Why Three Pound Brain Matters (Perhaps Too Much)

by rsbakker

Why do I bother? I wonder sometimes whether this question occurs to me as much as it should. I read, and I write, and I read, and I write, and nothing I do makes a whit of bloody difference to the rush of conscripted millions, the elephantine thunder of frontlines always just over every horizon. Yours. Mine. No matter where we happen to find ourselves crouched, eyes darting.

Why persist? This is a leading question, presupposing, as it does, there was something else I could be doing, that I could ‘explore my options,’ if I wanted. Even if I had options, my exploration has never been something I had the option to explore. I wake up. I find myself writing, reading. I’m the one done unto, here. IT has always been in charge.

No. The real question has to be, Why do you bother?

That’s the hard question, the bit of broken glass in the dishwater of every blog like this, every site peddling something other than identity claims, ingroup proof. It’s not like I’m a ‘member in good standing’ anywhere.

Shared interest is the obvious answer. The questions posed here clearly matter, but the web is crawling with souls asking these questions. A great many hear the elephantine thunder.

But there is a reason peculiar to Three Pound Brain.

Every site you’ve visited, every opinion you’ve encountered dealing with the themes and questions posed here, be it the prospect of AI or the cultural significance of fantasy or the fate of the humanities or what have you: they all beg some account of cognition. What’s the social impact of cognitive technologies? Depends on the nature of cognition. What’s the meaning of meaning? Depends on the nature of cognition. Is there a hard-problem of consciousness? Depends on the nature of cognition. What’s the future of politics? Depends on the nature of cognition.

Pretty much any claim you read on any theoretical matter dealing with the intersection of culture and technology depends on some implicit or otherwise unarticulated account of cognition. No matter how compelling a piece seems, no matter how much alphabet is stacked behind the author’s name—no matter how many Likes—you need only ask, How do you naturalize cognition? to reveal the degree to which it rests upon speculative quicksand, the degree to which no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.

This question does as much damage in The New Yorker as at a Worldcon panel discussion.

But not here.