts, this surely doesn't mean that what they say can't possibly be taken seriously or has to be regarded as highly suspicious by definition. Take me: I'm a software developer for a large company. Does this mean I can never say anything about ChessBase or other chess software in any publication? Of course not. I'm sure you'll agree that we have to evaluate writings on the arguments presented, not on who wrote them.

Michael's picture

Robert H?ɬºbner has just published an article (in German) on drug testing:

His main points are:

- Using drugs in chess is absolutely pointless. This is universally acknowledged.

- Chess is not a sport, it's just a mental activity. The physical condition is every player's private affair.

- Drug tests are merely a humiliation of the chess players which violate their privacy.

I must say that I do not agree with any of the above statements.

Dan's picture

Why not electronic enhancements such as Rybka? Really it is essentially the same arguement for allowing all chess players to use Rybka isn't.

test's picture

This article also popped up on Boing Boing.
Might be interesting to read some of the comments there.

Frits Fritschy's picture

Hi Arne, thanks for your reaction.
First of all, a little anger won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t make me lose my balance. I read the article and had to put it aside for a day and a half. Don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think to lightly about words: they can make you a living, they can make you angry, they can even make you ?¢‚ǨÀúnauseous?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢. I reread the article and tried to focus my anger. I wouldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t waste it on some anonymous rant on a chess forum. Nature gives the article prestige. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s an interesting article in that it shows how the pharmacological industry tries to influence public opinion. But I won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t buy it.
I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t ?¢‚ǨÀúaccuse?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ the writers of describing the truth, I just say it is one of the reasons the article depresses me. I already read stories about the liberal use of Ritalin, and not just as a medicin for ADHD, but I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know it was this bad. I already knew soldiers were being experimented upon with drugs, but I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know they were obliged to take them. And the authors even want to take this further: ?¢‚Ǩ?ì... one could imagine other occupations for which enhancement might be justifiably required?¢‚Ǩ?. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s this way of thinking (see also their vision on the duty of doctors), a slow process of progressing medicalisation of society, that makes me sick.
I wrote that another reason for not using these drugs is that they are unreliable and unsuited for complex tasks. I just mean that there is no guarantee that they give the desired result. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t make this up, check the NeCeDo-site. The authors are talking about safety. They are right, but it is not what I was referring to.
The authors do not only say that ?¢‚Ǩ?ìthe fact that both are invasive does not provide reasonable grounds for prohibition?¢‚Ǩ?, they end the paragraph with: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìIn short, cognitive-enhancing drugs seem morally equivalent to other, more familiar, enhancements.?¢‚Ǩ? This sounds like a conclusion to me. Really: Arno has red hair and is a good chessplayer, Frits also has red hair, so he must be a good chessplayer too. (As the first parts of these statements are not true, we maybe one day have to check the second part...)
With me, the combination of Africa, aids and pharmacological companies leads to other thoughts than about medicine men. Where else should you go to, if you can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t pay the drugs? Research is not value-free. I once saw a program about Chagas?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ disease, killing 500.000 people a year: mainly poor South-Americans. Only three people were reported to do full-time research on it. Quite a difference with aids research, I would say. Why would that be? And now the people with cash are becoming too healthy, research should be started with the object to sell drugs to healthy individuals. I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t think the authors want to warn people against the dangers of cognition enhancing drugs, they want to inform them how they can be used with limited side effects ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú maybe, by buying other drugs to suppress these.

The Horse's picture

I have no problem at all with performance enhacing drugs. I am taking these on a daily basis for medical reasons. Surely, there is a lot of advantages to using them, but there are a few significant disadvantages, one of which is psychological dependence, and some anxiety. Anyway, it is up to anyone to decide whether to use this or not. If taken well it should be fine.

hairulov's picture

Malaysian Chess players have their own "stimulants" used as a chess performance enhancement . Read my article

Arne Moll's picture

Hi Frits, your comment surprises me. Usually, your comments are very balanced, but this time you're so angry sloppy arguments are all over te place. On top of that, you accuse the authors of describing the 'abject truth' - well, would you prefer they write about things that are untrue?

You say the authors have not taken into account the possibility that the drugs may be unreliable and unsuited for complex tasks. However, the authors clearly state that, for instance, "cognitive enhancements affect the most complex and important human organ, and the risk of unintended side effects is therefore both high and consequential".

As for the logic in your philosophy class, you claim their analogy of nutrition and drugs is invalid, but unfortunately you don't say why this is so. In fact, it is you who makes an invalid deduction from their analogy by concluding that because food and drugs have some properties in common, the authors consider both of them 'morally acceptable'. In fact, they only say that the fact that both are 'invasive' does not 'provide reasonable grounds for prohibition' - which is a completely different thing, of course.

I also don't understand why you oppose so fiercely to their appeal to do more research and to distribute correct information. Research and information are of course the basis of all success in Western medicine. But perhaps we should just stop all medical research and let people die of natural courses like in the Middle Ages? And perhaps we should leave giving information to African medicine men who believe Aids is cured by having intercourse with virgins? I'm exaggerating of course, but I really don't see what your point is here.

