Paper: Nicole Vincent (GSU): Should We Fear the “New Normal”?

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Dr. Nicole Vincent will be delivering a paper titled, Should We Fear the “New Normal”?, (co-authored with Emma A. Jane) tomorrow, August 14, 2014 at TU Delft, Netherlands. Vincent was a co-organizer of the 3-day conference on Cognitive Enhancement (put on by the Enhancing Responsibility Project). Check out the amazing line-up of panels, papers and keynote addresses here and the abstract for Vincent and Jane’s paper below:


Nicole A Vincent and Emma A. Jane

We have recently argued (Vincent 2014; Vincent & Jane 2014) that once cognitive enhancement technologies become sufficiently effective and have sufficiently few adverse medical side effects, without adequate regulation people may eventually lose the freedom to choose whether to enhance themselves or not. The thought is that, without the right kind of regulation, society will arrive at a “new normal”. This is a situation in which everyone has higher expectations of one another – expectations that originally increased due to the availability and use of cognitive enhancement technologies – and a concomitant duty to meet those elevated expectations which can only be met by using those technologies.

Various features of the new normal seem deeply unattractive to us. For instance, that it may foster a culture of workaholism that is antagonistic to other things we value, that we would arrive at such a social arrangement with our eyes wide shut rather than because we consciously chose it, and, quite simply, the attendant loss of liberty about whether to enhance ourselves or not rubs us up the wrong way too. We take such features of the new normal to furnish us with at least prima facie reasons for pause, so that we may consider whether the new normal should indeed be avoided, and, if so, how.

Not everyone agrees though. Enhancement enthusiasts maintain that not only are there overwhelming and decisive reasons to embrace effective and side-effect-free cognitive enhancement technologies – only fools and neo-Luddites would bother resisting – but that, in addition, we are ultimately concerned about something that, like death and taxes, is inevitable, and unlike death and taxes, does not even involve any morally significant sacrifices. In this talk we explain what blind spots prevent our critics from recognizing our point – a point which, paradoxically, we think they ought to accept – why the losses that we cite are not morally neutral, why we have reason to do something, but also why it is admittedly difficult to figure out precisely what to do.


Vincent, Nicole A (2014) Cognitive Enhancement: the new “normal”? TEDx talk delivered on April 26, 2014 at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Vincent, Nicole A and Jane, Emma A. (2014) Put down the smart drugs – cognitive enhancement is ethically risky business. Article published on June 16, 2014 at The Conversation.