Fiction but Raises some interesting what ifs

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hawk
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Joined: Wed Feb 17, 2016 7:54 am

Fiction but Raises some interesting what ifs

Post by hawk » Mon Nov 13, 2017 4:14 am

Obviously Fiction however as robotics, cybernetics, nano-tech progress it really is not that far fetched of a possibility that someone could control an avatar or body remotely to force a person to do any number of actions. This does pose a lot of questions that we should really being trying to answer today before it becomes a reality. As well as decide what directions we want all this tech to really go. Not to mention what level of government and corporate privacy / secrecy should we allow with research that has the potential to control us.

copied from:
https://www.lehigh.edu/~mhb0/Dennett-WhereAmI.pdf

Where Am I?
Daniel C. Dennett

Now that I’ve won my suit under the Freedom of Information Act, I am at liberty to reveal for the
first time a curious episode in my life that may be of interest not only to those engaged in research
in the philosophy of mind, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience but also to the general public.
Several years ago I was approached by Pentagon officials who asked me to volunteer for a highly
dangerous and secret mission. In collaboration with NASA and Howard Hughes, the Department
of Defense was spending billions to develop a Supersonic Tunneling Underground Device, or
STUD. It was supposed to tunnel through the earth’s core at great speed and deliver a specially
designed atomic warhead “right up the Red’s missile silos,” as one of the Pentagon brass put it.
The problem was that in an early test they had succeeded in lodging a warhead about a mile
deep under Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they wanted me to retrieve it for them. “Why me?” I asked. Well,
the mission involved some pioneering applications of current brain research, and they had heard of
my interest in brains and of course my Faustian curiosity and great courage and so forth … . Well,
how could I refuse? The difficulty that brought the Pentagon to my door was that the device I’d
been asked to recover was fiercely radioactive, in a new way. According to monitoring instruments,
something about the nature of the device and its complex interactions with pockets of material deep
in the earth had produced radiation that could cause severe abnormalities in certain tissues of the
brain. No way had been found to shield the brain from these deadly rays, which were apparently
harmless to other tissues and organs of the body. So it had been decided that the person sent to
recover the device should leave his brain behind. It would be kept in a safe place as there it could
execute its normal control functions by elaborate radio links. Would I submit to a surgical
procedure that would completely remove my brain, which would then be placed in a life-support
system at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston? Each input and output pathway, as it was
severed, would be restored by a pair of microminiaturized radio transceivers, one attached precisely
to the brain, the other to the nerve stumps in the empty cranium. No information would be lost, all
the connectivity would be preserved. At first I was a bit reluctant. Would it really work? The
Houston brain surgeons encouraged me. “Think of it,” they said, “as a mere stretching of the nerves.
If your brain were just moved over an inch in your skull, that would not alter or impair your mind.
We’re simply going to make the nerves indefinitely elastic by splicing radio links into them.”
I was shown around the life-support lab in Houston and saw the sparkling new vat in which my
brain would be placed, were I to agree. I met the large and brilliant support team of neurologists,
hematologists, biophysicists, and electrical engineers, and after several days of discussions and
demonstrations I agreed to give it a try. I was subjected to an enormous array of blood tests, brain
scans, experiments, interviews, and the like. They took down my autobiography at great length,
recorded tedious lists of my beliefs, hopes, fears, and tastes. They even listed my favorite stereo
recordings and gave me a crash session of psychoanalysis.
The day for surgery arrived at last and of course I was anesthetized and remember nothing of the
operation itself. When I came out of anesthesia, I opened my eyes, looked around, and asked the
inevitable, the traditional, the lamentably hackneyed postoperative question: “Where am l?” The
nurse smiled down at me. “You’re in Houston,” she said, and I reflected that this still had a good
chance of being the truth one way or another. She handed me a mirror. Sure enough, there were the
tiny antennae poling up through their titanium ports cemented into my skull.
“I gather the operation was a success,” I said. “I want to go see my brain.” They led me (I was a
bit dizzy and unsteady) down a long corridor and into the life-support lab. A cheer went up from
the assembled support team, and I responded with what I hoped was a jaunty salute. Still feeling
lightheaded, I was helped over to the life-support vat. I peered through the glass. There, floating in
what looked like ginger ale, was undeniably a human brain, though it was almost covered with
printed circuit chips, plastic tubules, electrodes, and other paraphernalia. “Is that mine?” I asked.
