When it comes down to it, what are we but a bag of animated chemicals and a bunch of unreliable memories?
I remember watching an episode of Batman on telly – at least I think it was – where one of his arch enemies – The Penguin, perhaps – had a ray gun which extracted the water from any person it hit, leaving behind a neat, conical pile of dry dust. Holy desiccation!, exclaimed Robin, possibly.
Much, much later, I read a piece by the late writer A.A. Gill. He compared a living person with the rocks around him remarking how the only difference between the rocks and the man being that mysterious “spark of life”. Whatever that is.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein gave his creation the “spark of life” by a knowledge of chemistry and by some secret means, though in its popular retelling, the spark often comes from an electrical charge; with a zap, the big bag of chemicals comes to life.
About twenty seven years before the publication of Frankenstein, Luigi Galvi published his own serious work on bioelectromagnetics explaining how muscles work by electrical pulses directed along neurones. Today, there is the study of neuroscience, investigating which parts of the brain light up with different thought processes and emotions. Synapses firing amongst the mysterious “grey matter”. From this, it has been theorised that long term memory is established through these electrical pulses whilst we are in deep sleep, or NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep, and the poorer the quality of sleep, the more unreliable these memories are made.
Our bag of chemicals is replaced throughout our life; we literally are not the same body we were eight years ago, rather we are like the Ship of Theseus. Our identity, therefore, may rely on our memories, however unreliable these may become. Of course, in the long run, all our chemistry is recycled; dust to dust. And the memories, without the essential sparks, dies too. Or does it?
Is there a hard copy stored within the body, able to be shared before the chemistry degenerates? What would the product of all the accumulated experiences be, if we compared memory against memory? I have no idea, but it better not fall into the hands of AI, that’s for sure!
Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 43