Comment on Changing our minds

Spaceweaver Wed, Aug 11, 2010
Thank you Nicodemus for bringing back to front this important discussion.

It seems important to me to note that we are not yet knowledgable as a race or as individuals about brain chemistry thoroughly enough to attempt to 'tweak' their current natural state directly, especially genetically. This is apparent enough by the confused attempts pharmacologically to achieve a desired and specific end result with any degree of consistence. This does not mean that I am completely opposed to experimentation with arbitrary modifications to neurochemistry.

Spaceweaver: The problem of neural augmentation is best divided into three distinct discussions. The first is the issue of principle, that is whether or not we see in neural augmentation a value worthy to be pursued and to what extent. This problem necessarily involve one's views on the nature and condition of the human and of course the benefits or drawbacks of augmentation that are correlated with such views. In brief my stance on the matter is that humans are busy in augmenting themselves from the dawn of culture. Augmentation by whatever means is a central aspect of cultural evolution and neural augmentation is merely one of the contemporary forms this cultural evolution takes.

The second discussion has to do with application. This, like the first problem is still more theoretical than practical because, as you note, the knowledge and technologies involved are in their infancy. In application I mean how will a future society manage and regulate the various means of augmentation and of course there are many possible scenarios. As of today most of the chemical means that affect perception and cognition are strictly outlawed by governments besides some 'consensus' substances such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine etc. But such policies are not the product of any thinking regarding augmentation and in this sense they are only the source of arbitrary biases which are harmful to any deeper considerations.

The third and last issue which is less of a discussion and more of a problem is also the most practical one, having to do with the scientific research program of neural augmentation. What kind of augmentations are possible? What kind of augmentations should we seek more proactively and what kind of augmentations are to be discouraged etc. There is much knowledge to be acquired before neural augmentation becomes a safe and mature technology.

It must be mentioned that such discussions are never carried out within ideal circumstances. There are many political forces and pressure systems influencing any approach. Most of them have very little to do with the subject matter or even with the welfare of humanity.

I do know, however, as is mentioned in another of Spaceweaver's posts, that the societal and cultural impact on mind development is direct and appreciable: and this may be our greatest and most immediate avenue towards "brain enhancement", albeit culture is a difficult thing to manipulate; despite intelligent and concerted efforts it often appears to take a course of its own choosing, and this askew to any educated guesses made regarding the course of events.

Spaceweaver: Undoubtedly the neural and cognitive levels of the human mind are strongly coupled and are actually different descriptive domains of the same complex system. Moreover, while our brains are localized within an individual biological vehicles (our bodies), our minds are interconnected and distributed complex systems that extend beyond biological locality.

When it comes to the question of augmentation these different descriptive domains reflect radically different views that contribute to our understanding of mind and its transformative potentials. Mind augmentation enjoys therefore many present and future prospects at many levels. Just a few examples:

  • Chemical enhancers such as in psychoactive substances, memory and concentration enhancers and others.
  • Somatic and germ line genetic interventions in the neural structure of the brain.
  • Tools and methods such as writing and reading, computers, neural implants, neural interfaces.
  • Perhaps most important: Insights, concepts and philosophical understandings that affect the very way we operate our mind.

All these could work in combination to achieve a highly dynamic and complex landscape of possible augmentation. And again, there is no doubt that in regards to the general problem of augmentation they are all intimately connected if we disregard for a moment conceptual biases and habits.

As to your last notes about psychedelic substances, one cannot underestimate the possible impact of consciousness altering materials on the life of individuals and on culture at large. It is already quite established that responsible use of psychedelic materials have many positive and occasionally life changing effects and nearly no side effects. Regretfully, the paradigms of governance today be it democratic or totalitarian are all founded on control and on keeping the individual members of society in a state of submission and ignorance. It seems that large scale free usage of psychedelics may disrupt these paradigms because they encourage freedom in perception, emotion and thought and with that mental/emotional pluralistic world views that are much more difficult to control.

The next revolution must indeed be a revolution of consciousness.