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Exploring the edge.
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The Global Brain
"It is not guilty pride but the ceaselessly reawakened instinct of the game which calls forth new worlds." (Heraclitus Reloaded)
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    It has been awhile since my last post. Yet, my ties with this community are as strong as ever.

    Here is a talk by Egen Moglem, I found recently. It has received too little circulation than what it deserves bringing to our attention the criticality of a free web to the future of humanity. Eben speaks about software as the 21st primary instrument of progression and freedom. In the light of recent events his talk is highly relevant and he speaks, I believe, of things which the SC community strongly resonates with.

    Links to the second and third parts of the talk:

    Part 2,
    Part 3

    If you enjoy watching it, care to further distribute.
    Thu, Oct 20, 2011  Permanent link

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    (Part 5 in the series: Mind, the need for a new model)

    Does consciousness have a shape?

    It might sound a strange question at first since what immediately come to mind are the various figures of experience, of imagination, of memory and the abstract shapes of thought. All these seem to have a shape but they all appear in consciousness; none of them is consciousness itself. Paradoxically consciousness is never given, but it is always that by which anything given is given; always hidden and covered by that which it brings forth.

    Trying to discover the nature of consciousness and realizing how shy it is, many have reasoned that one could glimpse its shape by carefully removing from consciousness all obstructing objects: sense impressions, figures of thought, images etc. If all is removed, they reasoned, consciousness will finally be exposed in its own nakedness. Special meditation techniques were invented and perfected just for this very end. This is definitely a feat far from trivial, as anyone who might try it, will soon discover. However, accomplished dedicated practitioners of meditation eventually succeeded and could indeed remove all mental objects from their conscious mind. In historical perspective, one cannot overestimate the huge resources that were invested in this project. So many humans have invested the best of their lives just to gain a glimpse into that mystery behind mysteries… Fortunately a few of those who made it came back to tell and were willing to share their discovery: consciousness was found to have (at least figuratively so because mere words could hardly capture that) a nature of mirror-like space, of absence itself. Consciousness - not even shapeless but beyond both shape and shapelessness.

    appearing disappearance | 0:35 min | d 2007 | Advanced Beauty from Robert Seidel on Vimeo.

    For years I was fascinated and in a way still am by this simple yet ultimately profound discovery: Nothing is hidden behind the objects of consciousness, and nothing is the shape of consciousness. But… there is a ‘but’. There always must be a ‘but’. A suspecting thought slowly formed sending thin tendrils of doubt all over that immaculate mirror-like absence. To make this somewhat obscure thought a bit more concrete let me phrase as a question: wouldn’t it be correct to say that the answer was already given by the very way the problem was initially approached? After all, it is where philosophical investigation and scientific grand programs often fall (if indeed it is falling with all its negative metaphorical connotations). They tend to find what already was subtly implied in the very method. They discover that which is already shaped by the exploration itself. They are getting lost in the hypnotic labyrinth of searching and finding with its paths ever looping upon themselves. Also here, starting with a method of progressive meticulous subtraction, what one could come up with other than absence – that which cannot be subtracted…?

    At this point, either one admits (as many do) that it is impossible altogether to continue, as all seem to shift into kind of solipsistic dream land, or…, let me ask again:

    Does consciousness have a shape?

    If consciousness does have a shape at all, it seems that indeed we cannot see it directly; much the same as we cannot see our retinas, or taste our tasting buds, or smell our olfactory epithelium (the tissue responsible for our sense of smell). Nevertheless, much can be learned indirectly on the inner structure of the eye by observing certain visual effects, especially at the limits of our visual capabilities, where visual illusions appear that originate not from the objects of our vision but from the visual apparatus itself. By analogy, if we observe carefully, we might discover certain special effects rendered in our conscious experiences that imply on the shape of consciousness itself, like a signature of sorts or a watermark, present, yet, not overtly so.

