EDGE: NATURAL BORN CYBORGS? - Page 5

| Home | Edge Editons | The Reality Club | Third Culture | Digerati | Edge Search |


Instead, we need to work together towards a much more detailed understanding of how our brains actively dovetail their problem-solving activities to a variety of non-biological resources, and of how the larger systems thus created operate, change, interact and evolve. In addition it may soon be quite important (morally, socially, and politically) to publicly loosen the bonds between the very ideas of minds and persons and the image of the bounds, properties, locations and limitations of the basic biological organism .

A proper question to press, however, is this: since no other species on the planet builds as varied, complex and open-ended designer environments as we do (the claim, after all, is that this is why we are special), what is it that allowed this process to get off the ground in our species in such a spectacular way? And isn't that, whatever it is, what really matters? Otherwise put, even if it's the designer environments that make us so intelligent, isn't it some deep biological difference that lets us build-discover-use them in the first place?

This is a serious, important and largely unresolved question. Clearly, there must be some (but perhaps quite small) biological difference that lets us get our collective foot in the designer environment door — what can it be? One possible story locates the difference in a biological innovation for widespread cortical plasticity combined perhaps with the extended period of protected learning called "childhood". Thus "neural constructivists" such as Steve Quartz and Terry Sejnowski depicts neural (especially cortical) growth as experience — dependent, and as involving the actual construction of new neural circuitry (synapses, axons, dendrites) rather than just the fine-tuning of circuitry whose basic shape and form is already determined. One upshot is that the learning device itself changes as a result of organism-environmental interactions — learning does not just alter the knowledge base for a fixed computational engine, it alters the internal computational architecture itself. The linguistic and technological environments in which human brains grow and develop are thus poised to function as the anchor points around which such flexible neural resources adapt and fit.

Perhaps, then, it is a mistake to posit a biologically fixed "human nature" with a simple "wraparound" of tools and culture. For the tools and culture are indeed as much determiners of our nature as products of it. Ours are (by nature) unusually plastic brains whose biologically proper functioning has always involved the recruitment and exploitation of non-biological props and scaffolds. More so than any other creature on the planet, we humans emerge as natural-born cyborgs, factory tweaked and primed so as to be ready to grow into extended cognitive and computational architectures: ones whose systemic boundaries far exceed those of skin and skull.


Previous | Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 Next