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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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    Project: The great enhancement debate, Polytopia
    A response to Wildcat's "My cranium, my castle?"


    Thank you Wildcat for the interesting post. Indeed the prospect of accessing one's private experiential space is a very plausible future scenario, and indeed it is a matter of deep concern. The concern however is not about the issue of privacy but rather about the profound impact such mind probing technologies will have on social structure and on the individual. In science fiction literature, scenarios that include full noetic (coming from noose the Greek word for mind) reading, memory erasing and editing, memory transference, experiential filters and other even more radical options, are abundant. (The Golden age trilogy, Pandora star, Total recall, Mind scan, Permutation City, and Johnny Mnemonic, just to name a few).

    Interventions in individual memory and cognitive functions enabled by technology, seem inevitable. However in the question of privacy and security, the same technologies that create the problem are also those that will offer solutions. Mental firewalls, external secure storage of experiential memories. Sensory and cognitive filters interfaced to the brain are already in the horizon.

    The value of privacy is not derived solely from our sentiments, but rather from its significance in the evolutionary playground.
    Privileged access to information stands at the basis of many important evolutionary advantages of living organisms from viruses and bacteria to humans and complex human organizations. Hiding and seeking, attacking and protecting privileged access to information, are therefore very ancient activities in the evolutionary playground. In the human realm, technology is continuously pushing the limits of this playground. The human mind is but a new frontier of the this evolutionary game.

    It is my belief the same technology that threats our privacy and cognitive liberty will also provide the means to protect both. In this sense technology's influence is on the very definition of the playground rather than biasing the game. In the light of the evolutionary perspective however, the ethical issue here needs refocusing and creative approach, and our very concepts of privacy and cognitive liberty must be augmented and given a new significance not in the light of the past but in the light of a future profoundly transformed by technology. This conceptual shift is necessary if we wish to meet this future on favorable terms.

    Where might such new ethical approach come from? It seems that an interesting step would be to identify the kind of change we are about to face. Heinz Von Foerster, one of the pioneers of cybernetics, noted that our nervous system has about 100-200 million external sensors, but five orders of magnitude more internal sensors, neurons sensitive to changes in the behavior of other neurons, that is. It follows that we are about 100,000 times more sensitive to ourselves than to anything happening around us communicated by raw sensory signals. The difference in degrees of interconnectivity is what significantly sets the brain as a private domain. It seems that the main impact of technology is primarily in the change it introduces to interconnectivity (can also be described in terms of bandwidth), and the difference in interconnectivity. This impact can be addressed in many domains of which the web is of course prominent. Our mental privacy and cognitive liberty depend first and foremost on the difference of interconnectivity. Moreover, the very concept of the individual, as currently understood, depends on the difference in interconnectivity. Once this difference changes, i.e. internal states of the nervous system are becoming increasingly accessible, our very notion of privacy, privileged access, cognitive liberty and individuality should be reassessed.

    Bottom line is that in the future the very definition of individuality will probably be derived not from the arbitrary conditions of one’s biological makeup, but rather how one is connected and to what. The degree of individuation will depend on difference in interconnectivity and this will become the subject matter of our ethical debate.

    On top of that, privileged access to information and controlling the degree of interconnectivity will certainly be correlated to the computation power available to the individual. The degree of individuality and privacy available will critically depend on computation power and bandwidth. The ethics of the future if so will probably deal with regulating interconnectivity, the flow of information, and the computation resources necessary to establish a basic domain of experiential privacy. Becoming interconnected minds who share all such resources might become an increasingly attractive existential option. It might be the end of individualism as we know it.



    Tue, Apr 8, 2008  Permanent link

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    folkert     Tue, Apr 8, 2008  Permanent link
    Moreover, the very concept of the individual, as currently understood, depends on the difference in interconnectivity. Once this difference changes, i.e. internal states of the nervous system are becoming increasingly accessible, our very notion of privacy, privileged access, cognitive liberty and individuality should be reassessed.

    Very cool notion and worthy of a thread all its own.

    Personally I'm inspired by these (hypersonic sound) experiments in inter-personal communication and not overly worried about privacy — in the same way email became massively popular because it provided faster and more immediate means of connecting two or more minds that are not in physical proximity, we're now all struggling with junk mail. We'll surely come up with technologies protecting us from the no doubt billions of neuro spam blasts to come as well.

    The interesting thing to see happening is that humans seem to be frantically connecting each and every part of the planet and each other into some kind of hyper-efficient mind space that can think as one. Looking forward to finding out what happens after that.
    awindow     Wed, Apr 9, 2008  Permanent link
    It's true that the possibilities emerging are shocking, but have much potential. There has been much made - in a number of different places - of a global psychic awakening in the next decade. Perhaps this could play a part?
    Wildcat     Thu, Apr 10, 2008  Permanent link
    Bottom line is that in the future the very definition of individuality will probably be derived not from the arbitrary conditions of one’s biological makeup, but rather how one is connected and to what. The degree of individuation will depend on difference in interconnectivity and this will become the subject matter of our ethical debate


    I have no argument here, it is clear that the very definition of individuality will not be derived from one’s biological makeup, however as to the point you make that the definition of individuality will be correlated to interconnectivity, here, a question is begged.
    If I understand you correctly, by interconnectivity you imply both the wetware aspect of the brain’s emergent mind and the hardware of the brain itself being interconnected to the info network.
    The question that comes to mind concerns the indivisibility of the person. A neurological system is (or may be said to be) an undividable whole giving rise to an emergent mind that perceives itself as separate from other objects, including information to which it was not privy to (or alternatively is privy to yet does not allow or desire to allow access to).
    How are we to solve the issue of indivisibility? Or are we to move forward to a networked mind in which the very idea of an undivided persona is an oxymoron?

