Andy Clark:
Natural-born Cyborgs (Oxford Univ Press, 2003)

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One day Andy Clark woke up and realized that we are all cyborgs because our self cannot possibly be limited by our skin: it extends beyond the skin into the environment, an environment that we shape with our tools. The nonbiological tool is as much part of me as any of my biological limbs and organs. Obviously, he had never read the many biologists who had come to that realization before, from JJ Gibson to Humberto Maturana. In fact, Richard Dawkins' seminal book "The Extended Phenotype" (1982) is never mentioned. Certainly, as Clark points out in the very first pages, the tools are getting smarter and smarter, therefore creating a smarter and smarter appendix to our mind... to the point that it is not clear where the self ends the external world begins. But has always been true, and not only of human beings: can a spider exist without its spiderweb? Can a bird exist without a nest? Can we survive without clothes? Can a blind person live without a cane? Every biological being lives in symbiosis with its environment via the tools it builds. Clark points out that "mind-expanding technologies" date to the age of pen and paper. The term "cyborg" was coined by Manfred Clynes and Nathan Kline in their seminal paper "Cyborgs and Space" (1960). Influenced by Wiener's Cybernetics, they imagined "cybernetic organisms" (cyborgs) capable of extending outside themselves their self-regulating control functions. Every living being is a self-regulating system, that continuously strives to maintain its state despite and by interacting with a changing environment. It turns out that pretty much every living organism achieves that self-regulation by utilizing some "tool" that lies outside its boundary. This symbiosis creates higher systems of self-regulation: the whole biosphere is such a self-regulating system. In the human world, an airplane is a self-regulating system made of a pilot and a computer. The human brain solves problems utilizing not only its body but also a variety of (increasingly smarter) nonbiological tools.
Clark was writing this book at the time when smartphones were just beginning to spread, but foresaw that they would become a veritable extension of the body. Clark also envisioned Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence agents before they became popular; and he saw that Virtual Reality and Wearable Computing were going to become commodities. Clark's point was that this human-machine hybrid cannot be separated into "human" and "world" anymore because the world has become so intelligent that biological intelligence and nonbiological intelligence coevolve. (A concept that i too discussed in my book on consciousness). Unlike Clynes and Kline, who thought that the merger of biological and nonbiological elements would free the human mind to do other things but not change it, Clark believes that such a merger changes the mind ("who and what we are"). The external entities that help us "reason" become part of our psychological person; or, equivalently, our person is changed as it enters in this symbiotic relationship with smarter and smarter tools.

To prove this speculation scientifically, Clark delves into neuroscience, but that is the least convincing part of the book: he selectively quotes a couple of scientists and ignores a vast body of literature on how the brain works, grows and changes (a topic that is far from settled).

The discussion inevitably mentions Miguel Nicoletis' bionic experiments (see his book "Beyond Boundaries").

Clark introduces "telepresence" with Daniel Dennett's thought experiment "Where am I?" in which Dennett imagines a person whose brain has been removed from the body but still perfectly connected with all the appropriate nerves via radio signals. Everything works fine: the brain receives perceptions from the body and sends commands to the body. Until one day the body falls victim to an avalanche. The brain is safely in a laboratory while the body is trapped under the rocks. The brain feels that it is trapped under the rocks, but, when the radio signals stop, the brain feels that it is simply a blind and deaf person in the laboratory

Telepresence has been mainly employed by artists such as Eduardo Kac, Lynn Hershman, Ken Goldberg, Eric Paulos... These artists have proven Clark's thesis that new technologies can alter our sense of presence, the sense of where we are. Body extension has also been practiced by artists, notably by Stelarc. Clark argues that the actions that one can perform define who we are. Borrowing from Dennett's "multidraft" theory (see Dennett's book "Kinds of Minds"), Clark believes that there is no central self but a "narrative" self is continuously constructed based on what our body does.

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