I Think Therefore I Am

SCIENTIST: (mid-conversation) No no. It’s perfectly legal. Cloning played the line of morality in its time, but this, this is perfectly within the rights of the scientific community.

NOVICE: You say that. And, yet I watched a video of a game being played by brain cells.

SCIENTIST: What do you think you have manipulating your whole physical system?

NOVICE: Brain cells. And, that’s why the line is drawn.

SCIENTIST: If that line is drawn, I would recommend you not breach that doorway.

NOVICE: Why not?

SCIENTIST: Two things before I can say. One: everything we do is perfectly legal, and the Supreme Court has already made the judgements approving these scientific discoveries. Two- actually, there are three. Two: the patients who are being tested on have given full approval for these experiments. And, three: these experiments are advancing humanity.

NOVICE: The video I saw-

SCIENTIST: I understand the video you saw was of the brain cells in a petri dish playing Pong. Am I right?


SCIENTIST: Let’s start there, before we proceed. The video you saw is a little late.

NOVICE: What do you mean ‘late?’

SCIENTIST: The video is of an experiment that has since been tested, re-tested, and implemented in practical situations.

NOVICE: (disbelief, fear) No.

SCIENTIST: Let me start over: when humans are nearing death, oftentimes they will sign a document giving scientists and doctors the ability to test their bodies post-mortem in whatever capacity they see fit. We at Splice Laboratories have realized the potential of the human brain after the original human dies.

NOVICE: ‘Original human?’

SCIENTIST: Yes. See, they donated their bodies to science. We… are scientists. And, their bodies have been given to science. Hence, why we are testing on bodies after death.

NOVICE: Which is ethically irresponsible.

SCIENTIST: It was ethically irresponsible when grave robbers were stealing bodies, and yet it’s because of them that we had Da Vinci’s forward-thinking which brought doctors into a whole new era.

NOVICE: You can’t seriously compare Da Vinci to what you’re doing?


NOVICE: He wasn’t into grave robbing for the sake of self-promotion, or wealth-

SCIENTIST: He absolutely was! But, that has nothing to do with the conversation. We are advancing humanity.

NOVICE: You’ve said that, and yet you haven’t bothered to show me one thing that shows advancement.

SCIENTIST: You’re right. I ask you one thing- no, two things: one: that you look into this with an open mind, and two: that you listen with patience. I will show you everything we’re working on, but there are so many things to explain. Knowing you, you’ll have a lot of questions.

NOVICE: (reluctantly) Okay.

SCENE: First Room

SCIENTIST: The video you saw was of a game of pong being played by brain cells. The brain cells were acquired by a donated cadaver. The cadaver’s brain was spliced from where you would find the reflex arc. This allows the brain to not only see the projection of the ball, but also how to respond to it. Due to the footage leak, what you saw was likely the slow version. After realizing the exact parts of the brain necessary for a game of Pong, we sped it up. We added a few more cadaver cerebellums, and, well… you have this…

NOVICE: A game room.

SCIENTIST: Precisely.

NOVICE: A game room?!

SCIENTIST: The human mind died days ago. They aren’t present now. This is strictly reflex. The human brain can be used for several things. In this room, the only part of the brain necessary is the reflex arc. No emotions, just reflex. Tetris, Pong, and such are played in here. If you notice over there, we tried Mario to no avail. As you can see, the character is just running against the wall, with no course correction.

NOVICE: So, this is what it’s all about, huh? You take brains, cut ‘em up, and make them play video games?

SCIENTIST: This room certainly gives that impression. If you’re satisfied, we could just leave now.

NOVICE: Do you mean there’s more to see?


NOVICE: I would be interested, actually.

SCENE: Second Room

SCIENTIST: Fine. Follow me. (pause) In this room, we have more of the brain involved. We have the-


SCIENTIST: Yes. (rolling eyes) C… O-D. The brain has progressed to play these games.

NOVICE: Where are the players?

SCIENTIST: In the cooler over there.

NOVICE: (frightened) They’re not people?!