“Hit the output transmitter switch there on the side of the vat and see for yourself,” the project
director replied. I moved the switch to OFF, and immediately slumped, groggy and nauseated, into
the arms of the technicians, one of whom kindly restored the switch to its ON position. While I
recovered my equilibrium and composure, I thought to myself: “Well, here I am sitting on a folding
chair, staring through a piece of plate glass at my own brain … But wait,” I said to myself,
“shouldn’t I have thought, ‘Here I am, suspended in a bubbling fluid, being stared at by my own
eyes’?” I tried to think this latter thought. I tried to project it into the tank, offering it hopefully to
my brain, but I failed to carry off the exercise with any conviction. I tried again. “Here am I, Daniel
Dennett, suspended in a bubbling fluid, being stared at by my own eyes.” No, it just didn’t work.
Most puzzling and confusing. Being a philosopher of firm physicalist conviction, I believed unswervingly
that the tokening of my thoughts was occurring somewhere in my brain: yet, when I
thought “Here I am,” where the thought occurred to me was here, outside the vat, where I, Dennett,
was standing staring at my brain.
I tried and tried to think myself into the vat, but to no avail. I tried to build up to the task by
doing mental exercises. I thought to myself, “The sun is shining over there,” five times in rapid
succession, each time mentally ostending a different place: in order, the sunlit corner of the lab, the
visible front lawn of the hospital, Houston, Mars, and Jupiter. I found I had little difficulty in
getting my “there”s to hop all over the celestial map with their proper references. I could loft a
“there” in an instant through the farthest reaches of space, and then aim the next “there” with
pinpoint accuracy at the upper left quadrant of a freckle on my arm. Why was I having such trouble
with “here”? “Here in Houston” worked well enough, and so did “here in the lab,” and even “here in
this part of the lab,” but “here in the vat” always seemed merely an unmeant mental mouthing. I
tried closing my eyes while thinking it. This seemed to help, but still I couldn’t manage to pull it off,
except perhaps for a fleeting instant. I couldn’t be sure. The discovery that I couldn’t be sure was also
unsettling. How did I know where I meant by “here” when I thought “here”? Could I think I meant
one place when in fact I meant another? I didn’t see how that could be admitted without untying
the few bonds of intimacy between a person and his own mental life that had survived the
onslaught of the brain scientists and philosophers, the physicalists and behaviorists. Perhaps I was
incorrigible about where I meant when I said “here.” But in my present circumstances it seemed that
either I was doomed by sheer force of mental habit to thinking systematically false indexical
thoughts, or where a person is (and hence where his thoughts are tokened for purposes of semantic
analysis) is not necessarily where his brain, the physical seat of his soul, resides. Nagged by
confusion, I attempted to orient myself by falling back on a favorite philosopher’s ploy. I began
naming things.
“Yorick,” I said aloud to my brain, “you are my brain. The rest of my body, seated in this chair, I
dub ‘Hamlet.’” So here we all are: Yorick’s my brain, Hamlet’s my body, and I am Dennett. Now,
where am I? And when I think “where am I?”, where’s that thought tokened? Is it tokened in my
brain, lounging about in the vat, or right here between my ears where it seems to be tokened? Or
nowhere? Its temporal coordinates give me no trouble; must it not have spatial coordinates as well? I
began making a list of the alternatives.
1. Where Hamlet goes there goes Dennett. This principle was easily refuted by appeal to the
familiar brain-transplant thought experiments so enjoyed by philosophers. If Tom and Dick switch
brains, Tom is the fellow with Dick’s former body—just ask him; he’ll claim to be Tom and tell you
the most intimate details of Tom’s autobiography. It was clear enough, then, that my current body
and I could part company, but not likely that I could be separated from my brain. The rule of
thumb that emerged so plainly from the thought experiments was that in a brain-transplant
operation, one wanted to be the donor not the recipient. Better to call such an operation a body
transplant, in fact. So perhaps the truth was,
2. Where Yorick goes there goes Dennett. This was not at all appealing, however. How could I be
in the vat and not about to go anywhere, when I was so obviously outside the vat looking in and
beginning to make guilty plans to return to my room for a substantial lunch? This begged the
question I realized, but it still seemed to be getting at something important. Casting about for some
support for my intuition, I hit upon a legalistic sort of argument that might have appealed to Locke.
