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A new body for your weak & weary consciousness? It could happen

IN THE new film "Self/less," Ben Kingsley plays a dying billionaire who has his consciousness transferred into Ryan Reynolds' younger, healthier body.

IN THE new film "Self/less," Ben Kingsley plays a dying billionaire who has his consciousness transferred into Ryan Reynolds' younger, healthier body.

Pretty far-fetched, right?

Actually, electrical engineer and neurosciences researcher Dr. Charles Higgins feels that such a procedure will become reality someday - and perhaps sooner than we think.

"It could be slow and incremental [or] it could be a big leap, but it will happen," says Higgins, an associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience with a dual appointment in Electrical Engineering at the University of Arizona, where he is also leader of the Higgins Lab. Though he started his career as an electrical engineer, his fascination with the natural world has led him to study insect vision and visual processing, and to try to meld together the worlds of robotics and biology.

Higgins feels that the way the film depicts Kingsley's character adapting to Reynolds' body is plausible.

"[Reynolds'] body had martial-arts skills," says Higgins. "To me, that makes perfect sense, because as a martial artist you do not have the time to have the impulses from your body travel to your brain and back again. It's spinal reflex and muscle memory."

Higgins also feels that the movie has an appropriate title.

"In terms of the movie, what is transferred/lost is not consciousness, but self," he said. "Your consciousness is a part of your self, as is taking in your surroundings and any information you can gather from the world.

"Your self is everything you are, from your personality to intelligence," said Higgins. "We both have a heart and a liver. When we interact, why don't we act identical? Our self is different. The self is everything."

"We will get there, I think, the more we can truly map out the brain," he added. "But more and more today, research progresses incrementally. A big breakthrough could come with the time, money and effort researching Alzheimer's disease, which is truly losing your self. . . . Maybe studying that erosion of the self will help us understand what self is."

Higgins says that younger people will likely not identify with the concept of "Self/less" as will older generations - and that some have brought up religious objections.

"You could argue that by prolonging your life, you are denying yourself the reward of the afterlife," he said.

But Higgins feels that a world where people could live beyond one body carries enormous positive possibilities.

"I think, as a scientist, the benefit would be to grow a body of knowledge over centuries," he said. "If someone could live 1,000 years, what could we learn from such a person? We get to a point where we start truly being knowledgeable about a discipline and then we start to physically degenerate. What if we didn't? What if we could accumulate 15 or 20 doctorates in diverse fields? Think about how amazing that would be!"