Could technology help to make our minds last forever? Consider the following parable, about a very wealthy man I’ll call Nicolas Flamel.
As he became older, Flamel became fixated on the idea that he didn’t want to die. After considering the problem for a long time, he figured that what he needed to do was move the contents of his mind into a receptacle more stable than a human head. Flamel was an engineer who made his fortune in networks, and he felt confident that what we think of as our brains—and as ourselves—was really nothing more than a combination of electrical pathways. Surely these could be copied and stored somewhere safe. The task would be daunting but not impossible: there are eighty-five billion neurons in the average brain, and mapping them seemed to be a problem not unlike mapping the Internet. Flamel liked to tell his friends, “One day, you’ll start reading e-mails from me, and wonder where I went.”