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Covering technological, scientific, and cultural trends that are changing–and will change–human beings in fundamental ways.

Editor's Blog

Marios Kyriazis
March 4, 2011


What do the Global Brain (GB) and human biological immortality have in common? At first, this appears to be a strange question. However, I believe that the realisation of the Global Brain will, perhaps inevitably, result in humans achieving extreme life extension, and eventually abolishing death due to aging.

The GB is an emergent worldwide entity of distributed intelligence, one facilitated by communication and the meaningful interconnections between billions of humans, via technology such as the internet.

I take the Global Brain to mean the expressive integration of all (or the majority) of human brains through technology and communication. It is a result of a ‘metasystem transition’ from the human brain (HB), to a global (Earth) brain. The GB is truly global, not only in geographical terms, but also in function.

It has been suggested that the GB has clear analogies with its human equivalent. For example, the basic unit of the HB is the neuron, whereas the basic unit of the GB is the human brain itself. While the HB is restricted to the space within a human cranium, the GB is constrained within the limits of our planet. The HB contains several regions that have specific functions, but remain connected to the whole (e.g., the occipital cortex for vision, the temporal cortex for auditory function, the thalamus, etc.). The GB contains several regions that have specific functions, but remain connected to the whole (e.g., search engines, governments, Wikipedia, etc.). Both neurons and brains carry evolutionary replicators: neurons carry genes, whereas brains carry memes.

Some specific analogies are:

1. The Broca’s area in the inferior frontal gyrus, which is associated with speech. This could be the equivalent of, say, media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s communications empire.

2. The motor cortex is the equivalent of the worldwide railway system.

3. The sensory system in the brain is equivalent to all digital sensors, a closed-circuit television network, internet uploading facilities, etc.

If we accept that the GB will eventually become fully operational (and this may happen within the next 40 to 50 years), then human evolution could face potentially severe repercussions. Apart from the fact that we would be able to change our genomes using technology (through techniques like synthetic biology or nanotechnology), there could be new evolutionary pressures that help extend the human lifespan to an indefinite degree.

Empirically, there is a basic underlying law that allows cortical neurons (the most relevant ones in my analogy) to have the same general lifespan as their human host. As natural laws are universal, I would expect the same law to operate in similar metasystems, with humans functioning as the basic operating units of the GB.

Therefore, if individual units (neurons) within a brain must, on the whole, live as long as the brain itself, around 100-120 years, then the individual human units within a GB must live as long as the GB itself, which could be indefinitely. The pre-determined maximum limit on the human lifespan would then cease to exist.

One valid suggestion is that neurons are maintained in good repair because they are so intricately interconnected, and contain so much valuable information, that it costs less in thermodynamic terms to repair them than to substitute them. Humans may now be in the same position.

We will become so deeply integrated and embedded within the GB’s virtual and real structures that it may make more sense for nature, when allocating resources, to maintain existing humans indefinitely, rather than eliminate them through aging and create new ones who would require extra resources to re-integrate themselves into the GB. The net result will be that humans will start experiencing an unprecedented prolongation of their lifespan, as the GB evolves to higher levels of complexity at low entropy and at a low thermodynamic cost.

A small number of new neurons are formed during adulthood, at least in certain parts of the brain; this would be the equivalent of new babies being born to replace any losses within the GB. However, neurons do not replicate or reproduce. Analogously, the same law that allows a neuron to live so long (because it does not reproduce) must also be true for humans: there must be a negative correlation between longevity and reproduction.



The majority of cortical neurons are maintained in good operating condition, and remain the same throughout life, instead of actively being replaced every few weeks (as in the case of, say, skin or blood cells). Neurons that form good synaptic connections are less likely to be eliminated through apoptosis (programmed cell death), and remain alive and operational until their host’s passing.

According to some predictions, humans will increasingly embed themselves within the GB, through highly sophisticated digital interfaces (the first examples include iPhones) that can anticipate the subject’s wishes, preferences and habits. Eventually, there could be suitable technology allowing direct brain-to-computer-to-brain (GB) communication.

