Sunday, September 4, 2011

Ghost in The Machine

Man supposes that predictable processes and perfection of execution make machines, but he does so through anticipated means. ‘To err is human’ – an acknowledgement of certain faults, but also perhaps an indicator of the implicit attachment we have to our fallibility.

We distrust the seemingly mechanistic, and shun the notion that we err like clockwork.  I imagine that it prods the eternally sore spot that is our concept of free will and desire to believe in a ‘soul’.  It seems difficult to come to terms with the idea that the most complex things we know can be explained and understood by reducing them to their constituent parts and the interactions between them.  

Reductionism leaves no need for mysterious, immeasurable forces to account for any part of the process once each layer has been systematically stripped away through explanation.
The workings of an average home computer are a complete mystery to the majority of those who use them, yet most of us would not infer that there is magic at work as a result of our ignorance.  We understand that a computer is simply a complex machine, and that although its unseen process are unknown to us, they are knowable, and we have a vague understanding that all this is the case.  But we have little attachment to computers because they are merely man-made, and for that reason they are inherently soulless and without mystery, unless you are a Bagobo for instance - Bagobos, an indigenous Philippine ethnic group in Mindanao, believe that all things possess a gimokud or soul, including man-made objects.”

I think we take a great deal of comfort from the idea that we are superior to the systems we run on, that we are the users who possess ultimate control.  And since we wish to avoid any feelings of powerlessness it may come as a huge blow to be informed (and to misunderstand the ramifications) of the various ways in which we have no choice when it comes to our biology, and in particular our brains/minds.  For this reason alone it appears to make sense to insulate yourself from the facts, or anything that might cause you to arrive at the conclusion that the idea of freewill is entirely misleading.  Real powerlessness arises from a combination of ignorance and overconfidence, and from the misuse of humility.

A lack of awareness of the many ways in which we are mechanistic, both on a physical level of systems, and on a behavioural one, doesn’t result in us being immune to them.  While it may be more comforting (or at least the expectation is that it would be so) to remain ignorant, it seems that we hold the belief that our ignorance has the power to change the facts of the situation.  In a sense we think that what we don’t know can’t hurt us, when in reality it is the exact opposite.  We are hampered not only by our ignorance, but more importantly by our refusal to confront, accept and rectify it. 

I wondered what it would like to get a new brain, an updated version that didn’t distort information in the way that my current model does, to have a total memory upgrade so that I could have perfect recall of any information, even after receiving it only once.   It would be ‘inhuman’ of me to simply ‘copy’ and ‘paste’ from my brain without difficulty or error, to never make a mistake in that regard.  To have the ability to recognise and remove biases and aberrations caused by emotion, to talk in a straightforward and factually accurate way about all things, without a hint of unnecessary metaphor or poetic embellishment.
When you live through and inside your head it’s easy to forget that there is an ‘out there’ which is the initiator of your experiences, and that the words you use to communicate with are signposts to reality, but not the reality itself.

Our humanity seems to be largely attributed to our faults, our irrational behaviours, fallibility and general wrongness.  It’s no surprise then, that when our mistakes are highlighted we hold up our hands in resignation and say ‘I’m only human’.

In order for you to have any intelligent argument against transhumanism you have to take a real hard look at what it is you think that makes you, you.  How much can you take away or change, and still remain ‘yourself’?  To challenge the idea that a consistent ‘self’ even exists, and to examine what beliefs you have been unknowingly harbouring that prevent you from accepting the ideas proposed by transhumanism.  

I’m not pro- transhumanism, but I haven’t yet come across a convincing argument against it.  To suppose that ‘upgrading’ yourself would make life pointless is to suppose that life currently has a purpose, and that it would be irreversibly destroyed in the process.  Whether the purpose or goals you assign yourself change due to ‘natural’ advancement or through assistance seems irrelevant.  In winter I’ll choose the ‘thermal underwear upgrade’ every time, over wishing to be naturally equipped for unassisted survival in all conditions.

Not long ago this idea of ‘natural’ being synonymous with ‘good’ was something I greatly suffered from believing in.  But I thank God for the conditioning which grants me the willingness to change, and for the circumstances which allow me access to the means for doing so. 

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