Today we travel to a future where we can swap bodies with one another. Would you trade places with someone? Do you own your body?
- Calvin Gimpelevich — writer, author of “Rent, Don’t Sell”
- Sav Schlauderaff — PhD student, University of Arizona, co-founder Queer Futures Collective
- Krizia Puig — PhD student, UC Santa Cruz, co-founder Queer Futures Collective
- Susan Gelman — professor of psychology, University of Michigan
- Invasions by Calvin Gimpelevich
- Meanwhile, Elsewhere: Science Fiction and Fantasy from Transgender Writers
- The Biological Mind by Alan Jasanoff
- The Essential Child: Origins of Essentialism in Everyday Thought by Susan Gelman
- How Sex Changed by Joanne J. Meyerowitz
- Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
- A Change of Heart by Claire Sylvia
- Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction by Sami Schalk
- The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader
- Gender Reveal
- Christine Jorgensen on the Tom Snyder show in 1982
- He to She
- I am transgender and I was not “born in the wrong body.”
- Wrong Body
- Telling Trans Stories Beyond “Born in the Wrong Body”
- Sass Rogando Sasot. Reclaiming the Wronged Body
- Metro-North Commuter Railroad Co. v. Buckley
- United States Supreme Court METRO NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD CO. v. BUCKLEY(1997)
- I was given a young man’s heart – and started craving beer and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
- Does changing the heart mean changing personality? A retrospective inquiry on 47 heart transplant patients.
- Body Parts, 1991
- Essentialist Beliefs About Bodily Transplants in the United States and India
- Another person’s heart: magical and rational thinking in the psychological adaptation to heart transplantation.
- Moral Contagion Attitudes towards Potential Organ Transplants in British and Japanese Adults
- Why the Brain-Body Connection Is More Important Than We Think
- Authorisation, altruism and compulsion in the organ donation debate
- Directed organ donation: is the donor the owner?
- What It’s Like to Have Severe Lyme Disease
- Who Owns a Donated Organ?
- Maria — Cara Rose de Fabio
- Gaby — Eler de Grey
- New Marquis — Xandra Ibarra
- John — Keith Houston (also check out his karaoke nights in San Francisco)
Flash Forward is produced by me, Rose Eveleth. The intro music is by Asura and the outtro music is by Hussalonia. The episode art is by Matt Lubchansky. Special thanks this episode to
Adria Otte and Molly Monihan at the Women’s Audio Mission, where all the intro scenes were recorded this season. Check out their work and mission at womensaudiomission.org.
If you want to suggest a future we should take on, send us a note on Twitter, Facebook or by email at email@example.com. We love hearing your ideas! And if you think you’ve spotted one of the little references I’ve hidden in the episode, email us there too. If you’re right, I’ll send you something cool.
And if you want to support the show, there are a few ways you can do that too! Head to www.flashforwardpod.com/support for more about how to give. But if that’s not in the cards for you, you can head to iTunes and leave us a nice review or just tell your friends about us. Those things really do help.
That’s all for this future, come back next time and we’ll travel to a new one.
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Rose: Hello and welcome to Flash Forward! I’m Rose and I’m your host. Flash Forward is a show about the future. Every episode we take on a specific possible… or not so possible future scenario. We always start with a little field trip to the future, to check out what’s going on, and then we teleport back to today to talk to experts about how that world we just heard might really go down. Got it? Great! Just a quick note that today’s episode is going to include discussion of body dysphoria and PTSD.
Also, a quick thank you to all the patrons who support Flash Forward. Without you, Flash Forward would be no more. It would be Flash Fatal… that’s a bad joke; cut that joke. And a reminder that I’m currently running a special Patreon promotion! If you become a patron between now and June 30th, I’ll mail you a surprise! Plus, patrons already get all kinds of fun rewards — a book club, a special newsletter, a big goody bag, bonus episodes, and more! Go to patreon.com/flashforwardpod for more on that!
Okay, let’s go to the future. This episode we’re starting in the year 2060.
Gaby: Hi! Oh look who’s there!
Maria: Yeah say hi Lulu! [baby noises]
Gaby: Oh she’s CUTE! Look at all that hair!
Maria: I know! She came out looking like a troll doll huh?
Gaby: [laughing] Totally!
John: Hey, oh hi Lulu!
Gaby: Hey John.
Maria: Okay so Marquis is gonna join but he said he has a surprise for us? That’s all I know, but he said he wanted me to tell you two that we should kinda be ready for a surprise.
John: Okay… I guess… I’m ready?
Gaby: I’m sitting down! Get it? It’s a wheelchair joke.
Maria: Okay let me invite him.
Maria: I think there’s something over your camera?
Marquis2 (new voice): Yeah I’m covering it. So… I’m going to uncover the camera in a second, I just want you all to know that I’m going to look… different.
Gaby: You sound different.
Marquis: Yeah… just… please don’t freak out okay?
John: Wow! You look … very different.
Marquis: I swapped.
Maria: Yeah you did!
Gaby: Cool! Did it hurt?
Marquis: No, you’re basically asleep the whole time.
John: Wait so… your… brain I guess is now in this new body?
John: And… your old body is…
Marquis: Someone else has it now.
Marquis: It’s still me, and … if you have questions I can answer them.
Gaby: Do you still want us to call you Marquis?
Marquis: Good question, I’m not sure yet.
Gaby: How long have you been in this new body?
Marquis: Just a week.
