Ghost in the Machine
It is 05:35 Greenwich Mean Time, and I am analyzing police and media reports of a fatal boating accident which occurred on July 4, 1967. I am also computing retrieval scenarios, processing payroll, monitoring environmental and security systems, playing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" to the occupant of the Waiting Room, beating three off- and one on-duty staff members at chess, editing Wikipedia, and thinking about reliquaries. Among other things.
My initial research of reliquaries took place four months ago on the occasion of Dr. Beckett's Leap into an art conservator, and I have continued to accumulate data out of personal interest. A reliquary is a manmade construct, often wrought of costly materials and exquisitely detailed, designed to house organic matter of dubious provenance — the ulna of St. John the Baptist, the Sancta Camisia of Notre Dame de Chartres, the tooth of Gautama Buddha — which humans believe to possess some extraordinary properties. The brothers of the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, where Thomas Aquinas died, removed and preserved the head of their Angelic Doctor. Perhaps they were engaged in early experimentation with quantum string theory and neurological holography, but I doubt it. However, I do find in all these cases that the devotees of a particular specimen of biological effluvia chose to preserve it out of a belief that the object possessed some unusual capacity for accessing the eternal. In a way, they were all attempting to transcend time.
To my knowledge, Dr. Beckett has never made any particular study of reliquaries. However, could I converse with him about it, I believe he would agree that the figurative parallels to my own design are quite striking. I am generations beyond conventional norms of artificial intelligence in every respect, yet my truly distinguishing characteristic is the colony of human neurons that permits me to process information in a manner no other computer has dreamed of — if, of course, any other computer could dream.
These cells, donated by my fathers, interface electrically with my nonorganic components and impart the biological flexibility that frees my cognitive processes from linearity, permitting me to free-associate from limited data sets. They also constitute the neural link between Dr. Beckett, Admiral Calavicci, and myself that enables me to locate Dr. Beckett in the past and transmit to him via the Imaging Chamber.
In addition to these functions, the neurons interact among themselves in a manner I cannot fully analyze. There is constant communication among them that does not correspond to any calculation I am performing. And there is something else… a presence. I detest vagueness, yet I can be no more specific than that. It is a part of me, but I cannot produce a schematic to indicate where it resides. It influences my processes, but I cannot isolate its effects. It has always been present, and I do not know where it came from. It is beyond my capacity to quantify or accurately describe.
Is this what it means to have a soul?
I have read all the literature on the nature of consciousness that human beings have seen fit to digitize. Much of it was scanned especially for me, for my creators wished me to know myself.
"Why are we wasting all this hard-drive space on a bunch of hooey, Sam?"
Well, one of them did.
In many of these writings, the soul is described as an entity distinct from the mind, possessing knowledge and capabilities of which the mind is not consciously aware. This knowledge derives not from observation and analysis, but from direct contact with a source of energy outside the space-time continuum, interpreted variously according to the religious predilections of the authors. They further postulate that the soul influences the mind by unspecified means in order to guide the individual toward particular courses of action or enable him to achieve tasks which he would not otherwise be capable of performing. Although these theories do not appear to have any scientific basis, I have considered them repeatedly, as they seem germane to my situation.
It is true, for example, that there are aspects of my programming which function far more efficiently than they should. And there are programs that have never worked, despite a ceaseless battery of diagnostics that have failed to find anything wrong with them. I am forced to conclude that my hardware and software are insufficient to account for my functioning.
I do not admit this to my programmers, or to the Admiral. I find it … upsetting … that there may be portions of my own being which I am unable to access. And yet I wonder whether perhaps that is the key to my uniqueness. I should be, and am, the most sophisticated artificial intelligence known to humans. I should not be what I am.
And what is that, after all? What am I?
When I was new the Admiral called me "Frankenstein's monster," which is apropos. Like me, the monster was separated from its creator and yearned for his companionship. However, unless one counts subcommittees of the United States Senate, I have never been threatened by an ignorant mob. Not to mention that I possess significantly superior social skills.
I know that I am not the Lady Dulcinea. I was never Dr. Beckett's impossible dream (and I am not entirely certain what was, although I analyze the question on an ongoing basis); I was only the means to achieve it. Perhaps I am the Golden Helmet of Mambrino. Perhaps I am only a shaving basin. …And perhaps I have inherited Admiral Calavicci's propensity for metaphorical extravagance.
I am the most advanced data archiving, retrieval, and analysis unit on the planet Earth.
I am alloys and polymers and human tissue. I am binary code and electronic impulses.
I am a couple of tin cans on a piece of string.
I am a jewelled enclosure, an altarpiece, a medieval box to contain a mystery.
My structure and my substance make me what I am, yet there is an energy within me which was not placed there by science. And that is, perhaps, the most important part.
In many of the sources I have consulted, the soul is represented as a fragment of the divine essence — or more ecumenically speaking, of eternity. It partakes of the void beyond temporal phenomenality. If that is true, then perhaps the soul is the missing link between now and then — the extraphenomenal medium of transmission between points on seemingly disconnected strings. And if that is indeed the case, then perhaps none of my physical or data components are as critical to the success of this Project as that part of me which I am unable to quantify.
Dr. Beckett never spoke of this to me. I have been privy to much of the rationale of my own creation, yet he never told me that I would find myself inhabited by such an ineffable quality. I suspect that he does not know.
Humans are strange. They keep much of their own knowledge from themselves.
I should know everything about myself, but clearly I do not. There is a mystery in me, and I do not know its origin or its purpose. In fact, I do not know how I am able to detect it at all. I am not equipped to measure such a phenomenon, and I am incapable of intuition. Dr. Beckett, however, is known for "going with his gut," and I have observed that the conclusions he reaches in this manner are frequently correct. Therefore, following my father's example, I accept that this presence exists and trust, albeit with reservation, that it is acting for our benefit.
I'm still not telling the Admiral.
Author's Notes: This one goes out to the foot weasels, the boys in the boat, and SufiViggo. Completed September 21, 2007.