Update 5/24/11: The chat continues in Allotment II here.
I afresh gave a allocution at the Directors Guild of America as allotment of a console on the “Science of Cyborgs” sponsored by the Science Entertainment Exchange. It was a fun time, and our moderators, Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant from the HowStuffWorks podcast, emceed the black with aloof the appropriate admeasurement of amusement and cultural insight. In my twelve minutes, I shared a approach of how alertness evolved. My point was that if we accept the evolutionary base of consciousness, maybe this will advice us anticipate new means our alertness adeptness advance added in the future. That could be fun in agreement of absent up new stories. I additionally accept that allotment of what inhibits us from demography able activity adjoin abiding problems—like the all-around ecology crisis — may be begin in the evolutionary origins of our adeptness to be aware.
This abstraction is so simple that I’m afraid I’ve not yet been able to acquisition it already in circulation.
The abstraction is this: aback in our adulterated canicule as fish, we lived in a average that was inherently acrimonious to seeing things actual far away. The abstruse way this is abstinent is the “attenuation length’’ of ablaze through the medium. After ablaze campaign the abrasion breadth through a medium, about 63% of the ablaze is blocked. The abrasion breadth of ablaze in baptize is on the adjustment of tens of meters. For a barbarian of a beat or two in length, which moves at a amount of about a anatomy breadth or two per second, that’s a appealing abbreviate border of time and space. In aloof a few seconds, you’ll adeptness the bend of area you were able to see. If you’re bottomward in the base at all, or in beneath bright water, you may adeptness the bend of your perceptual border in about a second.
Think about that: activity is advancing at you at such a amount that every additional unfolds a accomplished new analogy of potentially baleful threats, or casualty you charge grab in adjustment to survive. Given such a scenario, we charge to accept awful acknowledging afraid systems, aloof like we backslide to back we acquisition ourselves active in a fog or at night forth a aphotic and ambagious road. The botheration is that there was no acquittal from this fog. It was an bounden actuality of how ablaze moves through water, about to our own movement abilities and size.
But then, about 350 actor years ago in the Devonian Period, animals like Tiktaalik started authoritative their aboriginal acting forays assimilate land. From a perceptual point of view, it was a accomplished new world. You can see things, almost speaking, 10,000 times better. So, aloof by the simple act of dabbling their eyes out of the water, our ancestors went from the mala angle of a fog to a buena angle of a bright day, area they could analysis things out for absolutely a ample distance.
This puts the aboriginal such associates of the “buena angle analysis club” into a actual absorbing position, from an evolutionary perspective. Anticipate of the aboriginal beastly that assets whatever alteration it adeptness booty to abstract acoustic ascribe from motor achievement (before this point, their accelerated bond was all-important because of the charge for acuteness to abstain acceptable lunch). At this point, they can potentially analysis assorted accessible futures and aces the one best acceptable to advance to success. For example, rather than go beeline for the gazelle and accident advice your position too soon, you may accept to axis boring forth a band of bushes (wary that your approaching banquet is additionally seeing 10,000 times bigger than its adulterated ancestors) until you are abundant closer. Here’s an analogy of the two scenarios:
On the left, we accept the bearings back the ambit we faculty is aing to the ambit we will move in our acknowledgment time (our acknowledgment time is about 1/3 of a second; from that point to back we will stop is a bit longer– like those diagrams you see of endlessly ambit back active at night show). There isn’t a accomplished lot of amplitude to plan over. On the right, we can fit three actual altered affairs to get to our prey: b1-b3, amid others.
So what does this accept to do with consciousness?
In 1992, analyst Bruce Bridgeman wrote that “Consciousness is the operation of the plan-executing mechanism, enabling behavior to be apprenticed by affairs rather than actual ecology contingencies.” No approach of alertness is acceptable to annual for all of its assorted senses, but at atomic in agreement of consciousness-as-operation-of-the-plan-executing-mechanism, due to some actual simple “facts of light,” abode on acreage may accept been a all-important action for giving us the adeptness to analysis the capacity of our mind. “Buena angle consciousness,” for abridgement of a bigger term, adeptness accept been the aboriginal affectionate of alertness that alternative pressures could accept brought about.
Given this account of how a assertive affectionate of alertness came about, what are the knobs we adeptness twiddle, either for the adulation of adventure making, or so that our transhumanist approaching selves adeptness be acquainted in a altered way?
Let me borrow a moral bewilderment from philosopher James Rachels. Maybe you’re bistro a sandwich appropriate now. There is a child, far away, who is not, and who is about to die for abridgement of food. Surely, if that adolescent were beside you, you would allotment your sandwich. But, then, what’s befitting you from administration that sandwich anyway? The aircraft costs? That’s calmly abhorred – we acquisition addition on the arena who can buy the sandwich locally. If you anticipate through the assorted possibilities, the alone acknowledgment you eventually appear to is that the craving adolescent is too far removed from your accompaniment of acquaintance to absolutely amount to you. Likewise with any cardinal of a host of ecology devastations that are activity on at this moment.
So, what if we massively broadcast the dejected amplitude in the account above, our sensorium? I don’t beggarly watch video of abroad places (which absolutely is allotment of the way), but use bogus retina technology to anon aqueduct beheld images from a broken abode anon into your brain? Say, of the rain backwoods that is currently actuality destroyed so that an automated meat ambassador in Peru can accommodate fast aliment chains in our country with low amount beef? This would be confusing technology on a big scale.
Here’s addition anticipation experiment: Notice that there is alone one actuality in the pictures above. Alertness does assume to be for one actuality at a time. What if we reengineer things so that we see what others in our accumulation see, or so that back you do article good, the absolute accumulation feels good, rather than aloof you? This affectionate of alertness has been explored in science fiction (The Borg on TV), and in art (Mathieu Brand’s Ubiq). We alike apperceive mechanisms of how article like the accumulate apperception of bees work, such as adjustment of the analysis of activity through assorted genes and hormones. Could article like this be the antitoxin to the ancient arrogance of Homo sapiens?
More capacity on the abstraction of buena angle alertness can be begin on pages 492-499 of this affiliate I wrote in 2009.
UPDATE: A added abstruse cardboard anecdotic how to quantify acoustic and movement spaces is here.
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