I just came back from the film Limitless. The movie contained a very interesting depiction of a character who gets an black market nootropic that works very well. It gives him perfect recall, perfect situational awareness, and the ability to figure out the best thing to say/do in real time. He uses this new power to finish his book, get back together with his girlfriend, become rich, and eventually become president of the united states. Incidentally he gets in shape, establishes himself as high status at top tier social events, learns many new languages, and sleeps with a bunch of women. In the end his new found intelligence leads him to happiness. The drama in the film comes from the fact that the drug has side effects, and there's a mobster who gets his hands on some and wants more. Intelligence is depicted as a fundamentally good thing. It's even described as "I knew what I wanted and I knew how to get it." He affirms several times (and the story agrees) that he's still himself on the drug, just more effective. 

I recommend the movie. At the very least, it has cool shiny fight scenes, but it also has a very positive portrayal of increased intelligence and rationality ("I knew what I had to do, and how to do it"), which avoids many of its pitfalls.

  • He has very little undeserved hubris -- pretty much everything he claims to be able to do he can back up.

  • He acts fairly genre-savvy, and takes reasonable precautions like hiring bodyguards and investigating the source of his powers.

  • He avoids most intelligence stereotypes, becoming smarter actually makes him much more empathetic and cooler as a person. He gets his heads out of the clouds and starts actually accomplishing things.

Interestingly, many reviews chide the movie for allowing the protagonist to win at the end, with statements like "Working from Alan Glynn’s novel The Dark Fields, Burger and screenwriter Leslie Dixon are so content with keeping him on the fast track that they lose any sense of moral depth or consequence. It’s a small victory for flash in its eternal war with substance, but in this case, the flash is enough."

A few comments:

  • Several parts of it were actually reminiscent of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, particularly the scene in which the girlfriend quickly scopes out everything around her that's lethal.

  • All of the downsides of the drug were portrayed as purely technical problems, which can be surmounted with reasonable intelligence.

  • It's worth noting that to the protagonist, these are only means to some (presumably world improving, but vaguely defined) end. His newfound status and power don't seem to corrupt him, and he seems to get out of finance as soon as he's happy with how much money he has.

Incidentally, according to a review of the book that I read, the book both begins and ends with the main character dying from withdrawal because his supply of the drug has run out and he is unable to get more... as he watches the President of the United States on television displaying what he recognizes as signs of being on the drug. So, in the book, the main character most definitely does not win at the end...

Don't forget the pill also practically eliminates akrasia. He was almost unable to NOT do what he knew he should do.

I think he said something to the effect of "I felt like if I stopped moving I was going to explode".

I saw it and had some similar reflections. Got me thinking about what a highly optimized rational man would look like.

It wasn't perfect by any standards but had some great cinematography and ideas flowing around. If you can forgive the gaping loopholes you'll enjoy the ride.

He uses this new power to finish his book, get back together with his girlfriend, become rich, and eventually become president of the united states. Incidentally he gets in shape, establishes himself as high status at top tier social events, learns many new languages, and sleeps with a bunch of women.

How would it work if everyone had this power?

Doesn't being rich require that others be poor?

Only one person can become president at a time.

Doesn't being at the top tier of social events (or anything) mean that there needs to be sub tiers?

"Sleeps with a bunch of women": this seems to answer the above problems. Humans would be so busy "sleeping" with each other they'd have little time or use for money, politics, or meaningless social gatherings. Food would still be important. I'd like to think art would be too. Sex, food, and transformative experiences. A return to the animal kingdom. That makes me almost hopeful.

But, I have this all wrong, don't I. I'm going back to the sequences now....

No.

To follow up, lets pretend that I invented light bulbs, and got rich selling you light bulbs and electricity to power them.

Now I'm rich, and though you may have slightly less money, you now also have light whenever you want it.

I'd call that a net win.

In relative terms (eg being in the top 1%) obviously yes.

In absolute terms (eg being able to experience more places, creative works, ideas, etc than people 1000 years ago could have dreamed about) obviously no.

One is more important than the other.

How would it work if everyone had this power?

More people would live happy productive lives, fewer people would live unproductive/self-destructive ones.

Doesn't being rich require that others be poor?

Prosperity isn't a zero-sum game. Civilization is all about building up the common wealth (commonwealth).

There is a moment where he gets "the idea". This is the thing that takes him from his hedonic whirlwind to a purposeful existence. He's trying to change the world.

My hope is that he'd use the powers of the pill to set up labs to study the process it works on, mass produce it, use his political clout as president to push it though as a legal nootropic, and use the bully pulpit to promote it. Make everyone smart.

What I'm gathering from the other replies to my comment is that people are not so much in need of intelligence as they are in need to realize their full value.

Doesn't being at the top tier of social events (or anything) mean that there needs to be sub tiers?

Yes. Status is kind of zero-sum in that your increased status means someone else's decreased status.

When you stop focusing solely on status though, the game can (but doesn't always) become positive sum. Sometimes people get status by helping others, and sometimes they use it to help others.

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, McMurphy regularly manipulates the other patients into partaking in plans which put him on top, and ultimately get him what he wants. In the process of doing so however, he builds them up and helps them to better enjoy their own lives.

i was quoting from the original post. In the context i assumed it meant: enough money to not have to worry about needed more money.

Rationalist movies are pretty awesome. You can watch all rationalist movies for free on Terrarium TV app. All the movies are available in HD quality. You can get it from http://terrariumtvofficial.com/