    The word ‘shape’ itself is used here figuratively of course but it is much more than a loose metaphor. Shapes are actually topological entities that preserve within themselves certain abstract properties and relations that extend and expand what we recognize in our everyday experience as spatial geometrical forms. So even though consciousness is not geometrical or spatial, we can imagine consciousness to be a process that continuously transforms one shape into another. It is a shaping process rather than a proper shape. In other words, the shape of consciousness modulates the shapes and forms that constitute our mental-emotional inner lives. While we are used to think about shapes as spatial configurations, the shaping process of consciousness can be thought of as a spatiotemporal shape – a shape that extends to the temporal dimension as well. With this conceptual twist we can use the terms ‘shape’ and ‘shaping’ interchangeably we only add the time dimension to the description. Last but not least, consciousness does not possess a fixed shape of course. It is rather a variety of shapes with a common, more or less, stable attractor. So when speaking of the shape of consciousness it is this representative common attractor that we address.

    It wouldn’t be far from immediate intuition to see why marrying something as abstract as consciousness with shapes might bring us closer to understanding. Instead of removing shapes from consciousness to expose it, we should observe carefully the shapes rendered by consciousness and seek for special effects, abnormalities and distortions, something like visual illusions that might give us clues about the shape behind all shapes.

    E3 | 3:00 min | d/uk 2002 from Robert Seidel on Vimeo.

    Surprisingly or not, there are plenty of such effects. One need not reach too far from one’s everyday consciousness to find an abundance of clues across the whole spectrum of experiences and mental events. Let me mention here just a few that I find particularly disturbing from an otherwise a very long list: Consciousness highlights simplicity while hiding complexity. It highlights separation while hiding connectedness. It emphasizes unity and duality and deemphasizes diversity. It prefers the stable upon the variable and identity over difference. It is acutely attentive to variation and difference but only for the purpose of quickly equalizing and canceling them. It imposes a single uniform temporal dimension upon concurrent multi-temporal happening (measuring everything by the same clock). It highlights repetition of the same and hides evolution. It highlights order and dismisses chaos. It strongly prefers ‘discovering’ linear relations between effects and their supposed causes upon complicated dynamics. It prefers the immediate just upon anything else. It separates ‘inner’ from ‘outer’, ‘self’ from ‘other’, ‘true’ from ‘false’, ‘correct’ from ‘error’, ‘past’ from ‘future’, ‘reality’ from ‘illusion’. It favors stories moving in lines and circles (ones and zeroes?), upon those developing in fractals or other strange forms. Above all, it abhors the open ended in all shapes and things: questions without answers, paradoxes without solutions, paths with no destination, actions without purpose… (The reader may add freely …)

    Does consciousness have a shape? Of course it does and by now it is fairly clear that the shape of consciousness is necessarily reflected in ALL our conscious activities, in all our perceptions, memories, dreams, ideas and modes of reasoning. Particularly, it is reflected in how we see (or do not see) our future. It would not be an overstatement, therefore, to say that the shape of consciousness shapes our world; subtly, perhaps, in the manner it operates, but profoundly so nevertheless.

    Coming to think about it, it could not be otherwise. In all things alive, in everything shaped by natural selection one principle is always apparent: the reciprocal determination of form and function. Form determines function and function determines form. From the shape of proteins and other molecules in living cells, to the shape of cells in organs (neurons, blood cells, bone cells, skin cells), to the shape of organs (blood vessels, bones, hearts, eyes), to the shape of whole organisms and their functional adaptations to their environment (fish, mammals, birds, trees, corals…). Consciousness is no exception. It is primarily a product of natural selection and its shape is determined by its function: to ensure the survival and reproduction of a complex organism in a complex environment. Many of the modulating effects of consciousness mentioned above make a lot of sense in view of such function. Everyday consciousness is utilitarian, economic and ultimately goal oriented. Consciousness therefore has evolved to bring forth a representation ultimately fit to its function in the context of the organism and the organism’s interactions with the environment.

    Yet, there are quite a few interesting cracks in this picture. Evolution takes care mostly of the middle, or, in other words, it takes care of the average performance of the organism. It is the norm and the mediocre in every function that ensures stability, robustness and continuity. For natural selection this is all that matters- strength in numbers and redundancy. It is therefore on the edges and margins of every evolved phenomenon that we find the interesting bits and pieces that are not present in the middle and mediocre. So is the case for consciousness. It is stable in the middle, in what we call everyday consciousness and there it has a definite normative shape. But there are quite a few interesting ‘loose ends’ and ‘rogue’ potentials to be found on the edges.

