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Meditations

The Brain's Untapped Capacity for Insight
By Martin LeFevre:
Aug 8, 2019, 1:50pm

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Neuroscientists and cutting edge computer developers are in the early stages of building a "bridge between flesh and chip." Chillingly, promoters speak of a "brave new world" of thought-controlled machines--in the opposite way that Aldous Huxley meant the term. Just what are the implications of directly linking the brain with the computer?

Machines are already outpacing the speed of thought. We are being told, "our bodies are getting in the way," because the brain-eye connection is so much faster than the brain-hand capability. What is the ostensible solution? Hook the brain up directly to computers by splicing silicon chips with neuronal tissue, and abracadabra, we're one with our machines!

It is already possible, through electrodes attached to the skull, to directly mentally control, to a rudimentary degree, simulation programs and video games. Properly connected, and with a little biofeedback training, you merely think which way you want the car or plane to go on the screen, for example, and it happens.

Not surprisingly, much of the funding for the technology of "brain actuated control" is coming from the Defense Department. For example, the US government, in its desire to maintain absolute military superiority, is concerned about the load that existing technologies are putting on its fighter pilots. Technologies are being developed that would enable pilots to choose weapon systems by merely thinking about them, as well as flying their bombing missions from the ground, without risking precious American lives.

The problem goes way beyond the prevailing militaristic and capitalistic mentality however. Giving the priority to killing without risking being killed, as opposed to enabling a paraplegic to directly control machines with his or her mind, is a superlative example of how science and intelligence are two completely distinct things.

Indeed, the problem is not science and technology at all, but the lack of insight and wisdom in the use of developments that are coming online faster than anyone could have imagined a decade ago. At a deeper level, technologies that "unlock the secrets of the mind to harness its power directly, and create thought-controlled machines," as complicit neuroscientists put it, raise urgent, fundamental questions about the human mind, and what it means to be a human being.

What will happen when we're able to directly control machines with our thoughts? Without invoking the usual fear of being controlled by machines, how will the direct interface with computers change us? Will humans be reduced to "cyber minds," a combination of biological and silicon substrate?

"Brain actuated control," or, in plain English, a direct link between thought and machine, presents the possibility of either freeing the human mind, or permanently enslaving it. The trends in both history and present society do not bode well for the first prospect, that of human freedom. As things are going, there is not just a growing cognitive dependency on computers, but the obliteration of the difference between the partialities of thought and the wholeness of the brain. Not to mention the control, by foreign or domestic powers, of the minds of the masses by the few.

There is therefore a real and present danger to the essential wholeness of the brain, and to our capacity for insight arising from the healthy and balanced functioning of the body and brain. By merging the brain with the computer, we will lose capacities and potentialities we are only beginning to discover. The brain has abilities we don't haven't explored, much less understood. Therefore caution and questioning are the order of the day.

Scientists are discovering what so-called mystics have always known-that the human brain has a capacity for awareness that goes far beyond the physical boundaries of the skull. Such phenomena as direct influence on machines, telepathy, clairvoyance, remote sensing, etc., though they are being shown to exist scientifically, are unimportant.

What is essential is the brain's capacity for awareness and insight, which is the foundation of wisdom and understanding. This capacity is completely distinct from thought.

Because of its immense power to remove 'things' from the seamless wholeness of nature, and manipulate them (now at even the molecular level) at will, we strongly tend to glorify thought. Indeed, many people have a subconscious attitude of idolatry toward symbolic thought. The current fascination with all manner of technological gadgets is a symptom of overvaluing the human mind and its products. In truth, there is nothing more boring than technology for technology's sake.

The brain is immeasurably more than thought. Thought controlled machines have their place, but if we merge the brain with the computer, the brain's nearly untapped capacity for insight will be destroyed.

******

Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. lefevremartin77@gmail.com


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