February 11, 2009

Neuroscientist David Eagleman guest blogging on Sentient Developments next week

I've got a real treat in store for you guys: renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman will be guest blogging here for one week starting this coming Monday February 16.

Dr. Eagleman is a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, where he directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action as well as the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law.

His interests focus largely on how the brain constructs reality and how different brains do so differently. To this end he uses psychophysics, neuroimaging and computational simulations.

He is the author of several books, including the upcoming Dethronement, an exploration of the work the brain does behind the scenes, and Wednesday is Indigo Blue, a book about synesthesia, a condition in which the senses are mixed.

His research has been featured on Discovery Channel, History Channel, BBC, ABC, PBS, and in major print media. Dr. Eagleman is the founder of several companies, and three years ago founded the Eagleman Prize in mathematics and physics.

Dr. Eagleman has long been interested in transhumanism and the concept of 'silicon immortality.' He was a recent contributor to the Edge.org's Big Question, "What will change everything?," to which he responded:
"While medicine will advance in the next half century, we are not on a crash-course for achieving immortality by curing all disease. Bodies simply wear down with use. We are on a crash-course, however, with technologies that let us store unthinkable amounts of data and run gargantuan simulations. Therefore, well before we understand how brains work, we will find ourselves able to digitally copy the brain's structure and able to download the conscious mind into a computer."
His book of fiction, Sum, debuted internationally this month.

It's going to be an exciting and provocative week with David Eagleman on board. Don't miss it.

10 comments:

Enlightened one said...

I believe his predictions are naïve. Bodies do wear down over time however if we use genetic engineering to activate all the genes responsible for regeneration then we can keep on going indefinitely. All one would need is rest. I am personally not for living a sense deprived existence inside a computer.

Martin said...

"I am personally not for living a sense deprived existence inside a computer."

it's somewhat strange how you can imagine the use of gene manipulation in order to restore our bodies, but not concede of artificial sense receivers...

Nato said...

But, Martin, it will just be artificial sense data. *Obviously* mere electrons cannot instantiate the mysteries of qualia! Of course, the quasi-person so "downloaded" to a hardware brain might act like they were experiencing sense data, and might even report thinking that their senses are qualitatively the same as they had been, but the qualia just can't be a bunch of electrons shuffling around a circuit board!

Nato said...

The all-knowing Wikipedia says Dethronement isn't due until next year. Egads!

I have been waiting for an updated survey of the field for a while now, and I guess I can wait a little longer.

Martin said...

"*Obviously* mere electrons cannot instantiate the mysteries of qualia!"

ok, I agree, your subjective experience of data, given to you by your senses, is unique, but then, why do you assume it's the limit of the quality of information, given to you by some more powerful sensor...(even if that's not unique or even collective) ?

Enlightened one said...

“it's somewhat strange how you can imagine the use of gene manipulation in order to restore our bodies, but not concede of artificial sense receivers”

I would say I am a conservative Transhumanist. From what I have read over the years it seem like Tranhumanist are “flesh haters“. I personally prefer manipulating genes to endow us with traits we do not have and screening out genetic impediments. It is also my belief that we should live in harmony with nature, instead of shutting ourselves away from it. We can achieve agelessness in a biological form. The only thing that sounds appealing to me are bionic eyes and nanobots in our bodies, repairing damage. Artificial sense receivers will have it’s limitations. I’m quite sure one would not be able to enjoy an orgasm whilst living in a computer. Or enjoy the sun shinning on one’s face and the wind in their hair. Things like that can only come from a biological existence. Trying to experience sense whilst in a computer would be like stroking a cat with a plastic glove on.

Nato said...

"Things like that can only come from a biological existence. Trying to experience sense whilst in a computer would be like stroking a cat with a plastic glove on."

A common asseveration, backed by implied argument from analogy. An experience loses a great deal as it is transduced through another modality of experience (say, a movie with aural and visual representations) into an experience-of-the-experience. It seems that "Enlightened one" presumes that any hardware human's sense experience would go through some similarly lossy transduction, perhaps from physical interactions of sense membranes into "mere" digital representations. However, I think most studies of perception could say that it's all representation, all the way down, and the question is whether the process is significantly lossy in the way that a book or a movie re-representation would be. I see no reason to believe it would be, and neither does "Enlightened one" offer such a reason.

For Martin - sorry, I was caricaturing the biological essentialist position exemplified by "Enlightened one."

Enlightened one said...

“A common asseveration, backed by implied argument from analogy. An experience loses a great deal as it is transduced through another modality of experience (say, a movie with aural and visual representations) into an experience-of-the-experience. It seems that "Enlightened one" presumes that any hardware human's sense experience would go through some similarly lossy transduction, perhaps from physical interactions of sense membranes into "mere" digital representations. However, I think most studies of perception could say that it's all representation, all the way down, and the question is whether the process is significantly lossy in the way that a book or a movie re-representation would be. I see no reason to believe it would be, and neither does "Enlightened one" offer such a reason.”

Interesting. I can not fault you there. It is all based on representation. However I would not like to live inside a computer. Or have a purely robotic body.

Nato said...

"However I would not like to live inside a computer. Or have a purely robotic body."

I, on the other hand, think that we already do live inside (biological) computers, and that our bodies are mainly different from robotic ones in terms of sophistication. At the moment most of our attempts at replicating the same functions are crude in some way or another, so it's true that I wouldn't want to live inside a contemporary silicon-based computer and a contemporary robotic chassis. I don't think that will hold forever.

Also, I think that the bodies we eventually build for themselves will dramatically lower our individual impact on the environment, and allow us to enjoy 'wild' nature more fully. But only time will prove that claim.

Enlightened one said...

“I, on the other hand, think that we already do live inside (biological) computers, and that our bodies are mainly different from robotic ones in terms of sophistication. At the moment most of our attempts at replicating the same functions are crude in some way or another, so it's true that I wouldn't want to live inside a contemporary silicon-based computer and a contemporary robotic chassis. I don't think that will hold forever.
Also, I think that the bodies we eventually build for themselves will dramatically lower our individual impact on the environment, and allow us to enjoy 'wild' nature more fully. But only time will prove that claim.”

You have a point imagine being comprised of millions of nanobots like the T1000 in terminator 2. I have thought about that and I must say I do not think I would mind. However the question of sensation still bugs me. Surely no one would want to feel pain, but how would one separate pain from pleasure in that context? Then there is the question of love making. Would one still get the same gratification in a liquid metal or robotic body as one does in a biological one? I’ll let the engineers sort that out, for the mean time I’m focused on genetic endowments. I want to fulfil my dream and activate all the genes responsible for regeneration, without causing cells to become cancerous.