I wonder what kind of year this is going to be. As a psychiatrist, this year is likely to be one wherein I will take a fresh look at the question of just what exactly is the human spirit.
The advances recently made in the field of brain science have been astounding. Ohio State University announced last year that it had finally utilized pluripotent stem cells derived from human skin cells in order to culture an eraser-sized "miniature brain," which included nearly all of the genes of a 5-week-old fetus. It seems clear, then, that it will become possible within a short time frame to reproduce a human brain.
On second thought, however, I'll bet that before this occurs, analyses of the brain's neural networks will proceed in a manner such that people will be able to replicate their own brain on a computer.
I remember a scene from a science fiction movie where a woman was able to converse with a computer that utilized the same pattern as the brain of her dead husband. Soon, this will actually become a reality.
Let's imagine that this does indeed occur. A vendor providing a "replacement brain" service comes to your house, picks up skin and hair samples of your dead family member from off the floor, and takes them away. You later receive notification that the artificial brain is ready, and it is delivered to your home along with an attached apparatus that allows you to converse with it.
You flip the switch, and the nostalgic voice of your relative says, "It's been a long time! Are you studying like you should be? I know you don't like English!" Naturally, you are also able to hold conversations with the device -- meaning that you can laugh and fight with your family member just like you always did before.
Some people are likely to think, "This is amazing! I hope this will become a reality as soon as possible!" Many others, however, probably feel that no matter how much a particular response pattern is able to be duplicated, it could never take the place of their beloved kin. And even if one's own brain were able to be simulated via this type of service, few are those who would feel as if they had actually attained the ability to live forever.
If this is the case, then, what does it mean to exist as a particular human being? Is it the act of possessing a body? This is clearly not so, since the relatives or lover of someone whose face or other bodily features had become greatly disfigured in an accident would be unlikely to conclude that the individual had suddenly become a different person.
This being the case, then, it is clear that there is a deep connection between existing as an individual being human being and the fact that we have only one life -- even though no one yet possesses a definitive answer with respect to this matter.
Every single individual who sits with lowered eyes and sheds tears while sitting in my office possesses their own unique spirit, and is living their one unique life -- a fact in and of itself that explains the reason why we all get hurt and suffer.
This year, then, I would like to continue probing and agonizing together with all of you with respect to the following questions: What does it mean to be human? And just what is the human spirit? (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)