Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 29–38 | Cite as

Limitless as a neuro-pharmaceutical experiment and as a Daseinsanalyse: on the use of fiction in preparatory debates on cognitive enhancement

  • Hub Zwart
Scientific Contribution


Limitless is a movie (released in 2011) as well as a novel (published in 2001) about a tormented author who (plagued by a writer’s block) becomes an early user of an experimental designer drug. The wonder drug makes him highly productive overnight and even allows him to make a fortune on the stock market. At the height of his career, however, the detrimental side-effects become increasingly noticeable. In this article, Limitless is analysed from two perspectives. First of all, building on the views of the French novelist Emile Zola, the novel is seen as the report of a closely monitored experiment. Subsequently, building on the phenomenology of Ludwig Binswanger, I will show how the cognitive enhancement drug not only boosts the protagonist’s information processing capacities, but also modifies his experience of space and time, his sense of spatiality, his way of being-in-the-world. On the basis of these (complementary) analyses I will indicate how genres of the imagination (such as movies and novels) may play a significant role in assessing the societal implications of emerging technological developments such as neuro-enhancement, especially during the preparatory or anticipatory stage.


Cognitive enhancement Neuro-enhancement Limitless The experimental novel Daseinsanalysis Neuro-ethics Philosophy of Technology Philosophical anthropology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Faculty of ScienceRadboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (ISIS)Radboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Centre for Society and the Life Sciences (CSG)Radboud University NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands

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