What if…?

Susan Schneider: Mindscan: Transcending and Enhancing the Human Brain (doc, 15 pages)image

Suppose it is 2025 and being a technophile, you purchase brain enhancements as they become readily available. First, you add a mobile internet connection to your retina, then, you enhance your working memory by adding neural circuitry. You are now officially a cyborg. Now skip ahead to 2040. Through nanotechnological therapies and enhancements you are able to extend your lifespan, and as the years progress, you continue to accumulate more far-reaching enhancements. By 2060, after several small but cumulatively profound alterations, you are a “posthuman.” To quote philosopher Nick Bostrom, posthumans are possible future beings, “whose basic capacities so radically exceed those of present humans as to be no longer unambiguously human by our current standards” (Bostrom 2003c). At this point, your intelligence is enhanced not just in terms of speed of mental processing; you are now able to make rich connections that you were not able to make before. Unenhanced humans, or “naturals,” seem to you to be intellectually disabled—you have little in common with them—but as a transhumanist, you are supportive of their right to not enhance (Bostrom 2003c; Garreau 2005; Kurzweil 2005).


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6 thoughts on “What if…?

  1. Raises the interesting questions around all sorts of “enhancements” – not only steroids and other “performance enhancing” drugs (like Prozak and Viagra) but also simulants etc. Are there any limits to what we can do? Should do?


  2. Alexandra writes, hopefully: “If all this means living longer, bring it on baby.”

    But with enhancements will it still be you? Or, will it be your successor?

    As Susan Schneider puts it: However, as unwieldy as metaphysical issues are, it seems that not all conventions are worthy of acceptance, so one needs a manner of determining which conventions should play an important role in the enhancement debate and which ones should not. And it is hard to accomplish this without getting clear on one’s conception of persons. Further, it is difficult to avoid at least implicitly relying on a conception of persons when reflecting on the case for and against enhancement. For what is it that ultimately grounds your decision to enhance or not to enhance, if not that it will somehow improve you? Are you perhaps merely planning for the well-being of your successor?


  3. Bob writes, “But with enhancements will it still be you? Or, will it be your successor?”

    This brings us back to the question of consciousness.

    When one thinks of the profound changes some of us go through in this lifetime & we continue to be ‘us’. Even if, as in the case of one getting dementia, it is only glimpses of how that person was/is.


  4. I think I agree with Susan – the important philosophical question is not consciousness but personhood. What is a person must be decided/stipulated before the identity question arises! Her multiple choice description of current theories:

    1. The soul theory—your essence is your soul or mind, understood as a nonphysical entity distinct from your body.

    2. The psychological continuity theory—you are essentially your memories and ability to reflect on yourself (Locke) and, more generally, your overall psychological configuration, what Kurzweil referred to as your “pattern.”

    3. Materialism—you are essentially the material that you are made out of—what Kurzweil referred to as “the ordered and chaotic collection of molecules that make up my body and brain” (Kurzweil, 2005, p. 383).

    4. The no self view—the self is an illusion. The “I” is a grammatical fiction (Nietzsche). There are bundles of impressions but no underlying self (Hume). There is no survival because there is no person (Buddha).


  5. Enhancements is a fascinating ethical topic and one that isn’t going to go away any time soon.

    Thinking about enhancements, and in particular the ongoing battle against athletes who enhance (but we’ll call it ‘cheating’) were you aware that even the sport of curling now requires drug testing – assuming that one can pharmaceutically enhance the ability to slide stones down a frozen bowling alley? I thought this enhancement was called beer. Who wants to curl badly enough to go without that elixer? From the get go, everybody knows the marker for beer: it’s called curling.



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