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Human brain with an implanted chip.

What Will Elon Musk’s Neuralink Really Change, If It Catches On

Neuralink’s computer chip implants may help restore function in people with motor or sensory disabilities

Finishing the third and final podcast of the series, “Unity of Consciousness,” Walter Bradley Center director Robert J. Marks and Angus Menuge, professor and chair of philosophy at Concordia University, had a look at entrepreneur Elon Musk’s implanted brain chip venture, the Neuralink:

This portion begins at 14:28 min. A partial transcript, Show Notes, and Additional Resources follow.

Robert J. Marks: Let me end our discussion together by asking you an outlier question. Elon Musk is developing something called Neuralink. It’s a chip which goes into the brain. Its immediate application is going to be for those that are handicapped. It is going to allow them communicate directly to objects that they can’t control normally because of their handicap. Do you see something like Neuralink or augmentation of the human brain ever changing our consciousness and what we consider consciousness to be?

Angus Menuge: Well, it’s going to depend on what we mean by consciousness, because it could change our access consciousness. It can repair deficits in the flow of information, so that now a person is able to say or do something because there was a problem in sending that information to their organs and they were not able to do it.

And likewise, with hearing, there are going to be chips that will actually repair some of the neurological damage and they may restore hearing to people. But it’s not that the basic ability to be aware of something has been changed, that phenomenal consciousness. Either you have it or you don’t. It’s just that what you’re able to access and do with that consciousness will be improved by improving the flow of information to and from your consciousness.

Robert J. Marks: But it won’t change the consciousness per se?

Angus Menuge: Not what it is in itself, just its contents. In other words, you’ll be able to be conscious of some new things.

I mean, this is not surprising, really. When you think about it, if you put on infrared goggles, you can see things in the dark that you couldn’t see before. That didn’t give you some consciousness that you didn’t have in the sense that you went from not being aware to being aware. It’s rather than now you are aware of different things. So you’ve got access to information, which you didn’t have before.

Robert J. Marks: That’s interesting. When I do mathematics, for example, I can only add or multiply two numbers at a time. If I multiplied 619 by 413, I’d have to write it down because that paper is my short term memory of what I’m doing. I can only do one multiplication and then a carrier at a time. And it doesn’t seem to me that Neuralink is going to improve that.

I think that people think that we are going to be superpeople with super abilities to think and create. But I cannot comprehend it improving what I do, which is kind of one thing at a time with, of course, a short memory.

You mentioned doing a proof. You have to have that short-term memory about where you’re going and what you’re trying to accomplish, but I don’t see that as helping very much. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Angus Menuge: The instruments will obviously speed up the time before we get to a result. But really, we’re delegating something to a machine just like when we use a calculator or a computer. It doesn’t in and of itself make us any more conscious. So we will be aware of the answer more quickly but we won’t be aware of thinking to the answer more quickly because in fact this device is going to be doing that transformation for us.

Robert J. Marks: Yeah, that’s interesting. I think probably with the Neuralink, I could say what’s 438 times 528 and just refer it to a search engine. And they’ll give me the answer without me going through all of these steps at the time. So I can see acceleration in that sort of sense. Great.

Here are the five earlier portions of this six-part discussion:

Part 1: Mystery: Our brains divide up events but we experience them whole That’s one of the conundrums of consciousness. Philosopher Angus Menuge notes that something that is not just our brains unifies our experiences from the partial information scattered across many neurons.

Part 2: How split-brain surgery underlines the unity of consciousness. At one time, some thought that if the brain were split, consciousness would be too, but that did not turn out to be true. Philosopher Angus Menuge thinks that “split personality” doesn’t mean two consciousnesses but loss of access to the information that integrates mental states.

Part 3: Why do we stay the same person over time? Why not split up? It would be a total fluke if all the different clouds of atoms that produce your brain would always produce the same consciousness. But they do. Philosopher Angus Menuge argues that you have one soul, at and over time. And that explains why, despite changes, you are one consciousness, at and over time.

Part 4: Life in the plural: If there were two of you, would “you” exist? According to philosopher Angus Menuge, there can’t be two of you, because two things cannot be one thing. The case of conjoined twins who share a body but perceive life as separate individuals provides a model for understanding.

Part 5: Why don’t changes to our bodies create a different consciousness? The sense of consciousness remains single and united despite ceaseless bodily change. Philosopher Angus Menuge points out that the bodies that our minds rely on for information are mostly replaced cell by cell, yet they feel the same.

Show Notes

  • 00:30 | Introducing Dr. Angus Menuge
  • 01:04 | Unity of consciousness
  • 03:04 | Split-brain operations
  • 04:55 | Split personalities
  • 06:49 | Too many thinkers problem
  • 11:06 | Why don’t bodily changes generate a different consciousness?
  • 14:28 | Elon Musk’s Neuralink

Additional Resources

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What Will Elon Musk’s Neuralink Really Change, If It Catches On