Given a long enough timeline, given we survive and dodge another dark age, our immortality seems secured.
Monism holds that consciousness is merely the brain in verb form, that the mind is just the brain in action. Michio Kaku detailed his monistic perspective in several YouTube videos* in promotion for his book, The Future of the Mind. He equates consciousness with the feedback loops accessible to an organism. Each feedback loop constitutes a single unit of consciousness and the more units an organism has, the clearer and more detailed the model it has of itself in the context of its spatial, temporal and social relationships and the more complex the corresponding behavior.
Life on earth evolved beyond units into what he calls Level One consciousness with the development of the reptilian brain, which provides feedback on one’s position in space. Level Two consciousness emerged with the limbic system or mammalian brain, which provides emotion and feedback loops through social relations. Humans are at Level 3 consciousness, which we also call intelligence. With the prefrontal cortex we not only have the capacity to remember yesterday but also have imagination, which allows us to both simulate the present and predict the future.
Though I suspect he scoffs at parapsychology, perhaps instances of human precognition suggest that a greater predictive capacity is at least occasionally active in some of us and may even be a potentiality latent in us all. It may also be a consistent and common capacity in ETI if, as it is generally imagined, they are more intelligent than the average human. If one denies the existence of psi abilities, we may nonetheless have mutations in one gene pool that provide the closest conceivable approximation within materialistic limitations. What we call precognition is perhaps merely a consequence of the capacity to produce superior simulations of now and projections for tomorrow that bear more detail and are based upon more educated guesswork. In either case, such ETI would see much more clearly much farther down the road.
There may be another reason for their broad perspective, however: their immortality. This is something we can suspect they have achieved, yet again, regardless as to whether the monism or dualism perspective holds.
In the case of monism, we have the connectome — the thorough and detailed map of all neural connections in the nervous system of an organism. It would constitute the computer backup for consciousness. Upon death this could be downloaded onto a computer and hooked up to a network, where it could exist within any number of virtual realities. By a similar process, it could be downloaded into a robot.
Alternatively, the connectome could be used along with a DNA sample to achieve technological resurrection through a clone. Not just any clone, however. Twins are just nature’s clones, after all, and twins do not share a consciousness. This clone would either have a brain somehow reverse-engineered from the connectome or the connectome is somehow capable of inhabiting the body through some form of interface with a machine, such as perhaps a device implanted into the brain. In any case, this clone would be a connectoclone.
If an implant is sufficient, then someone could potentially have a wardrobe of diverse, custom-made bodies produced through cloning and genetic engineering which the connectome could easily attach to and detach from by means of a machine, permitting immortality through a technologically-assisted continuity of consciousness. It sounds nice. Here, however, is the monist rub: if consciousness is just a downloadable program, however complex it might be, then it should be possible to copy connectomes just as we clone bodies. In that case, a single person could have an army of clones, all based on the same genome-connectome package deal. If the monist perspective holds, then, not only would each of me be certain they were me, each of me would be correct. Identity theft would rise to a whole new level. High-tech copy protection would be a must.
Consider, however, that dualism holds. Dualism naturally emerges out of the comparisons between the our brains and the real world and computers and the internet. The more complex the computer hardware, the better the software and the clearer the internet connection, the more liberty the wetware — the organism operating it; the user — is afforded. Wetware is a term that encompasses our analogues to the hardware and software of a computer. The brain, nervous system, perhaps the entire body would serve as the hardware, which we could call our meatware.
The software may be a more difficult subject to grapple with, but let’s just call it our mindware. It seems fairly clear that the system software (instincts, archetypes and autonomic functions) comes along with the meatware. Its a corporeal package deal. Some application software may also come along with the meaty hardware, though many are subsequently downloaded from meatspace (the world beyond the world wide web) in the form of habits, body language, talents, tendencies.
Where is the “user” that exploits the wetware? It could be the wetware itself, and many would insist that it is, but in this context, in the very least, it seems inconsistent with the comparison.
Might consciousness be a transient resident in the body, the brain merely a transceiver providing a recurrent feedback loop between the body and the mind? Am I the ghost in this meat machine, the spook commanding this flesh vessel, the mind taking cover in this skin-shell?
Experientially, in the very least, our body and mind seem to be distinct entities. Through producing pleasure and pain the body seems to coerce consciousness to execute programmed behaviors that serve the needs of the body. It seems strange to consider the mind as a product of the brain in that light — after all, what machine must coerce itself to follow its own programs? Our meat machines appear to be puppeteers, our squatting soul or occupying mind is the marionette. We are pulled this way and that by the strings of instinct, sometimes all too easily. We are equally liable to put up a fight, to engage in a little tug-o-war, to risk being ripped apart rather than be enslaved. In a more creative spirit, we might sublimate — scratch the same itch from another direction.
In any case, we treat the body as if it were a separate force, a foreign body we must contend with. We wear these meat suits and identify mind as residing within, though in saying so we must confess we do not mean literally inside our body in the same sense that the heart, liver and intestines are. Instead, we mean to suggest a direction we cannot point to that lies beyond the boundary of the body. We aren’t pointing to the door of wetware but the individual you cannot see, standing just behind it. This makes sense given the comparison, too. After all, if wetware is to meatspace as a computer is to the internet, perhaps we merely use wetware as a medium for navigation through meatspace — we are, in other words, nonlocal and truly distinct from it. We would never really die, though our wetware would eventually succomb to built-in obsolescence, forcing us offline until we could score another moist medium.
It may even be the case that the mind cannot perceive itself save for through the feedback provided by the body. Perhaps life developed with chemical reactions that gave rise to organisms that provided that feedback. We would have to follow the course of evolution to have any hopes of being a multicellular organism capable of advanced self-reflection. Body and mind may have codependently evolved through a symbiotic relationship first spawned when chemical reactions within the primordial stew gave rise to simple machines providing interface with a candidate consciousness. The wetware would impose limitations on the user, but throughout evolution paths diverged, boundaries receded in different ways.
One one breed of wetware developed organisms with reptilian brains, and then mammalian brains atop that, and finally human brains. With opposable thumbs, humans began exploiting their intelligence through the development of artificial technology. They also developed language and, through itself and technology, generated culture. Human beings became increasingly capable of using their artificial technology — genetic engineering, specifically — to manipulate the natural technology of their flesh vessels, brought to them through a process of evolution by means of natural selection.
Now they could impose artificial selection. Craft their own meat suits.
Given that there must be some point of interface between mind and wetware, if dualism holds, science will inevitably find that point of interface. It will do what it always does, which is understand it through science and exploit that understanding in technology. This technology will provide all the benefits of the connectome technology — and more. In addition to the ability to house consciousness in both a variety of hardware and potential wardrobes of wetware, there is the fact that consciousness is not dependent on technology of any form, as in the monist analogues to immortality, resurrection and reincarnation. We merely gain control over natural processes.
BigThink video, “Michio Kaku on the Evolution of Intelligence.”
BigThink video, “Michio Kaku on Alien Brains.”
BigThink video, “Michio Kaku: Consciousness Can be Quantified”
BigThink video, “Michio Kaku: Could We Transport Our Consciousness Into Robots?”
Michio Kaku (2014) “The Future of the Mind”