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I'm working on a scenario operating on Clarke's Third Law, with nanotechnology percieved as magic to humanity, and I want to create a non-spiritual afterlife for humanity. My intention was to simply have the nanomachines encase the neurons, reconnecting them with artificial synapses or nano-scale transmitters. Unfortunately, this handwaves several points. Besides the usual issue of a stable power source, as well as scaling a transmitter that small, there's the more pressing issue of what the nanomachines would need to preserve the neuron for future "reincarnation" into a synthetic body, with consciousness during the grey goo stage is ultimately unimportant.

Is there any conceivable way for this to work?

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Yes. But it’s going to take some backstory for me to explain.

We don’t know the source of consciousness. There is a theory (based on data) that our brains have a quantum entanglement component that would make them un-copyable because you could never recreate the same entanglements. This theory says that once a mind is instantiated in any medium, that medium is fundamental to that mind.

If, on the other hand, consciousness turns out to be a purely classical computation phenomenon, well, first you’ve destroyed any chance at the possible existence of free-will. But, second, if you can map all the zero-one bits in the brain that matter to the computation, then you could recreate it in any medium, even multiply instantiate it.

This brings us to a mid-point idea that allows pulping the brain without loss of consciousness and preserving the possibility of free will. And you can do it without having to understand the existing brain!

Let us assume that there is entanglement in the brain critical to consciousness, BUT all the entangled particles are inside neurons. None of the connective materials that allow one neuron to talk to another neuron are actually critical, so long as the message gets through. Ok, if that’s the case (and it is a long-shot theory), then your nanites could wrap each neuron in a small shell and attach a radio transmitter/receiver. Tune each shell to a different microfrequency and set the receivers to listen on the frequencies of each neuron’s original neighbors. If the broadcast power is strong enough, the neurons will remain in contact even as they slosh around.

There will be side-effects. The person’s sense of time will be disrupted since neurons will have different rates of message delivery at different times. There may be cross-talk with other broadcast systems, and at tiny scale, it won’t take much noise to disrupt the brain. And you’ll need containment to keep the neurons from getting too far apart.

You’re going to need to work on details like a nutritional bath that these neurons slosh in, power requirements, and virus protection. And more. But I think this gets you started. I’m pretty sure this idea — very far fetched though it is — doesn’t contradict any known parts of neuroscience.

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    $\begingroup$ @wax I’m not sure if I was helpful or if this was the idea you already had and rejected. If you want us to consider finer-grain details, I think we need more info about where this brain will be sloshing. Running in pipes? Sitting in an acceleration couch on a starship? Etc. $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Oct 20 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ I had actually imagined the nanobots as a fog or mist, capable of self-propelled movement through the air prior to proper containment within a drone. I might have to reconsider this however. $\endgroup$ – Wax Oct 21 at 0:34
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    $\begingroup$ Fog or mist runs into power and nutrition requirements that I don't see a good way around. I thought you were doing this for an acceleration couch -- pulling too much acceleration tends to pulp human brains, and a sloshy form would survive better. It's something I've kicked around before to make humans more fit for space travel. $\endgroup$ – SRM - Reinstate Monica Oct 21 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ That's interesting, and does actually fit into the scenario. I'll reconsider the fog in favour of a liquid form, which will require transport of the dying to specific locations (bar a personal setup, which be difficult without proper access to resources) encouraging a higher level of centralization for society. Thank you! $\endgroup$ – Wax Oct 22 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ To reduce interference, neurons may accept only signals that are crypto-signed by a known neuron; and maybe the signals are not broadcast but relayed through nearest neighbors. All this overhead could slow synthetic brains to meat speeds … $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Oct 23 at 17:27
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Assuming that you know/understand how the large scale interaction of millions of neurons can make consciousness surface (and this is an assumption larger than mount Everest, since we are far from it), your nanomachines could "simply" map the activity and status of each neuron and then replace it in the brain.

If the overall operation of the system depends only on the exchange of information in the network, changing each node with an exact replica in terms of state and activity will not alter it.

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