Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Knee Jerk reaction to Free Will.

The Knee Jerk reaction to Free Will.

Throughout neuroscience history, scientists have been consistently wrestling with the concept of free will. What's more, is that this concept is not restricted to Neuroscience, and has previously (and currently) being tackled by philosphers, sociologists, theologists and others. It's a concept that each of us ask ourselves: "Do we have Free Will?".

Naturally, the knee jerk reaction is "of course we do, my actions are my own". But such a statement becomes sullied by experiments which seemingly show this to be false. However, from a philosophical standpoint, the whole question and need for experimentation becomes irrelevant, experimentation merely goes on to show how localized decision making is. But as I have stated before, determinism in regards to our thought-process is self-evident, our thoughts are predicted by our brain's biology and external stimuli, neither of which are within our control, because we have no control of anything. The decision we make is a reaction based on the introduction of a stimulus, which yields a certain result based on the resultant cascade of events within the brain. So if our reactions are so set in stone (or biology) where is there room for free will? There are multiple pathways which a stimulus may result in, but the path it takes is no more free will than a river flowing down a particular route because there is less resistance. We use the word decision to represent the choice of which pathway to follow, but in reality, the decision is the act of passing through a particular pathway, the difference being that there never was any real chance of the alternative occurring. For the alternative pathways to be stimulated, a different stimulus would have to be introduced, or the pathway requirements would need to change, thus nullifying the entire concept.

So why do we insist of clinging to these concepts? Because it feels as if these events are our own, and this is important in the way our brain processes the world around it. Although our minds cannot effect our minds directly, we can effect our minds indirectly by introducing new stimuli: the thoughts themselves. We predict alternative options, which help our minds reorganize to allow a more favorable result to occur from the same stimulus. In other words, we only effect our 'choices' after we have made them, for future use.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

"The Whole is more than the Sum of it's Parts"

"The Whole is more than the Sum of it's Parts"

It is often said that the above quote is true, and few argue this once they have thought about it. It is true, that a collection of cogs, nuts and bolts are useful as a group, but not individually. However, as with many statements like this (See: "Every action has an equal and opposite reaction" or Schroedinger's Cat), is that the thought experiment is then applied to real world scenarios which are beyond the scope of a simple thought experiment. It would seem natural to apply logic or knowledge gained from a simple thought experiment to situations which are similar, but as I always say, Natural does not equate to 'Good'. As I mentioned, in many cases the logic is obvious, that the ability of a machine to function because of it's constituent parts, would appear to be that extra 'something' which makes it more than the sum of the machines parts. However, that logic can lead to misleading interpretations of data and logic, and may send investigators on a wild goose chase, searching for something which will never be found. I am, of course, referring to the mind.

When speaking of the Brain and Mind, ignoring the debate about whether the two are the same or not, we are left with the search for Free Will. To many, the phrase "The Whole is more than the Sum of it's Parts" is ideal when discussing the Mind: the Mind is more than the physical aspects of the Brain. Of course, while a complete Brain has more functions than individual parts of a Brain, that something 'more' refers to function, and many have mistaken that thought experiment to indicate, or suggest, a soul. When discussing science and philosophy (the two are often so connected, it seems strange to separate them so), it is important to remember to not get lost in fantasy. It is also important, not to be constrained by artificial barriers, ones that I believe certain 'phrases' can help prop up. This is undoubtedly because the human mind desires, and needs structure, but science needs flexibility. In the case of whether the whole is more than the Sum of it's parts: the answer is irrelevant when discussing science. Whether the Mind and the Brain are separate is also irrelevant; what matters is what we can discern about the two, and the answer will eventually become self-evident.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The Teleportation problem and bundle theory.

Bundle Theory suggests that consciousness  is not a mystical property of the mind, one that exists outside of the body and is not subject to the same stresses and existences as the body. Budle theory, instead, suggests that the mind and consciousness are in fact a by-product of our brain being active. The exact nature of this 'by-product' is more open to debate, and there is much disagreement as to what causes this experience.

To a transhumanist, the question of conciseness becomes very important, what am I allowing to exist if not myself? Consciousness is fundamentally who you are, and the experiences which you live, if you did not have this property of self-awareness, you would not be aware of your actions. So naturally, to a transhumanist, keeping this state of self-awareness continuous is critical, whatever it's origins. This, of course brings up a very important question relating to the concept of 'uploading' or 'transferring' your consciousness.

If I were to take an exact picture of my brain and all of it's neruons, and recreate or simulate this configuration on a computer, we would have a simulated 'me' which would have similar memories and a similar mind, allowing variance for the exact properties the simulation accounts for regarding hormones, neurotransmitters and other biological affectors. However, there is one simple problem which many either do not see, or do not consider a problem: The simulated copy of myself is simply not me.