    _grau | 10:01 min | d 2004 | HD premiere from Robert Seidel on Vimeo.

    If we consider the so called ‘exotic’ states of consciousness, as for example, under the influence of psychoactive substances, we can find in the very presence of the so called ‘altered states of consciousness’ and in the undeniable contrast of their ‘otherness’ a sound affirmation to the proposition that ‘normal’ everyday consciousness does indeed have a distinct shape. Not only that; considering these altered states of consciousness and their irregular strange shapes, it seems that the attractor that is normally responsible for the stable normative shape of everyday consciousness is not fixed. Under certain extraordinary circumstances, having to do with its neuro-dynamic roots, the shape of consciousness becomes plastic and reconfigurable.

    From here it is only a short leap to contemplate the profound reshaping of consciousness in the same manner that contemporary progressive thinkers consider the radical alteration of human morphology, physiology, genetic makeup and even a seamless merging with machines. Perhaps even prior to reshaping our bodies, and becoming intimate with machines we have to attend to the unfathomable hidden potentials of reshaping consciousness.

    So here is an idea, or rather a problem: the problem of consciousness and its shape.

    How, in what manner, according to which principles and towards what end(s) if any, might we engage in (radically) reshaping consciousness? (given that augmented fitness is really a boring option).

    What might be the consequences of developing such a capacity/technology?

    What are the relations between this problem and the future of individuality, of personhood, of human identity at large?

    These question marks are of course only preliminary access points, little provocations, nothing more. The problem itself goes way beyond what mere questions marks can possibly render.

    It is quite clear, I come to believe, that no contemplation of a posthuman future can possibly make any interesting sense without tackling this problem.

    (To be continued…?)

    Remark: Thanks to Robert Seidel and his experimental videos that inspired some of the thoughts expressed here and greatly enhance their presentation.

    Tue, Oct 19, 2010  Permanent link

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    It started as a comment to Starwalker’s post but in the course of writing it gained the volume of a post. So here it is…

    Though there are so many good examples (more than we commonly imagine) of intelligence which is collective, there are many counterexamples as well. When more than just a few individuals congregate (say above 10) the combined intelligence tends, more often than not, to decrease relative to the sum of individual intelligences. It seems that somewhere between 2 to 5 persons coordinating their mental and emotional states is a kind of an optimum and a limit for a full scale continuous integration. Beyond that limit, unless people are a-priori organized, the combined intelligence swiftly drops into redundant flock intelligence.

    The kind of emergent collective intelligence we see in institutions, governments, corporations and armies is a result of strict hierarchy and/or imposed mechanical order made to channel and restrict the full spectrum of human intelligence and creativity at the individual level. Such order that allows the coordinated behavior of organizations and groups is either consensual or enforced by physical, psychological or economical means. Usually, the acceptance of order is a combination of consensus and submission. Indeed the web seem to represent some new options that lean towards the consensual but most of the really interesting kinds of collective intelligence emerging on the web are actually based on very (very!) simple rules of local agent behavior and communication. It is no coincidence that the most popular metaphor to these emergent patterns is flocking (coordinated movement of sardines...?). The principle common to this type of collective intelligence is that the higher levels of organization, whether designed or emergent, are based on limiting the spectrum of behaviors allowed to the lower participating levels. Beyond collectives organized according to this principle, we meet the limit mentioned above.

    But why should we accept this limit? The way I envision collective intelligence it must allow, at least by potential, the full spectrum of the mental and emotional intelligent capacities of the participants; the participating agents allowed a free space of creative expression and interaction. In the light of this, I believe we haven't yet tapped into the profound potential of what one would call a many agent full blown collective intelligence as it is possible to sentient agents (human and other). At best, we have a glimpse of what it could be like when we occasionally make it work with very few participants. The kind of collective intelligence we have achieved to this day is nothing special. In fact it is ubiquitous among many social and flocking species from bacteria and other single celled agents (the cells in our body and other multi-cellular organisms), fungi, corals, plants, insects, fish, birds, primates etc. In all these cases the emergent collective patterns are grounded on very simple local procedures/behaviors. Yet even simple rules can bring forth emergent complexity which accounts for the levels of symbiosis and coordinated intelligence achieved by very primitive organisms. It seems this kind of collective intelligence is as ancient almost as life itself

    Slime mold

    A collection of slime molds - collective intelligent organizations of single celled organisms which embed elaborate chemical signaling systems, consensus voting, and collective response to changing environmental conditions. Some of these certainly outperform us in signaling, consensus forming and collective response to a changing environment, especially the latter. I have chosen them because of their apparent beauty and the diffused distinction between individuals and collective.

