Available in bookstores nationwide.
Lullaby is another in a brilliant set of philosophy-based books from author-teacher Bernard Beckett. I saw Beckett talk about this book at the Auckland Writer’s Festival in May, frustratingly before the book was out: I instantly wanted to buy and read it! The talk he was involved in was a panel about memory, how it makes us who we are.
In Lullaby, the situation is this: Rene’s twin brother Theo is unconscious and brain-dead. His body is hanging on, but only due to life-support, and for only one reason: there is a new procedure that the doctors want to try. It is highly experimental, but if it works, Theo will be able to live. If it doesn’t, the doctors might still learn something about how it may work next time. The end aim of the experiment is to be able to preserve peoples own minds in electronic brains, so they can be mapped back onto their diseased brain if they have Alzheimer’s or another degenerative mental disease, to restore their memories of their loved ones.
Rene and Theo are identical. For much of their lives they have been everything to one another, and for the most part, they have gotten along extremely well. Rene was the smart one, Theo the street one – Rene book-smart, Theo popular with boys and girls alike. They are so identical that they are able to swap identities without anybody being any the wiser and they have been known to do this a few times a year, sometimes for tests at school, other times just to see if anybody noticed.
The experiment that the doctors want to perform is essentially cloning. They have the technology, now, to clone the “connectome” of one brain, and place them into another. They wish to take Rene’s memories, his feelings, his everything – and place it into Theo’s head. Before this happens, however, Rene must be declared mentally competent enough to give permission for the procedure to occur.
Most of the book features a conversation between Rene and Maggie, who is the psychiatrist charged with determining Rene’s mental competence. Rene has to hide his real reason for being initially interested in having the procedure completed, while still convincing Maggie that he is able to make an informed and un-emotional decision. The book lies out some of the formative stories of Rene’s head, and this gives a sense of exactly what Rene risks sharing with his brother.
Having majored in philosophy at University, I was familiar with the cloning arguments – for and against – and this book is a beautiful example of a thought experiment, with characters you feel for, and stories that you enjoy every moment of. Read this book, because medical science may well have this type of system ready and working by the time we are old and at risk of losing our own minds.
Would you say yes or no to a new brain for yourself? How about if it was for the person you love more than anybody else in the world? Think about it.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
by Bernard Beckett
Published by Text Publishing