Twenty years from now your child has an accident, permanently damaging their brain, reducing their life expectancy, and significantly diminishing your family’s quality of life. Despite advancements, the medical community cannot fix their native brain. An artificial brain, a quantum machine, has been FDA approved and on the market for five years with about a hundred seemingly successful transfers of consciousness completed. The doctors believe a transfer of consciousness to the artificial brain will restore your child’s full cognitive ability. The artificial brain exists outside the body, has advantages of increased connectivity to computer systems and other artificial brains, and offers the ability for apparent immortality.
Do you choose to transfer your child’s consciousness?
For me, I can’t decide. I don’t have an answer. And, it bothers me.
Is it Faust selling his soul in return for untold riches? Or, is it the entry into a utopian existence in which you transcend the physical world? In many ways, it comes down to whether you believe in God/ “something greater” and whether your “True Self” remains accessible to the “something greater” from the new quantum machine.
If you’re an atheist and believe consciousness simply comes from the physical stuff in your head, your question is easier – does the mechanics of the machine match the mechanics in your head. At some point in the future, the answer is likely – yes.
I am Christian, firmly believe in God, believe there are powers greater than ourselves surrounding us. I believe heaven exists when our inner “True Self” vibrates in relation to each other, nature and God (if uncomfortable with the word “God,” substitute the powers that exist around us). Buddhism might call this state of mind Nirvana, the emptying of the self.
You don’t need to believe in God to feel this joy. Plato considered it ecstasis, Navy Seals call it “the switch,” when a group merges it consciousness, adrenaline junkies find it at the edge of radical experience, and performers touch it at Burning Man. So maybe you could enter the machine and feel Nirvana without ever having an authentic experience. You essentially become addicted to the high. And maybe that is all there is to it. Game over, humans have attained the highest consciousness possible.
So my quest continues, exploring the science and spirit of the question, looking for connections between the two sides, considering the ethical and moral issues. Maybe the answer is simply 42, as offered by Deep Thought in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Pebbles on the Path
Before making the decision no doubt you would ask your doctors many questions, talk to the people who were successful, possibly search for any failed ones, consult with neurologists and spiritual advisors. At the end of it all, you still have to make a leap of faith. Will your child remain the same, lose something, or even gain access to a new world – a higher consciousness? The decision forces you to consider your belief system, not only about God but also about the world around us.
This question, in a macro sense, is what I have been struggling to even articulate now for five years. It drove me to write Evolved, teaching myself how to write a novel, wrestling with different types of consciousness, researching neurology, psychology, and even quantum mechanics. Philosophy and theology have become major interests in my life – Spirituality a central pursuit. It has been quite a journey.
Again, I have no answers. All I can offer are SciFi novels confronting the question and a record of the path I have walked.
Jumping in, I’m going to step through a couple of my assumptions, offering alternative views for you to research if you choose.
Monism argues everything in the universe reduces to one basic thing, as opposed to Dualism. Monism Materialism argues the physical fully explains the mental state. From what I’ve read it seems many neurologists prefer this assumption to hold true about the brain/ mind. Monism Phenomenalism, or Idealism, argues that physical objects are reducible to mental thoughts (ie. the mind). Neutral Monism falls in between the physical and mental, arguing there is one single something that is neither completely physical or mental. Most recently, Reflexive Monism has developed – arguing the universe is psychophysical.
Assumption: Neutral Monism – Universe made of something else that manifests as either physical or mental.
String Theory comes close to aligning with monism, while Loop Quantum Gravity appears consistent with monism.
Ask spiritual people about ego and they’ll give an answer that involves something like a False Self, a component of the personality that seems necessary but also more of an outer face to the world. A psychologist might reference Freud while a neurologist would point to a network in the brain that roughly defines it.
Assumption: Ego is the network in our physical brain that evolved to navigate our object (body) in relation to other physical objects.
To operate in our world our consciousness constantly predicts the sensory inputs it receives. The man sitting in the chair at the coffee shop will be there when I look up next. The baseball hit towards me will follow a path similar to ones I have seen before. My wife will continue to love me tomorrow (although sometimes I test this one).
When these predictions match actual perceived outcomes our brain saves energy by avoiding the need to constantly recreate and reinterpret sensory inputs, which is generally the case. This energy saving mechanism of the brain also means we’re rarely present. We’re either in the near future anticipating outcomes, which requires energy, or we’re in the near past reinterpreting data collected to make it fit into our picture of the world. This non-present activity involves pulling together appropriate, or sometimes inappropriate, reactions to the stimulus. It also means our thoughts are dominated by this predictive relational effort to ensure we avoid the warning signs of a saber tooth tiger suddenly jumping out of a cubicle at work and eating us.
So I argue the ego, or false self, or even simply the self, is a concept constructed by our brain. The concept of “self” relates our existence to the world around us. This view is consistent with the view in Buddhism of the “self” as the source of all our suffering. It also mirrors how Judeo-Christian views of the “self” relative to God have evolved as our brain evolved. In Genesis, God is simply external to their “self,” hidden behind ordinary reality and visual seeing. It isn’t until later on, influenced by Greek thought, does God become omniscient and the “self” incorporates a soul somehow connected to God. Progressive aspects of Christianity argue a non-dual (monism) nature of the world, one in which God interpenetrates our world (panentheism), including within us. Our perception of our True “Self” has certainly grown, influenced by the expansionary sensory experiences.