6 Jan 2009

Deleuze and Posthumanism Paper, Part 3 "Digitally Encoding and Uploading Ourselves," of "Do Posthumanists Dream of Pixelated Sheep?"

"Do Posthumanists Dream of Pixelated Sheep?

Mental Uploading under Deleuzean Critique"

Part 3: "Digitally Encoding and Uploading Ourselves"

When writing of mental uploading, posthumanists often cite Hans Moravec’s Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence. In this text he proposes his theorytransmigration, which involves extracting the mind from the brain and storing it in computer-hardware so it may survive the body’s death. He narrates a futuristic scenario to help us imagine one way this procedure may be performed.

We undergo a brain operation. The tops of our skulls are removed, yet we remain lucid throughout the whole procedure, because only our skulls (and not our brains) are anesthetized. A robot surgeon places upon the surface of our exposed brains a technologically sophisticated mechanism (which is considered to be the robot’s ‘hand’ in this story). Its highly precise sensory devices monitor the chemical, magnetic, and electrical activities of the neurons in the top few centimeters of our brain tissue. The sensor-hand is wired to a computer that tracks the activities of this top-layer of tissue, and a computer program develops a model simulating these neurons’ behavior by finding their patterns and regularities. Eventually the simulation becomes so accurate that it mimics the brain activity all on its own. Then, on paired display screens, we may compare the readings from the hand-sensor – with those produced by the computer simulation – to find that their correspondence is ‘nearly perfect.'[i] In other words, the program simulates the workings of this brain-layer so well that it independently replicates its events in real time; thus, it has become functionally isomorphic to it.

To validate the accuracy of the program, we ‘test drive’ it using another function of the hand-device: its electrodes can inject electrical current and electromagnetic pulses into the top-layer of brain cells, overriding their normal functioning, while simultaneously replacing the brain-signals with the ones provided by the simulation, which supposedly are no different. We then push a button to let the computer take-over. If we experience no difference either way, then it should not matter to us which one is in control.

The robot surgeon’s hand then uses its third function: neuron removal. It strips away that top layer of brain cells, while substituting their functioning with the software simulation. The surgeon’s hand then performs the same monitoring procedure on the next layer of brain tissue, so that a perfect simulation may relieve it of its duties, and retire that layer as well. This process continues until our skulls have been emptied and the surgeon’s hand lies deep in our brainstems; at this stage, all our cerebral functioning is controlled entirely by the computer. Then,

in a final, disorienting step the surgeon lifts out his hand. Your suddenly abandoned body goes into spasms and dies. For a moment you experience only quiet and dark. Then, once again, you can open your eyes. Your perspective has shifted. The computer simulation has been disconnected from the cable leading to the surgeon’s hand and reconnected to a shiny new body of the style, color, and material of your choice. Your metamorphosis is complete.[ii]

Moravec believes that our minds can be transferred this way, because he does not adopt what he calls the body-identity position, which holds that the human individual can only be preserved if the continuity of its ‘body stuff’ is maintained. He proposes instead what he terms thepattern-identity theory, which defines the essence of personhood as “the pattern and the process going on in my head and body, not the machinery supporting that process. If the process is preserved, I am preserved. The rest is mere jelly.”[iii] He explains that over the course of our lives, our bodies regenerate themselves, and thus all the atoms present in our bodies at birth are replaced half-way through our life-spans; “only our pattern, and only some of it at that, stays with us until our death.”[iv] Thus in a sense, our older bodies are already functional isomorphisms of their previous younger selves, because they have obtained a different constitution. It should not then be unreasonable to think that we may also inhabit a computerized robot-body that functions no differently than does our organic body.

This position suggests a paradoxical dualism, in which the mind is separate from the body, while also being the product of the patterns of biological brain processes. One clue for rectifying this paradox seems to lie in this sentence: “though mind is entirely the consequence of interacting matter, the ability to copy it from one storage medium to another would give it an independence and an identity apart from the machinery that runs the program.”[v] The mind is an independent and separate entity that nonetheless is theconsequence of interacting matter. On account of our neuronal structure and organizational dynamic, an independent entity – our mind – emerges. I hypothesize that Moravec’s theories of pattern-identity and mental uploading presupposes an emergentist theory; and if they do not, I suggest they would be adequately supported by emergentism. I derive another clue from Simon Young’sDesigner Evolution: A Transhumanist Manifesto, which proposes that our mind-states are consequences of our brains’ chemical make-up, and that our minds may alter their own states by changing their chemistry.[vi]This seems to suggest two contrary presuppositions: 1) that there is a self, identical with the mind, which arises from the brain and 2) the mind may alter itself by altering the brain, without subtracting from the self. Moravec’s theory suggests that a mind emerges from the brain, and Young’s theory suggests that the emergent mind has causal influence on the very matter out of which it emerges. Both of these presuppositions are principles of emergentism.

[i] We will come to see as avulnerability Moravec’s admission that the simulation is “nearly perfect,” when we later evaluate digital deletion.

[ii] Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), p.109-110.

[iii] Moravec, p.117.

[iv] Moravec, p.117.

[v] Moravec, p.119-120. Emphasis is mine.

[vi] Simon Young, Designer Evolution: A Transhumanist Manifesto, (New York : Prometheus Books, 2006), p.167-168.

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