    Clearly, similar kinds of such collective behavior are common in human society. But their simplicity (irrespective to their impressive products) allow very little of our complex individual intelligence to be harnessed to a collective coordinated intelligence. Most of this complexity is filtered out by the organization (whether imposed or spontaneous) of individuals into the collective. There is it seems a fundamental limit of complexity in the relations that can be handled between the individual level and the collective level above it. This limit is yet to be understood and overcome. My guess is that it has to do mostly with how we treat the ‘other’, the distinction of self and other, and how we generally hold the concept of ‘other’ (also self as other) in the first place.

    For such reasons I do not buy what is being hyped nowadays as collective intelligence hyper-connectivity etc. Not because it does not present wonderful results but because it draws a distorted and over simplistic picture of what human collective intelligence can possibly be. The emergence of collectives that are based on flocking paradigms (reduction of complexity of lower levels) as their functional ground diverts us from the real challenges of becoming participating individuals at the deepest level of our emotional and mental lives.

    In many discussions the individual and the collective are represented as conceptual oppositions. This is indeed the case if we opt for the human, web augmented, flock paradigm. The individual must cease or at least considerably withdraw to allow space for the emerging collective. This is of course what the few ones controlling the general human scene, politically and economically, would have us believe. On the same token I do not buy the various versions of 'Borg liberalism', envisioned by many as our social future. They argue that we will become/are becoming a collective but by some miraculous technological means we also get to keep our individuality intact. This is an elaborate delusion because again in the way we commonly hold the concepts of individuality and collective today, they are necessarily clashing oppositions. Indeed, the web as a medium does very well in absorbing and hiding some of the more superficial (but nonetheless disturbing) effects of this seemingly irreconcilable clash, mostly due to bandwidth limits. This is why the web raises so many hopes. But technological feats cannot possibly achieve what a profound conceptual revolution needs to achieve. Without such revolution most of our hopes are unwarranted at best.

    To put it boldly, we are social animals and we are individuals not out of a choice that we made but because of evolutionary necessity! There is no freedom in us being individuals or being a collective. That we identify freedom with individuality is a biological and cultural happenstance at best. We evolved to be the way we are and we are shaped (and being shaped) by blind forces of which we have only a beginning of understanding if the term understanding applies to them at all. The conceptual mappings of our existential situation in life, be it individuality or collectivism are nothing more than idealizations (or exaggerations) of how evolution made us successful. Likewise, the opposition we intuitively grasp between individuality and collective is a consequence of biological necessity just the same. It was never our intention or choice to be this or that. We do not own our individuality and we are not owned by the collectives we necessarily participate in. We just find ourselves in this existential situation and being blessed or cursed with our linguistic prowess we impose superficial descriptions and values on it.

    Like all evolutionary successes there is nothing special in ours. But we wish to believe it is special perhaps we could somehow make it special... This is why we have to seriously consider our future. Achilles already knew that survival is not the point; significance is! It is in this light that we should reflect the future.

    Our future cannot be rescued from the grasp of its blind evolutionary past by a mere act of imagination. There is no point in speaking about individual intelligence or collective intelligence or just intelligence in its deeper sense without first contemplating the possibility of freedom. Here I mean freedom in only one sense: overcoming the pattern of necessity and survival that govern our thoughts, our ideas, our visions and our very creativity and imagination. Today we have the web which is a wonderful tool but its roots are more ancient than one usually imagines because like most of the artifacts of human ingenuity it still mostly reflects patterns arising from old necessities. At no point did we choose the web or how it should be. In a manner of speaking it emerges and we become (or being reborn) into it, surprised by side effects we never designed and emergent behaviors we never intended or fathomed. It shapes us more than we shape it. This is why before thinking about intelligence, individual, collective or other, we have to consider freedom, if such freedom is possible at all.

