There’s a concept in science fiction books and films that’s also a hypothetical future development called Mind Uploading, where someone has the contents of their conscious mind uploaded to a computer so that they can live forever in a virtual world. To explore this in a thought experiment: imagine that you are in a special laboratory where people in white coats have connected electrodes to your head. A few minutes later the operator announces that your consciousness has been successfully uploaded into computer memory. As you are still conscious in your body, how do you know whether this is true?
Interestingly, a US start-up is working on Mind Uploading, based on their work on rabbits; they promise to upload a copy of your brain to a computer. There’s only one catch – as they need to freeze your brain to make a copy of all the neural connections, the process is fatal.
Partly driven by our quest to develop artificial intelligence, a vast amount of research is being done on 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 every morning before thoughts come streaming in. Another distinction is between the objective reality of the world, the trees, roads, buildings, and the sky, and the thoughts and perceptions we have about them. We can look at an apple on a plate and think “I see an apple on a plate”, but reality is always far more complex than we think. For instance, the subtle range of colours on the apple skin, the sweet and sharp tastes of the fruit, the arrangement of seeds within its centre, the bruise under the skin where it’s been knocked, and so on.