Combining minds.

I spent what little time I had left awake last night idly skipping around the Web, as I’ll often do when I’m bored. In particular, I spent a good deal of time checking out a fan-based Transformers Wiki site. Don’t worry, I’m not going to dork out on Transformers again. I mean to lead up to a broader point. Anyway, the featured article at the time I’m writing this is about the character Menasor. In the fiction, there are several teams on both sides of the conflict that are commonly known as “combiners.” The gimmick is that the robots can combine into a larger one, thereby giving them more physical power on the battlefield. It’s a clever ploy to get kids to want more toys—each member of a combiner team might not be that fun a toy by itself but you can’t stop collecting them until you have the whole set.

This gimmick has been used throughout the brand’s three decades so far to varying degrees of success. To focus on the original “Generation 1” combiners, the fiction often included an interesting drawback to the idea of combining the teams. Not only do their bodies combine but their minds do so as well. In most cases this leads to whatever action the five can agree on. In other words, the “new” character becomes the lowest-common denominator of minds. In most cases this leads to dull-witted monsters, some more chaotic than others.

So here’s a science fiction scenario for you: what would happen if we did this with human minds? I already know of one instance that this did happen in a popular science fiction franchise—In an episode Star Trek: Voyager two of the characters had melded together in a transporter accident, resulting in a new being. (Yes, I know that technically the characters in question weren’t human but that’s besides the point.) But the mind of the combined character in this case was the result of a new brain having been formed from the accident, as opposed to a direct connection between two minds independently.

This premise hinges on the idea that we even know what a mind is in the first place. So far I had assumed on the old idea of the mind being this separate thing or force that could be pulled out of somebody’s body. But then there are those who would assert that the stream of consciousness itself is an illusion, that our minds already are combinations of multiple elements from different sources, especially the brain. How does that affect my premise?

If an aspect of somebody’s mind such as math skills or facial recognition exist solely as a result of processes in a specific part of their brain, then we can assume that those skills would diminish if that part of the brain became damaged or even removed. If we can isolate what part of the brain causes the lost skill, then wouldn’t it be possible to transplant a part of another brain to reactivate that part of the patient’s mind? Of course, we would need to remove the “new” part from somebody else, which raises all sorts of moral questions. I’m only throwing out half-assed hypotheses here. But where does one person’s mind stop and another begins? If I needed a heart transplant then do I regard the heart I receive as my new one, or do I always refer to it as truly belonging to somebody else? What then, does that mean if a part of my stream of consciousness comes from somebody else?

A further science fiction scenario could potentially center around taking somebody’s memories from one brain and inserting them into another. Then the question of where one person stops and another begins would become very difficult.

Okay, let’s leave the gore out of this and only refer to a direct link between minds. Suppose we build an apparatus that can connect the electronic impulses from one brain to another, thereby building a direct link between the minds. Would they act as one or would they meld into something new? Would the combined person then become the dull-witted monster like Menasor or would they get the best of both worlds? I imagine a field of study resulting from this centering around finding the right combinations of minds to achieve the right results.

Of course, we could take this into the realm of trans-humanism very easily. At least that’s my initial reaction to what I’m spouting off here. I don’t know if it’s possible or easy to combine software in the way that we’re talking about. But isn’t that the premise in the Transformers universe? Or does the premise break down when one attempts to analyze it? After all, the characters in the fiction are depicted as living beings with minds of their own, much like humans. Is it possible that their minds shouldn’t be able to combine after all?

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