Suppose, I argued to myself, I were now to fly to California, rob a bank, and be apprehended. In
which state would I be tried: in California, where the robbery took place, or in Texas, where the
brains of the outfit were located? Would I be a California felon with an out-of-state brain, or a Texas
felon remotely controlling an accomplice of sorts in California? It seemed possible that I might beat
such a rap just on the undecidability of that jurisdictional question, though perhaps it would be
deemed an interstate, and hence Federal, offense. In any event, suppose I were convicted. Was it
likely that California would be satisfied to throw Hamlet into the brig, knowing that Yorick was
living the good life and luxuriously taking the waters in Texas? Would Texas incarcerate Yorick,
leaving Hamlet free to take the next boat to Rio? This alternative appealed to me. Barring capital
punishment or other cruel and unusual punishment, the state would be obliged to maintain the lifesupport
system for Yorick though they might move him from Houston to Leavenworth, and aside
from the unpleasantness of the opprobrium, I, for one, would not mind at all and would consider
myself a free man under those circumstances. If the state has an interest in forcibly relocating
persons in institutions, it would fail to relocate me in any institution by locating Yorick there. If this
were true, it suggested a third alternative.
3. Dennett is wherever he thinks he is. Generalized, the claim was as follows: At any given time a
person has a point of view and the location of the point of view (which is determined internally by
the content of the point of view) is also the location of the person.
Such a proposition is not without its perplexities, but to me it seemed a step in the right
direction. The only trouble was that it seemed to place one in a heads-I-win/tails-you-lose situation
of unlikely infallibility as regards location. Hadn’t I myself often been wrong about where I was, and
at least as often uncertain? Couldn’t one get lost? Of course, but getting lost geographically is not the
only way one might get lost. If one were lost in the woods one could attempt to reassure oneself
with the consolation that at least one knew where one was: one was right here in the familiar
surroundings of one’s own body. Perhaps in this case one would not have drawn one’s attention to
much to be thankful for. Still, there were worse plights imaginable, and I wasn’t sure I wasn’t in such
a plight right now.
Point of view clearly had something to do with personal location, but it was itself an unclear
notion. It was obvious that the content of one’s point of view was not the same as or determined by
the content of one’s beliefs or thoughts. For example, what should we say about the point of view of
the Cinerama viewer who shrieks and twists in his seat as the roller-coaster footage overcomes his
psychic distancing? Has he forgotten that he is safely seated in the theater? Here I was inclined to
say that the person is experiencing an illusory shift in point of view. In other cases, my inclination
to call such shifts illusory was less strong. The workers in laboratories and plants who handle
dangerous materials by operating feedback-controlled mechanical arms and hands undergo a shift in
point of view that is crisper and more pronounced than anything Cinerama can provoke. They can
feel the heft and slipperiness of the containers they manipulate with their metal fingers. They know
perfectly well where they are and are not fooled into false beliefs by the experience, yet it is as if they
were inside the isolation chamber they are peering into. With mental effort, they can manage to
shift their point of view back and forth, rather like making a transparent Necker cube or an Escher
drawing change orientation before one’s eyes. It does seem extravagant to suppose that in performing
this bit of mental gymnastics, they are transporting themselves back and forth.
Still their example gave me hope. If I was in fact in the vat in spite of my intuitions, I might be
able to train myself to adopt that point of view even as a matter of habit. I should dwell on images
of myself comfortably floating in my vat, beaming volitions to that familiar body out there. I
reflected that the ease or difficulty of this task was presumably independent of the truth about the
location of one’s brain. Had I been practicing before the operation, I might now be finding it
second nature. You might now yourself try such a trompe l’oeil. Imagine you have written an inflammatory
letter which has been published in the Times, the result of which is that the government has
chosen to impound your brain for a probationary period of three years in its Dangerous Brain
Clinic in Bethesda, Maryland. Your body of course is allowed freedom to earn a salary and thus to
continue its function of laying up income to be taxed. At this moment, however, your body is seated
in an auditorium listening to a peculiar account by Daniel Dennett of his own similar experience.
Try it. Think yourself to Bethesda, and then hark back longingly to your body, far away, and yet
seeming so near. It is only with long-distance restraint (yours? the government’s?) that you can
control your impulse to get those hands clapping in polite applause before navigating the old body
to the rest room and a well-deserved glass of evening sherry in the lounge. The task of imagination
is certainly difficult, but if you achieve your goal the results might be consoling.
