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Uploading Your Mind Does Not Compute

THE NOTION OF UPLOADING YOUR MIND TO a computer has been trending lately, from movies like Transcendence to websites of neurophysiologists and computer scientists (Google “uploading the brain” for many websites and videos). The only thing you can actually upload to a computer is, well, a computer file—something that’s designed to be uploaded—something in machine-readable format, such as a photograph in JPEG format or a music track in MPEG format or a text file in ASCII format. The mind isn’t a computer file, so the idea of uploading your mind must refer to a different idea.

In the good old days of artificial intelligence, some people thought we could discover (or maybe invent) a “language of thought,” something that looked like a natural language (such as English), but one that could be manipulated by computers in the same the way computers manipulate statements in so-called computer languages (although statements in a computer language are actually more like instructions in a recipe). At first, attempts were made to use classic symbolic logic (“A implies B and B implies C, so A implies C.”). These attempts failed because people don’t use words in the same way symbols are used in symbolic logic. So the researchers invented something they called “non-monotonic” logic, which didn’t work very well, either. These notions have been largely if not completely abandoned.

Even if there really were a language of thought in which your mind’s contents were recorded, there would still be the problem of downloading it from your brain before we could upload it anywhere. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), there’s no computer interface to your mind—no USB port, or that thing at the base of your skull in The Matrix. Since there’s no interface to your mind, the notion of uploading it actually imagines something else—uploading your brain to a computer. Since we know that your brain produces your mind somehow, if we just copy your brain that should do the trick.

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UPLOADING YOUR BRAIN SPECIAL ISSUE: Uploading the Mind to a Computer Mind Uploading: An Argument for the Scientific and Technical Plausibility of Preserving Thoughts Indefinitely by Kenneth Hayworth; Uploading Your Mind Does Not Compute by Peter Kassan; Virtual Immortality: Why the Mind-Body Problem is Still a Problem by Robert Lawrence Kuhn SPECIAL SECTION: What Motivates Extremists? Once Upon a Time: Re-Thinking the Fight Against Extremists by Tina Dupuy; Dealing With Islamism: Trust, Costly Signaling and Forming Moral Teams by Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay; Apocalypse Soon?: How Emerging Technologies, Population Growth, and Global Warming Will Fuel Apocalyptic Terrorism in the Future by Phil Torres ARTICLES Paleoanthropology Wars: The Discovery of Homo naledi has Generated Considerable Controversy in this Scientific Discipline by Nathan H. Lents; Charlie Sheen’s HIV Goat Milk Doctor by Harriet Hall, M.D.; Massachusetts: Mass Hysteria Cover Up by Robert E. Bartholomew; Agony and Ecstasy: Were Saint Paul’s Christian Beliefs a Symptom of Epileptic Personality Disorder? by Harry White; In Defense of Anti-Science: Why the Anti-anti-science Movement Has Gone too Far by J. Howard Siegal; The Decline of Intelligent Design: The 10th Anniversary of the Dover Decision and the Demise of Intelligent Design by Donald Prothero COLUMNS The SkepDoc: Flu Shots Facts and Fallacies by Harriet Hall, M.D.;The Gadfly: How Accurate is the “Cycle of Abuse”? by Carol Tavris REVIEW “Sacred Cows: A Lighthearted Look at Belief and Tradition Around the World” by Seth Andrews reviewed by Donald Prothero JUNIOR SKEPTIC: Man-Eating Plants: The Cannibal Tree of Madagascar by Daniel Loxton.