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Originally posted on the IEET Weblog

What properties of consciousness and mind will remain the same in a posthuman world? Will enhanced minds look at themselves and reality like we do? What can we learn from cognitive science and consciousness studies to help answer these questions? What are some ethical consequences of enhancing the brain/mind?

"The growing divide threatens to increase traditional sources of conflict. Therefore, leading researchers in the early stages of the Consciousness Revolution have a responsibility to guide us through this third phase. Scientists and academic philosophers cannot simply confine themselves to making contributions to a comprehensive theory of consciousness and the self. If moral obligation exists, they must also confront the anthropological and normative void they have created. They must communicate their results in layman’s language and explain the developments to those members of society whose taxes pay their salaries. They cannot simply put all their ambition and intelligence into their scientific careers while destroying everything humankind has believed in for the past twenty-five hundred years." - Thomas Metzinger, The Ego Tunnel, 215

Transhumanism and Phenomenological Reduction

Some elements of what it means to be a mind will remain the same no matter how fast a posthuman brain operates or how much memory it has. Nor will adding new senses like sonar and infrared be a cause of losing most elements of mind which are attributed to the human brain/mind. Today a common term for concepts that effect culture and society is called a meme. The envisioned posthuman will experience fundamental meme constants (ie. understanding sound scientific theories) which are experienced by some humans today. What I mean by “meme-like-constants” would be examples of a priori and a posteriori ontological constants. In the near future, we will see the rise of transhumanism/posthumanism; along with this comes enhanced cognition, and with enhanced cognition comes new ways of looking at the universe we live in; however many rational memes will remain. A meme is defined as

"A self-replicating cultural element or pattern of behavior, analogous to a gene but passed from one individual to another by imitation rather than genetic transmission. Memes are subject to inheritance and evolution through a form of natural selection according to their likelihood, relative to the alternatives available in the meme pool, of being reproduced or of multiplying. Typical examples are tunes, ideas, beliefs, catchphrases, stories, hairstyles, clothing fashions, recipes, inventions, skills, traditions, and theories. Whereas genes propagate themselves in a gene pool by migrating from one body to the next. Memes propagate themselves in a meme pool by migrating from one brain to the next; but unlike genes, memes are subject to Lamarckian inheritance, because acquired characteristics can be incorporated into a meme and passed on." (Meme, Oxford Dictionary of Psychology, 450)

Transhumanism and Consciousness

Transhumanism, as it stands today, is broad in definition because most of the ideas behind it are rather speculative, somewhat sci-fi in nature, and entail a futuristic, but rational outlook on the evolution of our species. There are many examples today which a few years ago were seen as science fiction. Some examples include artificial body parts such as legs, arms and hearts and computer-brain connections. A 2009 web article from New Scientist magazine talked about new findings by Alessandro Farné of the University of Claude Bernard in Lyon who was looking into how the brain adapts to prosthetic limbs and cyborgism. “Farné says the same kind of brain "plasticity" might be involved in regaining control of a transplanted hand or a prosthetic limb when the original has been lost. The brain might also readily incorporate cyborg additions – a cyborg arm or other body part – into its body schema, says Farné” These findings show that cyborgism/transhumanism in the physical body area of research need not manipulate the human brain for some “cyborg additions" making transhumanism look less like a science fiction fantasy and more like a rational theory.

The evidence of a posthuman/transhuman world is everywhere around us and we will see in the upcoming decades exactly that which transhumanists like Nick Bostrom have been postulating.

“Transhumanism is a loosely defined movement that has developed gradually over the past two decades. It promotes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and evaluating the opportunities for enhancing the human condition and the human organism opened up by the advancement of technology. Attention is given to both present technologies, like genetic engineering and information technology, and anticipated future ones, such as molecular nanotechnology and artificial intelligence.”(Bostrom 1)

As Nick Bostrom points out, other areas of research include the race to produce Strong Artificial Intelligence (SAI), which is intelligence equal to or at the same level of humans but produced artificially with computers or computer-neuron interfaces. It is thought that with the AI and biological research a more powerful brain/mind, with or without the integration of the human brain with computers, will come to be. Gregory Stock, a biophysicist at UCLA believes that genetic engineering will allow us to change the DNA that contains the instructions for the structure of the human brain. He also believes that manipulation of brain structure through genetic engineering will come before any integration of our minds with computer technology, while others, such as Ray Kurzweil, believes the opposite -- that the integration of the human brain and computers will come first.

