Transhumanist Visions May be Impossible

Although it’s difficult to predict what modern technology will and won’t be able to do even a couple decades into the future, people still do it all the time. One of the most far-fetched and yet thrilling predictions? 31-year-old Russian billionaire and tech-giant Dmitry Itskov’s claim that by 2045, humans will be able to digitize their consciousness and upload¬†themselves¬†onto the cloud, i.e. achieve immortality (so long as there’s WiFi). Itskov is part of the transhumanist movement, an international and intellectual aspiration to transform the human condition by developing widely available technology that will enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Itskov’s 2045 Initiative is a source of hope for many, and according to his website, even the Dalai Lama supports the idea.

transhumanism2But how possible is this idea, and what kinds of obstacles lie between humankind and the cloud? There are plenty, as critics of the transhumanist movement and 2045 Initiative repeatedly point out. Here’s a list of the top three reasons why it could never happen.

1. The idea that a brain would be capable of being uploaded onto a device implies ascription to the theory that the brain is like a Turing Machine, i.e. organic minds are nothing more than classical information-processors. Though that assumption does currently drive a lot of aspects of cognitive science, there are plenty of scientists who point out gaps in the theory.

Neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis stated the following at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston: “The brain is not computable and no engineering can reproduce it… there are a lot of people selling the idea that you can mimic the brain with a computer” but that most of consciousness’s most important features are the result of unpredictable, nonlinear interactions among billions of cells. ¬†“You can’t predict whether the stock market will go up or down because you can’t compute it,” Nicole’s continued. “You could have all the computer chip ever in the world and you won’t create a consciousness.”

2. Phenomenal experience is not explicable.

Famous philosopher David Chalmers believes that it’s unlikely that humans will ever be able to explain how incoming sensations get translated into subjective feelings like the experience of color, taste, or the pleasurable sound of music. He points out that we have on idea why we’re even conscious at all: “How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience rises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.”

transhumanism33. Classical computers wouldn’t be up for the challenge of hosting unitary phenomenal minds. There is something called the binding problem, which refers to humans’ inability to understand how a mind is able to segregate elements and combine problems as seamlessly as it does. Perhaps a quantum computer will work in similar ways, but a Turing computer likely can’t. Antti Revonsuo said, “Binding is thus seen as a problem of finding the mechanisms which map the ‘objective’ physical entities in the external world into corresponding internal neural entities in the brain.”

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