Finally, I am always highly skeptical when people claim to become 'nauseous' from just words. After all, unless words are personal insults or clearly dishonest, using such hyperbolic terms is usually just a cheap retorical trick.

Richard DeCredico's picture

All tournament rounds should start promptly at 4:20.


Thomas's picture

Interesting opinion, but of course one does not have to believe or agree with everything just because it was published in Nature (I am a scientist myself, reading or browsing this journal every week). At a less prestigious level, this also appplies to _any_ newspaper or _any_ Website (including this one).

And even agreeing with everything, "making an exception" for children is problematic for chess tournaments. There are so many teenagers competing at (near-)top level; hence imposing an age limit of 21, 18 or even 16 for legal use of drugs will give an unfair advantage to older players.

Ark's picture

just a comment, but ratings last updated on 25 Nov can no longer be considered 'live'

Jens Kristiansen's picture

Well, Arne, I was actually commenting on the ongoing discussions on chess and drugs in a broad sense. Theres is a blatant oversimplification of the skills in chess some seem to believe can be enhanced.
And I do not believe the authors of the in many ways interesting article in Nature know that much about chess thinking. So just be carefull with your conclusions, please.

Arne Moll's picture

Jens, I don't think anyone is suggesting that chess skills can be enhanced so easily. The authors of the commentary are pretty sceptical, but their point is that we should not dogmatically conclude (as you seem to do) that there is no possible enhancement - ever - and we also should not conclude - without looking at the actual evidence - that simply all drugs are dangerous and should therefore be forbidden at all times. I can imagine using some form of drugs can be very useful perhaps not during a game, but in the preparation or memorizing of complicated opening variations. Remember, most doping use in the Tour de France also happens (months) before the tour actually starts. I think the real question is: why should we forbid such kind of enhancement if it's not dangerous, and if it really helps people to memorize, for instance, opening lines better?

thorex's picture

"why should we forbid such kind of enhancement if it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not dangerous, and if it really helps people to memorize, for instance, opening lines better?"

This may be utopian, but if we want to logically analyze this topic, it's a legitimate question:

What if somebody develops a device that directly transfers (chess) knowledge in your brain? Totally safe and legal.

Surely great for humankind. Instead of investing billions of dollars in education we just give our children the knowledge they need or want.

But do we want that in sports?

Richard DeCredico's picture

Maybe the idea of being competitve all the time and just why we feel the need has to be examined as well, but not too many people are ready to evolve themselves that quickly.

Jens Kristiansen's picture

I do not think we should forbid anything (from behaviours and expressions to comodities), which is not harmfull to yourself or other people. And there are lots of drugs around which is not forbidden. You may find them in every supermarket: Cofee, tea, alcohol, tobacco, sugar aso.. And there you may also find also some rather alternative ones, fi. ginko biloba, baldrian and hypericum. They are not considered dangerous if consumed with care, on the contrary they are thought of as being in some ways good to your health.
And I do not conclude there is no possible enchancement of cognitive skills - on the contrary, human history shows up a lot of such.
But I do warn against the attraction of a "fix", meaning something that has a short term positive effect, but a long term damaging one.

Frits Fritschy's picture

Okay Arne, you opened Pandora?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s box, let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s view its contents.
First of all, let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s look at the last line of the article: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìCompeting interests statement. The authors declare competing financial interests.?¢‚Ǩ? They are both deeply embedded in the pharmaceutical industry. I think that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s highly relevant. As they use to say in good detectives: if you can?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t find the sex, look for the money.
By the way: Google Ads produced an ad for a drug against depression with this item. Big Doctor is watching us. I could do with some. And maybe some Ritalin for the Nature article.

After stating that already 7% of the US students use drugs to perform better in their studies (what a market potential!), the authors give some examples of drugs that do enhance mental functions. They don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t touch the subject of how these mental functions, and the drugs that enhance them, relate to each other.
Then they say something like: the drugs mentioned are invasive, and can enhance performance. Nutrition is also invasive and can enhance performance, and is morally acceptable. So using drugs to enhance performances is morally acceptable. I had just one year of philosophy at school, and although it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s 35 years ago I remember it was at about the first lesson that we learned to disprove this kind of logic.
They give three arguments against the use of cognitive enhancement drugs, but they fail to mention that they may be unreliable and unsuited for complex tasks.
In normal live there may be no difference between enhancing by nutrition or by taking drugs, but in sports it is of course totally different: it is cheating, because it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s against the rules. Why were those rules invented? Because it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s cheating. Why is it cheating? Because it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s against the rules. Sounds like lesson two from my philosophy class.
They continue with some personal philosophies about what?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s natural and unnatural. I guess they ?¢‚ǨÀúdraw the line?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ where they can still squeeze money out of it. They conclude the first chapter by suggesting that cognitive enhancers are outlawed just because they are drugs. Tears fill my eyes ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and they just want to help us...

