Is mind in your head, and will technology alter it?

March 809 cyborg3By Alan Brush

Your mind is not all in your head, according to some philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists. In the 1998 essay The Extended Mind, philosophers Andy Clarke and David Chalmers argued that the mind is a system made up of the brain and parts of its environment. Now Discover magazine, with the article, How Google is Making Us Smarter, makes the case that the view of Clarke and Chalmers can be helpful in understanding the mind and in judging today’s mind-altering technologies.

And in Scientific American this week: The brain appears to be far more malleable than researchers once thought…behavior and environment can cause substantial rewiring or reorganization of its functions.

Speak your mind: Is technology turning us into cyborgs?


  1. Posted March 14, 2009 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Could technology turn us into cyborgs? It's not a matter of "could." It's already happening — with more and more body parts are replaced by man-made versions (gold teeth, heart valves, metal hips, and injections and implants were just the start), the evolution (if you wanna call it that) is already well underway.

    It's sounds sort of monstrous and unnatural. But there's something to be said for all of this being a sort of natural next step for humankind — we're toolmakers and toolusers, and so the tools we make and the ways we use them are only going to get more sophisticated.

    Raymond Kurzweil talked about this in his book "The Age of Spiritual Machines." Here's a long video of him talking at a TED conference about how "by the 2020s, "we will have reverse-engineered the human brain and nanobots will be operating our consciousness" — and a lot more.

    [youtube IfbOyw3CT6A youtube]

  2. Posted March 15, 2009 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    PS: Writing that made my mind hurt. Maybe I need to change a fuse …

  3. Posted March 15, 2009 at 12:55 am | Permalink

    Two statements are of interest here: a) That "mind" may partially be composed of one's environment – a very Buddhist idea that makes intuitive sense to me/us. (If I play Bach softly, then play the Sex Pistols loud, my thoughts change.) b) We may be cyborgs.

    Are we?

    Many of us are people who spend our days in artificially lit environments, breathing processed air, listening to machines hum in the background, interacting with computers (as I'm doing now). If statement "a" is true, we are already cyborgs – part human, part machine – because that external portion of our minds is composed of mechanical devices.

    Some might say our goal is to strengthen the human element in our cyborg natures, but that's a complex discussion for another day. Isn't it?

    (Please note: you read this on a computer – meaning your reaction to it is the product of a human/machine hybrid. Make of that what you will …)

  4. MollyDeShong
    Posted March 15, 2009 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    If we're talking about relative mind, sure, all can be altered. As RJ points out, our way of perceiving and cognizing is being altered by myriad interdependent causes and conditions between humans and their world. all the time (and always has been).

    But what about ultimate mind? Is there something that is unalterable? A basic, fundamental state, or presence, or awareness? As a Buddhist, I've tended to "think" so…

  5. Posted March 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    Now we're into a VERY interesting, other area — one that I think illustrates a seldom-discussed divide among Buddhists: is there an unalterable fundamental state or awareness, or is everything impermanent (in a hard-core vipassana interpretation)? Is "shunyata" something … or truly nothing?

    For now I've accepted that my mind can't grasp the answer, although I lean one way …

  6. Posted March 15, 2009 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    In playing around with our new IntenseDebate commenting software, I managed to delete at least mine, so here's that one again: Thanks RJ, I've wandered into describing something that *is* truly indescribable — "call it" shunyata, or absolute, or mind that is beyond all causes and conditions. There is nothing and could never be anything to describe. However, there is experience… and therein lies the rub.

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