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A biotechnologically hybrid mind

vgaffney's picture

  I found Clark’s article fascinating and eye-opening. I have always felt a bit apprehensive about the future of technology and what its advancement might mean for the future of us as people and a society. I was deeply troubled by an article I read a few years ago that posited a future in which human-technology synthesis would result in immortal ‘people’. Although quite a large—if not unbelievable—claim I still felt unnerved by the article’s painstaking and convincing analysis of this future. A future with such uncharacteristically ‘human’ advancements is unsurprisingly disconcerting. Despite my tendency for discomfort when presented with these future scenarios (which Clark himself addresses), however, I found Clark’s article to be not only convincing, but enlightening and fascinating, and not at all unnerving.

His cognitive explication of the brain’s natural proclivity to “seek and consummate such intimate relations with nonbiological resources” was supported with rich examples (the third arm, the stroke victim’s cursor control capability, the blind man/deaf man’s abilities to receive sensory stimuli respectively). I particularly liked his use of the cognitive study of nuero-plasticity in the context of his argument; the notion that the human brain is not only primed for such interactions with nonbiological resources, but is also plastic in the sense that it can merge and combine with these resources effectively altering the nature of the brain’s functions and capacities. Clark also brought up an interesting—if not consoling—point when he discussed the notion of the “self” within the context of this newly realized (or accepted) “biologically hybrid mind”. He discusses the notion that one’s sense of self is correlated with that individual’s sense of control or agency. Although this new understanding of the interplay between the mind and technology complicates the notion of “agency”, he makes a compelling argument that the agency, or control, still rests with the self. He argues this by suggesting the role of unconscious or seemingly automatic processes, taking as his example the motor functions of the brain (the brain “tells” the fingers to move, but this communication is hardly conscious or deliberately aware, it is automatic). In the same sense that the brain tells the fingers to move, the notion of a “biotechnologically hybrid mind” which incorporates external material—such as cortical implants—experiences the same type of interaction with the mind, one which is automatic, and seamlessly integrated into the mental circuitry of the brain. The notion of a brain with these heightened capacities when integrated with technology is particularly exciting when one takes into consideration the potential to help and improve the lives of others.





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