May 11, 2009

IEET's Susan Schneider on transhumanism: Will enhancement destroy the "real you"?

Dr. Susan Schneider, IEET fellow, assistant professor of philosophy and an affiliated faculty member with Penns Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and the Institute for Research in Cognitive Science, speaks at a UPenn Media Seminar on Neuroscience and Society on philosophical controversies surrounding cognitive enhancement.

In this video, Schneider wonders if radical enhancement, particularly cognitive enhancement that gives rise to superintelligence, will result in the destruction of the original person in favor of something categorically different. Schneider also discusses uploading and the continuity of experience -- including the apparent problem of destructive cloning/copying.

Via Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.


  1. Can you tell me what my opinion on personal identity is? I believe that what "I" am is in constant flux, the atoms that make up my physical body are constantly being replaced and my personality is changing similarly, but "I" retain parts of "myself" longer than others (for example not all of the atoms in my body were there yesterday but many still are). As pertains to uploading I think that only gradual cyborgization would allow true survival (neurons or sections of the brain being replaced one by one over an extended period of time). I think it might be continuity identity theory that I believe in (actually it's un-testable so theory isn't the right word).

  2. also, the whole argument kind of fails because a definition of 'me' is only as much coherent and, even more importantly, relevant as the juxtaposed cultural definition of the environment of that 'me' - therefore the question 'will i still be myself when i become transhuman?' fails to be relevant as long as we haven't understood what transhuman cultural and moral values and environments might look like. there are many speculations, but no hard knowledge.

  3. We have been accustomed to treating humans as a special ontological class - or perhaps the archetype of the class - because of differences in the manners in which we have identities. Two folding chairs don't have the same identities, usually, but neither do we care very much. If one made chairs that constantly cycled its constituent atoms, we'd have no trouble transitioning to treating its identity like that of a river, which we reify in terms of its persistence rather than substance. If two such chairs plashed together and reformed, many observers wouldn't mind saying that there's no fact of the matter as to which chair became which.

    Humans, however, have always had a very discrete, non-fungible character that has formed the building block of moral reasoning. That we do not exchange properties overmuch and retain our narrative persistence has been critical to grounding our basic concepts of identity and cause attribution. Unlike the chair, it can be quite unsettling to have to find a place to stand once we have to contemplate persons in a manner more like rivers.

    But we always have been rivers, and only now is the looming future forcing us to see that fact, like studying geology made us realize rivers are only so permanent and identifiable. Do we fight to hold back those realizations, or do we face the fact that we are all of us changing all the time, subject to the contouring pressures of chemistry or accident or even consistent self-discipline? She who can tread those waters need never worry about finding a place to stand again.


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