[ExI] Wrestling with Embodiment

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Mon Jan 23 23:30:11 UTC 2012

On 22/01/2012 12:57, Eugen Leitl wrote:
> On Sat, Jan 21, 2012 at 04:52:34AM -0800, Ben Zaiboc wrote:
>> I think the idea of 'disembodiment' needs to be clarified before going any further.
> It sounds like the typical hangup of a science-challenged
> philosopher. All computation is embodied. No atoms, no
> metabolism, no computation. No computation, no person.

But does the hardware affect the software? Most modern computer systems 
try to minimize this by having strict abstraction barriers, discourage 
hacks based on processor features, emphasis on portability etc. But much 
of biological cognition is strongly hardware dependent or even make use 
of deliberate breaches of abstraction (to the annoyance of us 
uploaders): when I grip something, my fingers bend in an adaptive way 
partially because of nervous system control, partially because the 
elasticity and arrangement of sinews force the outer joints to curve in 
a fairly optimal way without any need for neural computation. My 
gestures act as a working memory extension (I *see* what I am saying) 
and my visceral responses tell parts of my brain what emotions I am 
having - without that I would be slightly impaired.

The problem that has been noted by a lot of people in the soft sciences 
is that the clean abstraction barriers we like to think about are porous 
or non-existent in important systems like humans. Ignoring this 
messiness when considering enhancement and posthumanity leads to ideas 
as divorced from reality as the New Soviet Man - and quite likely as 

>> Does it mean, as Anders suggests, dispensing with or changing our original biological
>> bodies, or does it mean literally eliminating all embodiment, whether it be physical
>> or some virtual representation? (which is something that I think is not actually possible)
> I agree that it does not make much sense. If you remove the sensors
> and actuators, whether physical or virtual (like mining the math face),
> the result appears pathological.

In a sense our bodies are the interface between our minds and the 
outside world: it doesn't matter what they are, they exist as long as 
there is anything outside.

In practice the distinction is blurry in any case: there might not be a 
clearly defined self or anything that is unambigously mind, so the 
border will be fuzzy. Some parts of the universe are easy to change by 
our mental operations, some parts are harder. But that latter category 
includes not just the physical world but our own habits. And we do make 
external objects part of our minds in various ways.

The important realization is that this fuzzy border has plenty of 
properties that matter a lot to how we function. Change them, and we 
change ourselves.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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