Mind-control technology is an emerging technology that challenges the idea of the individual by promoting a relativization of the body. In the essay, the body is understood as a space of reference in the world, thus, has an active role in the constitution of the person. The essay argues that mind-control technology questions this idea of the body, challenging the fundamental question of why is good to have a fixed body. The essay is divided into five parts to discuss this question concerning mind-control technology. First, the technology is presented. In the second, the research question is explained. In the third, the first argument is made, by discussing how mind-control technology frames humans and why is it problematic. In the fourth, the European bioethical framework is applied to the technology, focusing on the concept of integrity. Fifth, conclusions are made.
Presentation of the technology
Perfigli (2022) describes Mind-control technology as a technology that connects the human brain to external technology. The idea behind this technology is to create a system that monitors and interprets the electrical activity in the brain with external electrodes. The electric activity is transformed into signals which are sent to the related technology, and once there they are translated into movements. The hardcore of the technology is a helmet that represents the interface for the user. Attached to the helmet are 32 electrodes that transform the brainwaves into a signal, communicating with the technology connected to it. In other words, using this technology, the user can consciously control whatever technology is connected by using the mind. In the last two decades, several types of research have been made on the topic. The biggest success today was accomplished by Honeywell Aerospace, a US company that was able to connect the mind of a pilot to a C90 Beechcraft (a twin-engine plane), making it move. Besides this impressive success, the technology is still in an emerging state. More broadly, the idea behind this technology is to channel the mind into technological artifact and so to control them directly. Controlling different technologies directly with the mind also means controlling the capacities of those technologies. Therefore, by using mind-control technology, it changes also the extended capacity that the mind of the user has. For this reason, mind-control technology is an enhancement technology. Enhancement is meant any technological intervention that increases bodily functions over the threshold of the “naturally normal” (Ferretti and Ienca, 2018). Following the example of the C90 airplane, an average mind does not have the capacity of flying, this is because an average human mind is related to an average human body, and average human bodies cannot fly. But, by using mind-control technology a direct connection between the artifact with the ability to fly (i.e. the airplane) and the mind is created, and as a consequence, the mind acquires the ability to fly during the use of the technology. Thus, mind-control technology enhances the user, because by using it, the user has direct access through mental activity to capacities that an average human being would not have. What is philosophically interesting about mind-control technology, is that it enhances the human by switching the space of reference of the mental activity (i.e. the human body) by substituting it with a technological artifact. The implicit assumption of the technology is that it is not problematic the change the body, therefore, according to the technology the change of the body does not imply the change of the self.
Presentation of the research question
Mind-control technology challenges the idea of humans having a fixed body. The fixed body does not refer to the shape, but it is a space, meaning the continuation of a place of reference in the world. The fixed body is part of the normative concept of the person. Even if the shape of the body changes during time, the space of reference of the body in the world remains fixed. The idea of fixed space is built around the concept of person: a person is an entity with the property of fixed space, which is given by the body. Thus the body has two main functions: an epistemic one, you know what is part of you and what is not part of you. And ontological, you know where you start and where you end. By covering these two functions the body constitutes the self of the subject. With self is meant the conscious representation of the person’s subjectivity that finds manifestation in the physical world. The self is created in the moment of the present because it is an active perception. Thus, the self is not in the past or the future. The continuation of the self during time gives the identity. Identity is the recognition of the self in the fixed space of the body through time. The continuation identification through time of the fixed space of reference is what constitutes a person. This leads to the ethical question that is the theme of the essay: why is it good to have a fixed body as a space of reference in the world? And how does mind-control technology interact with the fixed body? The essay argues that the space of a fixed body is ethically relevant because without there would be a relativization of the person. In contrast, mind-control technology sponsors the idea of a continuous switching of the body. Thus, there is not a fixed space of reference, leading to a situation of relativization of the world in which it would be problematic in several aspects, from all the social functions that refer to the normative idea of the person, to creating relations and meaning with the world. The next two sections will first discuss how mind-control technology understand human and why it is problematic. And then, it will discuss the bioethical principle of the integrity of the person.
