Saturday, August 31, 2019

stranger in a strange land

We humans can be such strange beings. It’s almost chilling to realize that the following was inconceivable, the middle of the last century:

Neuroscientists have recently employed the biotechnology of turning mature human cells back to stem cells (skin-to-stem, in the case at hand), in order to grow new brain cells in lab dishes to become self-replicating human brain cell groups; and the fresh cell groups eventually evince neural fields. The groups grow, the neural fields strengthen. Researchers gain large enough instances of neural-fielding brain tissue that they can simulate Alzheimer’s, then test it with potential medicines. Or hook neural groups to a robot that moves in accord with the neural waves of cell groups.

One researcher has sent a box of the beings into space (via the International Space Station) to observe (with little cameras in the box) the effect of zero gravity on neural group reproduction—testing epigenesis in weightlessness.

One reader of the NYTimes report on this worries that the little groups may become “conscious” in the foreseeable future.

I think not. Our lineage reaches back nearly 4 million years, and no other form of life has evolved to probe and play like we do or to worry about bionic excessiveness.

Anyway, I promised an update here for today, then dreaded that because I’m so busy with stuff I can’t briefly share that I feared posting pointlessly, just to keep my promise. But the above came to mind, because it fascinates me. My NYTimes comment failed to add (though implicit in my hurried mind) that we don’t face any ethical issue in swatting a housefly successfully, so where is the boundary for actional intelligence to gain ethical merit? I’ll never forget my enchantment by a wasp I witnessed, one sunny afternoon, lounging on a leaf while scratching its head with one leg. The shape of the leaf seemed to inhibit the wasp a little. It stopped scratching, moved around a bit, then continued scratching its head. Or a little spider I saw one afternoon, stilled in the center of its perpendicular web, as if asleep. I flipped a tiny bit of twig into an edge of its web. The spider moved a bit, then climbed over to the twig, picked it up with two legs, moved its grip to the end of the twig, held the twig out from its web, then dropped it and climbed back to its sleeping spot. There was instrumental intent for both the wasp and the spider. How are we to measure the boundary of “consciousness” that becomes ethical?

Do you know that there’s a realistically speculative literature on what being “post-human” might be? Our accelerating evolution will be quickly beyond what we can imagine now.

And there will be contact with Absolute Others beyond Earth. Talk about chilling.