Nice essay from Ben Medlock on Aeon:
“It’s tempting to think of the mind as a layer that sits on top of more primitive cognitive structures. We experience ourselves as conscious beings, after all, in a way that feels different to the rhythm of our heartbeat or the rumblings of our stomach. If the operations of the brain can be separated out and stratified, then perhaps we can construct something akin to just the top layer, and achieve human-like artificial intelligence (AI) while bypassing the messy flesh that characterises organic life…
…Now, it’s a bit of a leap to go from smart, self-organising cells to the brainy sort of intelligence that concerns us here. But the point is that long before we were conscious, thinking beings, our cells were reading data from the environment and working together to mould us into robust, self-sustaining agents. What we take as intelligence, then, is not simply about using symbols to represent the world as it objectively is. Rather, we only have the world as it is revealed to us, which is rooted in our evolved, embodied needs as an organism. Nature ‘has built the apparatus of rationality not just on top of the apparatus of biological regulation, but also from it and with it’, wrote the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio in Descartes’ Error (1994), his seminal book on cognition. In other words, we think with our whole body, not just with the brain.” (emphasis added)
It’s tempting to draw an analogy between computer scientists attempting to create intelligence in silico and the search for pain (or any experience for that matter) in the brain via fMRI. Disembodied ‘brains in vats‘, whether they’re made out of meat or silicon, will never provide the answers we seek.
Embodied approaches to minds and conscious experience seem to be a perfect fit for therapists of any stripe that touch others in attempts to alleviate pain.
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