Has this ever happened to you? You go down to the basement for yet another “final confrontation” with the fiend that has taken over your life. There it is: the brain in the jar—the brain you've been keeping alive with liquid nutrients. Attached to it are lots of wires connected to all this fancy lab stuff. One wire is even connected to a speaker so the damned thing can talk to you. Do this! Do that! Obey me! All it ever does is give you orders.
But you're going to put an end to it. You've made up your mind. You're going to show that brain who's boss….. And what happens? The same thing that always happens. You lose your nerve, and the brain wins again.
Now, if you're a normal person like me, you might put up with this situation for, oh, let's say six months. Or maybe nine. By that time you're forced to admit to yourself that your life is no longer your own. This cerebral monster has taken control of it and made you its slave.
“How did this happen?” you ask yourself.
Well, you thought you were being a nice guy, a humanitarian, by keeping the brain alive. There was an ethical issue. It needed you. You owed it something. You had to take care of it as a service to science, or society, or whatever. And it was definitely smarter than you. Maybe it was a genius, or maybe not. But it certainly had a talent for winning every argument and manipulating you. And you'd swear it could read your mind!
One day leads to the next, and the next. Things settle into a pattern, and you're stuck. If you try to break out of it, the brain lays this big guilt trip on you, and you really have no choice. You've agreed to take care of this brain forever. But just taking care of it isn't enough. It wants more and more and more—little luxuries and treats and favors.
What can you do, kick it out of the house? It has no mobility. Where would you take it? Who's going to take it off your hands? And what would you say if someone demanded to know where you got it in the first place? And if you simply let it die of neglect, you're a murderer.
Now do you understand?
I have tried to think the problem through rationally, the way a modern person is supposed to do. We're supposed to be a tolerant society, an inclusive society, where everyone without exception must be treated with dignity and made to feel welcome. I considered approaching the brain in a reasonable manner—even as a friend. Perhaps if we could arrive at a mutual understanding based on goodwill—you know, building on what we have in common, with mutual respect, finding a middle ground where there would be room for compromise and establishing a harmonious co-existence. After all, I have my needs, too.
Well, I tried. I thought my well-rehearsed speech would have the desired effect, but no, just the opposite! I received a stern rebuke and was made to feel selfish and guilty. I ended up apologizing profusely and buying the brain a lot of things to try to make it happy again.
I know you think I'm a spineless coward. You're saying, “Why don't you just take an axe to the damned thing and be rid of it!”
Yes, I've thought about it many times. And sometimes I have even made what you might call a “plan.” But my resolve always evaporates. Why? Because in the back of my mind lurks a fear of what would happen. And I know it would happen.
Let's say I kill the brain. I dispose of it. Everything seems safe. A few days pass, a few weeks, maybe even a few months. But then, when I least expect it, there will be a knock at the door. I will open it. And there will be two very big, very tough-looking men, holding an identical brain in a jar. And one of them will say: “We're looking for his friend.”