Home > Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Science > Synthetic Synapses: Emergence on the Horizon?

Synthetic Synapses: Emergence on the Horizon?

Special thanks to Chris Martucci over at What Blag? for bringing this article to my attention. According to a recent press release, scientists have created artificial synapse circuits that could one day be utilized to create neuron-like connections in technology applicable to biotech or Artificial Intelligence. One promising application is the creation of prosthetic brains or brain segments, which could be used to help those with severe disabilities or brain injuries.

Of equal interest is the possibility that in the next century or so (depending on the rate of these sorts of advances) we might finally be in a position to answer whether emergentist claims regarding complexity thresholds for the emergence of consciousness or causal powers are legitimate or not. Should we create prosthetic or synthetic brains that approach, equal, or dwarf our own biological brains and they remain nothing more than a mechanical shell awaiting input, we shall still be left without an answer as to the nature of life itself and how it comes into existence.

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  1. May 1, 2011 at 4:03 PM

    Thanks for the kind mention, Jared. Did you see this comment?

    “The idea of a prosthetic brain is flawed, a brain is what defines a human being, once you replace parts of a brain, you are no longer the same person, which defeats trying to save someone, because you are no longer saving an individual, the essence is gone. Unlike regular cells, brain cells actually stay with you forever, those are defining human cells, they are irreplacable. Once you take those away, you kill the person.”

    Correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I know, brain cells do NOT stay with you forever. Regardless, the user brings up a legitimate philosophical concern; if a portion of a human’s brain were replaced with an artificial segment — even assuming that this segment were qualitatively identical to the original segment — presumably, this human may lose his or her continuity of conscious experience. Then again, I suppose that the alternative would be to forgo treatment and suffer some crippling brain damage; so choose your poison.

    • May 6, 2011 at 4:39 PM

      Thanks for letting me know about the article!

      I did not see that comment, actually. I think you rightly point out the Problem of Identity lurking in such potential advancements, and I agree with your treatment of it. However, as I am sure you also noticed, the commented to which you respond is replete with logical problems as well. For example, the comment says, “You are no longer saving an individual, the essence is gone.” Again, as you rightly noticed, the flawed stitch holding the comment together is that brain cells are somehow special, ‘individual-defining’ cells in our bodies, and so replacing them is tantamount to creating some sort of prosthetic soul. I think you would agree that such a proposition (from reductionist views) is absurd.

      Also, you are correct that brain cells are indeed replaced (although I think at a much slower rate than, say, skin cells). Also, neuroplasticity points toward the re-assigning of neural pathways and the creation of new neurons – so even if our brains were never able to grow new cells, neurons would constantly be reassigned anyway, making the brain an ever-changing organ nevertheless.

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