Be Careful What You Think

My mind often wanders to the dark, morbid edges of curiosity, sniffing about to find ideas that might not appeal to the masses. I suppose my motivation is, in part, ego; I want to be unique and am driven toward subjects about which there is a relative paucity of knowledge. For example, I wonder whether, one day, science will enable us to retrieve information from the brains of dead people, the way certain trained computer technicians can capture data from failed computer drives. Whether that remote possibility eventually will become a reality is, today, unknown. I suspect the answer will not reveal itself during my lifetime. But I can think it and, therefore, I can talk about it and write about it.

Yet, as I mull the idea over in my head, I do a bit of fumbling around on the internet and discover that others have already written books about this concept. Fiction books. Damn! I am not unique, after all. And, I discovered, others have asked whether the idea has even a remote possibility of becoming reality. The answers suggest that the human brain is similar to RAM, versus a flash drive or pen drive, therefore once the electrical charges in the brain disappear at death, so does the data stored therein.

That does not deter me. Writing does not always have to rely on reality, does it? Indeed, it does not! Thus, I can write or talk about whatever I wish. Language, and its ability to structure thoughts, permits me to simply make stuff up. The challenge is to convince the reader or listener that what I say is sufficiently plausible that he or she will buy it. Yes, it’s the “willing suspension of disbelief,” a phrase we’ve all heard and read so many times it short-circuits our synapses the moment it flashes in front of our mental image.

As I sit here, just shy of seven in the morning, more than three hours after getting up to face the day, I imagine a scene in which a trained Post-mortem Neurological Data Miner inserts what looks like a worm affixed to a long flexible metal tube into a hole drilled in the head of a corpse. He explains to a person next to him what he is doing:

“The tip of the device is a biomechanical hybrid, integrating living cells with an electromechanical appliance. The cells at the receiving end of the equipment extract data from the brain and the appliance decodes the information, translating it into visual images, sensations like touch and taste and smell and so on, and to some extent, to words. From those data, the computer can reconstruct thoughts, experiences, and the like into forms we can readily understand. Essentially, we can experience, again, what the dead person experienced during her lifetime.”

Now, should this or something like it become a reality, I suspect the ethical questions it raise will dwarf most other ethical issues of our time. Is it appropriate, for example, to extract from a corpse his sexual fantasies or his unspoken opinions about his former employer? But, on the other hand, would it not be immensely useful to criminal investigators to be able to “read” the last few moments of a murder victim’s life? However, wouldn’t that capability also be horribly traumatic and painful to survivors made aware of what the victim’s last moments were like?

With these thoughts in mind, my admonition to you is this. Be careful what you think. You never know when someone might be able to resurrect your thoughts, revealing to the world what you were really thinking.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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