EDGE: NATURAL BORN CYBORGS? - Page 2

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My immediate goal, however, is not really to talk about new technology. Rather, 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.

Cognitive technologies are best understood 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. If we do not always see this, or if the idea seems outlandish or absurd, that is because we are in the grip of a simple prejudice: 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. But this fortress has been built to be breached. It is a structure whose virtue lies in part in it's capacity to delicately gear its activities to collaborate with external, non-biological sources of order so as (originally) to better solve the problems of survival and reproduction.

Thus consider a brief but representative example. Take the familiar process of writing an article for a newspaper, an academic paper, a chapter in a book. Confronted, at last, with the shiny finished product the good materialist may find herself congratulating her brain on its good work. But this is misleading. It is misleading not simply because (as usual) most of the ideas were not our own anyway, but because the structure, form and flow of the final product often depends heavily on the complex ways the brain cooperates with, and depends on, various special features of the media and technologies with which it continually interacts.

We tend to think of our biological brains as the point source of the whole final content. But if we look a little more closely what we may often find is that the biological brain participated in some potent and iterated loops through the cognitive technological environment.

We began, perhaps, by looking over some old notes, then turned to some original sources. As we read, our brain generated a few fragmentary, on-the-spot responses which were duly stored as marks on the page, or in the margins. This cycle repeats, pausing to loop back to the original plans and sketches, amending them in the same fragmentary, on-the-spot fashion. This whole process of critiquing, re-arranging , streamlining and linking is deeply informed by quite specific properties of the external media, which allow the sequence of simple reactions to become organized and grow (hopefully) into something like an argument. The brain's role is crucial and special. But it is not the whole story.


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