Anyway, there I was in Houston, lost in thought as one might say, but not for long. My speculations
were soon interrupted by the Houston doctors, who wished to test out my new prosthetic
nervous system before sending me off on my hazardous mission. As I mentioned before, I was a bit
dizzy at first, and not surprisingly, although I soon habituated myself to my new circumstances
(which were, after all, well nigh indistinguishable from my old circumstances). My accommodation
was not perfect, however, and to this day I continue to be plagued by minor coordination difficulties.
The speed of light is fast, but finite, and as my brain and body move farther and farther apart,
the delicate interaction of my feedback systems is thrown into disarray by the time lags. Just as one
is rendered close to speechless by a delayed or echoic hearing of one’s speaking voice so, for instance,
I am virtually unable to track a moving object with my eyes whenever my brain and my body are
more than a few miles apart. In most matters my impairment is scarcely detectable, though I can no
longer hit a slow curve ball with the authority of yore. There are some compensations of course.
Though liquor tastes as good as ever, and warms my gullet while corroding my liver, I can drink it
in any quantity I please, without becoming the slightest bit inebriated, a curiosity some of my close
friends may have noticed (though I occasionally have feigned inebriation, so as not to draw attention
to my unusual circumstances). For similar reasons, I take aspirin orally for a sprained wrist, but if
the pain persists I ask Houston to administer codeine to me in vitro. In times of illness the phone
bill can be staggering.
But to return to my adventure. At length, both the doctors and I were satisfied that I was ready
to undertake my subterranean mission. And so I left my brain in Houston and headed by helicopter
for Tulsa. Well, in any case, that’s the way it seemed to me. That’s how I would put it, just off the
top of my head as it were. On the trip I reflected further about my earlier anxieties and decided that
my first postoperative speculations had been tinged with panic. The matter was not nearly as strange
or metaphysical as I had been supposing. Where was I? In two places, clearly: both inside the vat
and outside it. Just as one can stand with one foot in Connecticut and the other in Rhode Island, I
was in two places at once. I had become one of those scattered individuals we used to hear so much
about. The more I considered this answer, the more obviously true it appeared. But, strange to say,
the more true it appeared, the less important the question to which it could be the true answer
seemed. A sad, but not unprecedented, fate for a philosophical question to suffer. This answer did
not completely satisfy me, of course. There lingered some question to which I should have liked an
answer, which was neither “Where are all my various and sundry parts?” nor “What is my current
point of view?” Or at least there seemed to be such a question. For it did seem undeniable that in
some sense I and not merely most of me was descending into the earth under Tulsa in search of an
atomic warhead.
When I found the warhead, I was certainly glad I had left my brain behind, for the pointer on
the specially built Geiger counter I had brought with me was off the dial. I called Houston on my
ordinary radio and told the operation control center of my position and my progress. In return,
they gave me instructions for dismantling the vehicle, based upon my on-site observations. I had set
to work with my cutting torch when all of a sudden a terrible thing happened. I went stone deaf. At
first I thought it was only my radio earphones that had broken, but when I tapped on my helmet, I
heard nothing. Apparently the auditory transceivers had gone on the fritz. I could no longer hear
Houston or my own voice, but I could speak, so I started telling them what had happened. In
midsentence, I knew something else had gone wrong. My vocal apparatus had become paralyzed.
Then my right hand went limp—another transceiver had gone. I was truly in deep trouble. But
worse was to follow. After a few more minutes, I went blind. I cursed my luck, and then I cursed the
scientists who had led me into this grave peril. There I was, deaf, dumb, and blind, in a radioactive
hole more than a mile under Tulsa. Then the last of my cerebral radio links broke, and suddenly I
was faced with a new and even more shocking problem: whereas an instant before I had been buried
alive in Oklahoma, now I was disembodied in Houston. My recognition of my new status was not
immediate. It took me several very anxious minutes before it dawned on me that my poor body lay
several hundred miles away, with heart pulsing and lungs respirating, but otherwise as dead as the
body of any heart-transplant donor, its skull packed with useless, broken electronic gear. The shift in
perspective I had earlier found well nigh impossible now seemed quite natural. Though I could
think myself back into my body in the tunnel under Tulsa, it took some effort to sustain the
illusion. For surely it was an illusion to suppose I was still in Oklahoma: I had lost all contact with
that body.