First argument: framing the human
The dualistic view
When talking about technology concerning humans, is important to understand what is the underlining view that the technology has of humans, or to say it differently, how the technology frames humans. The reason is that analyzing this understanding gives a better view of the technology and gives more insight into what the technology does. As it was seen in the section dedicated to describing the technology, the idea of mind-control technology is to channel the mental activity of the user, and through a signal, send them to a given technology. This implies a transfer of the mind inside bodies. Thus, the place of the self is the mind and not the body. Therefore, the technology understands minds and bodies as two distinct entities that share the same space. It is a hierarchical understanding, in which the mind is active in controlling the body, and the body is passive in answering the command of the mind. This view of “ghost in the machine” can be conceptualized as dualistic. And so, mind-control technology understands humans under this view, and it frames them as constituted by two elements. The dualistic view of humans can be found throughout Western thinking history. Foucault (1982) in his Technology of the Self, offers a hermeneutic analysis of the history of the self in western thinking. What is interesting about this essay, is that in the second section of his text, Foucault investigates the position of identity in Plato Alcibiades I.
The reason for the investigation is due to the analysis of the notion of knowing yourself, a central idea in western thinking. To do this, Foucault starts by investigating the position of the “self”. What is interesting is that according to Foucault’s analysis of Plato’s text, the self is not in the body, but in the “soul”. This creates an instrumental idea of the body; by contrast, it understands the soul as something abstract and less tangible, independent from the body. This view of the human is similar to the one of mind-control technology. Further, the dualist view is associated with Descartes and his Meditations with the famous statement “cogito ergo sum”(i.e. I think, therefore I am), in which the self is given from the abstract dimension of the mind, and the body is understood negatively as a source of deception. Sapolsky (2017) in his book Behave, expands additionally on this difference of framing the human under a cultural perspective, by emphasizing the difference between collective and individualistic society. The latter represents the western view, in which according to the author, dualism is manifested also in society by separating the individual from society.
From this, follows the argument that mind-control technology is problematic because it misinterprets what a human is, by following a western narrative, framing the human under a dualistic view that has a cultural origin, and so it constitutes a narrative and not a fact. In contrast to the dualistic standpoint, there is phenomenology.
Phenomenology and the embodied human
For phenomenology, the body plays a central role as the starting of the world. Generally, phenomenology can be described as the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view (Ferretti and Ienca, 2018). What is important in phenomenology for this essay is the centrality that is given to the body. According to Husserl (inside Ferretti and Ienca, 2018), the body is a thing “inserted” between the rest of the material world and the “subjective” sphere. The body becomes the instrument that orientates humans through their experience of the world and its interpretation. For phenomenology, the body is not just a simple gate between the inner and out world, but it is something more, being a space of embodiment of the consciousness in the physical world (Gallagher, 2010). Merleau-Ponty (inside Legrand, 2006) describes this as the body being the pivot of the world, emphasizing that the conscious perception of the world comes from the body. Thus, where there is a functioning body, there is a personal interaction with the world. For symmetry, the world becomes subjective within the body. From this follows that if the body is changed, so to say, if the embodiment of the conscious activity is switched from one body to another, as mind-control technology sponsors, the self changes as well.
Neuroscience and the embodied human
Building up, the dualistic view is not challenged only by phenomenology but by the neuroscience understanding of the human as well. Taking insights from the work of Seth (2013, and 2015), Sapolsky (2017), and Chiao, Cheon, Pornpattananangkul, Mrazek, and Blizinsky (2013) in which the authors draw an understanding of the human mind as not a unique entity, but by collocating it as the activity of the brain as organic organ. Following this, there is an organic understanding of the human as part of the biological world, and so the mental activity is understood as the result of the organic body. The brain, like all the other organs, is shaped by the environment, thus the mind is shaped by it as well. This view states the interdependence of minds and bodies and strongly challenges the dualistic perspective. The idea of bodies and minds being the different faces of the same medal makes a deep correlation that the sensation of the self starts from the body. Therefore, the body changes also the self-change, making relative the sensation of you. Both Phenomenology and neuroscience share this view of the self in connection with the body, the difference comes from the starting point of analysis. If phenomenology focuses on the subjective perception given through the body, neuroscience focuses on the organic infrastructure of the body and its activities. This is to say, that the body is crucial in creating the self, constructing identities, and making the distinction between “me” and the other. Thus, using mind-control technology can be argued that changes the way that the user perceives its being.
