Tuesday, March 3, 2009

the remote control mouse and the clueless cyborg

As a reflection of our conceptualizing neocortex, technology abstracts biology. It tears us out of the state of being that we were bound to by physical, biological or social forces, and can give rise to our own universe where we are free to choose what we ourselves experience. Changing our technological environment in order to materialize ways to happiness and 'making our world a better place' has been the predominating, peripheral, approach, which can now be complemented by an approach that modified the brain directly. This way, we can be always happy, even about the simplest things such as a blue light shining in front of us, as in the case of the modified cyborg mouse you can see in the movie above.

Dr. Ed Boyden from the MIT has found a way to modify the neurons of a mouse brain by having a custom made virus replace a few genes with those of other creatures. The behaviour codified by these genes then can get adopted by the host animal, hence rendering it a sort of clueless hybrid, the unity of brain and body getting to become torn away from its former ecological and social functional infringement.

Is this good? Yes, I would say that any increase of freedom is a good development. But again, this must be counterbalanced quickly by an overarching vision guiding these developments, before we come to get stuck into an alien world that fundamentally stems from technoprogressivist thought. As many of today's developments, and this is something I state over and over, also this fine example of neuroengineering might give rise to a kind of Brave New World, where we can enjoy instant pleasures, however it has major side-effects for our own psychology and the world as one holistic interconnected system. In other words, when we have no all-encompassing vision we float freely in a meaningless universe. We must see the cosmic beauty, if you like, that underlies all, and is already here. The complete acceptance of one's current universe is the ultimate transcendent form of being, and can never be surpassed by transitory forms of happiness, or 'fun', as induced so much by our current technologies. I wish for technologies that take away directedness, aboutness, and make us feel the beauty of all that is, now, here, in the this beyond pointing. Then we come to empathize with a holistic form of beauty that we can then uplift while staying in tune with our physicality, our biological urges, our social identity, our reflective understanding, but also having this transcendent notion that the ultimate form of beauty is beyond this, and that the only really meaningful way to live is to succumb to this beauty, forget the self, and try to make this beauty even more beautiful by envisioning our own universe. A universe that we become in the act of creation, and create in the act of becoming. To me technology like the aforementioned example from neuroengineering makes us a bit like infants, who get stuck in perception-action loops without understanding anything about what they're doing and its ultimate purpose. In a sense, this is what technology has been doing all the time, but in very sophisticated, hardly noticeable, and deceptive ways.

Let's not become clueless cyborgs, but cosmic cyborgs.

You can find more about MIT's Neuroengineering and Neuromedia Lab's work on Wired.com: Rewiring the Brain

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