by Jake Christie

a story.

There's a company out west that sells brains. I'm not talking about the animal brains that scientists and high school students dissect for biology research, I'm talking about human brains; and I'm not talking about cold dead unthinking brains, I'm talking about brains that are alive alive and working, sans body.

The first big question about this business is, “Why would anybody want to buy a living brain?” The aforementioned cold dead brains have their uses as hands-on anatomy lessons, but cutting into a living brain is likely to kill, and then there's no point in having kept it alive in the first place. Dead brains and brains still in bodies have distinct advantages in research, but the company's brains are useful precisely because they're still thinking and free from the shackles of the body. They don't need food, or comfortable living conditions, or regular dental exams. With a few mechanical modifications these debodied brains can communicate via computers, and can average more than 100 consciousness-to-text words per minute. Fit a bunch of these brains in one place and you've got a literal and figurative thinktank that can process much more information than as many able-bodied analysts. This is how most published information appears anyway, on a screen or a page or through the speaker of a phone without another flesh-and-blood-and-brain actually present. The brain without the body – it started with phone conferencing, then telecommuting, then became that literal separation of the two outright.

The second big question is, “What happens to the bodies?” After all, without a brain a body is little more than a hunk of meat – though you could argue that the opposite is just as true. Strangely enough, the company discovered a method of removing the brain that leaved the body alive and quite capable, depending on how rigorous your standards are concerning “capability.” Even with the brain gone the body is still able to function with intelligence on par with that of a very stupid, but very loyal, cocker spaniel. The company looks after these mindless bodies by offering them low-level employment. With the explosion of interest in brain removal as of late, the company needs bodies to stuff envelopes, clean instruments, enter data, and read customer service scripts, just as other firms need minds to focus without worrying about rudimentary bodily needs and urges. The minds are freed so that the bodies can do what they're needed for, and vice versa.

Finally there's the question, “What kind of person would want to have their brain removed from their body, anyway?” Surely anyone versed in the purely temporal pleasures of the world – taste, touch, smell, sex – would balk at the idea of giving them up. Mental pursuits can be extremely satisfying, but a brain in a box is closed off to the entire realm of physical experience. Likewise, a body with no mind is closed off to intellectual and philosophical discovery. Separating the body and the brain is a pledge of physical or mindful abstinence – with a personal contribution far less forgiving than a chastity belt or a ring.

You might believe, then, that the only people who would separate mind and body have a serious deficiency in one of the other. Anyone who gives up their mind must not be using it that much in the first place – or, to approach it from the opposite angle, anyone who gives up their body must not be getting that much pleasure from it. This is categorically not the case. There are all types of brains in boxes, just as there are all kind of bodies employed at the company. People with I.Q.s that are rivaled by football scores have separated brain and body just as willingly as honor grads and MENSA members. Some of them claim to undertake the separation because they're trying to improve their minds without the distractions of the bodies. Others claim religious grounds, that removing the brain from the body is tantamount to freeing the soul. Still others say that a life lived in a body, and all the pains that come with it, isn't worth enduring. Some call it “purely physical suicide,” and others call it “mental rebirth,” and there are others who go through the process without being able to wrap their head around either concept.

Many who choose not to go through the process think that these people who separate their brain and body are just “weird.” But you're the one talking to a brain in a box, buddy, so who's the weirdo now?

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