Natural-Born Cyborgs

For what is special about human brains, and what best explains the distinctive features of human intelligence, is precisely their ability to enter into deep and complex relationships with nonbiological constructs, props, and aids. This ability, however, does not depend on physical wire-and-implant mergers, so much as on our openness to information-processing mergers. Such mergers may be consummated without the intrusion of silicon and wire into flesh and blood, as anyone who has felt himself thinking via the act of writing already knows. The familiar theme of “man the toolmaker” is thus taken one crucial step farther. Many of our tools are not just external props and aids, but they are deep and integral parts of the problem-solving systems we now identify as human intelligence. Such tools are best conceived as proper parts of the computational apparatus that constitutes our minds.

It just doesn’t matter whether the data are stored somewhere inside the biological organism or stored in the external world. What matters is how information is poised for retrieval and for immediate use as and when required. Often, of course, information stored outside the skull is not so efficiently poised for access and use as information stored in the head. And often, the biological brain is insufficiently aware of exactly what information is stored outside to make maximum use of it; old fashioned encyclopedias suffer from all these defects and several more besides. But the more these drawbacks are overcome, the less it seems to matter (scientifically or philosophically) exactly where various processes and data stores are physically located, and whether they are neurally or technologically realized. The opportunistic biological brain doesn’t care. Nor – for many purposes – should we.

Andy Clark, Natural-Born Cyborgs: Minds, Technologies, and the Future of Human Intelligence

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