Ship of Theseus
What if you could replace every neuron in your brain with an exact duplicate, but instead of a nerve cell made of flesh, it was made of silicon? Every dendrite, every synapse would be replaced with an identically functioning quantum computer. Would “you” still be “YOU”? If not, at what point do you stop being a person and simply become a computer that emulates a person?
What if you were a spiritual person while your brain was flesh and blood? Would you still be spiritual after you were turned into a collection of computers? Would you still consider yourself to have a soul? Some people during extreme trauma have had near death experiences and claim to have seen God. What if you met God as your mind was being transcribed to silicon? Would your spiritual experience be any less valid than anyone else’s?
These are some of the questions raised in “Ship of Theseus”. Ralph Chalmers is killed in a automobile accident and has his brain transcribed to a computer. During the process, he has a meeting with God who tells him to go among the other Transcribed and return his flock to him. Ralph faces a number of difficulties from his family and a society that has not quite caught up with the technological revolution that can eliminate death but at a terrible cost.
Tim woke to the sound of the alarm at four-thirty. He rolled over and turned the buzzer off. He rose slowly from the bed and went to the bathroom, returning shortly after doing his morning ablations. Upon returning to the bed, he gently helped his wife rise from the bed, walked her to the bathroom, and helped her onto the toilet.
She looked up at Tim gratefully. “For better or for worse,” she murmured, “this is the last time you’ll have to do that, Tim.”
“Yes, Hanna, but I would do it for a hundred years without complaint.”
“I know you would, honey. I love you all the more for it.”
“Are you all right here? I was going to go down and make breakfast.”
“I’m fine, dear. I can’t eat anything today, of course, just make something for yourself.”
“That’s right, I forgot. Maybe I won’t have anything; I think I’m too nervous to eat.”
“You should eat something. It’s going to be a long day for you.”
“I know, but I can always pick up something at the hospital.”
“I’ll finish up here. My legs are steady enough. Make your- self some coffee and toast, please. By then I should be done and you can help me get dressed and bring me downstairs.”
“Ok, dear. You sure you feel strong enough?”
“Yes, Hon. My muscles are fine, it’s just that my brain won’t tell them to work, that’s all. I’ll be able to stand and face the sink. I’ll be good standing there.”
“Ok, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Hanna finished on the toilet, struggled to her feet and turned and leaned on the sink, washing her face for the last time. The doctor told her not to wear makeup or jewelry. She looked at her face in the mirror and thought “Will I still see this plain woman in the mirror when I wake up in rehab? Will she still be me? Will ‘I’ still be ‘me’?”
She finished her washing just as Tim came back upstairs.
“Ready, my love?”
“Yes, Hon.” As Tim helped his beloved walk out of the bathroom and back into the bedroom to change, she commented ruefully, “After all these years, I still don’t know what you saw in me. I feel so plain.”
“God told me you were the one for me. I don’t think I ever had a chance. I was smitten from the moment I saw you.”
Hanna smiled with a fleeting bit of happiness. “I bet you tell that to all the girls.”
“No, only the ones I marry and spend fifteen years with.”
“That many?” Tim walked her to the side of the bed and helped her sit.
“What outfit do you think I should wear?” she asked plaintively. “I know the doctor said it should be something simple, but I can’t make up my mind between the blue outfit or the green one.”
“I think the blue one is better on you. Besides you won’t need it that long.”
“I know, but I really don’t want to look plain on my last day on earth.”
“Darling, it’s not your last day. You’ll probably outlive me by several hundred years! You’ll be around for as long as you like!”
She looked at Tim and smiled wistfully.
Tim tenderly assisted Hanna to get dressed in her blue out- fit, then he quickly finished dressing. He helped her down the stairs where at the base of the stairs waited a treaded motorized chair. The chair was semi-autonomous and when it sensed Hanna getting close, it lifted itself to help her seat herself, being tuned to her brain through implants that had been previously embedded to assist her mobility. She didn’t really drive the motorized chair, as much as visualize the location of where she wanted it to take her.
“Before we leave, Hon, step into the living room with me and let us pray one last time together before we leave,” Tim said quickly.
“Of course, darling.”
She rolled into the living room and Tim stood before her and knelt. He took her hands into his and they both closed their eyes.
Tim began, “In the name of God the Father, and His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, we pray to you. Dear Father, our dear Hanna, who has blessed me with over fifteen years of wedded bliss is about to embark on a perilous journey today. We pray in Jesus’ name that you guide her surgeon’s hand with strength and courage and you return her safe to us this day. We pray that each doctor and each assistant is refreshed and at his or her own best today. Allow them to focus fully on the task at hand and may each decision be correct and each procedure accurate. Amen.”
Hanna then added, “Dear Lord, your Son, Jesus Christ is my personal Savior and I place myself in his hands today. Please allow my doctor to be accurate and true. And, my Lord, my sweet loving Lord, should you decide that I must be with you today and no longer on this Earth as I have been, please watch over my loving husband, Tim. I never deserved such a loving and caring man. Please take care of him, the only man I have ever loved. Amen.”
