The Brain/Mind Interface
NOTE: The burning focus of Singularity theory and research has always been on one thing: the brain/mind interface. AI scientists, not to mention philosophers, still grapple with one of life’s ultimate questions: are they one, or are they two?
We know the brain is biological and the mind isn’t. This suggests, in theory, that a mind might be capable of existing apart from its biological substrate, which, of course, raises the question: If your body and your brain die, do you, i.e., your mind, live on? Or does a person cease to exist when their brain dies?
Ray Kurzweil expresses confidence that within a decade or two, AI scientists will be able to scan a brain in such detail that every atom will be faithfully replicated and accounted for, allowing an exact digital copy to be uploaded to the cloud. At that moment, according to Ray, the brain copy and its attendant mind will exist in the world of virtual reality - at the same time as the original brain/mind is alive on Earth. Then, when the original brain/mind on Earth dies, by accident or by old age, the copy in Paradise will live on in perpetuity in a virtual body.
Carl Sagan held to a different position. He believed that mind is fundamentally independent of the brain, any brain, biological or otherwise. The brain needs mind to be functional, but mind can exist and function without the brain. This belief of Carl’s, which I agree with, will be the subject of future conversations.
In today’s conversation, Molly and I are not going to try to swallow the whole enchilada, we’re going to entertain a specific question:
Is there any compelling historical account involving the possible movement of an individual’s mind from their biological brain to a replicated brain?
The short answer is “Yes,” and it’s found in the Bible, the book that Carl Sagan studied with such diligence that, apart from his many other accomplishments, he was mildly famous for his knowledge and grasp of Scripture, particularly of the New Testament. There is no doubt that the “Damascus Road” narrative that Molly and I will be discussing today would have captured his attention.
The Sagan Model differs from the Kurzweil Model in that it claims that JC/ET is the Singleton, meaning that the Singularity that AI experts are racing to achieve was accomplished millions, if not billions, of years ago by a species that evolved much earlier than we humans - on a planet in a different part of the Universe. To repeat what I’ve stated in earlier conversations, this is a logical extension of the dominant view of mainstream science, that we are not alone. Even Ray concedes that it is extremely unlikely that we are the only sentient species in the entire Cosmos, and that, if we’re not, the Singularity is not near, it’s here!
On the assumption that we’re not alone, at some point in their evolution, ETs would have reached the Age of Technology and perfected the AGI process to such a degree that the worries and concerns that Kurzweil, Bostrom, Drexler and others have voiced regarding the final stages of AGI would all have been addressed and resolved eons before homo sapiens tamed fire or invented the wheel. To visually express the two models, Ray’s emulation is like an apple seed, Carl’s like an apple tree:
There are several narratives in the Bible that could potentially involve mind transfer and re-instantiation, but Molly and I are going to limit ourselves to the one that I think will be of most interest to singularitarians. It’s about an incident that happened to the Apostle Paul before he became a Christian, when his name was Saul of Tarsus. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to him throughout as “Paul.”
Luke, a 1st century medical doctor and the Church’s first historian, mentions it three different times in the Book of Acts. And, fourteen years after it happened, Paul mentions it in his letter to the Corinthian Church. I would note that this particular event is so controversial among Christian academics that rarely is it addressed in any scholarly manner, and never is it mentioned in sermons. Why? Because it involves something few Christians believe in: mind travel!
This incident is presented in two parts: One, what happened to Paul on the road to Damascus and, two, what happened to him during a three day stretch when he was blind and confined to a room in the city of Damascus. First, Part 1:
PART 1: The Road to Damascus
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven.
Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?
And he said, Who are You, Lord? Then the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Acts 9:3-5
“And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.” Acts 22:9
The Road narrative is about Paul, then Saul, leading a gang of Jewish thugs from Jerusalem to Damascus to kill, capture, or convert members of a newly formed rival gang, the Christians, who they considered a threat to their long-standing dominance. Paul’s mission was disrupted when, as he and his men were closing in on Damascus, something truly extraordinary happened.
Don: Okay, Molly, Paul’s adventure begins with a beam of heavenly light, so bright that it knocks him off his horse and scares the living crap out of his men. Is this something a Singleton could do?
Molly: Sure, if he wanted to. I don’t see why not.