    For a future free from the grasp of necessity we have to reinvent ourselves out of ‘what everyone knows’. We have to dream ourselves out of ourselves and leave behind the monumental necessity driven conceptual systems that brought us to this point. In particular, we need to go beyond individuality and collectivity and the opposition between them. We might soon have the technological means to cash on that, but technology is far from being enough. The riddle sits deep at the foundation of being human: the option to become rather than the option to be. This is the difference we should attend to.

    Freedom is a strange creature; paradoxical by its very essence because it spells doom on whatever brings one to contemplate it in the first place. Admittedly, rereading the above, this is probably a huge leap for the too few words I have invested here. But isn’t it the web that exacts the amount of words to be invested in delivering an idea? Isn’t it one’s hyperconnected attention span that sets the limit of what can be communicated from an individual to a collective and vice versa? It just makes the point how the forces at play never allow too many strange creatures roaming free around…

    …Yet, if one does care about envisioning a future, not just the necessary future, not just the future everyone knows, one must leap far and high: high enough to escape what one is, far enough into otherness.
    Thu, Jul 22, 2010  Permanent link
    Categories: collective intelligence, freedom, Individuality
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    A friend sent me this video, an idea worth spreading...
    One question though, who is going to control the money? Trust is of the essence.

    Also go here for more details.

    Thu, Jul 15, 2010  Permanent link

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    The idea for this post came up while reflecting on Wildcat’s latest posts on the Knowmad and from an excellent piece I came by lately in G. Deleuze’s book – Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. To be more precise, it was inspired by a character from a science fiction book I am reading called Galileo’s Dream. A decrepit time traveler marooned in Galileo’s time who goes by the name Cartophilus – the lover of maps, brought everything together.

    Cartophilus never liked maps, but he is certainly the exception rather than the rule because we all love maps, to draw maps and to play with maps. Making maps is an essential aspect of how we extend into spaces. With maps we represent spaces, describe them, qualify them and create the infinite diversity of distances distinctions and differences. With maps we territorialize and confine spaces and assign to them meaning and values. While our bodies (which are in themselves spaces) extend into space, mapping is the actual complicating relation emerging between our consciousness and space. In ‘complicating’ I mean to expose or at least hint at the sense of infinite complexity arising from the meeting of two ultimate simplicities – space and consciousness.

    Nomads have very special relations with space. They go from location to location but never make a location their own. Something is missing from their maps. We may call this missing element a concept of territory, or, a sense of belonging, or, constancy, stability, perhaps conformity? There is a profound difference in how nomads conceive of distances. This difference does not apply only to physical distances, because of the complicating relations between space and consciousness. Nomadism, therefore, is not merely a life style. It is rather a style of mapping, a singular system of complicating relations between space and consciousness that brings about the dynamic expression of one’s freedom. For freedom is the primary and only vocation of real nomads.

    In this light, Wildcat’s knowmad is an experiment in mapping, groping for those complex yet embryonic relations between consciousness and information space that will eventually emerge as a dynamic expression of freedom. Information space is not merely a straight forward analogy derived from physical space. There are perhaps some simple similarities but as much as it might seem strange information space though thriving with information is largely unknown and unexplored. Information space is much less constrained than physical space. In information space there are no a priori metrics and no a priori dimensional configurations like the ones that characterize physical space. In some deep sense, information space is more primitive than physical space, more nuclear and therefore more difficult to map. For example: physical space contains only singular instances (no point in space is replaceable with any other point) while in information space every singular instance may have infinite number of copies: identical yet distinct versions (which already causes serious problems when we try to apply conventional mapping methods such as the concepts of original and copy to information space). The promise of the knowmad as a style of mapping that generates expressions of freedom in information space is therefore much more complex to actualize but also embodies a much greater potential of interest and creativity.

    Antique maps in 2nd life Creative Commons License photo credit: Ka Rasmuson

    While thinking about how nomads and knowmads are related through their style of mapping, that is, their manifest special kind of meeting between space and consciousness, I came across the following paragraph in Deleze’s book:

    “In short, if we are Spinozists we will not define a thing by its form, nor by its organs and its functions, nor as a substance or a subject. Borrowing terms from the Middle Ages, or from geography, we will define it by longitude and latitude. A body can be anything; it can be an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic corpus, a social body, a collectivity. We call longitude of a body the set of relations of speed and slowness, of motion and rest, between particles that compose it from this point of view, that is, between unformed elements. We call latitude the set of affects that occupy a body at each moment that is the intensive states of an anonymous force (force for existing, capacity for being affected). In this way we construct the map of a body. The longitudes and latitudes together constitute Nature, the plane of immanence or consistency, which is always variable and is constantly being altered, composed and recomposed, by individuals and collectivities.”