To me it doesn't matter which comes first. The basic concept is that what it means to be a human mind will ultimately change through our use of technology. A concern of mine for many years has been the effects of personification and anthropomorphism on the postulated posthuman/transhuman mind (enhanced mind), which can be summed up by this argument from the Singularity Institute: “Anthropomorphic ("human-shaped") thinking is the curse of futurists. One of the continuing themes running through creating Friendly AI is the attempt to track down specific features of human thought that are solely the property of humans rather than minds in general, especially if these features have, historically, been mistakenly attributed to AIs.”(Singularity Institute, 2001)

My goal here is in fact to pin down some characteristics of mind and intelligence as best as I can. I do not want to make the mistake of over-emphasizing personification and anthropomorphism in theorizing about the posthuman and Strong AI mind. Intelligence and consciousness do not need to be explained in relation to irrational social constructs, but rather the opposite; though these minds will need the ability to think about such constructs and learn to know and render them obsolete. I can only hope this will happen faster in enhanced minds compared to humans. According to Ray Kurzweil, life is going to get very interesting very soon. “In our lifetime, Kurzweil believes, machines will not only surpass humans in intelligence -- they will irrevocably alter what it means to be human.” …“10 years from now, computing power will finally catch up with our brains. For $1,000, you'll be able to store as much memory on a chip as you can in your head.” (Kushner 6)

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There will be a time in the future when posthumans will not be able to reproduce with original Homo sapiens if their genetics are vastly different. To clarify even further, posthumanism and transhumanism do indeed suggest that our species will evolve under our control probably to the point that the posthuman will differ so dramatically from Homo sapiens that that they will have to be listed as a new species and will not be able to reproduce with humans as we know today. I propose that there are some real similarities within the brain/mind of the human and posthuman in the domain of innate properties of mind and consciousness. It may be that some concepts are innate to mind, and that some memes, though they may appear to be beliefs or emergent concepts, do represent a priori knowledge.

Phenomenological reduction also known as epoché, first described by philosopher Edmund Husserl, is an example of a meme in the sense that it is a relatively popular philosophical concept, one which is also quite hard to dispute, unlike that of, let's say, the meme of the Christian God. We can call this the “epoché meme” because it is a concept that stuck with many philosophers over time. As it stands today, this meme was mostly popular amongst academic phenomenologists, existentialists, and social scientists in the 1930s and again slightly in 1966 with the publication of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s book The Social Construction of Reality. (Scott, 490-491) Those who study Existentialism or Phenomenology should be familiar with the idea of epoché which is the action of doing phenomenological reduction by “bracketing” out everything you know about the world to reach pure consciousness and then understand the nature of being conscious of the things around you.

If we make the argument that epoché is a meme which will never go away, even in a posthuman world, we can see how the mind or consciousness will always have some resemblance, and perhaps a very important resemblance to modern day Homo sapiens. The idea of epoche or “bracketing” was made well-known by Husserl who used it in his description of phenomenological reduction. Phenomenological reduction is the suspension of judgment about all things in the world, including scientific theories and the notion of existing and not existing. It’s a starting point in which minds can start to experience pure experience without the filter of theories or an overabundance of feelings. “The first steps of phenomenological looking are usually called an Epoché, which means to suspend or step back from our ordinary ways of looking, to set aside our usual assumptions regarding things.”(Ihde, 32)

Wikipedia explains it clearly as "the act of suspending judgment about the natural world that precedes phenomenological analysis.The concept can be most easily understood as "unpacking" phenomena, or, in other words, systematically peeling away their symbolic meanings like layers of an onion until only the thing-in-itself remains. Thus, one's subjective perception of the bracketed phenomenon is the truest form of experience one can have in perceiving it." The action of phenomenological reduction allows your brain/mind to experience experiencing, to be aware of awareness, to be conscious of being conscious. It also seems that anyone who participates in Zen Buddhism, Mahāyāna Buddhismn, especially Yogācāra , and some Hindu philosophy knows what it is like to “bracket” out everything to reach a state a pure consciousness, the act of being aware that the only thing you are currently aware of is awareness, or consciousness.

As James Hughes pointed out in an e-mail interview, “In Buddhist psychology the experience of oneness is an early meditational illusion, that is superseded by the experience of 'emptiness', which is then superseded by an awareness that both 'oneness' and 'emptiness' are arbitrary mental constructs.” These ideas – of mind’s being able to meditate and focus on pure consciousness only -- should not go away with the onset of a posthuman/transhumanist world because minds will still need the ability to be aware that they are aware (passing the Turing test will not guarantee this special feature of consciousness in the universe).

