Tuesday , September 22 2020
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Embodiment

Summary:
I listened to Philip Shepherd’s book Radical Wholeness on Audible while making my giant salad. I was annoyed by his aggressive supernaturalism and the way he attacked rich folks in a tendentious way and then denied that he was attacking them. But he had a good point about the importance of connecting to our bodies. Because Philip Shepherd was focusing on consciousness and the subconscious, the kind of “connecting to our bodies” he was really talking about was connecting fully to the full, comprehensive representation of one’s body in one’s brain. But crucially, our brain is not just in our head. The large collection of neurons in your gut has

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Embodiment

I listened to Philip Shepherd’s book Radical Wholeness on Audible while making my giant salad. I was annoyed by his aggressive supernaturalism and the way he attacked rich folks in a tendentious way and then denied that he was attacking them. But he had a good point about the importance of connecting to our bodies.

Because Philip Shepherd was focusing on consciousness and the subconscious, the kind of “connecting to our bodies” he was really talking about was connecting fully to the full, comprehensive representation of one’s body in one’s brain. But crucially, our brain is not just in our head. The large collection of neurons in your gut has been called “The Second Brain.” And humans have other collections of neurons that are larger than the brains of some animals.

Embodiment

Let me illustrate the importance of this fact in a science-fictiony way. The first five links at the bottom of this post demonstrate my interest in Robin Hanson’s book The Age of Em. Suppose you wanted to be frozen when you die with the view that, with some positive probability, your frozen brain would get scanned and you would be able to have a second life as a software human (a brain emulation that Robin Hanson nicknames an “em”). I would strongly advise that you get your whole body frozen, not just your head. I think you will have a better experience as a software human (or at any rate, the software human who thinks they are you will have a better experience) if not only your brain in your head gets scanned and converted to software, but also the brain in your gut and the smaller brains in other parts of your body.

Embodiment

I have no doubt that Philip Shepherd would be aghast at the idea of becoming a software human without a literal body. But the body that counts for one’s experience is the full, comprehensive brain representation of your body including your entire nervous system, plus as full a representation as possible of the rest of the body systems to the level of detail that your brain experiences them. (Particularly important here is the hormonal system, which has a big effect on brain parameters.) As inputs to the brain emulation proper, you need not only the world-facing senses, but also all dimensions of interoception: all aspects of body state as communicated to the brain. And to get interoception right, you need to have a reasonable model of the body systems outside the extended brain.


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Miles Kimball
Miles Kimball is Professor of Economics and Survey Research at the University of Michigan. Politically, Miles is an independent who grew up in an apolitical family. He holds many strong opinions—open to revision in response to cogent arguments—that do not line up neatly with either the Republican or Democratic Party.

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