It occurred to me then, with one of those rushes of revelation of which we should be suspicious,
that I had stumbled upon an impressive demonstration of the immateriality of the soul based upon
physicalist principles and premises. For as the last radio signal between Tulsa and Houston died
away, had I not changed location from Tulsa to Houston at the speed of light? And had I not
accomplished this without any increase in mass? What moved from A to B at such speed was surely
myself, or at any rate my soul or mind—the massless center of my being and home of my
consciousness. My point of view had lagged somewhat behind, but I had already noted the indirect
bearing of point of view on personal location. I could not see how a physicalist philosopher could
quarrel with this except by taking the dire and counterintuitive route of banishing all talk of
persons. Yet the notion of personhood was so well entrenched in everyone’s world view, or so it
seemed to me, that any denial would be as curiously unconvincing, as systematically disingenuous,
as the Cartesian negation, “non sum.”
The joy of philosophic discovery thus tided me over some very bad minutes or perhaps hours as
the helplessness and hopelessness or my situation became more apparent to me. Waves of panic and
even nausea swept over me, made all the more horrible by the absence of their normal bodydependent
phenomenology. No adrenaline rush of tingles in the arms, no pounding heart, no
premonitory salivation. I did feel a dread sinking feeling in my bowels at one point, and this tricked
me momentarily into the false hope that I was undergoing a reversal of the process that landed me
in this fix—a gradual undisembodiment. But the isolation and uniqueness of that twinge soon
convinced me that it was simply the first of a plague of phantom body hallucinations that I, like any
other amputee, would be all too likely to suffer.
My mood then was chaotic. On the one hand, I was fired up with elation of my philosophic
discovery and was wracking my brain (one of the few familiar things I could still do), trying to
figure out how to communicate my discovery to the journals; while on the other, I was bitter, lonely,
and filled with dread and uncertainty. Fortunately, this did not last long, for my technical support
team sedated me into a dreamless sleep from which I awoke, hearing with magnificent fidelity the
familiar opening strains of my favorite Brahms piano trio. So that was why they had wanted a list of
my favorite recordings! It did not take me long to realize that I was hearing the music without ears.
The output from the stereo stylus was being fed through some fancy rectification circuitry directly
into my auditory nerve. I was mainlining Brahms, an unforgettable experience for any stereo buff.
At the end of the record it did not surprise me to hear the reassuring voice of the project director
speaking into a microphone that was now my prosthetic ear. He confirmed my analysis of what had
gone wrong and assured me that steps were being taken to re-embody me. He did not elaborate,
and after a few more recordings, I found myself drifting off to sleep. My sleep lasted, I later learned,
for the better part of a year, and when I awoke, it was to find myself fully restored to my senses.
When I looked into the mirror, though, I was a bit startled to see an unfamiliar face. Bearded and a
bit heavier, bearing no doubt a family resemblance to my former face, and with the same look of
spritely intelligence and resolute character, but definitely a new face. Further self-explorations of an
intimate nature left me no doubt that this was a new body, and the project director confirmed my
conclusions. He did not volunteer any information on the past history of my new body and I
decided (wisely, I think in retrospect) not to pry. As many philosophers unfamiliar with my ordeal
have more recently speculated, the acquisition of a new body leaves one’s person intact. And after a
period of adjustment to a new voice, new muscular strengths and weaknesses, and so forth, one’s
personality is by and large also preserved. More dramatic changes in personality have been routinely
observed in people who have undergone extensive plastic surgery, to say nothing of sex-change
operations, and I think no one contests the survival of the person in such cases. In any event I soon
accommodated to my new body, to the point of being unable to recover any of its novelties to my
consciousness or even memory. The view in the mirror soon became utterly familiar. That view, by
the way, still revealed antennae, and so l was not surprised to learn that my brain had not been
moved from its haven in the life-support lab.
I decided that good old Yorick deserved a visit. I and my new body, whom we might as well call
Fortinbras, strode into the familiar lab to another round of applause from the technicians, who were
of course congratulating themselves, not me. Once more I stood before the vat and contemplated
poor Yorick, and on a whim I once again cavalierly flicked off the output transmitter switch.