As mentioned above, I would expect that it will cost more in energy terms to replace a human brain (through allowing to die and then creating a new one via the conventional route) than to maintain an existing one. Those humans who integrate themselves into the GB, and form robust connections with others, will be less likely to die compared to those who are weakly integrated.

When fully operational, the GB must rely on its individual constituents – individual human brains interconnected through technology. Without human input, the GB cannot exist. Furthermore, it cannot exist without technology. This is similar to the human brain – a neuron contributes to the whole, but without suitable connections, the individual neuron does not survive.

This is not a magical or fictional process. The sequence of events will happen according to natural laws. Human brains. as individual units of the GB, will be subjected to increased pressures that facilitate longer survival. This is not a teleological argument. The GB does not have any intent or purpose. It is just an instrument of nature, forming part of the general direction of evolution from simple to complex. Within our specific niche, dependent on technology, society and communication, we must adapt and evolve quickly in order to be successful. A hierarchical progress from simple to higher intelligence is a natural consequence (or requirement) of this. It follows that nature will favor mechanisms that lead to higher intelligence quickly, abandoning slow, non-specific mechanisms, such as traditional natural selection. Resources will be shifted from primarily maintaining the germline at the expense of the body (the slow process of natural selection), to maintaining the brain (a fast process for achieving higher intellectual complexity).

This issue is also relevant from another point of view. Those of us who are interested in significant life extension, and have exhausted the benefits offered by nutrition, lifestyle, supplements and exercise, have little choice. We must wait for new biological or nanotechnology-based therapies in order to prolong our lifespan. There is little else we can do (apart from some fundraising perhaps), but wait for others to come up with the research and solutions. However, if the GB - longevity theory is considered, there could be direct, practical steps available to anyone who is interested.

The main suggestion of this theory is to increase cognitive input, and facilitate integration into the GB. This means we should follow an intentional, purposeful and meaningful program of increased cognitive stimulation, avoiding routine, boredom, and monotony. We should broaden the fields of our awareness, and engage in goal-seeking behaviour to maximise cognitive and behavioural resources, actively searching out any cognitive stimulation or challenge through exposure to novel and innovative environments, societal interactions, cultural inputs, interactions with technology (meaningful internet use, digital assistants and other silicon-based technology), positive thinking, intellectual achievements and hormetic stimulation via unconventional channels (sexual, mechanical, chemical, etc.)

We should act to increase available choices. Normally, if our brain has only a limited number of options, it selects the first available one by default, without any purposeful effort. However, if it faces several choices, it will need to evaluate and compare each, to decide which one is most suitable under the circumstances.

Somebody may ask: “Are you saying that I will live longer if I just regularly update my Facebook profile? Will I live longer if I only think about it, or if I do a few crosswords?”

This is like telling someone who wants to become a fit athlete: “All you have to do is a few push-ups.” I am referring to an all-encompassing lifestyle, a sustained, intentional effort to embed oneself in the GB and increase meaningful input of cognitive information of sufficient magnitude into one’s brain. This will cause epigenetic changes that will repair and maintain somatic cells, reducing their risk of age-related death.

Research into the effects of environmental enrichment shows that increased social and ambient stimulation has positive physical effects on diverse parts of the body, such as neural tissues, the immune system and antioxidant defences, among others.

This is a direct link between information (cognitive inputs), and biological/genetic mechanisms. As information is received, processed and distributed, several biological processes are activated. Mechanisms based upon hormesis (low-dose stimulation, high-dose inhibition) influence physical molecules throughout the body, and thus improve mechanisms that repair, maintain and protect bodily tissues against age-related insults.

These epigenetic modifications result in a fitter organism, that is better able to cope with the new pressures encountered in our increasingly sophisticated society.

So, in summary, I believe that the emerging GB is a natural step towards the progressive increase of complexity and universal intelligence. We must adapt to this change and form part of it, in order to facilitate natural mechanisms that lead to a reduced rate of aging and an increased lifespan. Otherwise, we will continue to perish as individuals.

