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Philosophy of Cognitive Enhancement


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This presentation considers the philosophical implications of current neuroscience advance. The brain is the final frontier, and thinking, cognition, emotion, and consciousness remain some of the most important unsolved mysteries. It is still unknown how ideas are actually represented in the brain. However, the expectation from neural nanotechnology and nanomedicine is that some of these mysteries will be revealed, in not just pathology resolution but also enhancement capabilities. There are already some translational research applications for cognitive enhancement. The fast pace of scientific advance in neuroscience is prompting the consideration of these kinds of questions involving personal identity, human potential, and societal coordination, and how we might eventually transition to a future of radically augmented post-biological entities and multispecies intelligence.

Published in: Technology

Philosophy of Cognitive Enhancement

  1. 1. March 8, 2015, Los Angeles CA Slides: Melanie Swan Cognitive Enhancement: Philosophical Implications of Contemporary Neural Nanoscience Advance Image credit:
  2. 2. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement 2 About Melanie Swan  Founder DIYgenomics, science and technology innovator and philosopher  Singularity University Instructor, IEET Affiliate Scholar, EDGE Contributor  Education: MBA Finance, Wharton; BA French/Economics, Georgetown Univ  Work experience: Fidelity, JP Morgan, iPass, RHK/Ovum, Arthur Andersen  Sample publications: Source:  Kido T, Kawashima M, Nishino S, Swan M, Kamatani N, Butte AJ. Systematic Evaluation of Personal Genome Services for Japanese Individuals. Nature: Journal of Human Genetics 2013, 58, 734-741.  Swan, M. The Quantified Self: Fundamental Disruption in Big Data Science and Biological Discovery. Big Data June 2013, 1(2): 85-99.  Swan, M. Sensor Mania! The Internet of Things, Wearable Computing, Objective Metrics, and the Quantified Self 2.0. J Sens Actuator Netw 2012, 1(3), 217-253. Swan, M. Health 2050: The Realization of Personalized Medicine through Crowdsourcing, the Quantified Self, and the Participatory Biocitizen. J Pers Med 2012, 2(3), 93-118.  Swan, M. Steady advance of stem cell therapies. Rejuvenation Res 2011, Dec;14(6):699-704.  Swan, M. Multigenic Condition Risk Assessment in Direct-to-Consumer Genomic Services. Genet Med 2010, May;12(5):279-88.
  3. 3. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement 3 Neural Nanomedicine Advances  Pathology resolution and cognitive enhancement  Drug delivery, neural tissue engineering, repair, biomolecular imaging, DNA nanotechnology  Medical nanorobots Respirocytes Microbivore Artery Cleaner Drug Delivery Nanoparticles VasculocyteClottocytes Neural TissueDNA Nanotechnology Quantum Dot Dyes Farther future Present Source: Swan, M. Top ten recent nanomedical advances. Book chapter in Clinical Nanomedicine: from Bench to Bedside 2011, Forthcoming. Holliday Junction:
  4. 4. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement 4 Philosophical Argument  Cognitive enhancement is the targeted improvement of natural human abilities  Augmentation of human skills, attributes, and competencies through the use of technology, medicine, and therapy designed to replace or increase human performance capability  Level I: Improved capacities: memory, information-seeking, coordination, planning; cognitive offload  Level II: Accelerated subjectivation: the ability to extend our capacity by becoming ‘more’ of who we are and can be more quickly Sources: Swan, M. Cognitive Applications of Blockchain Technology. Cognitive Science 2015. Hildt, Cognitive Enhancement, 2013;
  5. 5. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement Top 6 Cognitive Enhancement Killer Apps 1. Memory Enhancement and Blocking 2. Innovation Spikes and Creativity 3. The Qualitative: Internal Subjective Experience 4. Connectome Mapping and Personal Identity 5. Complexity and Neuroscience 6. Deep Learning and Causality 5 Neocortical Neurogenesis in Mammals
  6. 6. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement Scopolamine and propranolol block glutamate and ß-adrenergic neurotransmitter receptors 6 App 1: Memory Management Sources:, release/press-release-a-trace-of-memory/ Donepezil (cholinesterase inhibitor), Ampakines (benzamide compounds), and MEM 1414 (increases CREB): alertness, attention, learning, memory, excitatory transmission Memory BlockingMemory Enhancing