SCIENTIST: Well, they were people. I’m honestly going to need to you to keep up, if this room is throwing you off. The brain cells are held in the coolers for preservation. In here, that is. We realized the brain keeps best in coolers, but they- yup. See that screen? That player was too slow to react to the other player, and was then killed.

NOVICE: Just a second… The brain is totally playing the game, and is reacting in real-time?

SCIENTIST: Certainly no worse than I can play. See, we put the brain cells in front of games like these, and they’re still better than I am.

NOVICE: Do you think you’d be able to put them in front of a game, playing better than they are now?

SCIENTIST: Oh, we have! I guess you’re ready for the next room. (pause)

SCENE: Third Room

SCIENTIST: (CONTINUING) So, this room has a similar setup, with one main difference. We now have the brains set in a 98.6 degree vat. If you pay attention to the screen, the players are far more proficient than in the last room. You will-

NOVICE: What about that screen? That one looks real.

SCIENTIST: That’s because it is. We have rooms entirely devoted to this program. This was our first test.

NOVICE: ‘Rooms?’

SCIENTIST: If you keep repeating everything I say, this conversation will be twice as long as necessary. I do have things I need to do.

NOVICE: Agreed. Fine.

SCIENTIST: Thank you. That image of the door is from the perspective of an automatic vacuum cleaner.


SCIENTIST: Yes. An automated vacuum cleaner. We can’t have the brain cells strictly being used for games. Hence the advancement of humanity, as I keep saying.

NOVICE: A mundane task like vacuuming someones’ floors doesn’t seem like a practical use of a brain. Or ethical.

SCIENTIST: Yet you seemed alright with them playing video games. Look, the practicality of vacuuming floors at first glimpse is mundane, but it makes complete sense when you think about it. The brain keeps track of where the vacuum has already navigated. It makes note of where it’s been, so it can create a map of the rooms in the home. Unexpectedly, it takes more brain to navigate a remote vacuum, than it does to navigate a video game character. Instead of playing spray and pray, you’re now making the map.

NOVICE: What if you were to add even more of the brain, making the brain believe it was totally cognizant?

SCIENTIST: You’re two steps ahead of me. Alright, if we must. Let’s skip the next room, and get on to the following room.

NOVICE: I find myself in a lot of disbelief around you. I can never be sure how you’re going to surprise me next.

SCIENTIST: I can only assume it’s a good thing.

NOVICE: I’m afraid it hasn’t been yet.

SCIENTIST: Progress doesn’t come simply, and it doesn’t come without complications.

NOVICE: You’ve been testing these experiments on humans. Do you get that? Humans.

SCIENTIST: Correction: Cadavers. When they were human, they signed a document asking for scientists to do experimentation on their cadavers. I swear you haven’t been listening to a word I’ve said so far.

NOVICE: At what point do we say enough is enough?

SCIENTIST: What are you talking about?

NOVICE: We watch the dinosaur movies, and watch dinosaurs wreak havoc on the park, and yet we’re still experimenting with cloning mammoths, and eventually cloning dinosaurs despite the countless warnings we are given.

SCIENTIST: Works of fiction.

NOVICE: And so are the robot movies where the robots try taking over the world. What about those? Are those works of fiction too?

SCIENTIST: I think you know the answer to that question.

NOVICE: These aren’t just works of fiction; they’re warnings.

SCIENTIST: And we take precautions to ensure that these events don’t happen. We’re not expecting a robot uprising because we’ve installed failsafes.

NOVICE: So did these works of fiction.

SCIENTIST: Again… fiction. Shall we explore into the next room, or are you satisfied with your moral superiority where it stands?

NOVICE: I’m too intrigued not to want to see what else you have.

SCIENTIST: Courtesy of Doctor Elias, you can bring a vomit bucket, if you’d like.

NOVICE: Funny.

SCIENTIST: Can’t say I didn’t warn you.

SFX: Door opens. Monitors beeping

SCIENTIST: We call these our pre-cogs.

NOVICE: Are these humans plugged into the games?

SCIENTIST: Again, cadavers.

NOVICE: I’m horrified, yes. But, my immediate question is about their entire bodies. Why?

