Transhumanist

PLAYING DARPA: “THE EMERGENT CONNECTOME”

This one was brought to my attention by a friend, Ms. P.H., who sent it to me in an email, and it suggests all sorts of things, some good, some bad:

The Emergent Connectome The Blue Brain Project accurately predicts connections between neurons.

Now, before we get to the one specific statement in this article that still leaves me breathless, let me lay some of my philosophical cards on the table, and make a few comments about the general Gestalt of this article and its implications. First, the philosophical cards: I am not a materialist, nor, for that matter, am I a 'non-materialist', in that I do not believe on the one hand that all the functions of consciousness or mind can be explained along solely materialist lines, nor, for that matter, do I believe that any philosophy of mind or consciousness can be adequately elaborated without some reference to the material world and to the human brain. I've said many times, as examples of this type of approach, that I believe the individual mind, or consciousness, or person if one will, is a non-local phenomenon, not encapsulated by the body, nor more particularly by the brain, but, as it were,is  transduced by them, or, if one prefer the terminology of a more religious and metaphysical age (with apologies to Anglican friends for the rampant borrowing and mangling from their Book of Common Prayer and Thirty-Nine Articles here): the brain is the outward and visible sign of the inward spiritual mind, by the which the latter enters into the material world of the former.

Now that said, permit me to move along to the generalized implications of the discovery outlined in the above article. The ability to map the development of neural networks implied by this study holds enormous potential, not the least for medicine. Imagine being able to see the normal development of an individual brain, to predict it with such physiological accuracy. One could, on this basis, make neural maps of the damages to such networks caused by stroke, or perhaps even get a neuron-by-neuron glimpse of the process of Alzheimers and other dementia, and on that basis, begin to work offset those by developing or stimulating different neural pathways to such an extent that the damage is offset or overcome. In short, the development outlined in this paper holds enormous promise for good.

And then there is of course the Viktor Frankenstein mentality of madness prevailing in places like DARPA.

The sentence that caught my eye, and made me shudder for the enormous portent that it contained, was this one:

"The goal of the BBP is to integrate knowledge from all the specialised branches of neuroscience, to derive from it the fundamental principles that govern brain structure and function, and ultimately, to reconstruct the brains of different species – including the human brain – in silico." (Italicized and boldface emphasis added)

The Latin "in silico" made me freeze, for literally it is a phrase that I think was deliberately chosen to be ambiguous. Literally "in silico" means "on the rock", i.e., on silicon, on a chip. The transhumanist singularity of recording an entire neural net of an individual brain on a chip just took a step closer folks.

Does this mean, therefore, that the mind, the individual would be so recorded? Possibly, but I have my doubts, and my doubts stem from the transductive approach outlined initially. If it be true that (1) the sum total of emotions, memories, choices, etc, does not constitute the individual person, but rather, are (2) a sign of it, a transducer (to use the physics term) of it, then it remains a non-local phenomenon of a particular topological signature, that is accessed by a particular material genetic composition, but never exhausted by it. The real speculative fun begins when one contemplates the possibility of creating many such transducers "in silico" of that wonderfully non-local and elusive thing that we call the person.

So where does all this speculation leave us? Well, one place it leaves us is this: technologies are forcing us, at every turn, to reexamine many of the assumptions we have taken for granted in our society, and with this, we approach the most basic assumption of Western culture: the human person itself. We must begin, now, to have that discussion.

See you on the flip side.

13 thoughts on “PLAYING DARPA: “THE EMERGENT CONNECTOME””

  1. Thank you, JPF, for spelling out where YOU stand on the mind/body issue. Firmly in the balance, I see. All to the good, I feel.

    The “observer effect” IS important, is it not? Yet, we are continually reminded that our physical brains and neuro-network are merely receivers. Just WHERE does thought (or Being!) originate, enquiring minds want to know.

    But, in the short run, we humans must take BOTH into account.

    As always, I am stunned and appreciative of your fine mind. You ARE a “blessing,” as GeorgeAnn always reminds us…

  2. Arne Saknussemm

    It all seem rather ominous, I get the feeling that this type of consciousness experiment will cause the consciousness conducting it to become less and less convinced of its own authenticity, regular contact with a powerful confirmation of boundlessness (e.g.finding the soul can be endlessly transfered onto any number of chips ) diluting his sense of validity, trapping our boffin in a Koan , his mind slipping out from under him –
    There always seems to be a kind of economy working at these profound limits – for who ( with the mental make up prepared to conduct such experiments ) would have the moral and mental strength to create the inner bulwarks necessary to receive the results?