This awareness, that of being aware of pure consciousness, is something that is lacking however even in today’s world, but I propose it will actually increase with the onset of more intelligent, informed, educated brain/minds which find this notion of epoché rather peculiar. If science and philosophy still have not figured out what “consciousness” actually is by then, the posthuman mind will surely want some answers building off of philosophies like Buddhism, phenomenology, philosophy of mind, and consciousness studies along with AI research and neuroscience to overcome the current paradigm of M theory & String theory, and the notion of “the theory of everything” as many physicists and biologists leave out consciousness as part of the nature of the universe, life and mind. I think the transhuman/posthuman mind will continue to seek to understand its own reality, unable to escape fundamental problems of consciousness working towards a complete theory of the universe, expanding a priori ontology and a posteriori ontology and epistemology.

Transhumanism and the Singularity: explosion of conscious information manipulation

The singularity would be a scenario where hyperhuman artificial intelligence would ask questions about its own reality and how to improve on itself, and within the matter of a few hours to a few months, it would improve itself to limits we can only speculate about. Some of the speculation around the idea of the singularity suggests that the hyperhuman “artificial” intelligence would know every last thing about science, and be conscious of it, therefore it would be able to improve scientifically on itself so fast that it would surpass the knowledge of every human on earth and every book and article ever written. This is called the singularity. (Hall,247-248)

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Even within a singularity situation explained by Ray Kurzweil, I believe the ever expanding consciousness and intelligence will be able to stop its “exponential” growth and meditate, or perform a meta-epoché. Considering that scientific paradigms might come and go within a few days or even hours, the meta-intelligence of the post singularity world will have time to reflect on itself, no matter which stage it is at in generating meta intelligence and collecting and producing new knowledge. Until pure consciousness is explained, this meta intelligence will take breaks like we do to ponder the problem of the essence of awareness, of itself: being, consciousness, and existence. However, as Joshua Fox of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence points out, “Quantum physics, black holes, and the Big Bang still seem strange to a lot of people, but scientific hypotheses should be refuted or supported on their own terms with rational argumentation, not with a sense of confusion, mystery, or “that’s just weird.” (Fox) This reasoning being applied to the theory of the singularity can also be applied to the action of phenomenological reduction. Awareness and consciousness is a tricky problem today, but given time there will be (and continue to be) a real science of it.

As long as Thomas Kuhn’s conception of scientific revolutions remains the same as he theorized, the enhanced mind should also conclude and should also be confined to the same paradigmatic ontological and epistemic reality we are. Sped up cognition, greater memory, etc, will only speed up the process of scientific revolutions, which under Kuhn's conception of paradigmatic scientific revolutions, and knowledge, the enhanced mind will also be confined. Theories of consciousness however should (out of necessity) remain in the domain of scientific revolutions and knowledge, and should not be assumed at this point to give us all the answers about consciousness.

To me the progress of Consciousness Studies will predict constants of mind which might negate some aspects of the theory of paradigms, unless the “nature” as perceived by humans, by mind, is actually the nature of scientific revolutions. The “nature” of scientific revolutions seems to be a concept with properties understood by modern philosophers as an “ontological” way of understanding “understanding.” If this is really the case, even if each paradigm is “better” than the last, it is still a theory in the nature of knowledge, created by minds. What this suggests to me is another example of a “constant” or a correlate, or a (reduced?)-superveniently-emerged property of consciousness, between humans and the enhanced mind’s scientific understanding of reality – utilizing the mind's ability to be rational and carry out investigations into the nature of the universe. This superveniently-emerged property of consciousness would seem not so emerged at this point because it would be an ontological truth, or an idea portraying some kind of correlate to the way “things” really are.

To pin down a solid link in the nature of the enhanced transhuman mind and our current minds may have severe ramifications because in linking the enhanced mind with the human mind we can start to see a connection which may be essential for our species to interact and understand the world of the transhuman mind.

It is this “pure consciousness” which binds us together with brain/minds which are designed to be more powerful than us; it is this starting point of the problem of consciousness, the ability to be aware of your own awareness, to experience feelings (qualia) and concepts (memes). When we surpass what it is like for a human to use our current cognition, from natural evolution, we will most likely see that intelligent life, whether silicon or biological, will share the awareness of being able to experience experiencing. The ability to be aware of pure consciousness in a universe which is still not totally defined, possibly restrained by paradigmatic ontologies and epistemologies of origin, purpose, nature of the universe, is simply, awe inspiring. While I say that, I want to make it clear that I do believe all of the questions of our existence will be explained given time even in the face of scientific paradigmatic theories and possibilities.

