Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 7 No. 4 | Winter 1985 (Seattle) /// Issue 14 of 24 /// Master# 62 of 73

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 I was not surprised to learn that my brain had not been moved from its haven in the lifesupport 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 r 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 Rosen- crantz 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 / 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 con- rolled the life-support system for Yorick and those that controlled the power supply for Hubert would be guarded with failsafe 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 atry. . . . “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. . urn, 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 sa^ 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 someday 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’tworry. 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.” Daniel Dennett is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts where he is Director of Cognitive Studies. He’s the author of Elbow Room, MIT Press, 1984. Artist Tim Braun is an Evergreen College alumnus living in Portland. Clinton St. Quarterly 7