  3. Crude brain mapping has been known for close to a century. Brain injuries and surgery demonstrated that stimulating certain areas would evoke detailed memories, change behavior, or cause physiological response. Now the maps are neuron level. Reductionism, the assumption that biology is simply biophysics.

    But none of this explains the pervasive and persuasive experience of connection to Spirit (Pneuma) or Mind (Nous) or consciousness or intersubjectivity. Non-local fields, quantum entanglement, information as meaningful patterns, a hologram of interconnectedness all are possibilities for consciousness as something other than an epiphenomenon of cells and biochemical reactions.

    Every star, every planet, every crystal, every living thing is testimony of “divine” nose-thumbing at the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Exuberance and multiplicities abound. There are emergent properties of systems not predictable on the basis of the movements of all the individual particles. This was developed by the fluid chemist Ilya Prigogine. Out of chaos theory comes order and complexity theory.

    Either way– as an emergent property or as a built-in basic, consciousness is there. A silicon model cannot be an adequate map of the territory if it does not represent all factors. I’m waiting for the abstract sculpture. What it has to say should be interesting.

    1. Robert Barricklow

      Well said.
      No shots of “braineater” martinis in that analyses.

      Your a very keen “obsever” RaPhi.

  4. each additional dimension added height +width + length+time increases exponentially leads to infinity which would require a non local reality of mind.i think its a long way off.maybe i don’t have a clue either ??

  5. Robert Barricklow

    The Blade Runner is more cutting/edge than I originally thought.
    Becoming a being is more than a recipe, even if it’s “singularity” is beyond reproach.

  6. Like you my opinion is that the brain is just a sort of house for the mind. I like the metaphor of the brain as a transmitter and receiver of . . . “something” (that we call mind and/or other misc. things).

    Even if they could duplicate the brain of any species on a chip (or computer), my guess is that it would be a “zombie chip” because “no one would be home” because no ‘mind” would be focusing through the brain (or however you want to put it).

    Such a chip or computer might be useful in some way, but it would not be a conscious, living thing (imho). Well, UNLESS they can find a way to FORCE minds (or souls, or whatever you want to call ’em) INTO the chips. Whitley Strieber’s recent books have examples of this “technology” (in one of his novels, appliances and cars etc don’t have computers in ’em, they are “ensouled”: souls are somehow permanently bound against their will to function as computers in machines. Say what you will about Strieber, my guess is that he has some amount of genuine insight into a few things . . . .

    1. Aargh! Your comment brings to mind some stuff I have seen about “soul catcher” technology. I hope THEY don’t have it or it isn’t true or available…. But now I am thinking dark thoughts about just what IS possible, vis a vis the capture of the human Spirit.

      FREEDOM! That is our cry!

  7. And suddenly Buddhist ‘theology’ on reincarnation, enlightenment etc just became even more interesting. If i remember correctly, the Dalai Lama has already spoken of his approval for a Buddhist’s skandhas to be ‘transferred’ or stored technologically should the ability to do so exist………..transhumanism……buddhism……down the rabbit hole we go again.

    1. I read something years ago that the Lama said that computers would never “become” sentient, but that “sentient beings” (aka “souls”) might be able to “inhabit” a powerful computer. The question, of course, is . . . . WHY would anyone want to do that? Could it be nothing but a waste of time (or a prison), or might there actually be benefits that some folks might actually want, just like in scifi novels??? Perhaps computers might actually get a whole lot BETTER if they were “inhabited” by someone??? Just speculating.

      1. Perhaps my body is a biological super computer and I decided to inhabit it. I wonder why I would inhabit a fragile thing that is 78 percent water, and grows old and dies. Buddhism says that we are drawn into “Sarmsara” (the world of endless causes) and experience suffering because “Kama” (Desire) grounds one in the cycle of “Karma.” (Cause and effect) Also of interest is the Gnostic theology that says that the Demiurge created an artificial world in order to trap souls. Also, “The sons of God noticed the daughters of men and found them to be attractive, so they took human form to have sex with them.” Perhaps an alien race began tinkering with animal DNA, and made the world look like a sort of Disney land for souls, but when you actually arrive, you get ushered into an old broken down roller coaster car, on a dangerous ride, where Bankers steal your livelihood, inflate the price of your cotton candy, and the whole thing is just a silly game to enslave you? Just some more speculation.

  8. ” The way I got it figgered, either we all goin to heaven, or we ain’t.” ~ Sonny ( Robert Redford ). From, “The Electric Horsman”

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