AI, Brain Augmentation And Our Identities

Do you know who you are? If so, do you direct your own actions? These are two questions that we ask ourselves when someone asks us about our identities. In the west, individualism is valued. We like to think that we have agency in our own actions. We like to think that our identities are not affected by the world. We are distinct. We are unique. 

The history of identity theory

There are two classes of identity theory: mind-brain identity theory (from philosophy) and social identity theory (from psychology). Mind-brain identity theory, originated in the 1930’s with psychologist E. G. Boring, also known as type physicalism states that mental events can be grouped into types that correlate with physical events in the brain. Over time, psychologists Feigel and Smart distinguished sensations from brain processes but asserted that they refer to the same physical phenomenon. Mind-brain identity theory makes us think that identity is an individual construct and an independent construct. 

In contrast, social identity theory, originated in the 1970’s and 80’s with psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner, states that one’s self-concept comes from membership in social groups such as family, school, and community. In this construct, membership mobility, competition and creativity affect the individual’s identity. Social identity theory makes us think that we have less agency than we do since our identity is formed from interactions in social groups and environments. 

Chances are our identities are developed and maintained by a mix of these two identity theories. Our brain’s network determines how we respond to social situations. The reflections of our identities in social situations help our brain to recognize and form judgments about who we really are. Our true identities are formed from the interaction between the mechanisms defined in these theories.

Brain augmentation is not a new concept. From the 1950’s, ever since Robert G. Heath demonstrated that you can use electrical stimulation to treat patients with mental illnesses, there were waves of physicians following suit to treat their patients with brain stimulation. From that point onwards, the US military experimented with mind control techniques for the use of the military. Eventually, in the 2000’s, military programs developed implants on animal’s brains via a Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems that could effectively control the animals. “Cyborg Insects” and “Cyborg Sharks” were the results of such research. It’s important to note that brain stimulation in the form of ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) and recently, TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) are being used widely for treatment of mood disorders.

It’s not hard to see the origins of brain augmentation in Mind-brain identity theory. In a sense, brain augmentation realized the core concepts of mind-brain identity theory: mental events can relate to physical events in the brain. By identifying these events, they can be monitored, controlled or even modified to elicit the desired physical response. This is essentially brain augmentation. 

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