Bioethics Blogs

Quantified Minds in an Optimized World

Natalie Salmanowitz

The quantified-self movement is hardly a covert phenomenon. From the Garmin watches people flaunt on their wrists, to the dizzying array of smartphone apps for tracking eating habits, lifestyle data has garnered infectious appeal. But it isn’t just about gathering information—it’s about using the data to maximize your potential.

While Garmin watches and lifestyle apps are fairly ubiquitous, a separate sector of the market is taking optimization to new heights: neuromodulation. Within this field is a plethora of consumer products, ranging from neurostimulation devices, to EEG neurofeedback headsets, to cognitive enhancement pills. Although these products differ in structure and function, they are united by a common rhetoric of harnessing mental resources to become your optimal self. Take the FocusBand, one of the many EEG neurofeedback headsets on the market. By monitoring and regulating brainwaves, users can allegedly optimize everything from baseball pitching, to meditation practices, to engagement among coworkers. As the company puts it, “draw from the power inside of you” and “master your mind.”

With a 30 second scan of almost any product in the realm of “consumerized neuromodulation,” it is hard to not feel bombarded by this optimization language. But how much of that is purely a marketing tactic, as opposed to a genuine reflection of the quantified-self craze? While some companies are likely just capitalizing on general interest in this space, others are most definitely devout worshippers of the quantified-self doctrine. For perhaps the most quintessential example possible, let me introduce you to Nootrobox, an up-and-coming cognitive enhancement supplement.

Using sleek and simple packaging, Nootrobox cherry-picks ingredients from the FDA’s list of “generally regarded as safe” substances to provide precisely measured pills and gummies that promise to energize your mind or ease you to sleep.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.