Transhumanism, having close similarities with classical eugenics may bring on fear that controlling our own evolution in such a drastic way could cause a new type of fascism. “…I don’t expect this [idea] ever to be a very popular variety. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be some cultural conservatives, or even neofascists, who will be enthusiastic advocates of cyborgization, eugenic engineering or technotranscendence. (Hughes, 181) We know from history, though, that people fought for justice and liberation way before we knew anything about genetics, sexual dimorphism, and other sciences which show arguments of equality amongst humans.

Social constructions of reality can be seen in irrational personification and anthropomorphism. The philosopher of mind, John Searle, goes as far as to suggest that most everything around us is a product of society, from the clothes we wear to institutions like banks. For example, political activist and linguist Noam Chomsky for these reasons does not wear a suit and tie to work, instead he wears what he finds comfortable. Identifying and understanding irrational social constructs which can lead to discrimination (like racism and sexism) is a true sign of rationality and intelligence. We have to remember that when we think of SAI, genetically modified brains, and brain-computer interfaces, we are talking about a type of “enhancement” to the mind. I believe it is inevitable that these enhancements will increase the ability to rationally think, understand concepts, and identify useless and destructive social constructs. Action is just as important as thinking and the enhanced mind will be able to understand that there is no place for such things in reality, therefore, they should act on it.

Even during slavery in the United States, there were people who knew “black” people were equal to “white” people, without the aid of much science. They knew they were equal from an intuitive view of characteristics of the mind. Perhaps ideas like “pure consciousness” and the act of epoché will also help to diminish any conflict between people who choose to embrace transhumanism and those who choose not to. It would be a terrible mistake if the enhanced mind of the future is treated unfairly by humans. This mistake, of essentially humans being prejudiced against the enhanced mind, could lead to dire consequences. Hughes points out that transhumanism needs the concepts of equality, liberty, and solidarity. I think something as simple as the epoché meme, the ability of all minds being able to experience phenomenological reduction in the midst of a true science of consciousness and self-evolution, will lessen tension which may exist with the onset of the posthuman and help with bringing about Hughes’ optimistic viewpoint.

So we can see that the brain/mind will probably have some major similarities in a posthuman world and we might want to take the advice from the author of The Complete Idiots Guide to Buddhism: “A more current definition of mind echoes the Buddhist definition, as that which is aware.” Whether it’s an old-fashioned human, strong AI or an enhanced transhumanist with all sorts of new gadgets in their brain and body, a commonality among all of us will be the meme of pure awareness, the universal notion of phenomenological reduction amongst all intelligent minds.

References

Bostrom, Nick. "Human Genetic Enhancements: A Transhumanist Perspective." Journal of Value Inquiry Vol. 37, No. 4(2003): 493-506. Print.

"Bracketing" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bracketing_(phenomenology)

"Creating Friendly AI". Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Inc. . 2001 http://www.singinst.org/upload/CFAI//anthro.html

Fox, Joshua. "IEEE Spectrum special report on the Singularity". The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. June 10th, 2008 http://www.singinst.org/blog/2008/06/10/ieee-spectrum-special-report-on-the-singularity/

Hall, J. Storrs. Beyond AI. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2007.

Hughes, James. Citizen Cyborg. Cambridge: Westview Press, Inc, 2004, 181.

Hughes, James. Email interview. 2 July 2009. Ihde, Don. Experimental Phenomenology. New York: State Univ. of New York Press, 1986.

Kushner, David. "When Man & Machine Merge ". Rollingstone Magazine. Feb. 19, 2009 http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/25939914/when_man__machine_merge/6

“Meme”, “Phenomenological Sociology” Scott, John, and Marshall Gordon. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

“Meme” Coman, Andrew M. Oxford Dictionary of Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006 Metzinger, Thomas. The Ego Tunnel. New York: Basic Books, 2009. Print.

Thanks to Lucy Valkury for the scanned echings




Nick, making sure the bag is small enough to fit on the plane. it seems its too big, so no flight for u.


i turned steady cam off


my cousin's daughter learning how to type


Andrew cleaning the anarchy off his head



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