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

Page 4 of 8

Image 27 - Similar to the Neurolinteractive

We might imagine what neuron-cyber enhancement might feel like by analogy with the NeuroInteractive process responsible for the development of new interactive abilities and the role of action-prediction networks in the creation of subjective experience.

When advances in neural interface technology reach the point where we are no more hesitant to hook up to neuro-integrated systems that expand our abilities to interact with the world and each other than we are to upgrade our Windows operating system, how will our experience evolve when we integrate our nervous system with an exoskeleton body with superhuman strength or the ability to fly? Or how will our experience of reality be transformed when we enhance our abilities to sense the consequences of our actions with x-ray vision that allows us to look into each other’s bodies or nano-vision with which we can see the molecular structure of the world?

Typically, when someone first encounters a new technology they regress to primitive forms of interaction. For instance, the first time I donned a virtual reality (VR) helmet of an expensive new video game and experienced VR immersion for the first time. I was simply amazed, and rather than participating in the game, I wasted my expensive time in the helmet looking all around, testing the limits of this magical technology by moving suddenly, jumping off a cliff, and walking through walls like a little kid.

NeuroInteractively, I had to start from the beginning all over again to build the foundation of my self predictions in this new world before I could make sense of it. Its seems very likely that any initial experiences with the sort of neuro-cyber integration we are considering will be flooded with an even more compelling sense of child-like awe and wonder. We may further expect that the NeuroInteractive self-expansion that will emerge from neuro-cyber integration will include the sort of simultaneously exciting and terrifying feelings we’ve all experienced when we learned to drive a car.

If you talk to people that teach driving, they describe a critical point over the course of this learning process that all students must reach when the they suddenly go from being ‘in the car’, to being ‘out there’, as if the car becomes a natural extension of their body, an integral part of one’s self. From then on, they've got it.

We can expect that anyone empowered with enhanced neuro-cyber abilities will experience the sort of scary exhilaration we went through while learning to drive when we reached this critical point, self-expansion. In fact, enhancement is likely to amplify such feelings with the greater thrill of flying as one masters the controls of neuro-integrated aircraft, or cyber-crafts to zip about through the virtual worlds of cyber space.

Consider how wireless networks have so rapidly impacted every aspect of human life around the world; how we all feel more connected to others, more safe and self-secure when isolated or traveling on the one hand; more burdened with social responsibilities on the other. Such feelings pale in comparison to the sense of interpersonal connectedness that is likely to develop with neuro-cyber-enhancements that open direct communication channels between human nervous systems for the sort of extreme NeuroInteractivity that will allow us to more directly share our experiences.

It will be like learning a new language supplemented by visual images or other shared sensations that facilitate instant intimacy or the nearly telepathic expression of our most complex concepts and abstract symbolism. The feelings we might expect would include the captive fascination we experience during an illuminating lecture or an amazing tale of adventure.

By enhancing our ability to express ourselves more directly to each other, these neuro-cyber connections will enable us to interactively build an enhanced subjective experience of the common-self that predicts the experience of other conscious entities. But, just as the web has enhanced our sense of world-connectedness, while on the one hand, direct-neuro-cyber communication may enhance our mutual understanding and empathy for one another (biological or non-biological), on the other, we may feel naked or exposed if our sense of personal space is violated.

The greater understanding possible with these enhancements will probably feel like gaining a deeper appreciation for a new art form.

I recall how liberating it felt when I first realized that a Pollack painting reflected the artistic process of raw creativity in the absence of superficial external reference. Or when Picasso’s cubism forced me to see from a hyperperspective that fuses together the many aspects of everything. I became enthralled by these discoveries, at the same time I felt free to explore the new world beyond the fog, I also felt driven by an intense urgency to search for every bit of evidence that confirmed my new understanding and exercise my new ability to create a greater form of subjective experience. These same feelings accompany every advance in our ability to view the world in a way that explains more and more of our actions upon it, throughout our lifetimes, from flailing infant to Nobel Prize winner.

By enhancing one’s ability to act upon and sense the consequences of actions in new ways, in new worlds, neuro-cyber integration will certainly re-kindled these basic feelings of exploration and discovery. It will feel like discovering a new world, or realizing a new paradigm, a new world view, a greater understanding of the world, everything that comes with a new way of looking at things. For instance, a neuro-cyber enhancement that may provide a hyper-dimensional sense of the earth through space, would replace the more primitive world view and change the way the earth is seen forever, not just as an abstract concept, but the way the earth is subjectively experienced incorporating all the enhanced-action-predictions with which it has become associated.

In some ways, it occurs to me, many of the feelings that might accompany neuro-cyber integration may be like those described by people who say they have been ‘born again’, usually in the sense that they see the world from a new spiritual perspective. I don’t know all the feelings this may involve, but such individuals clearly express a ‘renewed’ sense of themselves. You asked me to imagine what it might be like, I think that the experience of some might be like that.  

Image 28 - Brain Development

Now I’d like to survey current state-of-the-art technologies for neuro-cyber integration and present some of the neurophysiologic reality of what we’ve been discussing. While it is well-established that brain development does adapt to alterations in the sensory systems, it turns out that if these challenges to the typical development of the nervous system come too late, the brain can't adapt and typical functions fail to develop.  

Image 29 - Cerebrum

The flexibility of brain development has been carefully studied in monkeys and other animals.

The normal development of the monkey visual system results in this swollen part of the cortex at the back of the brain. But if the embryo develops in the absence of eyes, even though this area of cortex develops with healthy neurons and connections, it looks quite different, as shown in this figure where it forms the folded structure typically found elsewhere in the cortex. So the fundamental structure and organization of the brain can adapt to major alterations to its normal development. You can imagine that early on in development, if neuro-cyber devices are implanted in the embryo, the brain has an extreme capacity to adapt and develop very different physical structure.

These studies of development give us every reason to expect that our brains can adapt to neuro-cyber enhancement implants. 

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