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If we assume that the human mind can be uploaded to a storage device could that mind be transferred back to a human brain?

Upload is defined as copying the experiences, skills, emotional tenor, and personality of the individual. Emotional tenor may be defined as the affect associated with situations or actions. Personality may be defined as the likelihood of pursuing a course of action. Emotional tenor and personality may be seen to overlap.

Storage device is defined as any medium of storage -- electronic preferred. The mind need not be "run" on the device. That is, an electronic version of the mind need not be "conscious" or active on the device it is uploaded to.

Transferring the mind back to another body may be achieved through any means.

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    $\begingroup$ If we assume that the human mind can be uploaded to a storage device then we very obviously also assume that we can read it back from the device. A write-only backup is not really useful. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 6, 2022 at 13:48
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP Not to pick a fight: Uploading non-functional copies could be performed in the expectation that they would one day be useful. Example, forensic evidence was stored in the hope that new methods of analysis would one day be devised (specifically genetic). $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2022 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Flater: A picture of a Word document is not a copy of the document; in fact, it is missing just about everything. It is not closer to being a copy of the Word document than as statue is to being a clone of a person. (One cannot reconstitute the document based on the picture. Not even remotely. Please don't get me started on how many different ways one can make the same surface appearance of a Word document. I sbould know, I used to do deep Word as part of my job.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 7, 2022 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ "If we assume Magic, than can we do magic?" $\endgroup$ Apr 7, 2022 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ I mean, it's your story/world, so why not? What is exactly the problem/hindrance to making this "mind download" thing possible? I don't see any limitation in the question. and can't find a challenge to work around??? $\endgroup$
    – Nuclear241
    Apr 7, 2022 at 15:29

10 Answers 10

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Copying

You may be able to copy the contents of your skull and brainstem by getting the position of every single molecule through some kind of scanner, or a combination of X-ray, MRI and TAC.

So, to make a copy should be possible.

Differences between "copy" and "cut"

However, something that every single movie and comic and all literature works get wrong is that when you copy something, is literally like the "copy" action in Microsoft Word, not like the "cut" action in Microsoft Word. If you are able to scan someone's memories, you just made a copy. You didn't erase the original memories.

If you want to make a "cut" action, then you will need to make a "copy" action, and then erase the original.

Before "pasting" you need "printing"

Now, the hardest thing to make is the "print" action, as you need to place every single molecule exactly in the same place as it once was to get an effective copy (object). For that you would need an insanely fast and precise organic molecular printer, because the brain needs oxygen, and if you have 0.128 inches of brain printed but no way of giving it oxygen, that's surely dead brain.

Remember that usually the brain is able to bear 4 minutes (maybe more at near 0 temperatures) without you breathing before beginning to take serious damage. Now think of part of a brain waiting to be printed while other part is already dead or dying. You need speed of printing, a way to freeze every molecule in place while printing and a way to unfreeze the brain without damaging it. Currently not possible.

Now we talk about "pasting"

Or rather "trasplanting"

Now we talk about transplants. Maybe you could make viable bodies through cloning, or you could put the brain in an inorganic enclosure (cyborg/"robocop"/brain-in-a-jar) and connect it to the appropiate receptors to give it ability to interact with the external world. Otherwise, if you take a person and exchange his original brain with the printed brain, there's the possibility of some kind of rejection, where the body rejects the new implanted organ.

The consciousness problem

Is it really a problem?

Also, another thing often not taken care of is that, when you copy (let's call our subject number 8...237 Ruben) Ruben's brain, you still have one Ruben running around, and when you print, unfreeze and implant the new Ruben1 brain, you have two Rubens. There's not a transportation of consciousness nor hive mind, there are actually 2 people called Ruben with exactly the same set of memories (maybe OriginalRuben has been living for a couple more years before Ruben1's brain finished being printed and implanted, but Ruben1 probably thinks that he's the real deal and that OriginalRuben brought him to the future through a time machine, or he has been told that he's a printed brain... Oh dear, I wouldn't want to be in his place, that must have been a great blow).

