28 Jan 2009

Nick Bostrom: Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) (Mental Uploading / Mental Downloading) Part I, Section 4, "Scale Separation"

by Corry Shores
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[My more developed Deleuzean critique of mental uploading can be found here. The following summarizes Nick Bostrom's & Anders Sandberg's new study on whole brain emulation. My commentary is in brackets.]

Nick Bostrom & Anders Sandberg
"Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap"

Part I: The Concept of Brain Emulation

Section IV: "Scale Separation"

One posthumanist aim is to perfectly simulate human minds on computer programs. We might wonder if accomplishing this requires that we replicate the original brain to the finest detail on the atomic level or even lower. This of course is unthinkable. Bostrom & Sandberg argue that such detail might be unnecessary. Again their theory is based on emergentist principles.

We might regard consciousness as something that emerges from the neuronal activities of our brain. But then we might wonder if the neuronal activities emerge from lower-level atomic and molecular levels. This could present an infinite regress, but more realistically, it could mean that an exact simulation of the brain requires more attention to detail than is possible with any foreseeable technological advances.

Bostrom's & Sandberg's solution is to note a phenomenon that is based on emergentism, but it is a sort of inversion of the principle. They offer some scientific examples. In these cases, the higher-level activities were simulated, and this resulted in an accurate simulation as well of the lower-level activities.

Bostrom & Sandberg will build from this premise. Their next question is, what is the lowest level we need to simulate so to automatically also simulate all the levels below it. Specifically they ask: "what level of organisation is necessary for intelligent, personal, or conscious behaviour?" (12)

So Bostrom & Sandberg need to determine a middle point. The simulated level needs to
1) automatically simulate the lower levels all the way to the lowest, and
2) bring about the emergence of the higher levels all the way up to highest, namely, to consciousness and intelligence.

Bostrom & Sandberg also acknowledge the possibility that no such upwardly and downwardly emergent level exists. Instead, it might only be possible that we simulate levels locally, but not also those above and below them.

Sandberg, A. & Bostrom, N. (2008): Whole Brain Emulation: A Roadmap, Technical Report #2008‐3, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford University.
Available online at:

Nick Bostrom's page, with other publications:

Anders Sandberg's page, also with other publications:

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