Imagine my surprise when nothing unusual happened. No fainting spell, no nausea, no noticeable
change. A technician hurried to restore the switch to ON, but still I felt nothing. I demanded an
explanation, which the project director hastened to provide. It seems that before they had even
operated on the first occasion, they had constructed a computer duplicate of my brain, reproducing
both the complete information-processing structure and the computational speed of my brain in a
giant computer program. After the operation, but before they had dared to send me off on my
mission to Oklahoma, they had run this computer system and Yorick side by side. The incoming
signals from Hamlet were sent simultaneously to Yorick’s transceivers and to the computer’s array of
inputs. And the outputs from Yorick were not only beamed back to Hamlet, my body; they were
recorded and checked against the simultaneous output of the computer program, which was called
“Hubert” for reasons obscure to me. Over days and even weeks, the outputs were identical and
synchronous, which of course did not prove that they had succeeded in copying the brain’s
functional structure, but the empirical support was greatly encouraging.
Hubert’s input, and hence activity, had been kept parallel with Yorick’s during my disembodied
days. And now, to demonstrate this, they had actually thrown the master switch that put Hubert for
the first time in on-line control of my body—not Hamlet, of course, but Fortinbras. (Hamlet, I
learned, had never been recovered from its underground tomb and could be assumed by this time to
have largely returned to the dust. At the head of my grave still lay the magnificent bulk of the
abandoned device, with the word STUD emblazoned on its side in large letters—a circumstance
which may provide archeologists of the next century with a curious insight into the burial rites of
their ancestors.)
The laboratory technicians now showed me the master switch, which had two positions, labeled
B, for Brain (they didn’t know my brain’s name was Yorick), and H, for Hubert. The switch did
indeed point to H, and they explained to me that if I wished, I could switch it back to B. With my
heart in my mouth (and my brain in its vat), I did this. Nothing happened. A click, that was all. To
test their claim, and with the master switch now set at B. I hit Yorick’s output transmitter switch on
the vat and sure enough, I began to faint. Once the output switch was turned back on and I had
recovered my wits, so to speak, I continued to play with the master switch, flipping it back and
forth. I found that with the exception of the transitional click, I could detect no trace of a
difference. I could switch in mid-utterance, and the sentence I had begun speaking under the
control of Yorick was finished without a pause or hitch of any kind under the control of Hubert. I
had a spare brain, a prosthetic device which might some day stand me in very good stead, were
some mishap to befall Yorick. Or alternatively, I could keep Yorick as a spare and use Hubert. It
didn’t seem to make any difference which I chose, for the wear and tear and fatigue on my body did
not have any debilitating effect on either brain, whether or not it was actually causing the motions
of my body, or merely spilling its output into thin air.
The one truly unsettling aspect of this new development was the prospect, which was not long
in dawning on me, of someone detaching the spare—Hubert or Yorick, as the case might be—from
Fortinbras and hitching it to yet another body—some Johnny-come-lately Rosencrantz or Guildenstern.
Then (if not before) there would be two people, that much was clear. One would be me, and
the other would be a sort of super-twin brother. If there were two bodies, one under the control of
Hubert and the other being controlled by Yorick, then which would the world recognize as the true
Dennett? And whatever the rest of the world decided, which one would be me? Would I be the
Yorick- brained one, in virtue of Yorick’s causal priority and former intimate relationship with the
original Dennett body, Hamlet? That seemed a bit legalistic, a bit too redolent of the arbitrariness of
consanguinity and legal possession, to be convincing at the metaphysical level. For suppose that
before the arrival of the second body on the scene, I had been keeping Yorick as the spare for years,
and letting Hubert’s output drive my body—that is, Fortinbras—all that time. The Hubert-
Fortinbras couple would seem then by squatter’s rights (to combat one legal intuition with another)
to be the true Dennett and the lawful inheritor of everything that was Dennett’s. This was an
interesting question, certainly, but not nearly so pressing as another question that bothered me. My
strongest intuition was that in such an eventuality I would survive so long as either brain-body
couple remained intact, but I had mixed emotions about whether I should want both to survive.
I discussed my worries with the technicians and the project director. The prospect of two
Dennetts was abhorrent to me, I explained, largely for social reasons. I didn’t want to be my own
rival for the affections of my wife, nor did I like the prospect of the two Dennetts sharing my
modest professor’s salary. Still more vertiginous and distasteful, though, was the idea of knowing
that much about another person, while he had the very same goods on me. How could we ever face
each other? My colleagues in the lab argued that I was ignoring the bright side of the matter.
