In this week’s spotlight I would like to turn your thoughts for a moment to consciousness. When you think of consciousness, what comes to your mind? Do you consider the notion of who you are as part of your consciousness? I mean, if your memories were erased and synthetic memories took their place and your personality changed as a result, how would this impact your consciousness?
Now, if consciousness to you is about who you are, then you should know that many of the new neurotechnologies potentially threaten that. Indeed, in the Journal of Life Sciences and Policy, the authors of a new study suggest that the freedom of mind is at risk. “Marcello Ienca, lead author and PhD student at the Institute for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Basel, said: “The mind is considered to be the last refuge of personal freedom and self-determination, but advances in neural engineering, brain imaging and neurotechnology put the freedom of the mind at risk…Science-fiction can teach us a lot about the potential threat of technology. Neurotechnology featured in famous stories has in some cases already become a reality, while others are inching ever closer, or exist as military and commercial prototypes. We need to be prepared to deal with the impact these technologies will have on our personal freedom.’” 1
The authors of this study suggest that we need four new laws. “The right to cognitive liberty, the right to mental privacy, the right to mental integrity and the right to psychological continuity.” 2
The fact is, neurotechnology has already been used in the courts and will no doubt be used in many more creative ways in the future. Decidedly, in the near future using neurotechnology to identify the propensity toward criminality will gain traction as a preventive measure to protect society—so how far will we go?
Soul, Spirit, Consciousness
Now, if consciousness is more about the quintessential nature of life than about individual identity, then you should be aware of this new work as well. Suppose you think of consciousness from a spiritual perspective. Consciousness for most then is the stuff that we believe somehow survives the death of the physical body. However, what are we to think if we learn, as some physicists are beginning to argue, that consciousness is merely a matter of the organization of atoms. In an article titled, This Physicist Says Consciousness Could Be a New State of Matter, Max Tegmark from MIT insists just this. “…He proposes that consciousness can be interpreted as a mathematical pattern – the result of a particular set of mathematical conditions. Just as there are certain conditions under which various states of matter – such as steam, water, and ice – can arise, so too can various forms of consciousness.” 3
If consciousness turns out to be a pattern of organization, then so-called artificial consciousness may one day become indistinguishable from that of our own. For already “scientists have attempted to explain how human consciousness could be transferred into an artificial body – seriously, there’s a start-up that wants to do this,” and the “company’s CEO, Josh Bocanegra, says his team will resurrect their first human within 30 years.” 4,
Think about a future where human minds (personal consciousness) are engineered and recreated by neurotechnology, and where intelligence/consciousness is fabricated in machines, robots, cyborgs, and clones. Now what are your thoughts on consciousness?
If you have read my book, Gotcha! The Subordination of Free Will, this should be less surprising to you but no less disturbing. We seek to push the envelope in my radio show Provocative Enlightenment and provoke thinking. This one definitely has me thinking—how about you?
As always, thanks for the read and I’d love your thoughts on this one.
1. Staff. 2017. “In a Neuro-Techno Future, Human Rights Laws Will Need to Be Revisited.” Science Daily. April 26, 2017. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170426121759.htm
4. MacDonald, F. 2015. “A New Start-Up Wants to Transfer Your Consciousness to an Artificial Body So You Can Live Forever.” Science Alert. November 30, 2015. http://www.sciencealert.com/a-new-start-up-wants-to-transfer-your-consciousness-to-an-artificial-body-so-you-can-live-forever