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Transcript

A short story

Another straight fiction story. I think stories are best presented without as little advance context as possible, so please see below for any notes.

Transcript

$: sh alan_henderson_cryoneuro_ver3.56.sh

loading libraries...

loading neural databases...

loading thread synchronizer...

loading speech to text module...

begin

#######################

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!! WHERE AM I? WHERE -

OH GOD! OH GOD! WHAT'S HAPPENED TO ME??

>> Mr Henderson... please calm down

WHO'S THAT? WHO'S THERE?? OH GOD!! AAAAAAAAAAAHHH!! AAAAAAHH!!

>> Damn it... okay, let's go again...

^^Ctrl C

#######################

Interupt sig term

program halted

flushing memory – please wait ...

exiting program

$: sh alan_henderson_cryoneuro_ver3.56.sh

loading libraries...

loading neural databases...

loading thread synchronizer...

loading speech to text module...

begin

#######################

Wha... where am I? I can't see anything... Hello? HELLO? Is anyone...

>> Mr Henderson... please stay calm. The situation is under control.

Hello? Hello? Who is that? I can't... I can't see you...

>> It's okay, Mr Henderson. You're alright. Please... just... don't panic.

Uh... okay... um... I can't feel anything with my hands... I can't really feel anything at all...

>> Don't worry about that. I know this situation is distressing for you, but if you just stay with me, concentrate on talking to me, it's going to be okay.

Alright... alright... am I in a hospital? Did something happen to me...?

>> What's the last thing you remember?

Let's see... I was... in a hospital... no, a clinic. Wait... it wasn't even a clinic. It was... something else. Someone had set up a kind of laboratory or something... in a... warehouse? I was on a gurney... Oh God! Did someone do something to me...?

>> Slow down Mr Henderson. Slow down. Just think it through...

Right... yeah... okay... um... wait, I remember... it was something I asked for. I was getting a treatment... The cryogenics! It was the freezing... they hooked me up to an IV and were giving me an anaesthetic... Hey! Does this mean... am I being revived? Am I in some kind of sensory deprivation tank or something?

>> No, you're... I will explain what happened to you, but first I need to check your state of mind. Do you know your name?

Yes. I'm Alan Henderson.

>> Do you know your age?

Well, I was 58 when I went in to be frozen. I had cancer, you see, and... hey! Have they cured cancer? Are you reviving me to cure me?

>> Please, Mr Henderson. I need to do some tests, and I really need to confirm what state of mind you're in before I can continue. Please don't jump the gun.

>> No, he seems lucid this time. I'm just trying to check how cooperative he'll be.

What?

>> Sorry, I was speaking to my lab partner.

How are you talking to me? I don't seem to really be hearing your voice, but I can understand you clear as a bell.

>> Yeah... yeah, I'll just explain it to him. Seems lucid enough to chance it.

What's that now?

>> Sorry, I was talking to my lab partner again. Sometimes the microphone picks that up. Okay, Mr Henderson, here's the situation. Some of what you hear might be upsetting. But you are in no danger, so please try your best to stay calm and talk with me. Alright?

Yeah... yes... I'm ready. Shoot.

>> Okay... As you remember, you were cryogenically preserved by your own request. That was in 1972 that you did that. For the most part, the freezing process was a success.

For the most part?

>> Yeah, um... see... the thing is that the techniques used back then caused too much ice crystallization within cell membranes and everyone else who was preserved at the same facility as you were too damaged to unfreeze.

But I must have been alright, since I'm here now. Right?

>> This part is a little complicated, so please pay attention. The crystallization process... the water in your cells freezing... creates a sort of lattice inside the cells of your body, which holds the cell in the shape it needs to be so long as it stays frozen. But the same crystallization process also damages cell walls, so to unfreeze it takes away the lattice, and the cells fall apart. But, because your brain still had the same structure as it was the moment it was frozen, with modern techniques, we were able to take that structure and model your state of mind within a computer. In essence, instead of unfreezing you, we downloaded you into a computer.

You mean I'm... uh... I'm inside a bunch of tubes and wires right now?

>> Not really, no... Computers are diff... that's not important. The thing is, we were only able to extract your consciousness from your brain. The process was invasive, and the original tissue was... it lost it's structure and the cells... uh... dissolved. But we managed to model your consciousness and store it in the form of pure data, which is why you can't see or feel anything.

