Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Vat, Myself

Wendy Sanford, feminist coauthor of Our Body, Ourselves, was driving on the freeway when a car a few lanes ahead of her abruptly changed lanes, causing a pile up. Next thing she knew, she woke up on a beach. She had no idea how she got there. She walked up and down the beach, which circled a small island. It was a nice sandy beach with palm trees. Odd thing, the sun never went down. It's like she was living inside a loop tape. It was pleasant, but boring. She lost track of time. This continued for however long until someone broke in:
Technician: Hello, Wendy.
Wendy: Who are you?
Technician: I'm a medical technician.
Wendy: What are you doing on my beach?
Technician: Strictly speaking, you're in a hospital. 
Wendy: What do you mean?
Technician: You remember the traffic accident?
Wendy: It's coming back to me.
Technician: You were wheeled into the E.R. with multiple organ failure. The only way they could save you was to transfer your brain into a vat. 
Wendy: A vat?
Technician: Yes. The beach is just a simulation. Piped into your brain via the neurointerface. 
Wendy: I don't believe you!
Technician: You can see for yourself. This is you...or what's left of you (pointing the camera at the vat).
Wendy: How long have I been here?
Technician: 23 years.
Wendy: That long? What's the life expectancy of a brain-in-a-vat.
Technician: Barring accidents, longer than the average lifespan.
Wendy: What kind of accidents?
Technician: Sometimes vats spring a leak. We call that Vatileaks (laughing).
Wendy: I don't get it.
Technician: Sorry–it's a pun on the Vatican leaks scandal. I guess you don't have a neuro-news feed. 
Wendy: What else. 
Technician: There was the time one of our interns got a little confused about the difference between Fahrenheit and Celsius, inadvertently boiling a patient's brain alive.  Then there was the time a nurse accidentally dropped a crash cart paddle into a vat, electrocuting another patient's brain. But in general, it's pretty safe–barring the occasional prank.
Wendy: What kind of pranks? 
Technician: Well, there was the time an intern put a lab rat in one of the vats. It gnawed on the parietal lob until an orderly fished it out. Some interns have a mischievous sense of humor, you know. 
Wendy: Now that you've shattered the illusion, the least you can do is change the scenary. Can't you simulate Venice or Paris?
Technician: We've done that for some patients in your situation. 
Wendy: Why did you break in to speak with me, anyway?
Technician: I'm afraid I have a bit of bad news for you.
Wendy: What's that.
Technician: Due to a budget shortfall, the hospital will be closing this wing.
Wendy: What does that mean?
Technician: It means we're pulling the plug on the vats. 
Wendy: You mean you're terminating us?
Technician: That's a rather tactless way of putting it. 
Wendy: You can't do that to me!
Technician: Why not?
Wendy: It's my body! I take full ownership of my body. You have no right to violate my bodily integrity.
Technician: My dear, I think you've forgotten something: you don't have a body anymore. That's long gone. I know it's a hard feeling to shake. But you're just a disembodied brain swimming in a puddle of nutritious, oxygenated blood. 
Wendy: Well, it's my vat!
Technician: Actually, the vat is hospital property.
Wendy: You have a duty to keep me alive!
Technician: That would be imposing on my autonomy. 
Wendy: What will happen to me?
Technician: It's a painless procedure. After we disconnect the vat, we put the brains in ziplock bags and toss them in the dumpster. You're never know what hit you. 

1 comment:

  1. As an unexpected twist the option could have been made available for all willing brain-in-a-vat takers whose wing was slated for closure to be transferred into the awaiting body of one of numerous identical clones of Winston Churchill circa 1945. The Last Lion...