An "Intelligence Pill"

One of humankind's most world-improving goals.

Posted Sep 05, 2017

Health Gauge, CC 2.0
Source: Health Gauge, CC 2.0

Psychology professor Jordan Peterson interviewed University of California School of Medicine emeritus Richard Haier, a leading expert on the neuroscience of intelligence. Haier believes that, with a concerted societal effort, an "intelligence pill1" could be developed.

Thousands of genes may affect intelligence but identifying even a small proportion of them could be of inordinate benefit. A May 25, 2017 article in Nature came to a similar conclusion.

Here are some implications that come to mind.

For example, imagine you're a member of the multigenerational poor. No matter how hard you work, no matter how many self-esteem building programs, college preparatory compensatory education programs, reverse discrimination college admission, disparate impact-based hiring and promotion, your career and life prospects are restricted compared with someone who starts out life with the genetic predisposition to high intelligence. In the past half-century, the U.S. taxpayer alone has spent $22 trillion(!) on environment-changing programs and the achievement gap remains as wide as ever. Even an Obama-administration-ordered metaevaluation of Head Start showed very disappointing results. To ignore all that is to assert that if you tune up a Volkswagen enough it can be as fast as a Ferrari.

Yes, there are important ethical considerations to address. For example, people should be free to use or not use the "intelligence pill" as they see fit—no coercion. Another ethical issue: To avoid the pill exacerbating the gap between society's Haves and HaveNots, like prescription drugs, the pill should be available free to the poor, covered by Medicaid. The ethical problems are likely to remain more solvable than, for example, trying to close the achievement gap just with education, job training, cash redistributions, etc.

The promise of an "intelligence pill" is that the world's people's reasoning ability and working memory would be increased, which would likely be of unprecedented net benefit to humankind. Of course, intelligence can be used for good and ill, but net, it's far more likely to, for example, engender a cure for cancer, solutions to our environmental problems, even yes, a reduction of war and increase in peace.

We quivered with excitement when President Kennedy said America's goal should be to land on the moon. Is that not dwarfed in importance by the goal of developing an "intelligence pill?" That, in my view should be among our highest priorities.

1 "Pill" is a metaphor for an approach to modifying brain systems to enhance reasoning/intelligence.

Dr. Nemko's nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at