In the second chapter the authors first mention some substantive concerns. They give some good reasons not to start experimenting with these drugs. There hasn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t been much research on non-medical use of them. What a pity. So, what do they want? ?¢‚Ǩ?ìAn evidence-based approach is required to evaluate the risks and benefits of cognitive enhancement.?¢‚Ǩ? They need guinea pigs. Hey, what about these chessplayers? They took the computers without much ado, so they might start taking your pills!
They continue with the issue of freedom. Some of the lines made me really sick, but they are irrelevant here. Only one thing is of importance: if one takes a substance and profits from it, others will feel coerced to do the same (and at a high price, if necessary).
Their third concern is fairness. They are talking about school exams: if some have the money to buy their understanding and others don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t, that?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s unfair. They have a revolutionary solution: every exam-taker should have free access to cognitive enhancers. I really love this. FIDE should ask for pharmacy industry sponsorship so that every player can be a grandmaster. Every government (well, every government with enough money) will start schemes for drugging their students, after that.

Up till now, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve been highly critical, you could maybe even rightly say biased, against this article. There is hardly a sentence I like about it. It depresses me, even at some points gives me nausea. This is partly because of the viewing point of the authors, which (as mentioned) they had to reveal, but also don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t bother to hide, and partly because it describes the sometimes abject truth. If you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢re in the rat race, it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s use or loose, it seems.
Now the authors come to what should be done about it. They rightly say, hardly anything is known about the use and impacts of cognitive-enhancing drugs by healthy individuals. Let?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s keep it that way and restrict the use, would be my first thought, just allow them on the market for very specific treatments. But they want a program of research. I won?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t repeat the obvious reason for this.
The second mechanism the authors mention is the participation of relevant professional organizations in formulating guidelines for their members in relation to cognitive enhancement. This looks to pertain on doping regulations, but is in fact on when these drugs could (and should) be put in, and so is not relevant in this discussion, although you sometimes get some interesting insights in the authors?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ thinking: ?¢‚Ǩ?ìPhysicians [may] view medicine more broadly as helping patients live better or achieve their goals?¢‚Ǩ?.
The third policy mechanism is ?¢‚Ǩ?ìinformation to be broadly disseminated concerning the risks, benefits and alternatives to pharmaceutical cognitive enhancement?¢‚Ǩ?. What they forget to mention is that it is still not known, at least in many situations, what these risks and benefits are (see two paragraphs back).
The fourth mechanism is careful and limited legislative action to channel cognitive-enhancement technologies into useful paths. Well, no false shame here: we want to market the stuff, please don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t walk where we go.

Let me get to some sort of a conclusion. The pharmacy industry clearly has a big interest in cognition enhancing drugs. And some of them could help chess players. Not during the game; the processes involved are too complicated to enhance effectively (see the website of the Dutch doping authority, mentioned in earlier comments). But in home study some drugs may help you memorize. From a doping perspective, this is not a big problem. Chess still is not just memory. When you memorize a math formula, the use of it in an exam is straightforward. When you memorize a game between other players, your opponent can still find something the other players haven?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t thought of.
The real problem is not the drug, but the money: in the pharmacy industry, the doping agencies, the IOC. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s no longer about discovering a doping problem, it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s about creating one.

Arne Moll's picture

@Jens, thorex: have you actually read the commentary? The authors are very well aware of the possible dangers and the (un)reality of the effects of drugs. They say, for instance,

"Does it actually improve learning or does it just temporarily boost exam performance? In the latter case it would prevent a valid measure of the competency of the examinee and would therefore be unfair. But if it were to enhance long-term learning, we may be more willing to accept enhancement. After all, unlike athletic competitions, in many cases cognitive enhancements are not zero-sum games. Cognitive enhancement, unlike enhancement for sports competitions, could lead to substantive improvements in the world."

I think what makes the commentary so interesting is that the authors actually have thought not just about one or two obvious aspects of the problem (as many posters here seem to have done), but about the whole spectrum of difficulties - and possibilities.

Jens Kristiansen's picture

Beware! In all the talking, writing and there by reasonning on this subject there is a very deep, fundamental fallacy. It is claimed that these drugs could enhance your power of calculation and memorization. And that may be true for calculations in, say, aritmetrics and brute memorization, usefull for some quiz?Ǭ¥es and tests.
BUT...usefull "calculation" and "memorization" in chess is something fundamentally different. It is wellknown that some players do not improve from a certain point ,because they "calculate" and "memorize" too much, without having the ability to select and lead their thoughts in the right directions. The latter ability probably distinguishing a true master.
So, apart from damaging you health, the drugs in question will NOT improve your playing strength. Keep away from it!

thorex's picture

I think you are not taking this seriously enough. The substance Manu was talking about is methamphetamine, an extremly dangerous drug classified by DEA as a schedule 2 drug besides i.e. cocaine and opium. There's really nothing funny about that.

The public belittlement of the press (including chessvibes) will even enforce the need of drug tests.

Arne Moll's picture

Interesting point about the 'healthy image', Janis. It's easy to understand why people would want to create such an image, although I wonder if they have considered that studying chess for 8 hours a day from the age of 4 may not be called 'healthy' either, nor looking at a computer database screen for many hours a day. Personally, I consider pro-doping control arguments like 'image' to be 'irrational sentiments' - hardly a surprise there, I'm afraid ;-)

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