Weren’t there many things I wanted to do but, being only one person, had been unable to do? Now
one Dennett could stay at home and be the professor and family man while the other could strike
out on a life of travel and adventure—missing the family of course, but happy in the knowledge
that the other Dennett was keeping the home fires burning. I could be faithful and adulterous at the
same time. I could even cuckold myself—to say nothing of other more lurid possibilities my
colleagues were all too ready to force upon my overtaxed imagination. But my ordeal in Oklahoma
(or was it Houston?) had made me less adventurous, and I shrank from this opportunity that was
being offered (though of course I was never quite sure it was being offered to me in the first place).
There was another prospect even more disagreeable: that the spare, Hubert or Yorick as the case
might be, would be detached from any input from Fortinbras and just left detached. Then, as in the
other case, there would be two Dennetts, or at least two claimants to my name and possessions, one
embodied in Fortinbras, and the other sadly, miserably disembodied. Both selfishness and altruism
bade me take steps to prevent this from happening. So I asked that measures be taken to ensure that
no one could ever tamper with the transceiver connections or the master switch without my (our?
no, my) knowledge and consent. Since I had no desire to spend my life guarding the equipment in
Houston, it was mutually decided that all the electronic connections in the lab would be carefully
locked. Both those that controlled the life-support system for Yorick and those that controlled the
power supply for Hubert would be guarded with fail-safe devices, and I would take the only master
switch, outfitted for radio remote control, with me wherever I went. I carry it strapped around my
waist and—wait a moment—here it is. Every few months I reconnoiter the situation by switching
channels. I do this only in the presence of friends, of course, for if the other channel were, heaven
forbid, either dead or otherwise occupied, there would have to be somebody who had my interests
at heart to switch it back, to bring me back from the void. For while I could feel, see, hear, and
otherwise sense whatever befell my body, subsequent to such a switch, I’d be unable to control it. By
the way, the two positions on the switch are intentionally unmarked, so I never have the faintest
idea whether I am switching from Hubert to Yorick or vice versa. (Some of you may think that in
this case I really don’t know who I am, let alone where I am. But such reflections no longer make
much of a dent on my essential Dennettness, on my own sense of who I am. If it is true that in one
sense I don’t know who I am then that’s another one of your philosophical truths of underwhelming
significance.)
In any case, every time I’ve flipped the switch so far, nothing has happened. So let’s give it a try …
“THANK GOD! I THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER FLIP THAT SWITCH! You can’t imagine
how horrible it’s been these last two weeks—but now you know; it’s your turn in purgatory. How
I’ve longed for this moment! You see, about two weeks ago—excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but
I’ve got to explain this to my … um, brother, I guess you could say, but he’s just told you the facts,
so you’ll understand—about two weeks ago our two brains drifted just a bit out of synch. I don’t
know whether my brain is now Hubert or Yorick, any more than you do, but in any case, the two
brains drifted apart, and of course once the process started, it snowballed, for I was in a slightly
different receptive state for the input we both received, a difference that was soon magnified. In no
time at all the illusion that I was in control of my body—our body—was completely dissipated.
There was nothing I could do—no way to call you. YOU DIDN’T EVEN KNOW I EXISTED!
It’s been like being carried around in a cage, or better, like being possessed—hearing my own voice
say things I didn’t mean to say, watching in frustration as my own hands performed deeds I hadn’t
intended. You’d scratch our itches, but not the way I would have, and you kept me awake, with your
tossing and turning. I’ve been totally exhausted, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, carried
around helplessly by your frantic round of activities, sustained only by the knowledge that some day
you’d throw the switch.
“Now it’s your turn, but at least you’ll have the comfort of knowing I know you’re in there. Like
an expectant mother, I’m eating—or at any rate tasting, smelling, seeing—for two now, and I’ll try
to make it easy for you. Don’t worry. Just as soon as this colloquium is over, you and I will fly to
Houston, and we’ll see what can be done to get one of us another body. You can have a female body
—your body could be any color you like. But let’s think it over. I tell you what—to be fair, if we
both want this body, I promise I’ll let the project director flip a coin to settle which of us gets to
keep it and which then gets to choose a new body. That should guarantee justice, shouldn’t it? In
any case, I’ll take care of you, I promise. These people are my witnesses.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this talk we have just heard is not exactly the talk I would have given,
but I assure you that everything he said was perfectly true. And now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’d—
we’d—better sit down.”

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