Guest post: Wanna be a brain in a vat?

Guest post by James Garnett.

More and more these days I keep seeing pop technologists ranting on about AI and “transhumanism”, which is to say, moving beyond biology and injecting our consciousness into machines. There is so much wrong with this even from a merely technical standpoint that I don’t even know where to start.

So much of our consciousness and the way we understand and interpret the world is tied up with our physical bodies and the inseparable link between them and our minds (yes, I said “inseparable”) as to make talking about one without integrating the other almost nonsensical. It betrays the blindered standpoint of persons without disability or dysfunction; people who can mostly ignore the presence of their bodies because nothing impinges upon their awareness to force them to observe.

One person I spoke to recently said that this is exactly what the “Singularity” will mean (downloading one’s consciousness into a computer): freedom from awareness or worries about biology and the body. I submit that this is wholly and completely wrong and mistaken: being unaware of a body that is functioning perfectly is completely different from being cut off from that same body, or from living insensate, or living with a body that doesn’t do what our instinct tells us that it should. It doesn’t take much malfunction to make us very, very aware that we live within it, and that its proper function is absolutely fundamental to our ability (should we enjoy it) of being unaware of its daily operation.

Even the very formation of our thinking and the thoughts within are formed, molded, and ultimately limited by the fact that we have binocular vision facing forwards, or that we stand upright, or that we have two hands instead of eight tentacles, or that we have basic biological firmware mechanisms built in to our very brains that prevent us from doing such things as walking off a cliff, and so on et cetera.

Anyway. Just random blitherings on a lazy sunday afternoon.

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