by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I have a really hard time with bodyswap. I will suspend my disbelief for unicorns
first, let’s put it that way. It’s just that it doesn’t matter whether we’re talking science or magic, it does not make sense
. Assuming there actually was some incorporeal you that could be lifted out of your body and popped into someone else (which I don’t assume, but we’ll come back to that), if you got popped into someone else’s body, you would not be you anymore
. Because the whole thing is a fallacy, and there isn’t an incorporeal you that can be moved, because you are your brain. The two are indistinguishable. Anatomy is identity. Well, the pattern of electrical currents running through that anatomy is identity, but you get my meaning. And you can’t just swap physical brains, either, because brains don’t work in isolation, and they aren’t always in charge – there’s the adrenal system and the endocrine system and let’s not even get started on the sex hormones. And all these things are part of the youness of identity, that emotional centerpoint that says this is me
, and makes decisions and feels things and remembers things.* So even assuming someone could isolate that pattern of electrical currents and extract it, trying to run it on someone else’s brain would be like me trying to run my iPhone software on my Blackberry.
This book is kind of about that. It’s a far future scifi noir mystery about a criminal brought to earth and “resleeved” in another man’s body for *gestures* reasons and stuff, and then he solves crime. And the book is partly about the dislocation of that, the dysmorphia of rapid transitions, and the way the biology of the new body leaves a residue of emotion for the new occupant. Our protagonist doesn’t just pick up the body’s smoking habit, but he also has an instantaneous, literally chemical awareness of the body’s lover.
But Morgan falls short for me. He hasn’t quite thought this stuff through, though to be fair he was writing before some of the more recent work on body identity issues came out. He could have sold me this book with its twisty mystery hook if he’d sold me on the technology. But his technology is basically just running personalities in bodies like software on hardware, and I don’t think he quite
gets his teeth into it. So to me, it’s just bodyswap, even though he’s come up with some cool and plausible psychological consequences. I acknowledge this would not be a problem for, um, pretty much everyone else I know. And it is a cool book.
Huh, you know, I have finally figured out why Gender Identity Disorder and Body Integrity Identity Disorder and the dysmorphias – all the ways people feel that they do not fit in their skin, that this body is not “me” – are so fascinating. It’s because they offer the single counterfactual voice to the mounting evidence that our bodies are
our thinking. Even if it proves only that sometimes the brain and the endocrine system can be wired to different places on the gender spectrum, it speaks to the resilience of self. Whereas the rest of the scientific literature is a flood of data informing us that “self” is whatever the body damn well tells it to be.
I think this is what this tremendous article
is getting at, if elliptically. (Seriously, read that, you will not forget it for a long time). Identity is a property of meat. But we haven’t even begun to deal with the fact that for some people, the identity that arises from meat knows the meat is the wrong gender. How the hell
does it do that?
*And we are actually very bad at knowing what is us, anyway – there is increasingly overwhelming evidence that our impression of choice and volition is largely false
, because the thing we think of as me
is just the clueless frontman for the real thinking we have no access to. View all my reviews