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    $\begingroup$ One argument for "cut" instead of "copy" is that in order to see the exact arrangement of the lower layer of cells, you'd need to remove (and destroy) the upper levels. Not sure how realistic this is either way. $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2022 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ Not if you use non invasive techniques (the three mentioned above). However, if you need to cut open the original brain, then that's probably an indicator that your technology is not advanced enough yet to make a fast copy of anyone and that it's a proyect that will take lots of money without giving any result other than "-- We don't have the technology to do that yet--". $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2022 at 9:42
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We do know, and the answer is absolutely not.

The human mind does not store data and information like a computer, in discrete memory units or 'bits', but in the way the neurons in the mind interconnect, and in how the synapses form between these neurons. The mind is NOT a sequential digital device, but an analogue wholistic device.

The information is not in the actual synapse, but in the pattern of these synapses throughout the mind.

In order for information to be 'downloaded', all existing synapses would have to be destroyed, all existing neurons would have to be destroyed and regrown, every current reconnection of neurons and synapses destroyed, and a very time-dependent process of sending each and every new downloaded piece of information, in absolutely the correct sequence, with the exact emotional state and tagging assigned to it, through the new neurons to form entirely new synapses and interconnections.

Essentially, you are growing and building a completely new mind.

And even at that, there is absolutely no guarantee that the new mind will process exactly the same information in exactly the same way.

Information in the human brain is completely integrated with the emotional system. It is moderated by the emotional state of the mind at the time the information was gained and processed. The interconnecting synapses are made larger or smaller, inhibited or complimented, by the emotional state at the time they are formed. There is no conceivable way a 'download' could recreate the emotional state at the time every single piece of information was stored. That information would also have to be incorporated into the download - a complete history of the complete timeline of the emotional state of the person over their entire life, co-synched with the presentation of the data itself.

Any concept of 'downloading' or 'uploading' the human mind exists in fiction and fantasy only. Any instance of this concept in fiction completely ignores how the human mind both operates and functions. Inevitably, the author ignores reality and substitutes their own version of it, their own artificial and completely ludicrous concept of the human mind, in order to accomplish their plot device.

If you want to use it as a plot device, go ahead. However do not ever expect that anyone can give you a scientifically, neurobiologically valid method for accomplishing it.

Addendum

I also failed to mention that human 'memory' is actually distributed throughput the body. Our responses, reflexes, and such are located in muscles and synapse junctions throughout the spinal column and further down the system. We remember how to spell, in part, through muscle memory. How many times have you, in response to 'How do you spell...', trace the word out in the air with your fingers? That is muscle memory for the correct spelling of the word. The act of talking relies on reflex memory in the tongue and such. Emotional memory is in fact and reality part of the response of the gut. Emotional memory is VERY visceral.

So not only do you have to 'download' the 'brain', you also have to download the entire body to preserve ALL of the memory, skills, responses, intricacies, and personality of the human 'mind'.

EDIT

But please, all those proselytizers that still say it is possible, please explain EXACTLY what is the difference in the human brain between that moment when it is alive, and that moment when it is STILL exactly the same lump of protoplasm, cells, neurons, interconnections and such, EXACTLY the same, only dead? There is NO physical difference in composition between a live brain and when, a few seconds later, it is dead.

That dead brain is an identical, complete copy of the former live brain complete in every physical molecular detail. An atom-by-atom recreation. In fact, exactly the SAME atoms, in exactly the SAME structure. If the exact same physical thing is no longer functional as a living brain, how can one be even mildly serious about producing a 'downloaded recreated copy' of that brain and still have it work as a living brain?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Apr 8, 2022 at 2:57
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    $\begingroup$ Yes this answer is correct. You need to log the exact location and state of every neuron down to the molecule. The act of "downloading" into another brain would require the removal and replacement of that brain. So if you think that "downloading" can be removing your harddrive and replacing it with a new one, then yes its possible. If you think that removing the harddrive and replacing it is not downloading but replacing then its not possible. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Apr 9, 2022 at 7:39
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I think the answer is that we don't know.

