There’s a concept in science fiction books and films that’s also a hypothetical future development called Mind Uploading, or Whole Brain Emulation, where someone has the contents of their conscious mind uploaded to a computer so they can live forever in a virtual world.
There is a philosophical thought experiment that explores Mind Uploading. Imagine that you are in a special laboratory where people in white coats connect electrodes to your head. At one point the operator announces that your consciousness has now been successfully uploaded into computer memory. As you are still conscious in your body, how do you know whether or not this is true?
In fact, a US start-up is actually working on making this a reality, based on a process from their work on rabbits. They promise to upload a copy of your brain to a computer. There’s only one catch – the process is fatal as they need to freeze all of the neural connections in order to take a copy.
Partly driven by our quest to develop artificial intelligence, there’s a vast amount of research into understanding human consciousness. One useful distinction is between the content of consciousness, for instance, the words that you are processing reading this, and broader conscious awareness – the background awake energy and aliveness that you wake up with each morning before thoughts come streaming in. Another distinction is that there is an objective reality in the world, and the thoughts and perceptions we have about it. We can look at an apple on a plate and think “I see an apple on a plate”, but there is always much more to reality than we think. For instance, the amazing and subtle range of colours on the apple skin, the sweet and sharp tastes of the fruit, the arrangement of seeds within its centre, and so on.
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