    Delezue’s reading of Spinoza here renders a rather profound idea which is no other than devising an extremely abstract cartographic apparatus, a special method of mapping, and along with it, he brings forth a kind of space (plane) that goes far beyond both physical and information spaces: the space of Mind. In a post quite a while ago, I described mind as a relation generation system. According to this, a mind, any mind in any configuration at any instance and any mode of actuation beautifully assimilates (while being assimilated into) this cartographic apparatus which already hints at the self generative nature of the space mind is.

    Magic Forest (part of installation) Andrew Carnie

    Mind space is a pure relation space. Mind space is a kind of space that emerges from the very activity of mapping or rather from its very intensification by consciousness. Or rather it is the other way around: it is consciousness that emerges from its very extension into space. Or, perhaps this is how the co-emergence of space and consciousness becomes the ultimate embodiment – an expression independent of specific content or modality yet pervading all contents and modalities – Nous (the Greek word for Mind).

    Enters the noumad: the one who roams Nous – the space of Mind, being both the activity and the subject of that special style of mapping that brings forth an ever fresh expression of freedom in the meeting of mind with… itself; be it in gesture or sign, a body in touch with another, a word or an idea; be it in an emotion, sensation, a story, an image, a poetic metaphor; be it in an information stream, within a connected web, a mesh of semantic tokens , a program, an agent, a state machine, a sentience… (artificial of course)

    As the nomad is evolving into the knowmad and as the knowmad will be evolving eventually into the noumad, we are witnessing the inevitable ephemeralization of spaces, of mappings and their corresponding expressions. In all spaces we are witnessing the eternal return of the nomad, of the knowmad of the noumad, a repetition of the singular element of freedom, a necessary sameness which is profoundly and positively different.
    Sat, Apr 24, 2010  Permanent link

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    Wed, Dec 9, 2009  Permanent link

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    Here is the text and slide share of a lecture I gave at ECCO research group seminar at the free university of Brussels on Nov 4th 2009. Thoughts and comments are welcome.


    The Noetic perspective (from Greek: noetikos- mental; nous- mind) identifies the [human] mind as the nexus of the future evolution of humanity. At present, human evolution is a mental process rather than biological or technological process.

    The Noetic model describes mind as a relation generating complex system arising as a product of biological evolution and manifesting certain defining characteristics such as systemic closure, self reference, plasticity, etc. This model aims to integrate a systemic view with the mental constructs of the subjective plane. According to the Noetic model, human identity is a dynamic constructive process that brings forth the human observer as the subject of its perceptive and mental states. This process is identified as mind. Images and narratives are the elements encompassing the experiential and mental aspects of the identity process as they appear to the human observer.

    The idea of mind as the theater of evolutionary processes is further explored: Mind as a complex system can essentially be disassociated from the historical conditions of its emergence; therefore it is virtually unbound in its evolutionary potential. This has deep implications on the understanding of human nature and the human condition. Finally, the ideas of openness and freedom beyond utility are proposed as futuristic directives of consciously guided evolution of mind.

    The full text can be found here: Thoughts on the future of human evolution.pdf

    Thoughts On The Future Of Human EvolutionView more presentations from Weaver R. Weinbaum.
    Sat, Dec 5, 2009  Permanent link

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    The first decade of the 21st century is about to end in just a few weeks. Among many things, I find most impacting the explosion of knowledge in the field of brain sciences and human behavior in this decade. Though the great riddles of consciousness and the emergence of minds from brains are still open and far from any solution, many connections and bridges are already there in our understanding.

    Quite a few important and perhaps critical observations regarding human nature and the state of affairs of humanity are emerging from this explosion of knowledge and I will try to (very) briefly summarize them here below:

    1. Our brains and our minds are initially products of biological evolution. Human behavior to this day is largely shaped by its biological origins.

