I think, therefore I am. So as I once thought, I was, once upon a time. Can it follow that if, after a period of time in which I am not thinking at all, I begin thinking again, can I begin being again and, if so, do I pick up being where I left off thinking or do I renew being from the point at which I renew thinking? The idea of the self and the possibility of its continuity can get even more complicated if we imagine the re-constitution of someone not as they were when they ceased thinking (decrepit in their palliative care bed) but as they were at the peak of their vitality, possibly many decades before the mortal coil was shuffled off.
Reflections on self, consciousness, and how thinking makes things so: all this provides the basis of a fascinating article in the National Geographic, reflecting on a book entitled “The Man Who Wasn’t There: Investigations into the Strange new Science of the Self”. As the lately departed Oliver Sacks was fond of pointing out, we learn a lot about ourselves through the neuroscience of abnormality, as with body integrity identity disorders where brains can sense limbs that are no longer there or, even more spookily, sense the absence of body parts that actually are there.
A characteristic of humanity without an analogue yet in Artificial Intelligence is that any consciousness is evolving, not static. The brain creates and shapeshifts its sense of place within a wider map of entities. The National Geographic article has some fun invoking the distinctions implicit in George Harrison’s I Me Mine, in which the holistic self is made up of a driving agent; and is the object of external experiences and actions; and includes a wider community of entities with which the self identifies.
The challenge of cryonics lies as much in philosophy as in biology, and de-frosting humans will be metaphysically more complicated than re-constituting the mastodon.
Lively Stuff from Planet BAM!
- Out of Nothing, Something: study of the placebo effect leads to the science of optimism
Not so much Mind over Matter, as Will over Matter: this reflection on the power in positive thinking examines the impact of our status as social animals on our cognition and belief systems. What are the benefits of solitude as against the perils of loneliness? And providing a useful caveat, Psychology Today reminds us that not all placebos are created equal.
- There’s lots of hype around “neuro-marketing”, but here are some useful ideas
Not so much “secrets” as practical applications of common sense about human nature
- Cognitive Assessment & Training Market is projected to be worth $7.5B by 2020
The value of all this neuroscientific poking and prodding will triple in the next five years