Cognitive Enhancement in the Movie Limitless Through a Lens of Structural Racism

By Nadia Irfan
This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

The Western society familiar to most of us attending the Neuroethics Network conference in Paris is certainly one that values and glorifies financial gain and socio-economic upward mobility. We are obsessed with the notion of the “optimal” self: an idealized image of a self that never tires, never ages, and is always running at its top performance. The Neuroethics Network Cinéma du Cerveau movie Limitless raises an interesting perspective about who represents this image, who achieves and maintains this lifestyle, and whether this optimal version only has value in a competitive context.
I think when representing cognitive enhancement, it is important to note the lens it is viewed through. Eddie Morra, the main character in the film, is played by Bradley Cooper, “a young, able-bodied, white, cis-gendered heterosexual male,” as noted by Dr. Karen Rommelfanger at the conference. This white male image, when paired with idealized cognitive enhancement, appeals to young and old demographics, with the young wrapped up in the sexiness of the drug, and the old fascinated by anti-aging.
An indirect display of inaccessibility to the drug is the social power to maintain possession once receiving it. Studies show that there is an implicit tendency for white participants to associate white faces with pleasantness and black faces with unpleasantness [1]. Taking this a step further, studies even show that race bias engages the same neural circuitry as a conditioned fear response [2].

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.