    2. In the course of just a few millennia, the human evolved language and culture. Culture has become the actual ecology where humans exist and where humans evolve. Human evolution as of today is not shaped by biological forces anymore but rather by cultural and mental forces.

    3. Cultural evolution is much faster than biological evolution. Yet, individually, our bodies and brains are still constrained by their biology. Moreover, our social behavior is still shaped, to a large extent, by imperatives that ensured human survival in pre-cultural and proto-cultural eras.

    4. As a consequence, humanity exists today within a rapidly growing adaptive gap. We have managed to create a fast evolving complex culture and this culture is certainly reshaping us individually and collectively. But this co-evolution is seriously constrained by the biological substrata of our minds.

    5. It seems that we are not intelligent enough to cope with growing complexity of our social organization. This is already apparent in the dysfunction of governance systems, economic systems and the general coordinated addressing of large (planetary) scale problems.

    6. It seems that human social behavior that was optimized to the way humans existed thousands of years ago is dangerously unfit to the complex demands of modern civilization. More specifically, certain necessary aspects of our collective intelligence such as emotional intelligence, extended empathy, sophisticated ethical reasoning, the capacity to communicate and cooperate within complex situations, augmented theories about other minds and more, evolve very slowly if at all.

    7. (From here are some good news…) The human brain is found to be extremely plastic and adaptable in a very broad spectrum of capacities. It seems plausible that our brains and our mental capacities can be radically augmented.

    8. Our understanding of the human brain and human general biology already allows people to be made smarter, perhaps much smarter. Brain enhancers that effectively augment human general intelligence are already available and will become much more effective and more available in the coming decades.

    9. Even moderate increase of intelligence in the overall human population may have radical beneficial impact on the well being of humanity at large (see for an impressive example the micro nutrient initiative and its possible effects).

    10. More controversially, human individual and social behavior can be altered to better fit the complex fast changing cultural ecology we are all part of. Specifically, human traits such as peacefulness, cooperation, empathy and trust can be reinforced by changing the chemical balance of the brain. Traits such as aggression, territoriality and other sociopathic dispositions can similarly be attenuated.

    11. A bit further in the future, interventions at the genetic level can increase the general level of intelligence and shape the social behavior of new born children with the effect that whole populations will achieve better fitness and well being in our fast evolving circumstances.

    In the light of these observations a very profound question becomes clear: Should we take the reins of our future evolution? Should we engage in a coordinated, large scale, project of augmenting our brains (and eventually our biology) and by that to radically change our minds and our very human nature? What are the values and the ethical precepts that can guide us in addressing such question?

    At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it is clear that there is a need for a change. It is also becoming clear that we are rapidly gaining the effective means to introduce it. Nevertheless, this is a very complex issue. The brief background I tried to bring here is only the tip of an iceberg. There are, I know, many views that will question the validity of part or all of the observations above, or the way that they are presented. My point however is to say enough to start a discussion here.

    Lately I have watched an hour long lecture titled “Genetically enhance humanity or face extinction” given by Oxford professor of philosophy and bioethics Julian Suvalescu. Though he presents the issue of human enhancement in a much bolder fashion, the arguments he presents are interesting and certainly provocative. I recommend watching it if only for one reason: to gain a very real sense of how dangerous this idea is and how unavoidable is the need for every forward thinking individual to seriously think about, it discuss it and consolidate an informed view.

    Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction Part 1

    Genetically Enhance Humanity or Face Extinction Part 2

    I would appreciate your thoughts and comments and hope this introduction will start an ongoing (and much needed, I believe) exchange on the subject in the SC.

    Sat, Nov 21, 2009  Permanent link

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    A fascinating talk about emotions and feelings by Antonio Damasio, one of the most renowned neuroscientists of our time.

    Fri, Aug 21, 2009  Permanent link

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    Recently I came across a very interesting article by Timothy Lenoir, bringing a fresh perspective on the concept Singularity and posthumanist future.

    In the introductory note Lenoir writes:

    Most researchers agree that there is no reason in principle why we will not eventually develop conscious machines that rival or surpass human intelligence. If we are crossing to a new era of the posthuman, how have we gotten here? And how should we understand the process?

