Volume 2, Issue 1
1st Quarter, 2007

What it Might "Feel" Like to be Connected to Devices That Will Expand or Enhance Human Function With Cyber Abilities

Lawrence J. Cauller, Ph.D

This article was adapted from a lecture given by Professor Larry Cauller, Ph.D. at the 2nd Annual Colloquium on the Law of Transbeman Persons, on December 10th, 2006 at the Space Coast Retreat of Terasem Movement, Inc., Melbourne Beach, FL.

Larry, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Texas, shares what he calls the Neuro Interactive Paradigm to further the understanding of how the dynamics of the nervous system works toward the next stage of bio-consciousness; the immergence of fusing the biological with the artificial.

Image 1 - What it might 'feel' like

I've been working with neuro-engineers trying to develop an interface between the nervous system and peripheral devices such as artificial arms. With massive funding from the Defense Department, neuro-engineers from around the world are charging full steam ahead to develop direct links between the human nervous system and intelligent robotic systems.

I agree that it is time to carefully consider the ramifications of this technological gold-rush and attempt to create a realistic vision of how far is this is going to take us. We need to ask questions about the personal impact of neural interface technology, like what would it feel like to have sensory inputs from external devices such as infrared cameras, radar/sonar scanners, laser microscopes or WebPages channeled directly into our nervous system, expanding our subjective experience beyond the limits of our imagination? Or what might we become when neural interface technology enables us to directly externalize our thoughts and intentions, giving us ‘telekinetic’ control over computers or robotic systems that respond to our unspoken commands, expanding our sense of self beyond the limits of our body?

Image 2 - Beyond the question

Philosophers have been thinking about the problem of qualia, which is - what does somebody else's experience feel's like, for centuries.

I'm assuming the point of view that personal, subjective experience, is absolutely inaccessible to others. However, there is a new way of looking at how feeling is generated, how we develop our sense of perception, how the process of experience works, that offers us significant insight into what it might be like when neural interface technology will enable us to expand our abilities by direct connection with cyber devices.

I call this new world view the NeuroInteractive Paradigm because it emphasizes the interaction between the environment and the nervous system, between different parts of the nervous system, the motor system, the sensory system, between neurons far and near with respect to the development of self, the growth of natural intelligence and the dynamical principles that we can apply not only to our understanding of how our nervous system works, but also to how all types of human higher function emerges, from our ability to gain an appreciation of new art forms, to the evolution of our greater world view by scientific discovery.

The NeuroInteractive Paradigm raises the possibility that if we can determine the dynamical mechanics of our higher human abilities, we may apply those dynamics in an artificial system and expect, to the extent that we can reproduce the brain's dynamical behavior, to seamlessly fuse the biological with the artificial for the emergence of a greater bio-consciousness that I believe will catalyze new forms of human evolution.

Image 3 - We Create Our Experience

The first thing to realize is that the conventional way of looking at how the nervous system processes sensory information resembles something like watching a television screen, with the eyes bringing information in like a video camera. There are many ways to demonstrate how this conventional point of view is totally wrong.

For one thing, the content of our subjective experience is far greater than can be explained on the basis of the information coming in through our eyes and other senses. It is relatively simple to show you a few examples to illustrate this point. For instance, what you're seeing here on the right is tracking eye movements during a 30-second period.

Image 4 - The world is too complex

The eyes jump around from one spot to another as it examines an object such as this, and yet when we look at the object, it appears stationary. Now, if we were just looking at a TV monitor receiving inputs from a video camera jumping around like this - the way our eyes move, the picture would be jumping all over the place. But our experience is stable, it's continuous, it's smooth, and far too rich to be directly driven by the very limited information we receive through our eyes and other senses.

Image 5 - The world is too complex

This is further illustrated by the fact that our eyes can only provide high density, high resolution information with color from the central ten degrees or so of our visual field, which is only to the width of two thumbs at arm's length.

Yet we see the world around us in full living color, despite the fact that there are no color receptors in the majority of the eye to process the peripheral field of our visual experience out here, we fill that in, we imagine it. We fill in the details of our created experience by jumping around with our eyes and checking to make certain that we are right about what we think is out there.

This ‘NeuroInteractive’ process that creates our subjective experience is the engine that drives our conscious lives, building our understanding of the world upon our unique history of personal experiences acquired over a lifetime of interacting. So what we do, every moment from the beginning is, we learn to see and to touch, and to use our senses to create the best subjective experience that accounts for the world’s many uncertainties. This image demonstrates the powerful role of learning in our visual experience.

Image 6 - We learn to see

When you first see this jumbled scattering of black dots and splotches across the screen, you are unlikely to see the visual scene it portrays because most of the detailed information has been removed. But all I have to do is show you this outline to help you realize that there is a dog here walking and suddenly you can see it and much more.

Image 7 - See the Dog

In fact, it becomes hard not to see it. I've seen it so many times, I cannot NOT see the dog.

Image 8 - Visualize

Over time, I’ve learned to see the detailed picture. I see a tree back here and leaves on the walk and all the spatial complexity of a three dimensional natural scene.

We all have this natural ability to create our subjective sense of the world around us with far richer detail and deeper significance than can possibly be accounted for by our limited sensory capacity. The process by which we create our subjective experience is fundamental to consciousness itself, comparable to day dreaming and imagination, competing for our conscious lives.

I like to quote the neuroscience visionary, Rodolfo Llinas[1], who suggested in the book Mindwaves[2] in 1986 that “Perception is a dream modulated by sensory inputs”. The explosive evolution of conscious brains can be directly attributed to this ability to create subjective experience. For many decades, predominant theories of brain have assumed that subjective experience is driven by sensory inputs that are transformed into internal representations of the external world. According to this view, behavior is primarily a reactive response to external stimuli. But it is widely acknowledged that the processing time required to accumulate sufficient sensory information to reconstruct our perception of the world in this way would severely delay our ability to respond and adapt to dynamic challenges. And this process would be even slower in large complex brains making them even less adaptable.

In contrast, the new ‘NeuroInteractive’ Paradigm emphasizes our natural ability to create our own personal subjective experience, which instantly combines every sensory expectation we've acquired over the course of our lifetime synthesized into the experience that best captures everything we’ve learned through our interactions with the world.

Our conscious behavior is proactively driven by a continuous cycle of NeuroInteractivity that probes the environment, learns the sensory consequences of each probing action, and refines our subjective experience or searches for reliable expectations to construct new experiences.

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[1] Rodolfo Llinás (1934-) born in Bogota Colombia. He is the Thomas and Suzanne Murphy Professor of Neuroscience and Chairman of the department of Physiology & Neuroscience at the NYU School of Medicine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodolfo_Llin%C3%A1s March 9, 2007 11:52AM EST

[2] Mindwaves - Blakemore, Colin, and Susan Greenfield. Mindwaves : thoughts on intelligence, identity, and consciousness. Oxford, UK: B. Blackwell. 1987.

ISBN: 0631146229 : 9780631146223 9780631146223 0631146229

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