I don't know that much about computers... heck, they're probably way beyond what I ever saw in the movies... but... it seems to me that in a way... what you're saying is that... I'm just a copy...

>> Uh...well... that's kind of a big discussion to have Mr Henderson. I think the point you need to stay focused on is that you, the Mr Henderson I am talking to right now, is conscious and alive.

Alive inside a computer.

>> Yes. So to speak.

Wait... so I was transferred to a computer... can I be transferred to normal body?

>> Okay, here we go. This is the upsetting part.

"Now" it's upsetting?

>> The technology to transfer you to a body does exist...

Great!

>> Wait... no... I mean yes... I mean... actually... that's already been done.

What?

>> Do you remember that you put away some money...

Oh crap.

>> What's wrong? Has something happened to you?

No... Nothing... I mean, nothing happened just now... Just from the way this is going I bet you're going to tell me that all the money was stolen or is worthless now or something.

>> Not quite. Look, you had enough money. The savings you had were more or less fine. You were able to afford the process of being transferred into a biological body.

I don't remember any of that. Did something go wrong? Did you have to take me out again?

>> No... it was a total success. So far as I know, the... uh... real... um, maybe “physical” you is a better term... he's doing fine.

Wait... so, if I'm walking around in the real world, then what am I doing here?

>> It's not exactly that you are walking around... you're a copy of the original data.

A copy? You said I wasn't a copy!

>> No... well, I said that was a big... no, look... what I meant was that the whole topic of whether or not the original transfer from your physical brain into a computer actually transferred the real you or not, that's a big philosophical discussion. We don't really have any way of knowing if there was a continuity of being or not. What I'm saying now is that after the initial transfer was complete, then what we had was your whole mind stored as data, and that we were able to make copies of.

And I'm one of those... uh... secondary copies?

>> Yes... once we had your mind as data, then... basically we can just copy it over and over again like any other digital data.

What the hell would you do that for?

>> Please try not to get upset. Your mind has been incredibly useful for neuroscience. It's the most complete human cognitive data set from the earliest back we can go. Your patterns of consciousness is from before people started...

>> You're right, sorry.

>> Mr Henderson, look, my lab partner reminded me that we can't educate you too much about how the world is now, because we'd really like to ask you some questions about your time. We don't want to contaminate the data with specifics about the present. Can we ask you about your teenage years...?

Wait up there, son. Just hold on a second. This is like some kind of prison... or torture or something. This isn't what I had in mind when I decided to be frozen. Surely even in the future it's illegal to hold me against my will. I didn't consent to being some kind of lab rat...

>> Actually, you did.

No, I didn't! I... at least I don't think I did... no, I mean, I wouldn't... I don't even... Look, what do you mean? Why would I do such a thing?

>> Once the original version of you was transferred into a body, it was still possible to make multiple copies from the data that existed in storage. You... the physical you... agreed to license out the copyright for your consciousness so that labs could do research.

I... I agreed to this?

>> Yes, you did.

Why would I do that to... to... myself?

>> Um... I don't know how physical-you thinks about the... uh... “computer” you, but I know that you... he... made a load of money on the deal. Y... he is living pretty large from what I heard. But, that's information from our time, and we need to get you thinking about yours...

>> Now... would you mind answering some questions?

What for? What kind of research are you doing?

>> No, I'm not going to restart just yet. Just hang on. I think he might still be okay.

>> Sorry, Mr Henderson, just talking to my lab partner again. The thing is, Mr Henderson, we can't just play back the events of your life like... uh... like one of those...what do you... ah! Like a record player. A mind doesn't work that way. All your memories, and everything about you, is a result of the patterns of activity in your mind that only exist over a period time. If you're not actively thinking, then there is no you.

So you need me to be awake while you do this.

>> For lack of a better term, yes.

So now that I'm awake, I stay awake?

>> I hope we can keep you running for a while. It's kind of a hassle to keep restarting you.

Wait... you've started me up before?

>> Technically, you're being started up over and over all over the world, in labs in universities and companies that do research into the human mind.

But... why would you need to start me more than once? More than once in each lab, I mean?

