You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?
Dr. Peter Watts
is no stranger to MetaFilter. But look past his sardonic nuptials
, heartbreaking eulogies
, and agonizing run-ins with fascists
) and you'll find one of the most brilliant, compelling, and disquieting
science fiction authors at work today. A marine biologist skilled at deep background research, his acclaimed
2006 novel Blindsight [full text]
-- a cerebral "first contact" tale led by a diverse crew of bleeding-edge post-humans -- is diamond-hard and deeply horrifying, wringing profound existential dread from such abstruse concepts as the Chinese Room
, the Philosophical Zombie
, Chernoff faces
, and the myriad quirks and blind spots
that haunt the human mind.
's last, shattering insight is not the end of the story -- along with crew
, a blackly funny in-universe lecture on resurrecting sociopathic vampirism
), and a rigorously-cited (and spoiler-laden) reference section
, tomorrow will see the release of
Dumbspeech State of Grace Echopraxia [website]
, the long-delayed
"sidequel" depicting parallel events on Earth. Want more? Look inside for a guide to the rest of Watts' award-winning (and provocative) body of work. [more inside]
Swimming around in a mixture of language and matter, humans occupy a particular evolutionary niche mediated by something we call 'consciousness'. To Professor Nicholas Humphrey we're made up of "soul dust
": "a kind of theatre... an entertainment which we put on for ourselves inside our own heads." But just as that theatre is directed by the relationship between language and matter, it is also undermined by it
. It all depends how you think it.
"It is only fitting that the story of the brain should be a visual one, for the visuals had the ancients fooled for millenniums. The brain was so ugly that they assumed the mind must lie elsewhere. Now those same skeletal silhouettes glow plump and brightly colored, courtesy of a variety of inserted genes encoding fluorescent molecules.
A glossy new art book, “Portraits of the Mind
,” hopes to draw the general reader into neuroscience with the sheer beauty of its images." Slide Shows: The Beautiful Mind
and Portraits of the Mind [more inside]
on the uniqueness of humans
in relation to the rest of the animal world (via
My Genome, My Self:
Steven Pinker considers what we can expect from personal genomics
. Searching for Intelligence in Our Genes:
Carl Zimmer looks at the hunt to learn about the role of genes in intelligence.
Virtual Out-of-Body Experience.
Using two procedures
to deliberately scramble a person's visual and tactile senses, neuroscientists are able to induce "out-of-body" experiences
in people. The effect is the same as the 'rubber hand illusion'
, but extends the effect to the whole body instead of just one limb (you can try the hand illusion for yourself
Do You Taste What I Taste?
- The first of Slate's 3-part series on the physiology of taste [parts 2
Psychiatry by Prescription
- Do psychotropic drugs blur the boundaries between illness and health?
Living with half a brain
- hemispherectomy, probably the most radical procedure in neurosurgery
The first Transhuman Conference On the Law of Transhuman Persons:
Whether or not you believe humans are set to evolve into gods, or AI is destined to achieve self-awareness
the idea of the Transhuman
is a thought provoking concept. Philosophers have debated the nature of the self
, of the human for millennia. Is it time to start drafting new laws to govern all
possible sentient beings on this planet? or is it all just a science
? a comfortable humanist illusion
has a somewhat technical but free supplement