Psyborgism and Me

As biotechnology continues on its accelerating path, it’s only a matter of years before it is possible to interchange flesh for plastic and metal. It’s common now for people with amputated or missing limbs to have machine-appendages attached to their bodies. These limbs can be controlled via an electrode embedded in healthy nerves. This is a great mode of therapy for those who have lost a part of their self-concept through body parts amputated in accidents. The next step in this concept is to intentionally replace healthy body parts with technologically improved ones. This is certainly possible and many people will desire and achieve this switch to upgraded parts. I myself would not “upgrade” my body in this way, however it gives me some confidence that if I were to be morbidly harmed I could have the possibility of regaining or surpassing my previous abilities.

With respect to the self, cyborgism has a myriad of possibilities. I think that there is a strong idiosyncratic element to how exchanging body parts for biorobotic ones will affect the concept of an individual’s self. Having a body part removed and replaced could possibly enhance one’s view of his or her self through the knowledge that they may be more capable or stronger with the new part. Yet, some may feel that the limb is not truly them; it did not grow and develop with them as they have experienced life from birth onward. It would be equivalent to how a shoe is not part of the self, but if the shoe became your foot, and the flesh and bone no longer was there. Intermediately, some may have indifference to the bionic part due to their personal view of their own body. If they feel that their body is more of a shell or tool for their consciousness, then they may see a cyborg body part as just an alternate means to accomplishing goals with the body.

To extend the concept to a complete transformation of biological to technological, the self again could vary in how it is maintained. In general, the self is a mental construct. So, it is likely that the self could be able to persist beyond technological replacements, as long as the individual identifies the self through their conscious thoughts rather than a natural, physical embodiment. If a person identifies themselves through their body, then having a brain-in-a-jar-type of existence could cause serious damage to the self-concept and have psychological repercussions, such as depression. Depending on the manifestation of a total transformation, people could learn to adapt to their “new body” and thus redefine their view of themselves. It may be less of a stark transfer if the body parts are replaced slowly rather than if there is a sudden exchange to a entirely new body. Either way, there may be a period of time where one must learn the new body, gain experience with it, and eventually integrate it into their mental construct of the self as “me”, or “my body”.

The point where replacements destroy the self is hard to determine. A sudden transfer of the brain, or mind, to a robotic body could cause a serious effect. The body your mother’s and father’s genes have contributed to and designed, and the body you have grown into, would be replaced by one a factory has made. I can see this as causing some disturbing psychological experiences if one is not prepared for the transfer. It may be less traumatic or damaging to the self if body parts are slowly replaced, one-by-one, with robotic ones. Limbs may not be too strange or self-damaging, but once the head or face is replaced one may lose, at least in part, a sense of his or her self. However, if replaced body parts are made to emulate the original ones in form, motion, and appearance, then the self may have a far greater chance of being maintained; because the perception of one’s body is not so different from his or her biological one. With all this, it is also important to remember that in some cases bionics can give a person their sense of self back, such as in cases of lost locomotion or amputation. This idea of the self, as defined through our somatosensory reality, is salient and must be considered by both researchers and potential cyborgs.

4 Comments

  1. Great blog topic. My husband and I were talking about this topic not long ago in regards to Ted Williams. While we were in California we passed a street named after Ted and happened to remember that we thought he was the guy who has his head suspended in some kind of ice in Arizona. Reason being, he died but hopes someday that technology is advanced enough to put his thawed out brain in a new head. Maybe a cyborg head. Fact is stranger that Sci-fi.

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  2. In my line of word sometimes it is looking at individual brain cells that are needing to be changed to allow the person to feel whole again in a world of depression and thoughts of suicide. Many vets have PTSD and others have childhood trauma that haunts them daily. Change can occur w/o changing body parts, but changing the mind, the most powerful of tools in the shed. Good reads Professor!

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  3. You know maybe a retrospective study can be done in which we can do a qualitative analysis of the experience of people who got prosthetics. You know like exploring how they first lost their limbs, the trauma, then getting prosthetics and then getting used to it. We can then analyse different reports and see if their is a common process or number of stages in their adjustment. This may give us some insight as to how people will react and adjust to cybernetic enhancements in the future. Anyway nice blog post.

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