Tim looked up at her with tears in his eyes. “My darling, I will be with you when you awake from your surgery in VR rehab. I will always be by your side, you know that. But, are you certain, my dear, that you want to go through with this?” “Yes, I don’t fear the consciousness transcription. The clinic has given me so much information and I have full confidence in the doctor. It’s probably going to be more tiresome than anything else. I’ll just be lying there while everyone else does the work.”
“No, I meant, are you sure you want to go through the transcription itself? You and I differ so much on this, for this seems so much against God’s plan for man. What will happen to your soul? Will your soul and body be separated?”
“Tim, we’ve talked more than enough about this,” Hanna assured him. “It’s just like my chair is a prosthesis for my legs, I’ll be getting a prosthetic brain, that’s all. I’m sure my soul will still reside in me, wherever I am.”
“This is still such a radical procedure. It’s still quite controversial. The courts are still deciding the issues. You could be considered not human any longer. You might even be considered legally dead!”
“Tim, yes, it’s still quite controversial but really it’s the only option open to me, you know that. Besides, I don’t care what the courts decide, I’ll still know I’m me and that I’m human. I’m not turning into a robot!”
With no further words, the two then proceeded to the hospital in the early morning dawn.
At the hospital, after Hanna checked in at admissions, they sat impatiently in the waiting area. Hanna was in her motorized chair and Tim sat next to her. After about twenty minutes, the surgeon, who was also Transcribed, rolled up to them.
“Hanna, how are you feeling today?” he asked.
Hanna looked at him with just a bit of fear cracking through her stoic appearance. “I’m a bit nervous, Doctor.”
“That’s to be expected, of course. But are you feeling well, do you have any additional symptoms or other issues?”
“No, Doctor. I feel fine. I just want to get this over with. I’ve thought about nothing else for months. I want to get on with my life, even if it is inside a box.” Feeling embarrassed by her statement, she looked at the Doctor and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“It’s no problem, Hanna, really. Yes, life does go on, but it does change. But really that is what life is all about, isn’t it? We are constantly changing. Often slowly, but sometimes it is very quickly. But we change. As they say, the only constant, is change.”
“Thank you Doctor,” said Hanna. The surgeon then turned to Tim.
“Father, are there any questions I can answer for you?”
“No, Doctor. My wife and I have prayed about this often and while I have my reservations, I want the best for my Hanna.”
“Have you had a chance to go to any of the counseling groups we talked about?”
“No, Doctor, I have spoken to a much greater Counselor, my God and my Bible. I gain solace from them.”
“Very well, Father. If you have any questions, please reach out to the social services group here. They’ll be able to answer any of your questions.”
The Doctor then turned back to Hanna.
“Well, Hanna, shall we go? There is a bit of preparation you have to go through before we start. And I have to mate to the surgical suite. If you are ready, why don’t you follow me?”
“One moment, Doctor.”
Hanna then wheeled her chair in front of Tim. She leaned over and they embraced and kissed.
She held Tim’s face and said, “Be well, my darling. I will see you soon.”
“You as well, my love. God is with you now.”
They hugged one last time then she turned and followed the Doctor through the doors to surgery.
Tim sat back down to wait.
Several hours later, as Tim sat alone in the waiting room, the surgeon rolled up to Tim.
“Father Misinger, would you come with me please?”
“Doctor, is there a problem?”
“Please come with me,” was the surgeon’s non-answer.
Tim followed him silently into a nearby office and sat on one of the chairs.
The Transcribed surgeon rolled up next to him.
“I’m sorry, Tim. There was nothing we could do. Her instantiation failed. There was some initial activity, but we could not…”
“What do you mean? You mean she’s gone?”
After a pause the doctor said, “Yes. The transcription was proceeding normally when we encountered trouble. Instead of a conscious transcription we were forced to use an unconscious transcription method to try to salvage as much as possible from her brain. The cancer was too advanced. Too much of her brain had been destroyed; we really couldn’t recover enough matter to make her sensate. She never instantiated, she never regained consciousness. She was passed peacefully.”
His face darkens and he turned to the surgeon angrily, “How could you know that, robot?”
“Please Father, there is no need to use that tone of voice. Please understand…”
“Understand? Of course I understand! You failed her! She put her faith in you instead of God and you tortured and defiled her!”
“Please, Father Misinger, she felt no pain, I assure you!”
“Of course she felt pain! How could she not feel pain as she watched her body be defiled by those infernal machines! I begged her to let God take her silently and without pain and let the mercy of God proceed according to His plan. But she was insistent. She refused to opt-out. She actively sought out you monsters!”
The surgeon remains expressionless, “Father, I’ll leave you now. Please contact me if you have any questions. You may stay here as long as you need. Someone from Social Services will contact you about her remains. I’ll look in on you in a little while.”
The surgeon left the office and Father Misinger wept despairingly, looking up at the ceiling as if trying to see beyond its walls.
“God, why are You punishing me like this?” he cried. “I prayed for her soul. I prayed for Your forgiveness. I prayed for Hanna’s delivery from the disease YOU sent her. Why have You turned against me? Why have You forsaken me? How can I go on now without my darling wife?”