What if you no longer had to worry about failing health, and an aging body? Director Tarsem Singh explores this in the science thriller “Self/less.” Ben Kingsley stars as Damian Hale, a wealthy man dying of terminal cancer and pays Phoenix Biogenics for a procedure to transfer his consciousness into the body of a younger healthy man (Ryan Reynolds).
Would any of us want to live forever with an aging body, holding a catheter, or would we want another option? "With everything that you can buy now on the black market – a harvested liver and much more--that discussion is going to happen,” Singh said.
Discussions and research have already taken place. Researchers are working on brain implants that could one day help patients with Alzheimer’s disease from losing memory. There is a surgical implant called the impulse generator that could reduce tremors caused by Parkinson’s disease. Scientists have started introducing implants to help people with depression, and other mental disorders by changing their mood with deep brain stimulation.
The transfer of consciousness is highly probable, but the human brain is so complex we still don’t have the understanding to accomplish a feat like “shedding.” The human brain has a hundred billion neurons. It’s the most complex thing man ever tried to understand, and we need to read below the atoms, which is important for intelligence.
There are people on many fronts trying to understand how brains work from the neuron level, how they work together and how intelligence comes out, neuroscientist Dr. Charles Higgins at the University of Arizona explained.
The full self is not just the brain. All of our motor control is in our spinal cord. When you see the movie, you will note that Reynolds (younger Damian) character develops martial art skills out of nowhere to his amazement. That makes perfect sense said he said.
Reflexes are stored in the spinal cord, and the spinal cord wasn’t altered in the film. If you wanted to get everything that you were, let’s say you played the piano or the guitar--you would have to scan the spinal cord. The enteric nervous system has a huge effect of who you are, and is tightly tied up to the central brain, as well as the glands throughout the body. The transfer of self and everything you are is more than just the brain, he said.
“I think every viewer gets drawn in when a wish-fulfillment aspect is a key part of a movie,” said Reynolds. “Extending life, cheating death – if and when the right resources are poured in, this kind of science doesn’t seem that far off.”
Higgins agreed that the transfer of self is not merely science fiction, “its science future.”
If we harness this technology, are we playing God? Does it give us a right to create people in a test tube, or cheat death? “We place an innate on life no matter how it came to be. I created two humans myself, I am very proud of, my children. But just because I created them doesn’t mean I can destroy them. Once they are created they have an innate value,” Higgins offered.
The young Damian in the film uncovers the truth regarding a secret organization behind “shedding,” and is hunted down to be killed.
“We can clone sheep, and probably people, which we agree is unethical, especially if you create it to destroy it. Transferring yourself into it in some way is killing the essential part of that clone.”
Again, the transfer of consciousness questions ethics, and our own immortality. Do we really want to live forever, and become the hand of God?
“In this movie, I like to think that this gives us hope for the future even though it’s a little bit dystopian in the sense that the person (Damian) who got the technology is abusing it—[it’s] almost human slavery. The body he actually gets transferred into is sold to him.”