(Originally posted August 2009)

I had an interesting idea for a weird-sciencey explanation for respawning in a scifi videogame context:

Late in the 21st century, we figured out transportation. You know, like Star Trek: the state of all your atoms and molecules and stuff is determined and replicated somewhere else. The method for doing it wound up being quite elegant, if you’re a big-brained string theorist guy. But, the interesting part, was the first guy they tried it on raised the obvious objections: “don’t I just die here and a copy of me is made somewhere else?” He made them see if they could create the copy somewhere else without destroying his current body. And damned if they couldn’t. But there was the weird part.

You’ve heard of quantum entanglement? The little quarks bouncing up and down one place and affecting their brother quarks across time and space with no regard for the speed of light? It turns out consciousness is like that. Something about your brain state, when it’s copied exactly, results in you basically being in two places at once. The first guy had to be put in sensory deprivation to deal with it, but he had two bodies and was aware of them at the same time. You have to be a special kind of person to be able to deal with that much sensory overload, though, and nobody’s figured out how to effectively use two bodies, yet.

Anyway, the persistence of consciousness issues aside, they tried a standard transport: kill a guy here and build him there. That worked out less well. That guy showed up at his destination with nasty gaps in memory and personality shifts. Turns out, without his consciousness holding the wave state open or whatever for even a moment, when they recreated him his brain pathways collapsed just a bit. They figured if they tried to clone someone out of cold storage that way, he might just wake up a vegetable. Religious folks rejoiced that there was something special about sapience, even if it was just the weird quantum wave form generated by the flow of electrons through your nerves.

There was a solution, for the wealthy or the special: a brain in a jar. You selectively clone someone’s brain, drop it in a nutrient bath, and go about your business. The guy dies or needs to be transported, there’s still a brain in a jar in a lab somewhere holding open those consciousness pathways, seeing everything the guy saw up to his moment of death, creating a stable platform to resurrect him on. Plus, if you stick a couple electrodes in the jar brain, you have a completely secure way of communicating with agents in the field by giving them the information in a locked-down facility and twinning it over to the live dude.

And that’s how the elite agents operate. They have a backup brain in a jar somewhere. They can receive orders deep in enemy territory, be transported willy-nilly wherever there’s resources to do so, and even be recreated with full memories after the moment of “death.” I hear it’s an awesome insurance package… if you trust your boss to own a working copy of your brain.