These fragments I have shored against my ruins – TS Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922

It is by no means an irrational fancy that, in a future existence, we shall look upon what we think our present existence, as a dream – Edgar Allan Poe

If you and I swapped brains, where would I be?

  • Would I be inside your body, or could I still be in my body, conscious that my brain was ‘over there’, in your body?
  • Would I want to get it back or would it be enjoying the new body?
  • Would the you-version-of-me see the body-me in a way it had never managed to see it through the mirror?
  • And would the my body/your brain combination obviously be a very different person from the 100% “me” head-body set?
  • I mean, presumably, you’d make this body move differently from the way I do, and even though you had the same hardware (voice box, arms, legs, joints, lips) you’d be putting your software/brain into my hardware/body.

    And it’s very individualistic software: there are variations in every synapse, neuron, in the chemical levels of dopamine and serotonin, the electrical impulses work differently…and that’s before we’ve even dug around in the cache of memories, prejudices etc.

    So if that was the case, it would look like me at first, anyway, but it would be your brain running the show.

    Now, here’s a thing: it wouldn’t be what we’ve known as “you” (personality-wise), or “me” (looks-wise) for very long, I suspect.

    After all – let’s go to an extreme to demonstrate the point – say you’re used to being a man, tall, skinny, dashingly handsome. But my body is that of a small, green, wing-flapping, eyelash-fluttering, supernatural imp.

    Now, while some would argue (I disagree) that we had the same software / brain package at birth, we’ve both adapted it to work best for the hardware/body we’ve got – unless we have (s)elf-destructive tendencies; always possible. So, your brain would have to adapt quite significantly to be able to run the Tricky Little Imp body effectively; it would become a new thing (we know this because if we left it in there, working away as the “Imp formerly known as Tall, Handsome Man” for a while, both the body and the brain would adjust to work together – and would have to alter again if we plopped its brain into the Tall, Handsome Man’s body).

    Now, of course, there is nothing new, if by “new”, we mean 100% previously unknown, or non-existent. Everything comes from something (yes, we’re back with philosophers’ axes and spirals of life; there may be no escaping). And so, is this very binary question – “would I still be me?” or “where IS me if I swap bodies?” which is the premise for a hundred light matinee films as well as a million real philosophers’ words – just reductive? After all, doesn’t it just highlight the point that “me” is in fact a constantly fluid thing? You can‘t actually pin it down like a squirming butterfly under a pin, because in fact “me”, or “you”, our sense of self is just a linkage of things: a line, a thread, a common factor.

    I am, in fact, just a washing line of socks and pants in the garden of life. I am the line, the socks, the garden and the sky. I have rain and sun, weeds and orchids, bird shit and mud, barbecues and games. I am all of that, simultaneously and in fragments.