11 Jun 2009

We are Such Stuff as Digital Dreams are Made on; Bostrom and Sandberg's Brain Emulation, Examined and Critiqued. Section 1

by Corry Shores
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[The following is tentative material for my presentation at the Society for Philosophy & Technology Conference this summer.]

Corry Shores

Do Posthumanists Dream of Pixilated Sheep?

Bostrom and Sandberg's Brain Emulation,

Examined and Critiqued

Section 1:

We are Such Stuff

as Digital Dreams are Made on;

(And Or Little Life is Prolonged with a Beep)

Brain emulation succeeds if merely it replicates human neural functioning. Yet for the authors its success increases when it perfectly replicates one specific person’s brain. She might then survive her body’s death by living the simulation.

This prospect has posthumanist proponents. Their view must presuppose certain traits of human consciousness and selfhood. Hans Moravec for example rejects the body-identity position. This theory holds that the human individual can only be preserved if the continuity of its ‘body stuff’ is maintained. He proposes instead what he terms the pattern-identity theory. It 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.” (Moravec 117)

Katherine Hayles observes that mental uploading presupposes as well a cybernetic concept. Our selfhood extends into intersubjective systems lying beyond our body’s bounds. (2c) Picasso places himself into a painting. It reflects and communicates his identity to other selves. This could have been more fully accomplished if we precisely simulated his brain processes.

Posthumanists, Hayles claims, hold a view that “privileges information pattern over material instantiation.” So we in no way are bound to our bodies. (2d)

She continues:

the posthuman view configures human being so that it can be seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines. In the posthuman, there are no essential differences or absolute demarcations between bodily existence and computer simulation, cybernetic mechanism and biological organism, robot teleology and human goals. (3a)

In this way, the patterns of information that constitute our identities just happen right now to be located in a “prosthesis-body.” (Krueger, p.78, commenting on Hayles, p.2 et seq.).

William Bainbridge nicely articulates this belief. He does not think that machines will replace human bodies. For, who we are is neither man nor machine.

Rather, humans will realize that they are by nature dynamic patterns of information, which can exist in many different material contexts. (211d)

We are patterns. These can be communicated into other embodiments. Computers may attain this capacity. Their emulations would embody us. Then neither we – nor no one – will know the difference. There will be no distinction between our software simulations and our soft embodiments.

[Next entry in this series.]

Bainbridge, William Sims. "Converging Technologies and Human Destiny." in The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, Volume 32, Issue 3 May 2007 , pages 197 - 216. More information and text available at: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~content=a780166853~db=all~jumptype=rss

Hayles, N. Katherine. How We became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1999. ISBN 0226321460, 9780226321462. More information and limited preview available at: http://books.google.be/books?id=UcaDA5WNN78C&dq=Hayles,+N.+Katherine+(1999):+How+we+Became+Posthuman.+Virtual+Bodies+in+Cybernetics,+Literature+and+Informatics.+Chicago,+University+of+Chicago.&hl=en&source=gbs_summary_s&cad=0

Krueger, Oliver. “Gnosis in Cyberspace? Body, Mind and Progress in Posthumanism.” Journal of Evolution and Technology. (Vol. 14, Issue 2, August 2005, version 1.1), p.78. Available online at: http://jetpress.org/volume14/krueger.html

Hans Moravec, Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), p.117. More information available at: http://books.google.be/books?id=sV7LGAAACAAJ&dq=Hans+Moravec&ei=cyMxSo3VHoGczQTgvbmODg&hl=en

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