To the simulated copy, it would seem the process worked, and that I had uploaded myself onto a computer and continued my existence. However, to the original biological me, it would seem as nothing has changed, and this is the me that we are really concerned with. The biological me is the same continued self-awareness as who started the procedure, leading only a copy being created, and not an uploading or transferring. The fact that the biological me can still exist is one of the fundamental problems with this concept. This problem is encountered in what I call the 'teleportation problem'.

If I were to use a teleportation device which broke apart my body, and reformed an exact copy at the other end with a different set of atom (a common concept for teleportation), we are left with two fundamental problems. The first, is that no continued consciousness transferred in the procedure, and the question of: Why bother destroying the original?

If we are to assume that this method would be possible, why bother destroying the original set of atoms which steps into the device, why not instead, simply create a copy? There is no feasible way in which the property of self-awareness I transferred over, and instead a new self-awareness is formed. Some bundle theorists argue that it doesn't matter, because our self-awareness I nothing more that a combination of properties which align to form our mind, a combination which the 'clone' then replicates. But I would argue, that this is precisely why it's a problem.

If we assume that our consciousness has no special property, and is simply an side effect of our mind being active, then recreating the same conditions will not create the same self-awareness, only a copy of it, and a copy isn't good enough.

This is a common problem encountered in the philosophy of consciousness, one which has been plaguing all sorts of minds since time immemorial. I would argue, that the only thing that matters is continued consciousness, a property of broken self-awareness. The real question in my mind, is under what conditions is this continuous self-awareness broken. It is possible, that it is broken when our mind shuts down, or even under anaesthetic. However, it is also possible that we are perfectly conscious under anaesthetic, it's just a matter of us not being able to act, or to remember. This is, of course, backed up by claims and observations of dreaming while under anaesthetic.

But regardless of the exact conditions the continuation is broken, we are likely never to know, which is why we must be conservative and careful in our actions. It is very possible the the continuation doesn't even exist and that the 'me' writing this is simply not the same as the one that will post it. This is a very real possibility to deal with, but one we can never know.

Monday, 26 March 2012

The Transition

When the subject of Transhumanism and the transition into machines comes up in conversation, more often than not, the conversation is directed mainly at the transition (at least it ends up there). This is understandable, the topic of what we would be like is a little more difficult to conceptualize than the topic of how we become. But of course, nobody really knows the answer this, many can predict as Kurzweil does, but the answer fundamentally relies on how technology develops, which again relies on forces outside of the control of science. The Transition will take place at the whims of consumers and companies, indirectly dictating the course of technology based on the desires and needs of the consumer.
But even with these apparent uncontrollable forces, prediction is still possible, even in the sense of the desired path of research and development, if not the path of actual product. This is what I hope to explore in this post, examining the potential technologies which will be developed in the near future in preparation for the Transition, and perhaps exploring the technology and developments I, personally, hope to develop.
So how will the Transition begin in my view? It already started.
As explained my last post, I explored the concept of what humanity is, and I argued that Transhumanism had already begun in the way we use technology, and this argument is still relevant to this exploration. But more specifically, there are technologies coming out now which are far more related to this concept. Kevin Warwick has created hybrids of living tissue and robotics, using mice brain cells. He himself, has controlled an arm on the other side of the world by linking his nerves to a computer. All around the world, man is being integrated with machine to replace damaged body parts. The technology is here, and it is only a matter of years before robotics has reached such a stage that the new limbs and organs which currently replace damaged ones will be superior. This lands us squarely in the question of who would be willing to remove their own arm to be replaced by a superior robotic one? I would wager that many would, not necessarily straight away, but within a few years of the first voluntary replacement. This sets us down the round of acceptability, suddenly people around the western world would begin to consider replacing biological limbs and potentially organs with cybernetic ones, within less than half a decade, I wager it would be come relatively normal.
Running parallel to this, would be another development, that of integrating our brains with computers. As I argued before, our gadgets are almost part of us, if not physically connected. The development of technology to replaced certain brain functions is already underway, for medical purposes. Should brain damage occur, and a brain function is damaged, the medical implications of being able to replace said brain function with a computer chip (or similar) would be astounding. Of course, like the cybernetic limb situation, particularly if such a thing would allow the protection of memory, would become desirable.
Finally, the development of augmented reality. Google is set to release a pair of glasses which appear to use augmented reality, this is the first step down the road of such integration. I postulate that the development of bionic eyes, or a film to cover the eyes would be developed. This would integrate augmented reality directly into our vision, allowing us to connect with others, search the internet and send and receive files without ever lifting our hands. The technology would be integrated with our brain signals, removing the need to touch a button, and even if the artificial memory is not directly linked into our brain, we would be able to record information on a separate hard drive and replay certain pieces of information.