We know what makes memories on a memory stick or any other electronic storage device: a set of organized values encoded via certain physical properties on the substrate. We can read/write those properties at leisure and therefore read/write the memory.

For our brain we don't know what in the brain act as a substrate for storing memories and experiences or how physically the encoding happens. We are not even sure if the brain can be compared to a digital device.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. But. "A set of organized 1 and 0 encoded via certain physical properties on the substrate" is quite obsolete since a while. Modern flash memory devices, SD cards and SSDs, store multiple bits per cell (so it's more like 0, 1, 2, 3, ..., n) and are really probabilistic, making extensive use of error-correcting codes to reconstitute the data out of the fuzzy raw memory of the device. They are really marvels of modern physics and mathematics. They also have quite intricate protocols for reading and writing data. The point being that living brains are surely even more complicated... $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 6, 2022 at 13:40
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    $\begingroup$ The brain is Turing-complete and can be compared to a digital device, although it's not the same architecture. This is true because of the Church-Turing thesis. Of course, it's such a vastly different architecture that it's not as simple as porting one ISA to another arch... $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Apr 7, 2022 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ @forest I get "triggered" every time I see Church-Turing thesis quoted as a theorem or a truth. Wiktionary says: "thesis: 3. (mathematics, computer science) A conjecture, especially one too vague to be formally stated or verified but useful as a working convention." $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Apr 7, 2022 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @PabloH: Construct a world where it is false. I'll wait. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Apr 7, 2022 at 19:12
  • $\begingroup$ @PabloH Sure, it's just a theorem, but it's widely accepted in computer science. As of yet, no computation oracle has ever been discovered (anything capable of performing computations that a Turing machine cannot is an oracle), and it is extremely unlikely that any will be. But yes, it is not a theorem. $\endgroup$
    – forest
    Apr 7, 2022 at 21:01
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Reading out a mind state from a living (or recently dead and presumably quickly preserved) brain is a very different process from writing that same information back to a brain that's presumably expected to live and be conscious (as the reloaded personality) afterward.

There is reason to believe that at least some of the information that makes up "mind" is physical, in the form of interconnections between neurons, while the rest is electrochemical (what chemicals depends on what decade it is, knowledge changes over time).

"Writing" the electrochemical portion of the mind seems likely to be MUCH easier than physically rearranging the interconnections of billions to hundreds of billions of cells (depending on what cells are actually active in the brain -- neurons only, or glial and other cell types as well). I can only envision this being done either through a process of growing a new brain to specificaion, or something akin to Star Trek transporter/synthesizer technology.

Now, whether that's possible depends on you, do you want to technology that allows reconfiguring living tissues in this way?

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  • $\begingroup$ By "physical" you mean static, or possibly anatomical, yes? Because electrochemical states are surely not metaphysical. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 6, 2022 at 13:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, anatomical -- cell level instead of molecular or electrical. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Apr 6, 2022 at 13:46
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If you started with a blank clone perhaps

3D printing has reeeally come a long way. We can print body parts, including entire bodies. No more having to wait for a clone to grow up when you can print a body of any age!

The most difficult discovery was in the scanning (every atom and state of a person's brain using a field of some sort) and printing of every tiny detail required to recreate a person's mind in as it was scanned. Typically easier to upload to the net, but to each their own

Otherwise, a natural human brain isn't something you can just upload information into via cable. We don't interface like that.

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The trick is to do it gradually. First replace one neuron with an antenna which goes to a computer mainframe which simulates what that neuron originally did. Then do this with successive components of the brain making sure that the individual components act the same as they used to. This may get complicated since the artificial neurons would have to react the same as the biological neurons did in the chemical baths and with the glial cells. Eventually you will have replaced 100% of the human brain with an antenna and the person will effectively be transferred to the mainframe. At that point you can do the reverse operation in a different body.

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It will be difficult/impossible to simply upload a brain (in the same way you upload a file onto a computer) for the reasons given in the other answers.

However, there is an slower alternative. The brain could be connected with an artificial intelligence 'substrate' with an equivalent cognitive capacity as a brain. Over a long period of time the brain would start to use the artificial intelligence and eventually merge with it.

