Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Limitless: Some Thoughts About the Film

I didn't get a chance to see to see the film Limitless when it was in theatres, but I recently saw it on the small screen. Before I talk about it, though if you haven't seen it, here's an overview, from IMDB:

An action-thriller about a writer who takes an experimental drug that allows him to use 100 percent of his mind. As one man evolves into the perfect version of himself, forces more corrupt than he can imagine mark him for assassination. Out-of-work writer Eddie Morra's (Cooper) rejection by girlfriend Lindy (Abbie Cornish) confirms his belief that he has zero future. That all vanishes the day an old friend introduces Eddie to NZT, a designer pharmaceutical that makes him laser focused and more confident than any man alive. Now on an NZT-fueled odyssey, everything Eddie's read, heard or seen is instantly organized and available to him. As the former nobody rises to the top of the financial world, he draws the attention of business mogul Carl Van Loon (De Niro), who sees this enhanced version of Eddie as the tool to make billions. But brutal side effects jeopardize his meteoric ascent... Written by Relativity Media

Note that the concept that we normally only "use a small percentage of our brains" isn't accurate, so a drug that enables us to use "100%" doesn't make sense. Below is thissummary from Wikipedia about this myth and its inaccuracy (and yes, I know that Wikipedia isn't always correct, but in this case it's close enough. Here's a link to a Scientific Americanarticle about the topic):

Scientific accuracy

At the start of the film a marijuana dealer says that we can only access 20% of our brain (and that NZT lets a person access all of it), referring to a common myth. The mechanism of how the drug actually works is never scientifically explained in the film. Neurologist Barry Gordona describes the myth as laughably false, adding, "we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time",[9] and neuroscientist Barry Beyerstein has set out seven kinds of evidence refuting the ten percent myth.[10]

Physics professor James Kakalios said it was plausible that medical science could improve intelligence, but that neurochemistry is not advanced enough for it to be achieved currently. Kakalios also said the notion used in the film that human beings can only access 10% of their brains is a myth: 100% of it is used at different times. Kakalios said if such a pill existed, a person running out of the supply could actually experience a rebound effect.[11] This is alluded to in the movie, as the protagonist's ex-wife explains that she can't concentrate for more than 10 minutes at a time after coming off the drug.

But that's not what I want to address. I was fascinated by several aspects of the film, particularly the idea of being able to obtain enhanced mental abilities-in essence, a superpower-and its consequences. Medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are sometimes referred to as cognitive enhancers or neuroenhancers because of their ability to help people focus their attention. To "enhance" their baseline level of attention.

If each person could have his or her mental abilities enhanced with medication, what might that mean for society? If all of us could obtain the same superpower, would it be a superpower? To paraphrase Dash from the film The Incredibles, if everyone is special, then in a way, no one is. Of course if such an enhancement pill or procedure were available, the likely reality is that it wouldn't be available to all of us.

If it's only available to some of us, though, then it's not playing "fair" for those special recipients to use it for an advantage. Yet if it were possible to do mental exercises to enhance mental ability (such as reading, attending classes, doing special logic puzzles), that would probably seem fair to most people, as long as these mental exercises were available to all who wanted them (and cost wasn't a barrier-there could be scholarships). Doing such exercises means earning the enhanced abilities. Putting in time and effort. It's analogous to the practice involved to play an instrument at a high level or to be an elite athlete. Such folks may start out with a certain level of talent, but they earn their way into high level so achievement.

What can rankle about the enhanced ability of the protagonist in Limitless is that he didn't earn the ability. He took a mental "steroid" to boost his performance and took advantage of it. He played dirty.

Copyright 2011 by Robin S. Rosenberg. All rights reserved.
Robin S. Rosenberg is a clinical psychologist. Her website is DrRobinRosenberg.com and she also blogs on Huffington Post. Her most recent book is The Psychology of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Flea Market Smarts

Recently, I went to the monthly Treasure Island Flea Market for the first time. I was amazed at the ingenuity and creativity behind some of the items for sale there, some of which were made by the people selling the items. For instance, one woman was selling recycled decorated wine bottles that she heated and reformed as small cheese plates or as bowls for dip, complete with spreader. At another stall the vender sold purses in the shape and appearance of the body of an electric guitar. Still another vender sold pendants in the shape of mah-jong and Scrabble tiles, but each pendant had different artwork on it. I was struck by how clever some of the items were, how they seemed to fill a niche that most of us didn't even realize existed.

For the rest of the post, click here at Huffington Post (or cut and paste the URL below).


Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Discussion about Eating Disorders

Here's some information about eating disorders (the beginning of an interview with Psychotherapy.net). Click here for the full interview about eating disorders.

Rebecca Aponte:When you think about eating disorders, do you think of both anorexia and bulimia? Is there a lot of overlap in people who engage in these behaviors?
Robin Rosenberg:There are people who engage in both types of behaviors. In DSM-IV, individuals who exhibit all the criteria for anorexia but who also binge and purge would be diagnosed as anorexia nervosa binge/purge type. So diagnostically, anorexia trumps bulimia, if you will. But that is just the DSM-IV; who knows what will happen in DSM-V?
RA:Are they related?
RR:They appear to be, at least for a significant subset of people. So in terms of the research, when you look at people who have bulimia versus people who have anorexia, that is not necessarily a helpful distinction. Anorexia has, in DSM-IV, two subtypes. There is the traditional restricting type, which is the people who eat minimally, and then there is the form of anorexia where people are significantly underweight and may be amenorrheic [they have stopped menstruating], but they may also binge or eat without restricting, but then purge in some way, or use other compensatory behaviors. Those people are classified as anorexia binge/purge type, but in studies, those people have more in common with people who have bulimia than they do with anorexia restrictive type. Some of this is a bit of a diagnostic artifact, because it's the way that it has been defined in DSM-IV.

The most interesting thing about eating disorders in terms of classification issues is that it is not uncommon for people to move from one eating disorder to another over time.

... Continue Reading Interview >>