Wednesday, 09 February 2011

The Real You

Part 1/2 (to see other parts of the article, click on the pages at the bottom)
What is the root of immortality and the soul?

by Aish.com (See all authors)

Look at your hand. What do you see?

A part of your body, an appendage made of bone and sinew covered with flesh and skin. It is filled with nerves, blood vessels and lymph ducts which run through it and connect it to your body, making it part of you.

You can open and close your hand. It obeys every command that your mind sends to it. It is yours -- a part of you. But what are you? Who is the real you? What happens when you tell your hand to open and close? How does your mind will it to obey its commands?

Now point a finger at yourself. If you are an average person, you will point a finger at your chest. You think of yourself as your body. But is your body the real you?

Not too long ago, a person could consider his own body an integral part of himself. You were your body and your body was you. But this is no longer the case. Scientific progress has changed the entire concept of human personality and identity.

If we would ask a person to point to himself, would he point at his heart?

Heart transplants are now an almost commonplace occurrence. They do not even make the news anymore. A person can live with another person's heart beating in his breast. If we would ask such a person to point to himself, would he point at his heart? Is this transplanted heart really part of him? Is the heart that beats within your breast the real you? Or is it something else entirely?

Researchers are predicting that within the next decade or two, brain transplants maybe possible. This would force us to completely re-evaluate the concept of human personality.

Imagine what it would be like to undergo a brain transplant. A man might be suffering from an incurable disease in his body, but still have a healthy brain. The donor, on the other hand, would have suffered irreparable brain damage, but otherwise have a perfectly sound body. The brain is removed from the sick body and placed in the healthy one.

Who is the new man? We have an old brain with all its memories, personality traits and behaviour patterns. But it has a brand new body. The old body might have been old and sick, while the new one may be young and full of energy.

Let us ask this man to point to himself. Will he point to his body? Is the real you your body or your brain?

(Actually, an analogous question is raised in the Talmud. In the case of an unsolved murder, a special sacrifice, the Eglah Arufah, was brought by the city nearest the corpse. The Talmud raises two questions: What if the head is found in one place and the body in another? And if the body is equidistant from the two cities, from what portion of the body do we measure?)

MEMORY TRANSFER

A brain transplant raises enough questions. How about a memory transfer?

The science of cybernetics has discovered many similarities between computers and the human brain. Computer technology allows one to program a memory transfer, taking all the information contained in one computer and transferring it to another. All that passes from one computer to the other is information.

What if this were done with the human brain? This may lie in the realm of science fiction, but even if it will never be possible in practice, it is certainly possible in theory.

Let us try to envision such a memory transfer. Assume we have a person with an incurable disease where neither the body nor the brain can be salvaged. We clone a new body for this individual, brain and all. The possibilities of doing this have already been discussed at length in the literature. This new body has a blank, new brain, capable of functioning, but without any memories or thought patterns. As a final step, we accomplish a memory transfer, bringing all the information from the sick person into the brain of the new body.

The spiritual world is a realm whose substance is information.

We now have a fascinating situation. If all of a man's memories, thought patterns and personality traits are transferred to a new body and brain, this personality literally exists in his new body. But nothing physical has been transferred. No physical part of him has been placed in the new body. All that has been placed in this new body is information that previously existed in the old brain. Yet this information contains the sum total of this person's personality.

If this is true, then it offers us tremendous new insight into our original question: Who is the real you?

The real you is not your body or brain, but the information contained in your brain -- your memories, personality traits and thought patterns.

(The philosophical Kabbalists write that the spiritual world is a realm whose substance is information. It is an arena where information can interact without being attached to or dependent on matter. Thus, an angel, for example, can interact with another angel, even though they have no connection with anything material. Angels can also interact with material objects. Such a spiritual world would also be able to interact with the information comprising the human personality.)

GOD'S MEMORY

What happens then when a person dies?

We know that the body ceases to function. The brain becomes inert and the physical person is dead.

But what happens to the real you -- the human personality? What happens to all this information -- the memories, thought patterns and personality traits? When a book is burned, its contents are no longer available. When a computer is smashed, the information within it is also destroyed.

What happens to all this information -- the memories, thought patterns and personality traits?

Does the same thing happen when a person dies? Is the mind and personality irretrievably lost?

We know that God is omniscient. He knows all and does not forget. God knows every thought and memory that exists within our brains. There is no bit of information that escapes His knowledge.

What, then, happens when a person dies?

God does not forget, and therefore all of this information continues to exist, at least in God's memory.

(An allusion to this is also found in the Kaballah. Gan Eden or Paradise is said to exist in the sefirah of Binah -- the divine understanding. This may well be related to the concept of memory. Souls, on the other hand, are conceived in the sefirah of Daas -- knowledge. One may say that while we live, we exist in God's knowledge; after death we exist in His memory.)

We may think of something existing only in memory as being static and effectively dead. But God's memory is not a static thing. The sum total of a human personality may indeed exist in God's memory, but it can still maintain its self-identity and volition, and remain in an active state.

This sum total of the human personality existing in God's memory is what lives on even after man dies...