    Spaceweaver     Fri, Apr 11, 2008  Permanent link
    Wildcat: I have a lot to say about this, and I will try to be brief. Right now we do not have an issue of indivisibility, because we do not know as yet how to directly interface to the brain in a significant manner. The issue may arise once neuro-technology will reach a point where such interfaces will become available. But even then what will change, I believe, is the concept of individuality and not the quality of indivisibility.

    As the mind seems to be supervenient on the central nervous system, significant structural changes in the nervous system will bring about reorganization of the mind. I believe that the experience and the very concept of individuality, as we know them today, are both modalities of mind induced by the structural constraints of the central nervous system as I briefly pointed in my post. Individuality has to do with the sense of separation from the 'rest of existence' . It arises from difference in interconnectivity between domains, in this case, the difference between the inner connectivity of the brain as compared to the connectivity of the brain to its immediate environment. Indivisibility is something quite different; it is the holistic quality of experience arising within a domain of very high connectivity.

    In a future scenario where structural constraints of the nervous system are lifted, as for example by direct high bandwidth interface into the brain, the organization of the mind will change in concert. It is difficult to imagine how it will feel like, but I can speculate that the sense of indivisibility, the gestalt quality of experience will not change. The contour of this holistic experience however, will be extended beyond the confines of one's biological embodiment. What will define the contour of the mind, and if so what will derive the sense of individuality, seems to be dependent on the specific design of the future neural interfaces. For example, in the special case of an interface where the change in the degree of interconnectivity will be gradual and not abrupt as it is in the biological system, the contour of individuation will become fuzzy resulting in a non individuated kind of experience.

    The interesting prospect here is that neuro-technology will allow a profound diversity of kinds of mind. Minds will have the capability to configure themselves into different varying levels of individuation. Moreover, such configurations will be dynamic. I think this is literally mind boggling :-) Bottom line, given such dynamic configurable individuality, as I said, the experience and very concept of individual will profoundly change. This will be an entirely different mind.
    Wildcat     Tue, Apr 15, 2008  Permanent link
    Great reply Spaceweaver, however, my question still remains unanswered, indivisibility is the backbone of our personae, and if as you claim, advances in neuroconnectivity will soften the contours of our identity, where then will be the border of “me”.

    There exists an old French song (by G.Moustaki, if I am not mistaken) that goes something like this : “Je Ne Sais Pas Ou Tu Commences, Tu Ne Sais Pas Ou je finis “ and translates more or less to : I have no knowledge of where you begin and you do not know where I end.

    Is this the future you envision? A state of affairs of mind in which I have no ({or no knowledge of} end and no beginning? What then is the meaning of "I"?

    Though a fantastic and romantic ideation of personal utopia, I find it both fascinating and fundamentally disturbing.

    here is the full song lyrics:

    Tu portes ma chemise
    Et je mets tes colliers.
    Je fume tes gitanes,
    Tu bois mon café noir.
    Tu as mal mes reins
    Et j'ai froid tes pieds.
    Tu passes mes nuits blanches
    Et j'ai tes insomnies.

    Je ne sais pas où tu commences,
    Tu ne sais pas où je finis.

    Tu as des cicatrices
    L où je suis blessé.
    Tu te perds dans ma barbe,
    J'ai tes poignets d'enfant.
    Tu viens boire ma bouche
    Et je mange ta faim.
    Tu as mes inquiétudes
    Et j'ai tes rêveries.

    Je ne sais pas où tu commences,
    Tu ne sais pas où je finis.

    Tes jambes m'emprisonnent,
    Mon ventre te retient.
    J'ai ta poitrine ronde,
    Tu as mes yeux cernés.
    Ton souffle me réchauffe
    Et j'étouffe tes cris.
    Je me tais quand tu m'aimes,
    Tu dors quand je le dis
    Spaceweaver     Tue, Apr 15, 2008  Permanent link
    I know and love this beautiful song. And of course it certainly resonates with my vision of the future. In this very sense poetry complements the science in shaping our future as well as our 'now'. Indeed the meaning of "I" is about to transform profoundly, and with it the meaning of "you", and that of "us". Indeed, the future holds for love some fascinating consequences for those who would dare to experience it to its fullest.
    rene     Fri, Apr 25, 2008  Permanent link
    In a former lifetime I made a feature film called ‘Hysteria’, in which I struggled with the mandatory dystopian outcome of futuristic themes in the movies described in my post SpaceCollective’s Grand Narrative:
    In one cautionary tale after another, mad scientists threaten to push mankind over the edge. And without fail, these characters who set out to change the world are depicted as Frankensteinian ogres whose final comeuppance warns humanity that tampering with the Natural Order will inevitably cause us to screw up.

    In this case a mad scientist/psychiatrist, played by Patrick McGoohan (known from 'Braveheart' and the great British cult TV series ‘The Prisoner’), has figured out a therapeutic way to connect his mental patients into a groupmind, not unlike SpaceWeaver’s “interconnected minds” giving rise to “the end of indivdualism as we know it."

    Here’s a clip from the film:



    The erotic implications of the conceit are thoroughly explored in a groupmind orgy, foreshadowing Spaceweaver’s conclusion that with regards to love the interconnected minds of the future hold some "fascinating consequences for those who would dare to experience it to its fullest.” As it happens, the French lyrics published in Wildcat’s comment show an uncanny similarity to the movie’s end title song:

     
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