young man In a gray flannel robe he sits quietly at a table, in front of a featureless black box. He’s wearing a hat that looks like it’s made of gauze bandages. A bundle of wires emerges from the back of his head. He is waiting for something.
a researcher Wearing a white lab coat, he climbs onto the table and stands silently for a moment. The man stares into the box. For a moment, nothing happened. Then the man blinks and looks a little awkward. The researcher asks what happened.
“Only for the first time did I see an eye, an eye and a mouth,” he says.
The researcher replaces the box with a different object. This time it’s an orange soccer ball. There is a rhythm, and again it is clear that something has happened inside the man’s head. “How do I explain this?” He says. “Just like before, I see an eye – an eye and a mouth, laterally.”
Strictly speaking, this guy is a robot. Its fusiform gyri, sinuous grooves that run along the lower part of the brain on each side, are studded with electrodes. His doctors implanted it because they thought they would help track the cause of the man’s seizures. But the electrodes also provide a rare opportunity — not just to read signals from the brain but to write them on it. A team of neuroscientists, led by Nancy Kanwisher of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is examining the so-called fusiform facial region, which becomes active when a person sees a face. And their question is what if they reverse the pumps? Deliberate activation of that area – what will the man see?
You don’t have to be a cyborg to know that you should never trust your false mind. It hides from you, for example, the fact that all your perceptions are behind. Converting photons into visible space, fluctuations in air pressure into sound, and aerosol particles into smells – this takes the time your deficient sensory organs need to receive signals, convert them into brain language, and transmit them to the shrub-like networks of nerve cells that computes the incoming data. This process isn’t instantaneous, but you never realize how many tangled squiggles there are, the electrochemical sizzles that make your mind up. The truth is that it is a stage play – and you are both a director and an audience.
You perceive, or think you perceive, things that aren’t “really there” all the time – they don’t exist anywhere except inside your head. That’s what dreams are. This is what narcotics do. This is what happens when you imagine your aunt’s face, the smell of your first car, and the taste of strawberries.
From this perspective, it is not actually that difficult to accommodate a sensory experience – a perception – in someone’s head. I did it for you in the first few paragraphs of this story. I described how the cyborg was dressed, I gave you a glimpse of what the room looked like, and I told you the soccer ball was orange. You’ve seen it in your mind, or at least in a copy of it. You’ve heard, in your brain’s ear, the research subject talking to the scientists (even though they were speaking Japanese in real life). That’s all good and literary. But it would be nice to have a more direct path. The brain is a salty globe that transmits sensory information to the mind; You must be able to harness this ability, to build an entire world out there, a simulation that is indistinguishable from reality.