    Cultural theorists have addressed the topic of the posthuman singularity and how, if at all, humanity will cross that divide. Most scholars have focused on the rhetorical and discursive practices, the metaphors and narratives, the intermediation of scientific texts, science fiction, electronic texts, film, and other elements of the discursive field enabling the posthuman imaginary. While recognizing that posthumans, cyborgs and other tropes are technological objects as well as discursive formations, the focus has been directed less toward analyzing the material systems and processes of the technologies and more toward the narratives and ideological discourses that empower them. We speak about machines and discourses “co-constituting” one another, but in practice, we tend to favor discursive formations as preceding and to a certain extent breathing life into our machines. The most far-reaching and sustained analysis of the problems has been offered by N. Katherine Hayles in her two recent books, How We Became Posthuman and My Mother Was a Computer. Hayles considers it possible that machines and humans may someday interpenetrate. But she rejects as highly problematic, and in any case not yet proven, that the universe is fundamentally digital, the notion that a Universal Computer generates reality, a claim that is important to the positions staked out by proponents of the posthuman singularity such as Morowitz, Kurzweil, Wolfram and Moravec. For the time being, Hayles argues, human consciousness and perception are essentially analog, and indeed, she argues, currently even the world of digital computation is sandwiched between analog inputs and outputs for human interpreters. How we will become posthuman, Hayles argues, will be through interoperational feedback loops between our current mixed analog-digital reality and widening areas of digital processing. Metaphors, narratives and other interpretive linguistic modes we use for human sense-making of the world around us do the work of conditioning us to behave as if we and the world were digital.

    I propose to circumvent the issue of an apocalyptic end of the human and our replacement by a new form of Robo Sapiens by drawing upon the work of anthropologists, philosophers, language theorists, and more recently cognitive scientists shaping the results of their researches into a new argument for the co-evolution of humans and technics, specifically the technics of language and the material media of inscription practices. The general thrust of this line of thinking may best be captured in Andy Clark’s phrase, “We have always been cyborgs.” From the first “human singularity” to our present incarnation, human being has been shaped through a complicated co-evolutionary entanglement with language, technics and communicational media.

    In the article, Lenoir argues that in some very relevant and real sense, the Singularity has already taken place a few millennia in our past when the human brain evolved the capacity for abstract symbolic representation. This capacity has enabled culture, complex social organizations, technology, and open ended concept formation (evolution of knowledge). Though he is not explicit about it, this argument leads to the proposition that what we witness as acceleration towards a future Singularity and transition into a posthuman era is only a consequence of this capacity.

    Following Lenoir's line of thought, to achieve Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) we need to find a way to endow our computing machines with an autonomous capacity for abstract symbolic representation. In autonomous I mean that this capacity will become independent from human symbolic interpretation. As formidable as our computing systems are becoming, they possess very rudimentary capacity for autonomous symbolic representation. This is why we need to design and program them instead of letting them to learn and evolve autonomously. Most successful AI systems existing today are based on domain specific symbolic representation that allows such systems to learn within a specific and narrow domain of knowledge. Once we manage to endow machines with general abstract (domain independent) symbolic representation, machines will become intelligent and possibly sentient (capable of at least some level of self representation and self reflectivity). Such machines will be capable to evolve independently and probably much faster than their biological ancestors/creators. This seems a very plausible scenario though far from being trivial, as we still do not understand how exactly such capacity evolved in the first place. This is still one of evolution's most kept secrets.

    Indeed it seems that autonomous abstract symbolic representation is a necessary capacity of a general intelligence, biological or artificial. It is not clear however if it is a sufficient capacity. It is entirely not clear if such capacity is sufficient, for example, to achieve sentience or even consciousness. I will try to address these riddles in my following posts on a new model of mind.

    It is interesting to note that from this perspective, the concept of Singularity as associated with the emergence of Artificial Intelligent machines with capacities that exceed the human, is a developmental phase transition rather than an evolutionary transition in the sense that the fundamental enabling capacity discussed above has been achieved by biological systems quite long ago. What we may witness in the future Singularity is if so only the full blown fruition of what basically made us distinctively human at the dawn of history.

    Read the rest of the interesting article here: Contemplating Singularity
    Mon, Aug 10, 2009  Permanent link
    Categories: posthumanism, Artificial Intelligence
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