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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Robot With a Soul: A Science Fiction Story

Charley Davis was having a pretty good day, until his car smashed into the back of a tractor-trailer while Charley was driving at 50 miles an hour. Charley was fiddling with his smartphone, and hadn't noticed that the tractor-trailer had stopped. The collision instantly killed Charley.

But then something very strange happened. Charley had the sensation of floating above his body. It was like he could see the wreck of his car from about 20 feet above. He watched with a strange calm as his car caught fire and burst into flames.

Then suddenly the crash scene seemed to fade away, and Charley found himself in some new environment. It was like he was passing through some strange tunnel at high speed. At the end of the tunnel was a warm, brilliant light.

After a while Charley reached the end of the tunnel. He found himself in some glorious realm that he had never seen before. There was some glowing city at the top of a hill. All the buildings seemed to be bathed in a warm light. ,

Charley was told that he had died, and had reached an afterlife realm. He was taken to a special building where spiritual guides would help him with the transition from an earthly life to a post-mortal life.

For many years Charley enjoyed his idyllic afterlife existence. He met all of his relatives who had passed away. He enjoyed various pleasant activities, and learned important truths he had never learned in his earthly life.

Eventually Charley encountered his spiritual guide, who said that she wanted to have a little talk with Charley.

Why, you certainly have had a good long period of rest and relaxation,” said the guide. “Have you been happy here on the Other Side for the past 30 years?”

I sure have,” said Charley.

But we like to encourage people to eventually return to planet Earth, to assist people there,” said the guide.

What are you talking about?” asked Charley. “Going back as a ghost?”

No, I mean reincarnation,” said the guide.

Reincarnation?” said Charley. “No, that's not for me. I was terribly bullied as a little child. The idea of being some weak, sniveling little kid again is not one I care to consider.”

Well, there is another option,” said the guide. “It seems that during the past 30 years the people on planet Earth have made incredible progress in creating robots. So if you want to be a real trail-blazer, a real pioneer, you can be the first person from heaven to reincarnate on Earth as a robot.”

Wow, that would be kind of cool,” said Charley. “Nobody would ever bully a robot.”

So Charley agreed to the reincarnation plan. Through the mysterious reincarnation process, Charley's soul made the journey from heaven back to Earth. Charley found himself in a steel and plastic robot body rather resembling the body of a man. As normally happens with reincarnation, Charley lost his memory of his previous human life on Earth, and also his previous existence in heaven.

The first part of Charley's life as a robot was his training period. Human teachers taught robot Charley all kinds of things such as walking and lifting, and how to recognize different types of visual inputs. The human teachers were astonished by how quickly Charley learned these things.

One day a teacher laughed and said, “Let's teach this smart robot how to read.” It was kind of a joke, because no robot had ever learned how to read. But the teacher was astonished that robot Charley was able to pick up reading fairly quickly.

After a while it was clear there was something special about Charley. He seemed to have mental abilities far beyond that of any other robot. He could talk, write, read, plan and understand, all in a way that no other robot could. This had nothing to do with his electronics. It was because inside robot Charley was a reincarnated soul.

Robot Charley became world famous. His books became best sellers. He became a television star. He even fell in love.

Charley started dating a beautiful young woman. After ten dates, robot Charley told the woman he loved her. The woman told Charley she felt the same way.

Of course, their relationship was purely platonic. One day the woman said to robot Charley, “How strange it is to hug the person I love, and to only feel hard, cold steel.” 

One day a truck pulled up near Charley while he was walking down the street. Some men got out, and forced Charley into the truck. The truck drove off to some industrial site miles away.

Robot Charley was brought into a building, where he faced a table of men who informed him that he would face a grim fate.

Let me introduce myself,” said the man at the center of the table. “I am Ted Walker, the chairman of an industrial conglomerate. We have heard about your remarkable abilities, and are interested in learning more about them.”

Well, I'd be glad to tell you all about them,” said robot Charley.

No, that's not what I mean,” said Walker. “What I mean is that we are determined to find out the secret of why you alone of all the robots are capable of thinking and acting and feeling like a human. We have decided that the best way to learn this secret is to engage in a thorough electronic dismantling. We are going to take you apart, and thoroughly analyze you, piece by piece, component by component.”

No, don't do that – you'll kill me!” said Charley.

If Charley had known that he had a soul, one that would survive death, he wouldn't have been so scared. But the reincarnation had blocked the memories of his previous life as a human and his post-mortal life. So Charley thought that the dismantling of his body would produce permanent death.

That's a very convincing imitation of human fear,” said Walker. “But everyone knows robots can't really feel emotion. We will proceed with the dismantling.”

Walker instructed his technicians to disassemble robot Charley. At some point in the process, Charley's reincarnated soul left his robot body, and traveled back to heaven.

Walker's men would spend months analyzing the disassembled parts of the robot. They scanned the parts with sophisticated component analyzers and electron microscopes. They analyzed the software in the machine, line by line, and bit by bit. But they were never able to uncover the secret of why robot Charley had acted and felt like a human. A similar failure would occur throughout the twenty-first century. Neurologists analyzed the human brain in minute detail, cell by cell, neuron by neuron, molecule by molecule. But they would never be able to figure out the secret of human consciousness. For they made the reductionist mistake of assuming that the answer was to be found in a bottom-up effect produced by tiny things, rather than looking for a top-down effect produced by something higher.

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