Ambler's dinosaur troubles began because we humans, with
our attendant minds, think we are more like Ambler than ants. Since the
vital physiological role of the brain has become clear to medicine, the
vernacular sense of our center has migrated from the ancient heart to
We twentieth century humans live entirely in our heads. And so we
build robots that live in their heads. Scientists -- humans too -- think of
themselves as beings focused onto a spot just south of their forehead
behind their eyeballs. There breathes us. In fact, in 1968, brain death
became the deciding threshold for human life. No mind, no life.
Powerful computers birthed the fantasy of a pure disembodied
intelligence. We all know the formula: a mind inhabiting a brain
submerged in a vat. If science would assist me, the contemporary human
says, I could live as a brain without a body. And since computers are
big brains, I could live in a computer. In the same spirit a computer
mind could just as easily use my body.
One of the tenets in the gospel of American pop culture is the
widely held creed of transferability of mind. People declare that mind
transfer is a swell idea, or an awful idea, but not that it is a wrong
idea. In modern folk-belief, mind is liquid to be poured from one vessel
to another. From that comes Terminator 2, Frankenstein, and a huge chunk
of science fiction.
For better or worse, in reality we are not centered in our head. We
are not centered in our mind. Even if we were, our mind has no center,
no "I." Our bodies have no centrality either. Bodies and minds blur
across each others' supposed boundaries. Bodies and minds are not that
different from one another. They are both composed of swarms of sublevel
We know that eyes are more brain than camera. An eyeball has as much
processing power as a supercomputer. Much of our visual perception
happens in the thin retina where light first strikes us, long before the
central brain gets to consider the scene. Our spinal cord is not merely
a trunk line transmitting phone calls from the brain. It too thinks. We
are a lot closer to the truth when we point to our heart and not our
head as the center of behaviors. Our emotions swim in a soup of hormones
and peptides that percolate through our whole body. Oxytocin discharges
thoughts of love (and perhaps lovely thoughts) from our glands. These
hormones too process information. Our immune system, by science's new
reckoning, is an amazing parallel, decentralized perception machine,
able to recognize and remember millions of different molecules.
For Brooks, bodies clarify, simplify. Intelligences without bodies
and beings without form are spectral ghosts guaranteed to mislead.
Building real things in the real world is how you'll make complex
systems like minds and life. Making robots that have to survive in real
bodies, day to day on their own, is the only way to find artificial
intelligence, or real intelligence. If you don't want a mind to emerge,
then unhinge it from the body.