Looking at the area of application in mind-control technology, it is the brain. An interesting view in the neuroscience of the brain is predictive coding. As reported in Seth (2013), with predictive coding the function of the brain is to continuously attempt to minimize the discrepancy of prediction error between inputs and the causes of the inputs. The idea is that the brain works on probabilities and predictions, but these are deeply related to the body and the sensory information. By understanding the brain as a predictive machine, the prediction must be towards something, which is the body. To apply the prediction function, the brain has to learn how to predict in relation to the application’s space, which becomes unique to each body. It is questionable if the ability of prediction can be easily shifted from one body to another. Further, for an organism to properly function, should develop predictive models with its own body and applicable only to its own body (Seth, 2015). Therefore, this view implies that the concept of selfhood passes through the experience of owning only a particular body making it a component of being conscious of one’s self.
The rubber hand illusion is an important experiment that strengthens this view of prediction coding (Botvinick and Cohen, 1998). In this experiment, the brain is deceived, by making it believe that a rubber hand is the real hand. This experiment proves that the experience of the ownership of the body is given by the brain’s best guess, yet it comes only within the body (Seth, 2015). The experiment focuses only on a single part of the body, but what is suggested is that even if deceived, the self’s experience always passes through the body. What is important in this experiment, is the direction of deception. Is the body that deceives the brain, and not the brain the body, making stronger the relationship between the two by actually highlighting a more central role of the body over the brain than vice-versa. Mind-control technology, on the opposite, follow the dualist view, in which the start of activity is the brain. According to the technology is the brain that deceives the body, but the rubber experiments prove that is the body that can deceive the brain by transmitting wrong signals. What this section did, is argue that mind-control technology is problematic concerning the question that the essay posses, because at first it does not understands how the self is created inside humans. Mind-control technology is problematic because it has a misleading representation of the idea of humans by framing it under a dualistic view.
Second argument: the principle of integrity and mind-control technology
Mind-control technology is an enhancement technology that is applied to humans, thus it is framed under the ethical analysis of bioethics. According to the European bioethical framework (inside Redtorff, 2015), there are four principles: autonomy, dignity, integrity, and vulnerability. The essay focuses on the notion of integrity and how mind-control technology relates to it. Integrity is the principle that refers to the global sense of human life that should not be destroyed (Rendtorff, 2015) or damaged in all its components, levels, and forms.
Integrity is related to the idea of psychological continuity. With this, is meant the process through which the subjects experience the continuation of being her/himself during time. The notion of integrity does not apply only to the body, but to the whole experience of being you. As it was argued, the body and mind are the different sides of the same medal, so if the body changes, the integrity experience is affected. A key notion to understand the ethical concept of integrity is coherence. Coherence is meant the capacity of an individual to develop a narrative of him/herself with the world (Rendtorff, 2002). As described previously, ontologically, the starting point is the body. The information is collected by the body, which thanks to the organic components creates a representation of reality that is then channelized through the model of the predictive coding. All the process is then experienced subjectively by the self. Coherence is important in the process because is what makes the narrative flow, and so, it connects the self to the identification of the experience of the body through time. In this, change is an important element to take into consideration. The world is a place of continuous change, and as part of the world, also humans are subjected to continuous change. Change and coherence co-habit the experience of human life, submerging the individual in it. What is important is the time frame of the application. The time flow that is experienced by humans enables the individual to create a coherent story around him/herself, creating an integrated representation of identities in which the subject reflects its image. Mind-control technology becomes problematic under this view, because the rapidity of change that the technology states to have would question the coherence of the story, therefore integrity as well.
In the European bioethical framework, the principle of integrity has four meanings (inside Rendtorff, 2002): a) integrity as the narrative of totality, b) integrity as a personal sphere of self-determination, c) Integrity as a virtue of uncorrupted character, d) integrity as an institutional notion concerning the moral coherence of a medical system.
In this essay, the notions are divided into two groups: the first, (a) and (b), apply to the human as a subjective entity from a first-person perspective. The second, (c) and (d) are related to the social and institutional implications to which the notion of integrity relates.
