The Future of Consciousness

Nanotechnology may enable the dream of Mind/Tech merger to materialize. At long last, debates about the nature of consciousness will move from the domain of philosophy to large scale experiments. The visions of consciousness interfacing with, or existing within, computers or mind piloted robots expressed by Moravec, Margulis, Sagan and Max Headroom could be realized. Symbiotic association of replicative nanodevices and cytoskeletal networks within living cells could not only counter disease processes, but lead to exchange of information encoded in the collective dynamic patterns of cytoskeletal subunit states. If these are indeed the roots of consciousness, a science fiction-like deciphering and transfer of mind content may become possible. One possible scenario could utilize a small window in a specific brain region. Hippocampal temporal lobe, a site where memories enter and where electromagnetic radiation from outside the skull penetrates most readily and harmlessly, is one possible area where information distributed throughout the brain may perhaps be accessed and manipulated. Techniques such as laser interferometry, electroacoustical probes scanned over brain surfaces, or replicative nanoprobes immunotargeted to key hippocampal tubulins, MAPs, and other cytoskeletal components might be developed to perceive and transmit the content of consciousness.

What technological device would be capable of receiving and housing the information emanating from some 1015 tubulin subunits changing state some 109 times per second? One possibility is a customized array of nanoscale automata, perhaps utilizing superconducting materials. Another possibility is a genetically engineered array of some 1015 tubulin subunits (or many more) assembled into parallel tensegrity arrays of interconnected microtubules, and other cytoskeletal structures. Current and near future genetic engineering capabilities should enable isolation of genes responsible for a specific individual's brain cytoskeletal proteins, and reconstitution in an appropriate medium. Thus the two evident sources of mind content (heredity and experience) may be eventually reunited in an artificial consciousness environment. A polymerized cytoskeletal array would be highly unstable and dependent on biochemical, hormonal, and pharmacological maintenance of its medium. Precise monitoring and control of cytoskeletal consciousness environments may become an important new branch of anesthesiology. Polymerization of cell-free cytoskeletal lattices would be limited in size (and potential intellect) due to gravitational collapse. Possible remedies might include hybridizing the cytoskeletal array by metal deposition, symbiosis with synthetic nanoreplicators, or placement of the cytoskeletal array in a zero gravity environment. Perhaps future consciousness vaults will be constructed in orbiting space stations or satellites. People with terminal illnesses may choose to deposit their mind in such a place, where their consciousness can exist indefinitely, and (because of enhanced cooperative resonance) in a far greater magnitude. Perhaps many minds can comingle in a single large array, obviating loneliness, but raising new sociopolitical issues. Entertainment, earth communication, and biochemical mood and maintenance can be supplied by robotics, perhaps leading to the next symbiosis-robotic space voyagers (shaped like centrioles?) whose intelligence is derived from cytoskeletal consciousness.

Yes, this is science fiction. Will it become reality like so much previous science fiction has? Probably not precisely as suggested; but if past events are valid indicators, the future of consciousness may be even more outrageous.

Figure 11.1: Multiple STM tip probing microtubule. By Paul Jablonka (Schneiker and Hameroff, 1987).
0 0

Post a comment