Brain 2.0

It’s hard to talk about our own mortality in an objective way.

All of us — OK, most of us — know we’re going to die someday, but that doesn’t make the topic any easier for our amazingly complex yet limited human brains to comprehend.

The reason is that we understand things based on our experiences, yet when it comes to this subject we are limited to only one side — the experiential side. And at some point, those experiences will end.

At least that’s how it is and always has been. Now, however, technology has taken us to the point where we can begin to envision a possible form of immortality.

As physicist Michio Kaku explained last week on The Daily Show, the human brain operates very much like an incredibly powerful, incredibly compact computer, one far better than anything we currently could build. Yet eventually, we will be able to build it. Kaku says that in time, we will be able to download a “copy” of a human brain onto a real computer, in essence re-creating the brain in digital form. In the process, the human brain will be removed from the limitations of the rest of the body, which is built to live, on average, 70 or so years.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Kaku — it’s fascinating.

The notion that the brain can be replicated and “live” outside the body is backed by the most famous living theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking: “I think the brain is like a program in the mind, which is like a computer, so it’s theoretically possible to copy the brain on to a computer and so provide a form of life after death.”

This possible milestone in neurology creates major questions, some of which deal with subjects we as a species may never fully understand.

These include: If the brain could be “downloaded,” what would this prove about the soul? What a computerized version of your brain, sans body, be able to feel senses that a brain linked to a body can feel? If you were talking to the “real” version of a person, how would that compare to talking to (or otherwise communicating with) a computerized version of his or her brain?

Would we as individuals, and as a species, want to prolong our lives in digital form, if that form were indistinguishable from “real” life? And just as important, should we?

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