Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I live you...I live you very much.

I'm still playing hooky from the next installment of my Combat Realism series. Let me float a different story idea instead:

Imagine a story setting in which you could assume the body of another person. Any other person, living or dead, complete with their memories. (This post was inspired by a friend's comment a while ago concerning spell check correcting her "I love you" to "I live you"--thanks, Teddi.)

Something like my idea has been done in a variety of ways in the past. An original Star Trek episode featured a machine that was able to transfer a woman's inner self, her soul if you will (though the episode didn't use that term) into Captain Kirk's body and vice versa. Later, in the movies, Doctor McCoy carries around Spock's Katra, the Vulcan equivalent to a soul (given to him in a mind-meld) prior to it being returned to a new version of Spock's body.

Stories have even featured robot surrogates that a person can project their consciousness into. Or on a technologically simpler level,virtual reality projections have been proposed in which anybody could assume the shape of anyone or anything in a highly realistic digital projection that hits all of a person's senses.

On a similar vein, I've proposed in the past on this blog the ability to save and recover a person's brain with electronic implants (in my post on Revive), a system that would act as a "black box" for a person's mind. And later in The Interchangeable Brain I took this idea a step further and imagined people could swap the brain data I previously discussed, effectively taking the place of another person. ("Or would they really?" I wondered.)

Let me develop the previous notions further. Imagine a story world in which a human being could be rapidly grown from DNA samples, (which sci fi has done numerous times). Then the brain of this new clone could be reprogrammed with a person's mind (again, as stated above, this has been written before). But to take this a step further, imagine a world in which careful genetic research could reproduce the bodies of people no longer living. Then implant their brains with recreations of their memories based on what is known of that person from history--and then place a living person into that system. You would not be yourself in another body--your very thoughts would be changed, merged with those of the person you entered.

Figures from history would be very popular for this sort of thing, but so would living celebrities. Imagine living celebrities being paid high royalties for allowing people to copy them. So that strangers could merge their thoughts and inner selves into the bodies of the rich and famous. Though this sort of procedure could be attempted so it isn't a merger--it instead could be set up so the stranger would be just an observer in another person's mind.

First of all, the ability to recreate historic people at all would make something like a Jurassic Park of historical figures, wouldn't it? Or at least would make it possible--imagine Napoleon vs. Genghis Khan vs. Julius Caesar. Though that's not my focus here.

The ability to load yourself into historic or celebrity brains would allow unique opportunities of learning about the lives of fascinating people from the past and present. Though for the historic figures, a lot would depend on the types of memories loaded into a brain and what DNA was used to create a person. People like Jesus or Socrates, for whom only some thoughts and experiences are preserved by history and any direct relatives from which DNA could be extrapolated are long since gone, would be especially controversial. (Especially an attempt to clone Jesus. I'd find such an attempt inherently foolish and doomed to fail--others would see it as blasphemy.) There would have to be multiple versions with radically different characteristics for further-in-the-past or obscure historical figures...

The same sort of thing could be done with digital modeling in theory. But genetic systems--what I would call in a story using this idea "wet modeling"--would develop a complexity that due to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle digits may never be able to reproduce. And even if totally realistic virtual reality were possible in some super-technological future, some people would prefer "wet models."

The reason to tackle this sort of story as someone who has the Christian convictions I hold would be because it gives the opportunity to ask: "What is the difference between the contents of all a person's memories and the soul? What does it really mean to be who you are? Is it possible to think radically different thoughts, ones you'd never thought before, and still be yourself when you're finished?"

That leads to how I would end such a story. As I'd write it, merging your mind with another person's mind would be filled with unexpected failures and unpredicted reactions. Even in such a super-technological world as the one I'm imagining here, God is the master of circumstances, not we human beings. And I would say that thinking someone else's thoughts, even for a short time, would change who you are. There would be no going back to thinking the exactly same way as you had beforehand (which relates to another thing my friend Teddi said, that the Bible states in Proverbs that a person is what they think). So at the point where the protagonist realized this is true, that's where I'd want to use the line, "I live you...I live you very much."

Though that might be the sort of thing only my brain, under these present circumstances, would find clever. :)



  1. There are so many stories that could draw on these concepts, Travis. Really like the term "wet modeling" in this context. Great stuff!

  2. Ugh, that is one of the worst Trek episodes ever (*shudders*), only surpassed by "Spock's Brain" for pure awfulness. Worst, everyone's so preoccupied with getting Kirk back that they completely miss: wow, we have technology that can transfer one person to another!

    As you pointed out it's a cool idea. Some of the concepts you float around remind me of other stories. "The Personifid Project" by R. E. Bartlett floated the idea of transferring human brains to robot bodies (personifids), and grappled with the issue of where the line between soul and body lay. Also, Bill Myers wrote a book way back about using DNA alleged to be from Christ in the formation of a new person (think the frog DNA in Jurrassic Park) in his novel "Blood of Heaven" (http://www.billmyers.com/index.php/books/28-blood-of-heaven).

    I've never read the Myers novel, so can't say how it goes, but I did read "Personifid," and have to say didn't like the obvious connection: mental transfer = soul theft = demons. It may be true, but it was a bit heavy-handed and resorted to the go-to answer for everything in Christian spec fic. Come to think of it, Whedon's Dollhouse was a study of this very idea too, though I got bored with that show eventually.

    Honestly, since we're still unsure of how the mind works, and going on the basis of the uncertainty principle, I'm not sure we could ever literally think the same thoughts as someone else. It's the basic cloning technology fallacy: even with the exact same DNA, a clone of someone would not automatically become the same exact person. Environmental factors change things, not just in human interaction but in the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the microbes we're exposed to. A present-day clone of Hitler would not be Hitler: he might turn out bad in the end, but he would do so in different ways and for different motivations.

    You'd need complete digital mapping of the brain and the ability to impose those same neural images on another, and even then I'm not convinced you could create a 1-to-1 transfer. Just as the receiver's thoughts would be changed by the transfer the thoughts received would be changed by the receiver. That might provoke a very different kind of story: say a research wants to study the impact different personalities might have on criminal tendencies, and whether these tendencies can be overcome. He maps known criminals to test subjects of different upbringings and types, and records how the test subjects respond to the intrusion of these thoughts.

    1. Good points, Michelle. My story idea does not really assume that historical figures or celebrities could be reproduced with total accuracy, but that they could be reproduced to a close enough degree that people would be willing to accept they are an accurate reproduction. Which isn't at all the same thing in fact.

      I rather vaguely accounted for what you mention with my statement about "unexpected failures and unpredicted reactions" being part of how I'd write this. Yes, if I would wrote a story featuring this idea, I would raise the question to what degree another person was actually in fact being reproduced. But I'd portray people brushing past these doubts to do such brain mergers anyway.

      I like your idea about systematically testing criminals. You could also have stories about attempts to recreate historical figures to see which set of circumstances produces results that match history. Twenty slightly different figures based on Napoleon in order to see which one really does become a great strategist. Which still would raise the question of how much of a person comes from DNA and background and how much is based on individual choices...