By Pete MacKay
I never thought neurophysiology could be made so interesting – or blended with philosophy for that matter – but this is what author Michael Chorost does in his book World Wide Mind. Recently one of our Project Managers forwarded a link to an interesting PBS News Hour piece pondering “Will ‘Bionic Bodies’ Offer High-Tech Hope to the Disabled?”. The clip covered the exoskeleton from Berkeley Bionics, coincidentally featuring John Fogelin, former CTO of Wind River and an original author of the VxWorks RTOS. It also featured one of my personal heroes, Dean Kamen, as well as an interview with writer and cochlear implant recipient Chorost, who discussed his latest book, World Wide Mind.
Because Sudoku only entertains so much, I dove into World Wide Mind on my flight over to the Medica show in Dusseldorf. In it Chorost forms the hypothetical scenario where our minds are connected in mesh networks allowing us to communicate (somewhat) freely. He lays his foundation on the concept of ‘telempathy’ rather than telepathy: “the apprehension of another person’s feelings rather than thoughts. “I suppose this perspective is shaped by experience with the computer already attached to his head; as he describes, cochlear implants don’t allow him to hear words but rather feel nerve stimuli that he had to learn to interpret into context to enable communication.
I found this book engaging because Chorost weaves together interesting hypothetical scenarios, fascinating research and discoveries taking place in labs today, and philosophical debate around privacy and security concerns with these possibilities. Meanwhile he opens windows into personal life experiences and challenges, revealing intimate detail in order to relate connections of photons and electrons to those of mind and heart; synapse with sentiment, stimulus with subjectivity.
Being patterned into a technologist through my youth and subsequent career, it is this intersection of science and humanity that I found refreshing.
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