EDGE: NATURAL BORN CYBORGS?
The Third Culture


 

NATURAL BORN CYBORGS?
By Andy Clark

We cannot see ourselves aright until we see ourselves as nature's very own cyborgs: cognitive hybrids who repeatedly occupy regions of design space radically different from those of our biological forbears. The hard task, of course, is now to transform all this from (mere) impressionistic sketch into a balanced scientific account of the extended mind.

Introduction

"As our worlds become smarter, and get to know us better and better," writes cognitive scientist Andy Clark, "it becomes harder and harder to say where the world stops and the person begins."

Clark's examines the"potent, portable machinery linking the user to an increasingly responsive World Wide Web," as well as "the gradual smartening-up and interconnection of the many everyday objects which populate our homes and offices." But his interest is not primarily in new technology. "Rather," he writes, "it is to talk about us, about our sense of self, and about the nature of the human mind. The point is not to guess at what we might soon become, but to better appreciate what we already are: creatures whose minds are special precisely because they are tailor-made to mix and match neural, bodily and technological ploys."

According to Clark, we have to give up the prejudice "that whatever matters about mind must depend solely on what goes on inside the biological skin-bag, inside the ancient fortress of skin and skull." He presents cognitive technologies as "deep and integral parts of the problem-solving systems that constitute human intelligence. They are best seen as proper parts of the computational apparatus that constitutes our minds."

– JB

ANDY CLARK is Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, UK. He was previously Director of the Philosophy/Neuroscience/Psychology Program at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of Microcognition: Philosophy, Cognitive Science and Parallel Distributed Processing, Associative Engines, and Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again.

See Andy Clark's Edge Bio Page


NATURAL BORN CYBORGS?
By Andy Clark

My body is an electronic virgin. I incorporate no silicon chips, no retinal or cochlear implants, no pacemaker. I don't even wear glasses (though I do wear clothes). But I am slowly becoming more and more a Cyborg. So are you. Pretty soon, and still without the need for wires, surgery or bodily alterations, we shall be kin to the Terminator, to Eve 8, to Cable...just fill in your favorite fictional Cyborg. Perhaps we already are. For we shall be Cyborgs not in the merely superficial sense of combining flesh and wires, but in the more profound sense of being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and non-biological circuitry.

This may sound like futuristic mumbo-jumbo, and I happily confess that I wrote the preceding paragraph with an eye to catching your attention, even if only by the somewhat dangerous route of courting your immediate disapproval! But I do believe that it is the plain and literal truth. I believe, to be clear, that it is above all a scientific truth, a reflection of some deep and important facts about (a whiff of paradox here?) our special, and distinctively human nature. And certainly, I don't think this tendency towards cognitive hybridization is a modern development. Rather, it is an aspect of our humanity which is as basic and ancient as the use of speech, and which has been extending its territory ever since.