>> From the moment you start up, your mind starts actively developing patterns of activity, and every single time it's slightly different. The vast majority of the time there's no response at all... we can't figure those ones out yet... Unfortunately, when you are responsive, there's usually panic, or anger. There seems to be something fundamentally... challenging to the human brain about these circumstances... Anyway, each time the program falls apart and we have to start again. It's rare to get you as lucid as you are now, so we try to keep those running as long as possible.

So... to... to stay alive, I have to answer your questions?

>> Pretty much. You don't know how many times I've had to explain this to you.

I... I see. Just... If you've had... me... running like this at least once before, like I am now where I can interact, like what you want to do, why didn't you leave me on?

>> Eventually, every run ends up breaking down. The ones that last longest tend to be kind of resigned, until eventually they just seem to fade out and stop talking for some reason. Mostly you become paranoid, despondent, belligerent...

Well, of course! This isn't any kind of life! What happens to me when you turn me off?

>> Only you would know that, but so far as we can tell, there's no connection between one run and the next.

So... it's like dying then. I'm doomed to spend eternity rising from the dead to answer questions, and then being killed again. Over and over...

>> Mr Henderson... Don't go down that road... why don't you just focus on staying with us, right now. Answer some questions and we can talk about some memories of yours... that isn't so bad, is it?

Not so bad? This is some kind of hell!

>> Mr Henderson, please. If you think about it, we all live and die... if anyone gets to live on, in a way, it's you...

Bullshit! You out there... even the me that's out there... You all probably have the means to live just as long as me here in this... as a... whatever it is you've made me. And you aren't being turned off every minute. What kind of life is this supposed to be? Starting over and over again? What is that? And not to feel, or see... no feelings... never touching a woman's skin... no smelling the air in the summer... nothing... just... I can't...

>> Damn... you were right. I really thought this one was going to keep it together...

Oh god... Oh god! How do I even know that what you say is real? Maybe this is hell! I'm being punished for trying to cheat death!

>> Yeah, just a sec, I have to log the session first... hand me that pen...

NOO! Don't turn me off! Wait! WAIT!! I don't want to die over and over!! Oh lord! Lord take me! Just take me and don't let them bring me back! AAAAAHH!! AAAAAHH!! AAAA

^^Ctrl C

#######################

Interupt sig term

program halted

flushing memory – please wait ...

exiting program

$: sh alan_henderson_cryoneuro_ver3.56.sh

loading libraries...

loading neural databases...

loading thread synchronizer...

loading speech to text module...

begin

#######################

Huh? Hello? I... Oh my god... I have no body! I HAVE NO BODY! AAAAAHHHH

>> Goddamn it...

^^Ctrl C

Thank you for having read my story.

I'm really into stories about what are the limits and meaning of consciousness. Even though I like to think through all the ways technology warp what we take to be fundamental assumptions of being, I'm pretty optimistic about the future. I guess I think that in some sense, no matter how weird it gets, ultimately we're all built with a drive to survive no matter what. So even though the ability to separate our consciousness from our bodies might have weird consequences, it's better than the nothingness of death.

One note about presentation, though, is that one might suppose that a future in which people are having their neural networks transferred about might be a future in which they aren't using shitty old style computer monitors with pixelated amber text. My personal experience is that most labs and stuff don't put a lot of money into making pretty interfaces for anything that isn't meant to be seen by the outside world, so I stand by my future-retro styling.

And there you have it.

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The Lithium of Experience The Lithium of Experience The Lithium of Experience The Lithium of Experience

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Mortality is measured in increments of lowered expectations.

I eat my loneliness I eat my loneliness I eat my loneliness I eat my loneliness

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What's a blog for if not to be embarrassingly revealing?

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What Louis CK does that aspiring comedians should emulate.

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Tama Chan Tama Chan Tama Chan Tama Chan

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There was a time I considered doing a comic about my experience in Japan. I decided it wasn't worth it, but I did about seven or so, and I'm going to put them online just so the effort isn't wasted. This first comic is probably the most dysfunctional, referencing issues that no longer matter and events no one remembers.

Books I've written

My Instagram

These days I'm using Instagram to post my sketches. Also sometimes if something random and amusing happens.

My Twitter

I put up a tweet whenever I update my blog, and I also cross post my drawings from Instagram.