Nootropics and Algernon's Law

Dan Hook (
Thu, 8 May 1997 16:21:07 -0400

Recent reading of The Blind Watchmaker have caused me to question
Algernon's Law. I'll start with an example from nature:

The eye develops first from a sheet of photo sensitive cells, then into a
shallow cup (to better tell which direction the light is coming from). It
can then become something like a pinhole camera although a balance has to
be struck between focus and the amount of light that comes through (the
smaller the pinhole, the greater the focus but the less the light). This
remains the case until a lens is added. Almost any slightly curved
translucent material will do. The problem comes when we look at the
nautilus. All studies point to the fact that it could benefit from a lens
on its eye but it does not have one. The conclusion is that the
embryological development of the nautilus does not allow this simply change
that would be an evolutionary enhancement.

In human beings there could be a similar developmental barrier to
developing some nootropic chemicals. Remember, everything has to evolve by
step by step improvements.

Dan Hook
> From: Carl Feynman <>
> To:
> Subject: Re: Filtered Extropians
> Date: Thursday, May 08, 1997 12:16 PM
> Anders Sandberg wrote:
> >In general, the idea of nootropics only
> >having positive cognitive effects and no side-effects is *very*
> In fact it is forbidden by Algernon's Law: All simple major enhancements
> human intelligence are net evolutionary disadvantages.
> To find out why this is a law, look in
> --CarlF