I want to be clear that, you know, science is science and it doesn’t really talk that directly about morality and about how people are supposed to interact with each other.
Dr. Ken Hayworth, taking a step back to acknowledge that his interview had taken a definite turn into the realm of philosophy.
Advances in cognitive science and neuroscience in the 20th century lead to a revitalization of philosophical and scientific debates on consciousness and the self. But for all the skirmishes between ‘dualists’ and ‘physicalists,’ and despite disputes about ‘philosophical zombies,’ these core existential questions remained mostly academic, irrelevant to the day-to-day lives of most of the Earth’s population. But if one existed in a world in which brains could be built, minds could be uploaded and memories could be preserved, would these questions seem so abstract?
Part 1: Will You Preserve Your Brain?
“I wish it were possible, from this instance, to invent a method of embalming drowned persons, in such a manner that they might be recalled to life at any period, however distant; for having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence, I should prefer to an ordinary death, the being immersed in a cask of Madeira wine, with a few friends, until that time, then to be recalled to life by the solar warmth of my dear country. But since, in all probability, we live in an age too early, and too near the infancy of science, to see such an art brought in our time to its perfection, I must, for the present, content myself with the treat…of the resurrection of a fowl or a turkey-cock.”
– Ben Franklin, Observations on the Generally Prevailing Doctrines on Life and Death
When Benjamin Franklin wrote this letter to his friend Jacques Barbeu-Dubourg, he was intrigued by examples he claimed to have witnessed of flies that had drowned and encased themselves in wine, only to revive once freed. Franklin was realistic about his own chances of resurrection, but presumably Barbeu-Dubourg – a French scientist – was never able to deliver on his promise of the rebirth of a turkey-cock.
Living ‘too near the infancy of science’ meant that Franklin lived in an era where distinguishing science from wishful thinking and charlatanism was particularly difficult. Yet the discussion around preservation with the goal of later revival has not changed much in the intervening 200 years. Often individuals’ opinions on the quality of current preservation methods are suspiciously well aligned with whether or not they think the whole ‘life after death’ thing sounds like a good idea. Is the field legitimate science, pseudo-science, or the domain of hucksters? Dr. Ken Hayworth – a proponent of the idea of brain preservation – wants to move the debate around brain preservation beyond ideology and towards measurable scientific milestones.
Part 2: Will You Upload Your Mind?
Mind uploading is the process of transferring the contents of an individual’s biological mind, including: memories, consciousness and personality traits…to another substrate, such as a computer.
There are countless ways human brain mapping will help humanity, notably for understanding and combating neurological disorders. But Hayworth’s ultimate goal of mind uploading pushes the research into the realm of a post-human possibility, a place few scientists have opened their own minds to.
Several large scale scientific endeavors to better understand the brain are underway; their success or failure could set the tone for the future mainstream acceptance or rejection of Hayworth’s roadmap to mind uploading. His ‘logical conclusion’ is still the stuff of science fiction – for now.
Part 3: If we can build a brain, what is the future of I?
In this film Dr. Ken Hayworth envisions a future that will increasingly prompt individuals to reassess their understanding of elements of daily life that are as rudimentary as “I” and “You.” What might be the implications of such a challenge, both in terms of how we view ourselves and in how we treat one another?