Of course, most of this is speculation, I intend to delve more into this later. Until then however, thank you for reading.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Transhumanism and Me

Transhumanism and Me
I do not talk about my ideas of transhumanism with many people. This isn’t because I see others as too stupid or ignorant to be able to discuss such concepts with them, quite the contrary, I have great faith in humanities capacity for intelligence, and I consider my peers more than capable to handle such concepts. But rather, because it is not a topic or matter of knowledge or intelligence, but of ethics and morality. The ideas and principles behind transhumanism are very much against the beliefs and moral codes of many people. Even those who have no particular faith or creed, even those who may consider themselves amoral have rejected or found transhumanism distasteful. This is because, by its very nature, it is moving beyond humanity.

Personally, I dislike the term ‘transhumanism’, it implies that we would be ‘more than human’, which I believe is simply not true. This little musing is right along those lines, and is a musing of why I believe transhumanism isn’t just a desirable, or even simply a necessary step for humanity, I see it as an extension of our very nature.

The question of ‘what is human’ comes up a lot in philosophical debates, and transhumanism is no exception. The concept has been debated since debates first began, and humanity first gave itself a name. The term, of course, refers to what humans are, not in physical criteria, but in raw natural essence: What identifies us as a human if we had no form? Many would argue that humanity is nothing more than its physical form, that we are a mere collection of chemicals and reactions existing in a state of collaboration for a given time. This would be true in an objective sense, but if philosophy has taught me anything, objectivity does not exist. No, I believe they are looking at the matter too simplistically. The question of what it means to be human, like all language has more meaning than the definition of the words which make the question. The very nature of language is three dimensional, there are the specific meanings behind the words, but there is also context. Context is essential to language, and is often forgotten about when definitions of words begins to set in. A very simplistic example are the words bow and bow, or fluke and fluke. Without the context, these words mean nothing and can imply a variety of meanings. Finally, the third dimension is that of subject context, what the word means to the person reading or hearing it. Past experiences, and the physical make-up of the person perceiving the word will imply new definitions and subtle differences depending on the word given, and how it is pronounced or written.

But of course, this isn’t a musing on the philosophy of language. But I did ramble on about the three dimensional nature of words for nothing, they have a strong relevance to the question of what it means to be human. Being human is more than the specific genes which form our body, it is the essence behind what is created, it is the single thread which links us all together, and will remain to link us together after evolution separates our physicality further.

I would argue, that humanity, is our use of technology.
Many have argued that our mind, and cognitive capabilities is what makes us unique. And in many ways I agree, but it is the use of technology, of tools, which separates us from our predecessors. It is what propels humanity forward, and it is what makes our lives what they are. It is along this line of thought, that I believe that transhumanism is not transumanism at all, it is merely humanism.

Humanity has always expressed a desire to use tools as a replacement of our natural implements. It was a simple matter of a tool created by us was more efficient and more effective than what we had to begin with. As time went on, and our technological prowess became greater, we discovered new tools and mechanisms to replace our own, this was the driving force behind our advancement in culture, in society and in lifestyle, not a spiritual or religious code. The use of tools allowed us to adapt quickly to any situation, providing we had the tools necessary. Humanity could venture into the frozen the tundra, not by slowly evolving a coat of fur like the wolf, but merely by wearing said wolfs fur.

This is why I believe it is only human to integrate our technology with ourselves. Such processes were started at the very dawn of man. Since man first wore the skin of another animal, our own skin no longer became our outer body. Many times in our life, we shed our outer skin to sleep, but we spend more time wearing clothes than not, this was the first step towards transhumanism, one of humanities first inventions. In modern day, with the mobile phone, I would argue that the phone has already become part of our bodies. The mobile phone or gadget may not physically be part of us, and be separated by air, but many of us treat is as such, and I gather many would prefer not risking dropping or losing their phone. This trend can be seen throughout history, although a piece of technology is not part of our physical bodies, we treat the tool as any other appendage, and in many cases, use them more often.

Technology is the single most defining feature of humanity, and it is what I believe, makes us human. Throughout history we have always been trying to integrate technology with us more and more, and in many cases, have succeeded. But even today, just because a tool may be removed from us once it has been attached, does not mean it is not part of us. Full integration with technology isn’t just the next logical step, it’s continuing a legacy left to us by our ancestors.