Futurisms: Critiquing the project to reengineer humanity

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bug or Feature?

I came across an amusing juxtaposition recently on the subject of the brain. The first part comes in the form of this video about neuro-enhancement, basically a clever advertisement for the new novel Amped by Daniel H. Wilson (of Robopocalypse fame):


The video is about a hypothetical brain implant that will increase focus, and at the 1:13 mark you will see it “at work” preventing a young boy from daydreaming about riding a dinosaur. (In passing, let me just note also how amazing it is that Wilson, having just written a novel on the subject, professes never to have thought about whether he would want such an implant.)

But then, coming late to the game, I also came across a reference to an April post at the Smithsonian’s Surprising Science blog about “The Benefits of Daydreaming”:

A new study published in Psychological Science by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science, suggests that a wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory. Cognitive scientists define this type of memory as the brain’s ability to retain and recall information in the face of distractions.

So maybe a wandering mind is better able to focus than a focused mind?

Now, I can almost hear some of our committed transhumanist readers saying, “Well, we want to be focused when we want to be focused and to daydream when we want to daydream, and a real enhancement will obviously allow us to do both.” Fair enough — although lurking not so far beneath the surface of this reasonable-sounding qualification is the voracious desire to have whatever we want whenever we want it that is the mighty if not very mature engine of transhumanist imagination.

And if I were to dare say that these contrasting views of daydreaming suggest transhumanists might face a problem unless they think more carefully about what would really constitute human enhancement and why, then I could pretty well count on being reminded that this is a question we all ought to be able to answer for ourselves. And there’s that mighty engine again....