Assume that when you go to sleep tonight, and after you are sleeping quite deeply, I come along, put you under anaesthesia or some kind of induced coma, where your whole brain is put in a state of minimum brain activity. I now put you on a life support system to keep your body living. I then open your head and then carefully replace every neuron in your brain that controls your higher brain functions, including your consciousness and your sub-consciousness with a set of artificial neurons (assume that I have these neurons available, and the methodology and technology to replace your biological neurons with my artificial ones).
Also assume that these artificial neurons perform the exact same function as your normal neurons. Additionally also assume that each of these artificial neurons have the exact electrochemical interface and cell-functional state programmed into it of each of the neurons I replace. When this has been completed I wake you up. Now the question is, what will you experience when you wake up? Well nothing really, you probably won’t even notice that anything is different to when you went to sleep. Except perhaps some pain from the big hole I had to make into your head to do the replacement, and be a bit groggy from the anaesthesia, but we have some aspirin to deal with that.
So you can now function quite normally with your artificial brain. The artificial brain will be able to function quite normally, make new memories, and learn new skills, and make new friends.
So let’s take this thought experiment one step further. Let’s assume I have a perfect biological clone of yourself. As I replace the biological neurons in your brain as described above, I also replace the biological neurons in the brain of the clone, with the exact structure that I found in your brain. So after all this has been done, I wake the both of you up. What will happen at this point? Well you will just continue on as usual, as if nothing has happened, but the clone will now think he is you. He will have all your memories, all the brain functions that you had when you went to sleep, and he will simply think he is you. He will remember that he went to sleep the previous night, what he (you) had for dinner and that he had lived your previous life just exactly as you had.
Now let’s take this thought experiment one step further. What if I did exactly as described above, but I killed the real you before you woke up. I just give you an overdose of aesthetic drugs up to the point that your heart stops and you just die. Or you died for some other reason, like maybe you had terminal cancer, or a burglar came into the house and hit you over the head with a lead pipe. Or you were just too old to go on living.
So here is where it gets a bit tricky. What will happen to YOU? Does it matter if your brain and associated consciousness wakes up in a different body? Will it still be YOU, or will it be someone else, that thinks s/he is you, and the original YOU will simply be gone? Well, if you really think long and hard about it, it doesn't matter at all. If you can accept the simple fact that when you went to sleep in your original body, and effectively ‘died’ when you fell asleep, what does it matter ‘where’ your consciousness ‘woke up’? Whether it woke up in your original body, or another body (your clone) doesn't make one iota of difference. Unless there is something that ‘binds’ your original consciousness with your original body and original brain, such as a soul, or some spirit, then it makes no difference. If there is a soul or spirit that binds the two, this soul has been quite difficult to find. Up to the point that this soul or spirit might not actually exist, and if it does exist, it doesn't make any difference in the physical world, maybe in the spiritual world, but this is not what were are dealing with here.
The point is, every time you go to sleep, you lose your consciousness, and in effect you die. When you wake up in the morning, you are ‘resurrected’, your consciousness is restored, you have all the memories that you have when you went to sleep, and you simply go on living from that point onward. This is “YOU”. If it so happens that this “YOU” happened to wake up in a different body, using a different brain, it still will be “YOU”.
NOTE: Some have a belief that there needs to be some “transfer of consciousness” from your current brain to you new brain, but upon careful analysis, this seems to an unnecessary requirement. This belief most probably comes from the philosophical angle, where the concept of “Duality” is explored, where there is a distinct separation between the functions of the brain and the “mind”, as well as religious beliefs that there is a separate “soul” that links your physical brain and a supernatural spirit world.
OK let’s take our thought experiment another step forwards. Assume I didn't have an exact biological clone of you available (due to ethical concerns and legislation). But let’s say I have an artificial human available, that looks just like you, acts just like you, with functioning eyes, ears, skin, etc. just like any human, except that this artificial human is made of partial biology, silicon, and carbon fibre, and that this artificial human didn't eat food, but rather had a small fusion reactor installed that only needed some fuel every 100 years. If I now integrate my artificial brain with YOUR consciousness into the brain cavity of this artificial human, what would happen? Well when you wake up it will just be YOU with a funny body, that didn't ever get sick, didn't age, and never died for no good reason.
OK, so for one more small step in our thought experiment, let’s say I didn't have a clone available, or I didn't have an artificial human available (due to the fact that our technology is still years away from producing such a body), but what I do have available is a powerful computer and other electronic hardware. With this powerful computer I have some software and hardware that will interface with your artificial neuron brain. I simulate (or mimic) all the brain interfaces, to your eyes, ears, and all your other senses of your body. You see though High Definition cameras, you hear through high quality microphones, you speak through high quality sound emitters. Well it won’t be as nice as the previous examples, but it will still be better than being dead. You can put your computer in a motorized wheelchair and at least move around and participate in life, just as a typical paraplegic would do. Not ideal, but still better than nothing.
Now for the final step in our thought experiment. Let’s say that I don’t have a handful of programmable artificial neurons available (because our understanding and technology isn't even close to be able to do that in any meaningful way). Let’s say we just had very powerful computers available. So what could we do in this case? Well we could emulate the function and the state of our artificial brain directly in the computer, using simulation software. In this case all we need to do is to have captured the actual structure of your brain, the electrochemical working and state of each and every neuron (and clusters of neurons), reprogram them in the simulation software, and implement accurate interfaces to the rest of a body, that is also simulated in the computer. If we could do that we could wake YOU up in our computer, and you would experience consciousness as you would in you biological body. If we now interface this simulation of your brain and body to external sensors such as cameras, microphones and pressure sensors, you could still some meaningful life. You would not be dead, and that surely would be a good thing.
So what is the logical conclusion of our thought experiment? Let’s get back to reality. We don’t have programmable neurons available (yet), we don’t have the methodology to replace them in the brain (yet), or anywhere else, and even if we had, we don’t have clones available (yet), neither do we have sufficiently developed artificial humans (robots or androids) available (yet) to make our thought experiment feasible. We don’t even have the knowledge available to actually copy the structure and state of a human brain accurately to make our thought experiment reality.
We do however know some things. We can be relatively sure that with the continuous progress of technology, that it is just a matter of time before we will have all the technology and knowledge available to make it possible to extend your consciousness and by implication your life. The problem is however, HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE? Do you have enough time to wait until technology comes along and become affordable enough for YOU to use. Most probably the answer is for most of you that read this, is an emphatic NO. If you are in your high 30’s probably no. If you are in your 20’s maybe. This is due to purely bad luck that you were simply born too early; you are going to miss out. That seems to be highly unfair.
So how do we solve this seemingly intractable problem? We have to buy some time. We have to separate the problem of resurrecting your brain in an artificial environment, from the problem of capturing the required information to do so at some future time. The first problem is very hard, and will take a lot of time. The second problem is still hard, but much simpler. The first problem might take in the order of 50 – 100 years to accomplish. The second problem can be accomplished in a time-scale of say between 5 and 10 years.
So the question is, if the option was available today that you could go down to your local Brain Capture and Storage Store, and capture your brain, to be resurrected at some later time, would you do it? If not, why not?
What do you have to lose, except you life?
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