SCIENTIST: Why didn’t we just remove their brains for these?


SCIENTIST: This was an introductory stage to no longer limiting ourselves to just the brains, and to simply put these helmets on the subjects. No more prodding, no more manual manipulation. These are for all intents and purposes, living cadavers.

NOVICE: Living?

SCIENTIST: They are maintaining their 98.6 degree temperatures on their own, and are playing these games.

NOVICE: Do they know they’re dead?

SCIENTIST: No. Because they’re literally dead. They don’t think anything. They don’t know anything.

NOVICE: But you just said they’re living, for all intents and purposes.

SCIENTIST: Yes, except that’s their bodies.

NOVICE: Then what’s keeping them playing the games?

SCIENTIST: Their brains.

NOVICE: And you don’t see your contradiction?

SCIENTIST: Not at all. The brain is a body part, just as your arm is a part of your body. Your heart. Please tell me you know your heart isn’t actually where you think love is.

NOVICE: No. That’s in your brain. You’ve essentially returned these poor peoples’ bodies to the living undead.

SCIENTIST: Except they’re not thinking thoughts.

NOVICE: How do you know that?

SCIENTIST: Our system is designed to keep an eye on the frontal cortex.

NOVICE: Say for instance- do you mind if we move to another room without… these people?

SCIENTIST: Sure. Let’s go into the wash room. Can I say, I used to have these same critiques of the company and policies. I thought it bordered the lines of moral ambiguity, dancing all over the line. But, since I’ve been here, I have realized the practicality of our experimentations here. We will eventually be conducting warfare without a single human in the line of danger. We’ll have space exploration with a human eye, not risking human life. The first lungs to breath on a foreign planet won’t have to jeopardize a life. We- we are the ones ensuring the safety of human lives in the future by testing the limits of death.

NOVICE: What if one of your sensors noticed a cadaver had a thought? What would you do then?

SCIENTIST: We aren’t animating parts of the brain that would allow that to happen.

NOVICE: But say they did anyway.

SCIENTIST: We would probably shut the program down. But like I said, there’s no reason that would happen. Hypotheticals can be drawn all day long, but if they have no functional purpose, then we’d just be wasting time. Like, do you know our government has paid millions of dollars to a group of religious philosophers to determine what the ramifications would be if we discovered an extraterrestrial race had their own form of religion?

NOVICE: That can’t be real.

SCIENTIST: It can be, and it really happened. A waste of money, if you ask me. The likelihood of finding an extraterrestrial race we could even effectively communicate is so impossibly unlikely, that to even act like we could find out they had their own version of Jesus is such a reach… I don’t know where I was going with that, but the hypothetical is just so preposterous, that it’s not even worth consideration.

NOVICE: Which, you’re saying the brains having thoughts is also preposterous?

SCIENTIST: Oh, for sure. They’re dead.

NOVICE: I used to think dead people couldn’t play video games too.

SCIENTIST: I think you’ll enjoy our next room.

NOVICE: If you’ve advanced so far, why do you still have these last few rooms still in use?

SCIENTIST: It’s essentially a museum. Have you ever visited the museum of the dead?

NOVICE: Yes. Grotesque.

SCIENTIST: It’s incredibly informative. I had a brother who learned how to build a lawn mower by taking them apart. We learn by dissecting. Just like my brother, we can now create human life, without the concern of… well… humans. Our next room doesn’t have anything in it, but feel free to interact with the exhibit nonetheless. (to room) Hello, HAROLD.

ROOM: Hello!

NOVICE: Who’s that?

SCIENTIST: HAROLD, why don’t you introduce yourself?

ROOM: Hello, newcomer. I hope you’re enjoying your time at Splice Laboratories. I’m HAROLD. I was a human like yourself, four months ago. I drowned in a boating accident, but Splice Laboratories rescued me from eternal darkness.

NOVICE: You’re a human?

ROOM: My apologies. No. I am not a human. I was a human four months ago.

NOVICE: Do you have thoughts?

ROOM: Not thoughts like you would know them. I am essentially a computer.

