The Terminal Experiment

by Robert J Sawyer

I’ve read several of Sawyer’s books, and I’m always happy with them.  He writes a good science-thriller with a healthy bit of techno-forecasting.  This book turns on two ideas: first, that a close examination of the brain as someone dies reveals a consistent pattern that slides across the brain and leaves the skull just as the person dies.  The conclusion is that the soul exists.  Second, Sawyer suggests that a scan of every neural net and pattern in the brain could result in a simulated version of the brain (which is then an AI based on a real person).  Of course, making three copies of the main character and trimming them in different ways causes all sorts of Frankensteinian problems.

I’ve always enjoyed stories that toy with the clash between the rational world and the spiritual world.  Sawyer does this well, as does James Morrow (who admittedly comes from the spiritual side first).  In between chapters appear little AP segments that suggest some of the worldwide ramifications of the “soulwave,” such as:

  • determining when the soulwave appears in a human fetus changes ideas about abortion (9-10 weeks)
  • measuring higher-order animals (such as apes and dolphins) helps establish whether humans are alone (we aren’t)
  • work is done to track where the soulwave goes when it leaves the brain (toward Orion)

My favorite Sawyer book is still Farseer, though.  It’s a hard-sf story about a Galileo-figure on a planet where dinosaurs are the evolved high species.  Tyranno-Galileo.

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