[ExI] Wrestling with Embodiment

Tom Nowell nebathenemi at yahoo.co.uk
Wed Jan 25 23:06:31 UTC 2012

The crucial area between transhumanism and the concept of embodiment I think is how well are we going to translate into other substrates? Staying as a bunch of neurons inside a roughly mammalian body cuts away some (but not all) of the problems. Uploading and some extreme modifications can be problematical.

To use analogies: consider the porting of computer software - your favourite software originally designed for machine X running operating system Y may have difficulty with other machines, and may require heavy modification to work on different OSes. The user experience may be slightly different on other machines. This is despite them all being written for semi-conductor based chips running programs, we're not trying to translate them to a network of synthetic neurons or run them on a Babbage engine. To use a more poetic analogy, consider adaptations of stories: from prose to plays to movies to games and all back again, they all offer different experiences of similar stories or source material. How well will our minds translate to other forms of being? 

Consider hormones - these chemical messengers affect our thinking continuously but won't show up under straight brain mapping. As a man, I've had a complicated relationship with testosterone and I'm sure it's no easier for women to deal with the effects of their sex hormones on their brain. If you fail to take these into account, your translation of your mind will lose something along the way. Some may see this as freeing - a chance to live without the distractions of hormones. Some would consider it a terrible loss. (Here's a thought - would a community of uploads without hormone emulation experience a truly post-gendered world? Or would their experiences in a biologically gendered body before uploading mean that gender continues as before?)

Consider sleep and dreaming - nearly all mammals do this, and research has linked REM sleep to learning and creativity. Would a translation without these have radically different learning and creativity? Some would see this as freedom from wasted hours of sleep, those who enjoy dreams may see it as a sacrifice too far. 

Consider reproduction - currently making more minds is a matter in which we have little choice - you get male gametes and female gametes together, implant the embryo in a uterus (the first two steps can be natural or heavily medicalised), bring to term, deliver baby, and a mind slowly develops in response to its environment. For a human (and who knows how many other large-brained species) this general purpose learning machine picks up on cues from its parents and the world around it, and adults have a lot more developed mind than their infant selves. As an upload, how are you going to get new minds? Can you program new ones, or would you be dependent on more humans being born to be uploaded? What sort of population dynamics would uploads have placing pressure on their reproduction? Uploading before you had worked this out would mean sacrificing your ability to have children.

These are just the first three areas that spring to mind when considering a translation from human-ish transhuman to radically different forms of being.

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