NOVICE: Then, why wouldn’t you just be a computer?

ROOM: Excellent inquiry. I speak just as my human, Harold did. All my memories were uploaded to the system, and that’s what differentiates me from the next computer.

NOVICE: But you don’t think.

ROOM: Good heavens, no.

NOVICE: I think he would pass the Turing test, and therefore, he would be considered cognizant.

SCIENTIST: Do you know who Turing was?


SCIENTIST: So, you know he published that test in 1950. He was ahead of his time, and yet, kind of irrelevant in today’s scientific community.

NOVICE: But you don’t disagree with me.

SCIENTIST: Not exactly, no. I think the Turing test would not be challenging to HAROLD here, but that doesn’t mean HAROLD thinks. Would a thinking person deny they think?

NOVICE: Maybe if they thought they’d be shut off if they acknowledged the ability.

SCIENTIST: That is by far the most profound thing you’ve said today. I’m going to let you in on a secret: you should donate your body to science.


SCIENTIST: Every body part here represents a person who donated their body for the pursuit of knowledge of future people. But even more than that… all their funeral expenses were taken care of by the company that takes the cadavers.

NOVICE: But they’re here. What’s to bury, if the bodies are here?

SCIENTIST: Their whole bodies aren’t usually used. You know, aside from the pre-cogs in that one room. But the typical body is cremated.

NOVICE: Do you find yourself with any difficulties you can’t quite overcome?

SCIENTIST: A difficulty we currently deal with, is that the unit doesn’t learn.


SCIENTIST: Sorry. The cadaver. It doesn’t learn. It adapts, but it never learns. If you tried teaching it a new language, they simply won’t comprehend it. They react and adapt to changes, but therein lies our frustration. But, at the same time, it’s just yet another reminder that they are indeed among the dead.

NOVICE: Aren’t you a bit concerned that they’ll- no… let’s step into the land of the hypothetical.

SCIENTIST: Sure. I’m game.

NOVICE: What if you died, and your donated cadaver gets brought here. You wake up, and you begin your life all over- or you get restarted from where you left off. You spend a few years, and then find out that you’re nothing more than a couple brain cells in a petri dish.

SCIENTIST: It would never happen that way. Your body dies, and your soul leaves you.

NOVICE: (scoffing) A scientist talking about a soul like it’s real…

SCIENTIST: There is something to the said about the existence of the soul. The longest anyone has died, only to come back, was in Sweden. 80 minutes of no pulse. She was dead in every imaginable sense. The cold stopped the cellular decay, which permitted her to be revived. But you know what that is?

NOVICE: No. What?

SCIENTIST: The longest anyone has ever been dead, returning from the dead. Sure, that record can eventually be broken, but it won’t be by days.

NOVICE: Isn’t your whole thing about doing the impossible, by artificial generation?

SCIENTIST: Yes, but if we could revive the dead, we wouldn’t have anyone here.

NOVICE: No. If you could revive the dead, wouldn’t that mean you’d have more interesting things you’d rather do to the dead?

SCIENTIST: (chuckling) We aren’t monsters. Sure, reviving people isn’t a mission of ours, but that’s not our job either. We’re here to work with the dead. Not for them.

NOVICE: They don’t pay enough?

SCIENTIST: They don’t pay at all. And yet, they get funeral expenses paid for. Honestly, we treat the dead better than we ever treated the living. Do you mind if I show you one last thing?

NOVICE: I’ve lasted this long.

SCIENTIST: You sure have. Honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t put the pieces back together yet.

NOVICE: Yet? Back?

SCIENTIST: You’ve been an exceptionally good novice.

NOVICE: What do you mean?

SCIENTIST: I’m not actually here. (pause) And, neither are you.

NOVICE: (painfully) Ow!

SCIENTIST: You said ‘ow,’ but did it really hurt? Really?

NOVICE: Yes! You stabbed me with a pencil! See how (stabbing) you like it!

SCIENTIST: Nothing. Like I said: we aren’t here. What would you like your new user name to be, Novice? You might want to think on it for a while. After all, you have to “live” the rest of your… life with the name.