  7. 7. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement The Meditating Brain 7 App 2: Innovation Spikes Sources: Wan X, Improvisations. PLoS One. 2014 Dec 9;9(12)., moment/#sthash.ApvGH3BR.dpuf, Parvizi, J. et al. The will to persevere. Neuron. 2013 Dec 18;80(6):1359-67 Gamma WavesAnterior Cingulate Cortex: An imminent challenge followed by a determined attitude to overcome
  8. 8. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement 8 App 3: The Qualitative Sources:, Different brain systems engaged in sublimity: inferior temporal cortex, posterior hippocampus, and inferior/middle frontal gyri The Sublime and the Beautiful Interoceptive attention directs neural representations of the body’s internal state Internal/External Attention Locus
  9. 9. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement 9 App 4: Connectome and Identity Sources: Allen Brain Atlas,,,, Connectome Mapping: Possibility of Sharing Experience Personal Identity Immersive Reality Headsets: real-time experiences “you feel like you are actually present with others in another place” Re: Delayed gratification, we procrastinate because we think of our future selves as strangers medial prefrontal cortex and rostral anterior cingulate cortex
  10. 10. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement 10 App 5: Complexity and Neuroscience Sources: Tognoli1, E. Enlarging the scope: grasping brain complexity. Front Syst Neurosci. 2014; 8: 122. Kelso, JAS. Multistability and metastability: dynamic coordination in the brain. Philos Trans R. 2012, 906–918. Neural circuits originate spatiotemporal signatures for attention, somatosensation and motor coordination in social situations Reconcile the ability of the brain to create information flows with the propensity for synchronization and mass action Sociality Neuromarkers Coordination Dynamics and Metastability
  11. 11. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement 11 App 6: Deep Learning and Causality Sources: Ciresan, D., Deep Neural Networks Segment Neuronal Membranes in Electron Microscopy Images. NIPS 2012. Stetson, C. (2006). Motor-Sensory Recalibration. Neuron. 51. pp. 651–9. Artificial neural networks pixel classifiers segment and map 3D neural membrane microstructure and connectivity Neuron segmentation in electron microscopy stacks Brain maintains a recalibrated representation of timing, and a less- plastic comparison representation Judging Causality
  12. 12. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement 12 Philosophical Implications  Ability to work with memory, attention, sociality, temporality, and causality means new forms of awareness about our existence and reality  Cognitive offload produces more time for innovation, creativity, and enjoyment  New self understanding through accessing and mapping the quantitative and qualitative of internal experience  This is how we can achieve accelerated subjectivation, beyond just the practicalities of better memory Sources: Swan, M. Cognitive Applications of Blockchain Technology. Cognitive Science 2015. Hildt, Cognitive Enhancement, 2013;
  13. 13. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement Philosophy of Cognitive Enhancement  The branch of philosophy concerned with the foundations, methods, and implications of cognitive enhancement  Internal practices generalized  External impact evaluated  3 classes of philosophical concerns  Ontology (existence, reality): What is it? What does it mean?  Epistemology (knowledge): What is knowledge here? Proof standard?  Valorization (ethics, aesthetics): What is noticed, overlooked? What is ethical practice? What is beauty, elegance? 13 Sources: Swan, M. Cognitive Applications of Blockchain Technology. Cognitive Science 2015. Hildt, Cognitive Enhancement, 2013;
  14. 14. March 2015 Cognitive Enhancement Conclusions  The objective of neural nanoscience advance is not only pathology resolution but also cognitive enhancement  Translational cognitive enhancement applications in development for memory, creativity, attention, identity, causality  Possibility of targeting qualitative aspects of neuroscience, subjective experience, and lived existence to better produce our future selves as biocitizens 14
  15. 15. March 8, 2015, Los Angeles CA Slides: Melanie Swan Cognitive Enhancement: Philosophical Implications of Contemporary Neural Nanoscience Advance Thank you! Questions? Image credit: