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Mindful : October 2018
IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT THAT NEUROSCIENCE LEARNS EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THE BRAIN, WILL IT HAVE EXPLAINED EVERY INEFFABLE MYSTERY ABOUT THE MIND? in preserved brains, will “capture functionally relevant features of brain circuits from which mind and cognitive functions emerge”—possibly by 2075 to 2100—neuroengineer Randal Koene told the 2017 SharpBrains summit. But if brain emulations built from connectomes come to pass, is the emulation you? Or is it “just” a copy? That and related questions echo those that I explored in my very first Brain Science column in Mindful in April 2013 (available at mindful. org/mind-vs-brain): Is there is a mind separate from brain? Is mind “only” what the brain does? In the unlikely event that neuroscience learns everything there is to know about the latter, will it have explained every ineffable mystery about the former? If someone does emulate a brain in silicon, will the silicon version of you sleep and dream, and if it doesn’t, will that degrade its information content? If the brain upload is in the cloud, does it have consciousness? If conscious- ness is an “emergent property” of brain activity (essentially a happy accident), then it might. Will it suffer something like the mental and sensory deprivation of solitary confinement? Will it won- der where it is and how it got there, tormented by existential despair? It boggles the mind! Hay worth envisions installing the brain upload in a sensory-enabled robot, so as to avoid at least the last two questions. And to those who arg ue that the upload couldn’t be the person whence it came, he asks, if C-3PO’s hard drive were transferred to a new droid, would anyone doubt that it is still C-3PO? No. How about if the hard drive were copied perfectly, and put into a second robot; would that be C-3PO also? Yes, he said: “Making copies of C-3PO doesn’t raise philosophical questions for most people. But if we accept the materialist neuroscience view (in which the mind is the brain), we have to accept that a simulation will be you.” Failing to pursue research that might make brain emulation possible is therefore unethical, Hayworth argues. “There are moral implica- tions to knowing you could have preserved the information content of a human brain but instead said, ‘nah, screw it’” he says. If we do not at least try to develop the technolog y to preserve the unique patterning of neural circuitry that encodes an individual, including “the memories and knowledge of Holocaust survivors before they all die, that, to me, would be as if we again burned the library of Alexandria” and lost an incalculable store of human experience. ● October 2018 mindful 37