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Francis Heylighen on the Emerging Global Brain

Ben Goertzel

H+ Magazine

March 19, 2011

Francis Heylighen started his career as yet another physicist with a craving to understand the foundations of the universe - the physical and philosophical laws that make everything tick.  But his quest for understanding has led him far beyond the traditional limits of the discipline of physics.  Currently he leads the Evolution, Complexity and COgnition group (ECCO) at the Free University of Brussels, a position involving fundamental cybernetics research cutting across almost every discipline.  Among the many deep ideas he has pursued in the last few decades, one of the most tantalizing is that of the Global Brain - the notion that the social, computational and communicative matrix increasingly enveloping us as technology develops, may possess a kind of coherent intelligence in itself.


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Posted by compsci  on  03/21  at  01:52 AM

...and the “global brain” is exactly what?

People produce bits by typing. The bits are stored on hard drives and in RAM. TCP/IP moves those bits to other hard drives and RAM. The CPU computes very few cycles on any of those bits, causing very few automated transformations of any data. Where exactly does the GB emerge in this chain? I don’t see anything.

It seems the fundamentals of computer science are utterly forgotten and some sort of hand-wavy vague magic thinking, that never was and never will be, has replaced it.

Posted by CygnusX1  on  03/22  at  06:02 PM

Thanks for this excellent article and links, I am not familiar with any of these folks or their work, but will investigate further. I’m not into Gaia theory myself, but I still respect it. And certainly believe that the Global Brain is a reality even now.

Philosophically, the way I see it, Consciousness, (being of fundamental phenomenon and importance), works through quantum entanglement, through the atomic manifestations of energy and matter, and transforms the macroscopic, and layers of consciousness are ultimately interconnected and inter-related, are as inseparable.

The Earth and it’s geology, plate tectonics, volcanism, earthquakes, weather variations, the ecosystem, natural selection, evolution, and human factors such as global economics, historical knowledge, cultural diversity, politics and the propagation of technologies and information – are all inter-related and non exclusive. These phenomenon affect each other, and are ultimately inseparable and may even be termed loosely as conscious interactions?

Twitter is a prime example of how synaptic information flows between the minds of individuals on a global level, creating, in effect a most obvious realisation of the global mind. This has the effect of making us addictive and receptive to temporal information propagation and which directly affects our free will to respond and act. The hive mind is emerging as the global mind manifests. Can we humans handle our lack of control as the global entity emerges and drives our thoughts and feelings and actions from each moment to the next?

As we become more interconnected to the global technological/informational mind and super computers come on line with us, then we can envisage a future deeply interconnected with super computers. And that must be a giant leap forward for the techno-progressive transhuman.

Now here’s a spooky contemplation – The Universe/Cosmos has evolved to become conscious of it-self through us, consciousness of consciousness. What if? The next step in the evolution of the Universe is through human intervention towards the emergence of a global living thinking entity that is the planet Earth. The realisation of the Jupiter brain, but not purely as machine, but as living organism and technological global brain?

In which case the major existential risks will become cosmic – impacts, gamma ray bursts, novae.

My favourite bits..

” Ben: Well,  we don’t actually have time or space resources to become conscious of everything going on in our unconscious (even if we become mentally adept and enlightened enough to in principle extend our reflective consciousness throughout the normally unconscious portions of our minds).  A person’s unconscious is influenced by all sorts of things now; and as the GB gets more and more powerful and becomes a more major part of our lives, our unconscious will be more and more influenced by the GB, and we don’t have the possibility of being conscious of all this influence, due to resource limitations.

So it does seem we will be substantially “controlled” by the GB — but the question is whether this is merely in the same sense that we are now unconsciously “controlled” by our environments.”

” The ontology of action has no difficulty with subjective experience, and therefore it denies that there is an intrinsically “hard” problem of consciousness. First, it is not founded on the existence of independent,  material objects obeying objective laws. Therefore, it has no need to reduce notions like purpose, meaning or experience to arrangements of such mechanical entities. Instead, it takes actions as it point of departure. An action, as we defined it, immediately entails the notions of awareness or sensation (since the agent producing the action needs to sense the situation to which it reacts), of meaning (because this sensation has a significance for the agent, namely as the condition that incites a specific action), and of purpose (because the action is implicitly directed towards a “goal”, which is the attractor of the action dynamics).”

” Francis: Certainly,  self-reflection appears like a useful feature for the GB to have.  Again, this does not seem to be so tricky to implement, as we, in our role of components of the GB, are at this very moment reflecting about how the GB functions and how this functioning could be improved…  Moreover, decades ago already AI researchers have developed programs that exhibited a limited form of self-improvement by monitoring and manipulating their own processing mechanisms.”

Posted by CygnusX1  on  03/24  at  04:51 PM

Eternal Philosophical questions - “What is the meaning of life?”

The Principia Cybernetica Project

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