Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 91

Monkey Mind

Buddha was part messiah, part psychologist.

Some 2,500 years ago, Buddha watched crazed monkeys flinging themselves through the treetops… jumping and chattering non-stop. Buddha related these non-human primate antics to the world’s constant clammering for the human brain’s attention. Taming this “monkey mind” through meditation would release a higher power, and offer transcendence towards a deeper state of consciousness.

So just “Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin?

The mind-brain interface is a centuries-old conundrum that remains at the center of this debate. Concrete thinkers (scientists) support the skull-skin demarcation. Abstractionists (philosophers) hold that the mind’s effects are projected externally. A third more modern school of thought reflects an active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes.

In 1998, Andy Clark and David Chalmers (above) described computer interactions with the human mind in an article titled, The Extended Mind. They depicted human problem-solving – the precise placement of geometric shapes into sockets – in three ways. In one approach, humans asked the computer questions that mentally maneuvered the shapes until they fit. The second operator physically manipulated the computer screen image until alignment occurred. Finally, in what the authors’ projected as the “cyberpunk future”, a third operator with a neural implant performed both mental and physical rotations faster than ever. The Catch? – the neural implanted operator must choose which mode to use based on differing demands for attention and impacts on other concurrent brain activities.

This prescient philosopher duo suggested that the neural implant scenario was not “exotic”, and that rapidly advancing computing power had provoked this very issue. They posited that human reasoners lean heavily on any and all available external supports. Computations once done with an abacus or using pencil & paper gave way to the slide ruler, were supplanted by the digital calculator, and then made obsolete by the computer microprocessor. Despite initial resistance to the extended mind theory (EMT), modern mobile device technology now rings their hypothesis true.

Enter social media.

An old adage holds that you need to repeat things 7-8 times for some people to “get it.” Today, social media provides 70-80 repeats a day. Scientists understand that in any human-computer interface, the brain shares internal tasking operations with externally modulated inputs. Social media influencers count heavily on such cognitive manipulations for their follow “success.”

Now wrap your head around the mind-device interface.

Modern mobile devices are more than inert tools. They’re an extension of the human brain… potentiating a higher consciousness. The technology we use becomes part of our mind – integrating without being physically implanted. For centuries, we’ve extended bodily functions with technology – wheels, prosthetics, cars, canes, even electric guitars. Wearable devices now enhance sensorial perception.

Healthy humans have surrendered a number of basic brain functions to technology.

iPhones need not be implanted in our brains to influence our minds. For example, they offer a conveniently mind-numbing alternative to number recall, day planning functions, personal navigation, etc. Blind persons can use iPhones to register their surrounding topography in ambient colors, providing visual imagery far beyond simple glass lenses.

Alzheimer’s patients get a memory boost from external cues, like refrigerator Post-it notes.
Brain chauvinists overvalue what is happening in the brain (biology), versus the external drivers of what the brain is doing (technology). Consciousness offers us mindfulness (philosophy), but true feelings reside at the psychic core of our minds (psychology). Mercifully, none of these “-ologies” are reproduced by artificial intelligence... Yet!

Increasingly, our minds exists outside our consciousness.

Go ahead and query Siri – “Is my iPhone an extension of my mind?” Her simple answer is, “Interesting question.” Then ask her, “Is my mind an extension of my iPhone?” Siri promptly directs you back the EMT and to Andy Clark’s 2009 book, Supersizing The Mind.

Neither philosophers nor Siri do well with such untenable dualisms.   

Give a monkey an iPhone, and… it wants a banana.” (… so you fill in the blank). Seriously, unlike we evolved (read technology-addicted) humans, monkeys can turn their brains off from such externalities. So for non-human primates, at least, there’s hope.

The movie Futureworld eagerly awaited The Extended Mind. But make no mistake – as in 1976, in 2026 there will be a final reckoning.

We in the Square want see what an iPhone-12 can do for the primate mind.

But for now, the human price of technology is clear.

It’s the monkey mind!

No comments:

Post a Comment