Brain Computer Interfacing, Retrofitted Exoskeletons, and Body Schema: Retrieving the Self in a Malleable Body Image

By Dr. Denis C. Larrivee

Conference Abstract:

Brain Computer Interfacing, Retrofitted Exoskeletons, and Body Schema: Retrieving the Self in a Malleable Body Image Denis Larrivee. International Association of Catholic Bioethicists. Toronoto, CANADA Luis Echarte. Institute for Culture and Society, School of Medicine, U Navarra, SPAIN Australian artist Stelios Arcadiou’s laconic portrayal of the body ‘..The body is an anachronistic shell, which we have to get rid of as soon as possible...’ captures not merely the sort of chafing inspired by the body’s physical constraints - and a Platonic imagery of the body as a tomb - but especially the enduring appeal of enlightenment aspirations for emancipation, now perceived as radically accessible in modern genetic and neurotechnologies (Doucet, 2007). Interfacial neurotechnologies, brain computer interfacing for example, promise avant garde advances toward the sort of mastery over bodily limitations once thought restricted to exogenous and even fictional technologies alone. Endorsements of machine-human hybrids, i.e., cyborgs, such as those expressed Donna Haraway’s Cyborg manifesto (Chandler, 2013), proclaim the advantage of these new technical feats and chemistries in reshaping our affective and cognitive faculties. Indeed, the definition of normality as a standard for bodily health is open to revision in attempts to define the relationship between limitations arising from impaired health and those inscribed in our genetic heritage. Proposals that favorably view the elasticity of brain and body, however, pose ethical and philosophical challenges on multiple fronts: the compromise of evolutionary endowments that had successfully competed through the vagaries of natural history; intervention in neural mechanisms that underly self representation; and a disregard for a philosophy of science understanding of the body as a system. The body’s contribution to self perception, for example, arises in somato-sensory tactile distributions that topographically represent the postural body image (Gallace and Spenc, 2008). Reformatted notions of the body, however, distort the self image as the body’s features become increasingly foreign. Since cognition, moreover, depends upon embedded sensorimotor capacities (Varela, Thompson, and Rosch, 1991), blurred self-imagery compromises the perceptual ability needed to successfully negociate the world. Furthermore, emphases on malleability of the body’s form amplify the loss of distinct corporal perimeters which serve to construct the self as a metaphysical and physical entity; hence, also the corresponding loss of ‘other’ entities. The effect of implementing such neurotechnologies will thus be considered here as a specific ethical challenge to the notion of the body as the fundamental domain through which the self successfully engages the external world. Disclosures: none. Chandler, D. (2013). The world of attachment? The post-humanist challenge to freedom and necessity. Millennium J Internat Studies 41(3):516-534. Doucet, H (2007). Anthropological challenges raised by neuroscience: Some ethical reflections. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 16: 219 - 226. Gallece A and Spence C. (2008). The cognitive and neural correlates of “tactile consciousness? A multisensory perspective. Consciousness and Cognition 17:370-407. Varela F, Thompson E, and Rosch E (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge: MIT Press.

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