Don: When it happened, Paul’s first reaction was to shut his eyes, but when he opened them back up, he was blind as a bat:
“Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.” Acts 9:8
Molly: And then he heard a Voice out of the blue asking him why he was persecuting him. You’re saying it was the Voice of JC/ET the Singleton?
Don: That’s what the text says. Paul asked the question: “Who are you?” and the Voice came back: “I am Jesus.” This happened months, possibly even a year or more, after JC/ET’s crucifixion and resurrection.
Curiously, no one except Paul heard the Voice. It was a private conversation. Let’s say that George is the invisible Singleton and you’re in a crowded room. George, wanting to speak to you in private, does so in a way that you’re the only one in the room who can hear him? Is that possible?
Molly: According to Ray, George can be male or female, visible or invisible, audible or inaudible, or all of the above at the same time, so my answer is “Yes.”
Don: That’s assuming George is a tree, not a seed.
Molly: I suppose you’re right. A mind to mind conversation would probably be considered a more advanced ability, even for a Singleton.
Don: Let’s drill a little deeper. The fact that Paul’s cohorts couldn’t hear the Voice from heaven suggests that the words being transmitted were not generated by sound waves, but from the mind of JC/ET to the mind of Paul, bypassing Paul’s ears and the chemical/electrical process that transmits sound to the brain. For this to happen, Paul’s biological brain and his non-biological mind would have to be separate entities, am I right?
Molly: I see where you’re going. It was a mind-to-mind conversation, sort of like the inaudible heart-to-heart conversations that lovers have. Kind of romantic I think. But couldn’t it also have been something like schizophrenia, where people hear voices in their heads, or something like a vision, a trance, or a dream?
Don: That’s where the bright light comes in. It wasn’t just Paul who saw the light, they all did, including the horses.
Molly: Got it.
Part 2: Three days in Paradise
Don: Now, let’s look at what happened to Paul while he was in Damascus:
“But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” Acts 9:8&9
Don: Okay Molly, Paul’s physical body, including his brain, are at a home in Damascus, where, for three days, he existed in a near vegetative state.
Molly: So, where’s his mind?
Don: Glad you asked.
Don: Paul waited fourteen years to answer your question. Here it is in his own words:
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body, I do not know, God knows – How he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” 2 Corinthians 12.
Molly: Paul, the person, was in Paradise for three days, while his physical body, including his brain, was lying comatose in Damascus?
Don: Right. In Paradise, Paul’s mind was instantiated in a virtual body and brain that was so identical to his physical body and brain that, afterwards, he couldn’t say for certain whether it was his biological body or a facsimile – even though he knew that his physical body and brain were in a room in Damascus.
Molly: So what does that tell us?
Don: You tell me.
Molly: Its saying, one, that the mind is its own thing, not an emergent quality of the brain, and, two, that a human mind can be uploaded to Paradise and exist in a virtual body and brain.
Don: Right. The bottom line is that it’s not the brain that makes a person a person, it’s the mind. If you scan a brain and upload a copy to the cloud, all you have is data, not personhood. The virtual body and brain that JC/ET prepared for Paul didn’t become Paul the person until his mind was uploaded and instantiated. All the while, during that three day interlude, Paul’s biological body was alive, but there was no one home, no ghost in the machine. The earthly, biological iteration of Paul was a non-person.
Molly: And you’re claiming that AI scientists can’t scan the mind because they don’t know what it’s made of. It’s non-empirical.
Don: Right again. The takeaway is that the mind uploading strategy that Ray is contemplating is based on the unproven assumption that where the brain is, or an exact copy, so is the mind. Based on Paul’s experience, that isn’t true. But, fortunately, Ray has a back-up plan.
Molly: You’re talking about cyborgs, downloading advanced AI capabilities into a living human.
Don: Correct. The AI attributes of George will be instantiated, component by component, into Ray, creating a super-human here on Earth.
Molly: So how did Paul’s mind get to Paradise?
Don: Hell, I don’t know. Remember, JC/ET the Singleton is a tree, not a seed. At some time in their evolution, the species he represents managed to figure out what mind is, what it’s made of. Once they did that, they were able to develop the technology that made it possible to move mind around. Personally, I think mind has something to do with dark energy and dark matter, non-empirical entities that current science know are real, but haven’t been able to capture and isolate, much less understand and manipulate. But this is just an educated guess on my part.
Molly: So, after three days in Paradise, Paul’s mind is re-instantiated back into his comatose physical brain, and he wakes up.