The brain could then be slowly 'turned off' (e.g. using anaesthetic) and so more of the consciousness would then transfer over to the artificial intelligence substrate until eventually the transfer to the artificial intelligence substrate would be complete. This could take years/decades.

Transferring the consciousness slowly in this way is perhaps inconvenient, but it has the benefit of avoiding philosophical dilemma of determining who is you. That is, you cannot easily make copies of your consciousness that all claim to be the real you.

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In theory something like this might be possible, in perhaps a couple of centuries. I would suggest researching micro-scale connectome research, which is where every neuron and synapse is reconstructed. The MICrONS project has done this for a tiny section of the mouse brain (roughly 1 mm^3), which contains 75,000 neurons and half a billion synapses.

The "upload" procedure would likely involve a brain slicer, imaging of the slices, and stitching the slices together. You would need to know the structure and type of the neurons, structure of the neurons, the synapses, some level of detail of the neurotransmitter receptors at the synapse (e.g. types, numbers), and more. You may need to know about other cells other than neurons.

The "download" procedure would be even more difficult. Some of the 3D bio printer seems like the best option, as others have mentioned, but that would likely be many centuries in the future. You wouldn't need to reproduce every molecule, but it would still be quite a lot more detail than what is considered microscopic scale. In order for the brain to work, it would need to be able to constantly make new synaptic connections.

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Well not strictly "downloading" and also not strictly into an already existing brain...
But you could derive the required molecular structure of the brain from the copied mind. Then print that molecular structure and implant the resulting brain into a human body of your choice.
Not sure what to do with the old brain's mind. Maybe just put it into a VR hell or something.

We can't do it now, because:

  • We don't know how the brain works and therefore can't model a new brain to order. This probably is just a matter of time as it is an active research topic and progress is still being made - sloooooow but steady.
  • We don't have molecule-precision 3D printers yet. We could do it with raster tunnel microscopes now. But that method isn't feasible for macroscopic structures at all. So some other method or a massive multi-order-of-magnitude speed increase is needed. Maybe nanites?
  • The 3D printers may be too slow to create a complex living brain. The inner parts might just die of oxygen starvation before the last parts are fully printed. But maybe you could engineer it to be printable in selfcontained parts, so you can start supplying it part for part until it is ready for transplantaion.
  • We can't transplant a brain yet. This is just a matter of precision. We will get there.

Nothing of that is theoretically impossible if we don't assume a mind requiring some supernatural thing like a soul.

Alternate method: Electronic brain replacement.

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We can already do all but experiences, through writing and reading.

Skills

You can transfer your knowledge to printed media, and people can use their eyes to scan it and download the info into their brains. I learned to code by copying data from many sources, from books to the personal blog of Stack Exchange's creator. Alternatively you can record audio and people can download with their ears.

Emotional tenor

You can cause people to react to stuff in anyway if you are a skilled enough writer - for good and for evil. Some people try to change the world for better because of books. Some other people also kill and hate other people because of books.

Personality

Sometimes something just clicks within you when reading from an author and you just wanna emulate them. I strive to have a chill atitude towards death just like Terry Pratchett.


In all cases, the storage mediums available range from papyrus and clay tablets to ebooks and podcasts.

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  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't call it download. At the very least, you make them treat it as background noise. Or they can actually put some attention into it and make their brain to process the information. But the term download I think would only apply to people with eidetic memory. $\endgroup$ Apr 6, 2022 at 22:45
  • $\begingroup$ Skills are held in muscle memory, spread throughout the body. $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2022 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ @justinthymethesecond Mozart wrote his compositions in paper. If I am to play them skillfully I need to first read or listen to them and then practice. There is that extra step of practice to decode the skill but still there is the copying of a skill through written medium. $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2022 at 13:29
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    $\begingroup$ Basically, what you are saying is that 'yes, the information can be downloaded back into another brain, but it all has to be learned through conventional means'. Yes, a lifetime of learning replicated in another person, with a similar intelligence and abilities, would approximate a 'downloading;. $\endgroup$ Apr 9, 2022 at 13:59

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