11 Comments

    It has been suggested that the forest has clear analogies with the human brain. For example, the basic unit of the HB is the neuron, whereas the basic unit of the forest is the tree. While the HB is restricted to the space within a human cranium, the forest is constrained within the limits of its geographical expansion. The HB contains several regions that have specific functions, but remain connected to the whole (e.g., the occipital cortex for vision, the temporal cortex for auditory function, the thalamus, etc.). The forest contains several sub-components that have specific functions, but remain connected to the whole (e.g., the underbrush, the capony, etc.). Both neurons and trees carry evolutionary replicators: neurons carry genes, whereas trees carry... well, genes, too. :)

      I use the analogy with the human brain because I have a motive: to suggest that maybe if we do what the neuron does (i.e. carry invaluable information), nature will keep us alive for longer. You mention something about a forest. What's your point?

        My point was to demonstrate that the analogy between the human brain and the "global brain" is very superficial, and similar analogies can be drawn using similar rhetoric aimed at very different complex systems, such as ecosystems (e.g. a forest).

        The parallel between neurons in the HB and persons in the GB as functional units seems equally superficial to me. The predictive power you can draw from such analogies is very limited. While it is true that skilled people with experience are valuable, they are not invaluable. Sometimes it is precisely the generational succession that leads to new innovations.

        And then there's a more trivial point: When longevity becomes feasible, there will be a strong drive toward its development simply because people really don't want to die. Hundreds of millions of wealthy people will be ready to throw money at it once there's a proof of concept, simply because they want to survive as long as possible individually. The market incentive is enormous because of this very simple reason, but of course the problem is a hard one to solve.

          Of course there are analogies with different complex systems. A forest, for example, is a sub-system within a wider entity, the Global Super-organism (http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/papers/Superorganism.pdf). Some call it Gaia.

          My analogy is specific to entities that contain intelligence. In my example, both (human brain and global brain) contain units that not only contain information themselves, but also are able to transmit this information to other units (a ‘distributed’ intelligence), giving rise to higher levels of complexity. The behaviour of both types of units (neurons and humans) can be influenced by information transmitted by other neurons/humans. The behaviour of neurons influences humans, and the behaviour of humans influences the neurons – a reciprocal relationship.

          Why do neurons live as long as we do? What can the neuron do that we can’t?

            "My analogy is specific to entities that contain intelligence."

            Transmission of "information" does not necessarily equal intelligence. Human telegraph and phone networks transmitted great deals of information, and simply increasing the amount and even complexity of information transmission does not automatically make the system as a whole an intelligent gestalt with its own agency. Pure complexity is in fact selected against in evolution, as is illustrated in digital evolution simulations such as Polyworld, where the most complex-brained organisms wound up dying off.

            Evolution does not "like" any given trait, traits only persist if they are selected for in a competitive environment, and it just so happens that intelligence worked out well in some -- not all -- environments in the history of Earth. The human brain evolved not simply complexity, but intelligence over millions or of years because of an arms race; that is, humans who failed to outsmart giant cats on the savanna died out, and so the most intelligent survived. I don't see the "global brain" competing for survival against the 'net gestalt of Jupiter, Saturn, the Kuiper Belt in a race to dodge black wholes or some such selective evolutionary environment. The global brain is not complex in order to make decisions to preserve itself, it is complex because it is beneficial for *humans* to transmit higher definition seasons of Lost on Netflix and sell penis enlargement pills to each other. If the global brain exists, its brain is literally made of 90% spam and junk mail. Can't say I see much evidence of intelligence there.

      “This means we should follow an intentional, purposeful and meaningful program of increased cognitive stimulation, avoiding routine, boredom, and monotony.”

      In order to grow it helps to leave our comfort zone. This is true for exercise as well as brain development. For those who find enjoyment in this, they will transcend themselves. Those that find this type of stimulation stressful may be better off taking a different approach. The psychological well being of people who shift into this GB will probably suffer during a transitional period.

    systems biology is a good way to look at cooperative biologic dynamics. this lecture is outstanding - well worth your time. http://labs.yahoo.com/node/274

    also. are single cells in a multicellular being aware of the being as a whole? or do they just go about doing their thing? our individual consciousness may already be part of a larger system that is self aware. or several layers of conscious systems extending out into the cosmos.