The concept of integrity from a first-person perspective implies a physical space of application of the ethical norms, and this is the body. By changing the body, the ethical space of application changes, breaking integrity under a first-person perspective, leading once again to a relativization of the person. The underlined idea of the body in this point is similar to the one in phenomenology, in which the body mediates the experience of the world, creating a certain representation of reality for the subject. A last important component of integrity from a first-person perspective is identity. Identity is connected to integrity because it reflects the narrative and coherence embedded in the context of the individual’s life. If integrity no longer applies to the individual, then the sense of identity becomes more uncertain. On the other side, the notion of integrity from a social and institutional perspective tells how human is normatively framed. But institutions do not emerge from anywhere, people create institutions. And, so how the notion of integrity applies to humans from a first-person perspective, is then translated institutionally, therefore, both share the same understanding. Integrity in this sense is an ethical notion towards the other, that derives from the subject. Following, integrity is not only not-relativizing the self, but as well not-relativizing the other towards the subject. Applying what was sad about integrity to mind-control technology, becomes problematic. By using mind-control technology the body becomes relative and so the coherence that creates the integrity of the self is challenged. Further, as Rendtorff (2015) reports, the personal sphere should not be subjected to external intervention in the European Bioethical framework. But, if external factors influence the self-mastery capacity of the body as mind-control technology sponsors, then the integrity of the self-mastery capacity of the subject is not respected.
As argued, the key issue of mind-control technology is the relativization of the fixed body in the physical world, this becomes problematic not only from a first-person perspective but as well on an institutional and social level. The violation of the principle of integrity, due to the relativization of the body, leads to the absence of a fixed space of reference for the person. Further, with not a fixed space of reference, institutional frameworks cannot be applied. Thus, by making the body relative, the social outcome is an invalid application of institutions on the person.
Mind-control technology is an emerging technology with the ability to enhance the capacity of humans by channelizing the mental activity inside different technology giving direct access to the user. Thus, mind-control technology enables a switch in the body. The essay has argued that this is problematic because of the centrally of the body in constituting the person. From this, the question of why is ethically relevant to have a fixed body as a space of reference in the world was posed. Two arguments were made to answer this question against the view of mind-control technology. The first, argues that mind-control technology has an erroneous understanding of what a human is, framing it under a dualistic view. This section argued that humans are not dualistic entities, but instead mind and body are the different faces of the same medal. Both phenomenology and the idea of predictive coding of the brain were used to make the argument. The second argument looked at the European bioethical framework focusing on the notion of integrity. The argument proved that mind-control technology challenges the concept of integrity by relativizing the body as the space of reference in the world, thus making problematic the application of ethical norms both from the first-person point of view and on an institutional level.
- Botvinick, M. and Cohen, J., 1998. Rubber hands ‘feel’ touch that eyes see. Nature, 391(6669), pp.756-756.
- Chiao, J., Cheon, B., Pornpattananangkul, N., Mrazek, A. and Blizinsky, K., 2013. Cultural Neuroscience: Progress and Promise. Psychological Inquiry, 24(1), pp.1-19.
- Descartes, R., Cottingham, J., Descartes, R. and Descartes, R., 2013. René Descartes: Meditations on first philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Ferretti, A. and Ienca, M., 2018. Enhanced Cognition, Enhanced Self? On Neuroenhancement and Subjectivity. Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, 2(4), pp.348-355.
- Foucault, M., 1982. Technologies of the Self – Michel Foucault, Info.. [online] Foucault.info. Available at: <https://foucault.info/documents/foucault.technologiesOfSelf.en/> [Accessed 24 June 2022].
- Gallagher, S., 2010. Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. Topoi, 29(2), pp.183-185.
- Legrand, D., 2006. The Bodily Self: The Sensori-Motor Roots of Pre-Reflective Self-Consciousness. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 5(1), pp.89-118.
- Perfigli, D., 2022. Mind-control technology: The story of the lost body and why we should ethically care. Lay audience paper for the course in Ethics and Technology II. University of Twente.
- Rendtorff, J., 2015. Update of European bioethics: basic ethical principles in European bioethics and biolaw. Bioethics Update, 1(2), pp.113-129.
- Rendtorff, J., Ethics, B., Resources, B., Bioethics, E. and Item, V., 2002. Basic Ethical Principles in European Bioethics and Biolaw, Volume I: Autonomy, Dignity, Integrity and Vulnerability. [online] Repository.library.georgetown.edu. Available at: <https://repository.library.georgetown.edu/handle/10822/929610> [Accessed 24 June 2022].
- Sapolsky, R., 2017. Behave. 1st ed. Vintage Digital.
- Seth, A., 2013. Interoceptive inference, emotion, and the embodied self. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17(11), pp.565-573.
- Seth, A. K. (2015). The Cybernetic Bayesian Brain – From Interoceptive Inference to Sensorimotor Contingencies.
In T. Metzinger & J. M. Windt (Eds). Open MIND: 35(T). Frankfurt am Main: MIND Group. doi: 10.15502/9783958570108