…The devoted reader will of course remember how Graham’s long fret ahem, extensive and informed meditation on the implications of human-machine brain transfer, Socratic Angst, elicited an extensive and erudite response from a friend, hereinafter known as YetAnotherChap. The Chaps considered this both bore reprinting in full, as it was at Socrates Redux, and a full response, hopefully equally erudite. However, as it falls to Graham, we will have to see what emerges …
Graham repeats … … the previous cogitating, girding loins for discourse, clearing throat, and…
Not again …
… and begins, IF you don’t mind, by reviewing and summarizing Yet Another Chap’s comments and arguments against the possibility of the proposed human-machine transfers. To wit …
The brain removal and replacement, or replication, approach, leans heavily and egocentrically on a Cartesian-dualist information-processing model, assuming the entire “persona” is contained within the neurological structure of the brain.
The “person” is not simply contained within an organic structure, but derives identity from environmental interaction, through the senses. To replicate the “person” one must also replicate senses and perception (by implication, the entire perceptual history of the individual). Any artificial reconstruction there will also add artificiality, inauthenticity, to the reproduction.
…cannot, in fact, be separated from or exist without those senses, or the accretion of sensory perceptions over time.
Speaking of which - you do know, I suppose, that if you favor ‘Cogito ergo sum’ over ‘Dulce et decorum est …,’ you are essentially putting Descartes before Horace?
I don’t wish to know that, kindly leave the page.
And not before time…
My goodness, is it that late? Where did the day go…
… you might think that we make this stuff up … if only!
The description in the original post of the literal mind-body separation is certainly disturbing, and not just for its fiercely monist assertiveness –
At some point, you become aware that you are no longer present in your body. You observe – with sadness, or horror, or detached curiosity – the diminishing spasms of that body on the operating table, the last useless convulsions of a discontinued meat.
I say. “Keeping an open mind” is one thing, but this…
… but then Descartes’ original philosophical formulation was in its own way equally disturbing, even disruptive, to the Renaissance mind set. It served, however, a very definite and useful purpose – in separating religion and science, it allowed a conceptual means for them to operate outside each others’ domains. Science could move beyond the steely gaze of religious zealotry, and used that cover to develop itself over several hundred years. But is that philosophical construct one that can be translated into literal, er, operation? One of the pillars of YetAnotherChap’s argument is that the senses play too great a role in forming and maintaining – whatever you consider makes us human, and individually so. In one “sense” this is true – we perceive what our senses provide to us. The “mind” may have, or appear to have, some autonomous existence of its own, but it is built and constantly refreshed and remade – literally restructured, in fact – by sensory input. Or is it?
We don’t see reality. The world exists. It’s just that we don’t see it. We do not experience the world as it is because our brain didn’t evolve to do so. It’s a paradox of sorts: Your brain gives you the impression that your perceptions are objectively real, yet the sensory processes that make perception possible actually separate you from ever accessing that reality directly. Our five senses are like a keyboard to a computer — they provide the means for information from the world to get in, but they have very little to do with what is then experienced in perception. They are in essence just mechanical media, and so play only a limited role in what we perceive.
Which is to say, what we perceive is not what we get, but what we create.
In fact, in terms of the sheer number of neural connections, just 10 percent of the information our brains use to see comes from our eyes. The rest comes from other parts of our brains, and this other 90 percent is in large part what this book [“Deviate” by Beau Lotto] is about. Perception derives not just from our five senses but from our brain’s seemingly infinitely sophisticated network that makes sense of all the incoming information.
Which is to say, early development can be seen as a process of bootstrapping – receiving raw input, reinterpreting it, deriving from that more advanced ways of processing, enhancing and reinterpreting subsequent input based upon conclusions drawn and decisions made from previous input about how and what to process and retain. Each step along the way, each decision on what and how to keep and discard, becomes itself a building block of the human mind, identity, personality – worldview. And at least 90% of the time that process is the source of “reality,” of identity. Consciousness? Maybe. But the senses would seem to play only a minor role – perhaps more in early days, when inputs are less efficiently and informedly mediated by the brain, but after that?
Wait - are we in The Season of The Which ? (sic)
Consciousness survives even devoid of sensory input – even in those so neurologically “locked-in” that their existence as living organisms is open to question. Yes, it may be a kind of Schrodinger’s consciousness – is it there in the absence of observer? – but evident nonetheless when the neurological box is prised open. Perhaps they would be the ideal Itskovian transplants – devoid (or close to it) already of sensory data, anything added is a bonus, with nothing taken away that might erode identity or consciousness. As a bonus for this argument, and maybe even the selection of subjects for this experiment – thought or otherwise – our “subjects” may have already “died” at least once.
The problem is that the scientific definition of ‘death’ remains as unresolved as the definition of ‘consciousness’. Much confusion is sowed by the term ‘clinical death’, the cessation of blood circulation and breathing. Even though this is reversible, the term is often used by mind-body dualists who cling to the belief that a soul (or self) can persist separately from the body. Today, however, being alive is no longer linked to having a beating heart, explains Owen. If I have an artificial heart, am I dead? If you are on a life-support machine, are you dead? Is a failure to sustain independent life a reasonable definition of death? No, otherwise we would all be ‘dead’ in the nine months before birth.
In “locked-ins” the mind goes into “hibernate” mode, taking with it everything it is – and returns through no other mechanism than mechanisms. “Clinical death” may even have occurred, and with it the evacuation of the “soul,” if any such existed. Yet such “death” is reversed, the “backup” restored, and the human consciousness returns. Such a restoration to working of the machine without the ghost might provide the ultimate refutation of dualism – the affirmation of monism, foreshadowing the Itskovian future . And just because this all started in a discussion involving frightening manifestations of robotics and AI, here’s a giant fighting robot developed by the Chinese.
Is it me - or does he always manage to get robots into the conversation?
Sorry, it’s almost automatic.
Almost? But appreciate the play on words :-)
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