    "This means we should follow an intentional, purposeful and meaningful program of increased cognitive stimulation, avoiding routine, boredom, and monotony."

    In order to grow it helps to leave our comfort zone. This is true for exercise as well as brain development. For those who find enjoyment in this, they will transcend themselves. Those that find this type of stimulation stressful may be better off taking a different approach. The psychological well being of people who shift into this GB will probably suffer during a transitional period.

    Are the events in Japan favarabel to the development of a G B? I think yes. Could it be that this will lead to the creation of high orbital mini earth. Will homo sapiens sapiens realize that the only sure way to keep on evolving is to migrate off planet earth into orbital space? I have been promoting "Extra Terrestrial Migration and Gene Engineering", so called Immortality Systems, leading to "Homo Immortalis Omnipotent", for the past 20 years.

    Good article; but i feel like it ended on a different topic than it started on; I don't see the correlation between keeping a stimulated mind and immortality. As stated, a productive mind increases natural lifespan, yet compared to medical technology the effect is negligible.
    This lead me to think that you're implying something more (Such as the fact that productive minds result in a more thermodynamically efficient system, which doesn't necessarily imply that nature favors it, as intelligence is a complex phenomena and cannot be accurately analyzed that way. I don't understand why that needs to be stated, if that is whats being stated?).

    Like i said, its a good article...but I don't see how increasing lifespan through stimulation, is related to the concept of a global brain.

    http://www.Homo-Immortalis-Omnipotent.org
    Homo Immortalis Omnipotent

    Living in “Infinite Space-Time”! No more “human created secondhand God's”!

    The function assigned to GOD is now available through understanding the Universe we are part of.
    We will be the Engineers of our own body chemistry, in the Infinity of Space-Time we can live
    forever.

    Biotechnology will control the “aging process” (we don't wear out, but are DNA programmed to
    age), and “involuntary death” will not exist any more.

    Science, Gene Engineering, Nano Technology, Epigenesis, Astrophysics
    etc. and Extra Terrestrial Migration will allow for “Goal Oriented Evolution”, leading to
    HOMO IMMORTALIS OMNIPOTENT.

    The fact that you are reading this is a good sign.

    Many people know that we all have to die, so anything that may undermine that belief will be
    avoided.

    If this would be information confirming that there is life after death, which is something many of us
    deem possible, we would be more inclined to believe it. The reason is, that once we have formed a
    belief and have been influenced accordingly, we are more reluctant to reevaluate our acceptance of
    it.

    Since I grew up in a katholik environment I was sure that by following the rules, I would go to
    heaven and presumable not be dead.

    I am now over seventy years old and have lived and loved on five Continents. With the information
    and experiences I have been exposed to, I have come to the conclusion, that science will make it
    possible that we can keep on living here, instead of dying and going to heaven.

    You may be inclined to believe in some form of life in heaven, because that is the opinion of
    confirmed authorities. I can assure you, that looking for information based on up to date science,
    leading to youthfulness and the avoidance of death, will not do any harm, but may give you more
    time to do so.

    You probably ask, what is this about?

    It is like a quantum leap. A move to a new state of being. In the material world it would be like the
    jump from the atom to a mineral. Or from a multicellular organism to a cerebral animal. Or from a
    culture that depends on an “idealized self projected image (God)”, to provide protection and escape
    from annihilation , to a society that uses science and technology to solve the problems of sickness
    and death.

    The tools that propelled us from primates to “Homo sapiens sapiens”, will now be developed, so we
    will evolve to Homo Immortalis Omnipotent.

    Of course there will be opposition from institutions that now have the monopoly on "Life after
    death". They should not worry, because our need for entertainment will always exist. Even sincere
    moral and religious disapproval should not divert us from taking this next step in evolution.

    Just like the hydrogen atom did not know that it would become the planet we now live on, even
    though it already contained the basic code leading to the status quo. We will realize that the abilities
    that we have assigned to our God's, are now for us to acquire.

    The only limit is our imagination! Freedom from death now!

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