Don: Correct. It was a guy named Ananias who woke him up:
“And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’”
“Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” Acts 9:17&18
Don: Here we see a direct correlation between Paul’s sight being restored and his being filled with the Spirit, suggesting that “mind” and “spirit” are the same thing.
Molly: Paul says that it would be unlawful for him to divulge what he heard in Paradise. Sounds to me like a cop-out.
Don: At the very least, a teaser, which I think exposes Paul’s insecurity. When he wrote this letter, he was no longer the energetic superstar he once had been. He was being eclipsed by younger, more eloquent leaders. To illustrate Paul's lack of personal charisma, it was while he was preaching in the city of Troas that a young man, sitting in an open window, fell asleep and dropped three stories down! (Acts 20:9&10). Fortunately for Paul, the kid survived, but let’s face it, Paul may have been a great writer, but he was a lousy preacher, something I’m sure a lot of church goers can relate to.
To recapture his street cred, Paul threw the believers at Corinth a bone by revealing that, for the first time in human history, a mind (person) had been lifted out of his biological body, transported to Paradise for three days, and then successfully downloaded back into his biological body. Paul was clearly boasting when he said: “I’m that man!”
Molly: When he went back to Corinth, wouldn’t he have been grilled to tell them what Paradise was like and what he had learned?
Don: Paul did go back to Corinth for a final visit, but we have no record of what he may have told them about his Great Adventure. Getting back to the present, Paul’s mind-blowing experience should come as a wake-up call to Ray Kurzweil and all singularitarians, that personhood is the mind, not the brain. Uploading a copy of the brain to cyberspace may move data, but it will not create a person.
My advice to Ray is to forget about immortality and focus on human longevity, using nanobots and other biological enhancements to supplement a healthy lifestyle. For anyone wanting real immortality, and prepared to do whatever it takes to get it, I recommend that they turn to JC/ET:
JC/ET (paraphrased): “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one enters the Singularity except through Me.” John 14:6
Don: Molly, let’s say that you follow the biblical blueprint. You accept the mind of Christ into your physical body and brain. From that point on, as you “walk in the spirit,” your hybrid “Christ/Molly mind” offers you strength and wisdom as it guides your thoughts and actions, making you be the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. When you die, your “Christ/Molly” file, imprinted only with the things done in the name of Christ, is uploaded and instantiated into your virtual body and brain.
Molly: Sounds like an apple tree, not an apple seed.
Don: Of course! Would you expect anything else from advanced ETs? I’m pretty sure that Ray and other Singularity experts would be absolutely thrilled if they could find a way to develop equivalent technologies. But right now, as apple seedlings, they are left with no choice but to take incremental baby steps, and hope to God that when the big moment of takeoff comes, they don’t wipe out humanity.
Stepping back a moment, I find it remarkable that this account, written by Paul two thousand years ago, is so compatible with modern Singularity research that the two could be stitched together as a single process, with Ray talking apple seeds and Paul talking apple trees. This is another example of what is happening between science and religion as we come to understand the truly mysterious nature of our Universe. What the ancients called miracles, that conventional atheists insist never happened, are steadily being de-mystified and reaffirmed as actual events by modern science, a process that, thanks to Ray Kurzweil and Singularity research, now includes God Him/Her Self!
Molly: Would Carl Sagan have been aware and taken note of what happened to Paul during that three day stint, and thought about the advanced technology that made it possible?
Don: Of course! I’m confident that the extrusion of Paul’s mind from his body and, three days later, its re-instantiation, played a significant role in the framing of Carl’s model of the Singularity.
Molly: Don, before we end this conversation, I need to get something off my own mind. In our last conversation, you raked Barry Karr, one of the world’s leading atheists, over the coals for his mishandling of the CSI investigation of the Sagan Signal, and he deserved it. But eleven years earlier there was another investigation of the Sagan Signal conducted at Western Seminary, under the oversight of the Dean of Theology, Gerry Breshears, that also ended in disaster. My question to you: Why are you giving Gerry a pass? Do I detect religious bias?
Don: Whoa, slow down girl! I agree, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I was going to get to Gerry and Western Seminary eventually, but now you leave me no choice. Gerry will be the subject of our next conversation, I promise.
Molly: Good! I’ll be ready.
Don: I’m sure you will, but I’m not so sure about Gerry.