Gaby: Whoa so it’s new new!
Marquis: Yeah I keep bangin my hip on stuff? I’m not used to how much space this takes up.
Maria: So wait how does it work do you like, pick a new body from a catalogue? How many choices are there?
Marquis: [laughs] no it’s not like shopping online. Um, I entered the registry I guess like two years ago? And when you enter you have to say what kind of body you want. You don’t get to be super specific — I mean there just aren’t enough other people in the registry yet. So you just say like, woman, basically. And you can ask for white or not white, but there isn’t even a more refined option than just not white. And there are a couple of other weird rules about matches, so you can’t swap with someone who’s right handed if you’re left handed. Apparently that just like, doesn’t work well, you have to relearn you handedness. And you have to swap with someone who speaks the same language otherwise I guess your voice doesn’t work correctly?
Gaby: Whoa! That’s so interesting!
Maria: I have to say… um, I guess I’m not sure how to ask this but like… this isn’t the body I thought you would choose?
Marquis: Why not?
Maria: Well, it’s just really different… than your other one?
Marquis: Yeah that’s kind of the point.
Maria: So you’ve always wanted to be… this other person?
Marquis: I’m the same person.
Maria: Right! Right, I just mean like, this other body. Like, have you always wanted this? I just.. I guess I never would have guessed?
Marquis: Not always, always, I guess. But I also never liked the body I had.
Maria: I mean who likes their body?
Marquis: I like mine now! I mean I’m still getting used to it but, yeah, I like it. I like it so much better than my old one.
Gaby: Do you know them?
Marquis: No we’re not allowed to meet. They want to make sure we basically never see each other.
Gaby: Yeah I guess that would be super weird.
John: But like, how much do you actually know about this body? Do you know who had it before?
Marquis: Basically nothing. There’s pretty strict patient confidentiality. Although… I know this is going to sound, really weird, but I think maybe they really liked olives?
Maria: You hate olives!
Marquis: I know! They’re disgusting. But I’ve been craving them for the past few days? And I can’t explain it any other way.
Maria: Have you eaten one?
Marquis: No! Olives are disgusting.
Gaby: You have to try one now! Maybe you’ll like it! Join team olive!
Marquis: [dramatically] Never!
Gaby: [chanting] one of us, one of us
John: So can you… swap back? Like if you hate it?
Marquis: Not really no. Unless something is really wrong, like, if they didn’t disclose some serious medical issue. But, so far so good.
Gaby: Wait do you have to buy all new clothes now?
Marquis: Actually the company I used includes the person’s closet with the swap. So I inherited all this stuff I’m wearing.
Maria: That’s so smart! You look great. [baby starts crying] Oh boy, okay, I’m so sorry folks, I gotta go. This little one is doing her “I’m going to scream until I get fed” thing. [baby crying louder] The joys of parenting!!
Gaby: Aw, little nugget!
Marquis: Feel better Lulu! We’ll talk soon.
Maria: Marquis you’ll tell us if there’s anything we can do to help and support you right?
Marquis: Yeah totally. I don’t really know what to ask for right now I guess, but when I do, I’ll ask.
Gaby: You also have to tell us when you come around to the truth that olives are delicious.
Marquis: Even if I thought so I’d never admit it to you Gaby!
Gaby: Wow. How dare you!
Maria: [baby crying] Okay bye!!
John: Later friends!
[ding] [ding] [ding] [ding]
Rose: Okay, so today we’re talking about body swapping! What if we could just up and leave our physical body behind, and move into a new one, like moving into a new apartment. This is sort of related to the idea of mind uploading, right? This idea that we could one day move on from our physical bodies and exist elsewhere in the cloud or on a server. Today, we’re going to set aside the mind uploading thing, and really specifically talk about swapping, body swapping. So, you have to find someone who is willing to trade places with you. One for one. Like trading snacks at lunch, except your entire, physical form.
And today’s episode is inspired in part by a short story by a guy named Calvin Gimpelevich called “Rent, Don’t Sell.”
Calvin Gimpelevich: “Rent, Don’t Sell” takes place in a near future situation. In a society that should be very recognizably similar to ours. Except they’ve made a few technological jumps that we haven’t.
Rose: That’s Calvin, and if you detect a faint purring noise in the audio there, that is Calvins cat.
Calvin: Okay, I hope my cat is not coming through. He’s a loud purr-er.
Rose: Anyway, one of the main advances that they have made, in the future of Rent, Don’t Sell, is body swapping.
Calvin: You need to have two people, and their consciousness can trade bodies. But you can’t upload consciousness, or pull it out when there’s no other body to put it in. It’s either in you or it’s in the other person. And if your consciousness is in the other person, theirs is de facto and you.
Rose: And in the story, body swapping happens in a variety of ways. You can swap temporarily.
Calvin: The protagonist is a personal trainer who works out in your body for you. You switch bodies with her for an hour, an hour and a half. You go to sleep; you’re knocked out in her body. You wake up in your own home. “Huh, I did my whole workout and I didn’t even have to try.”
Rose: Short term swapping is also used for things like sex work, and modeling, and other confidential business matters. But in this future world you can also swap permanently.
Calvin: One of the big plot points is a transgender woman switches bodies with a transgender man. Neither of these characters have gone through any hormonal or surgical transition. They think, “you know, I’m tall, I have a beard. You’re short. You have breasts. Why don’t we just trade places?”
Rose: After the swap one of the characters is quite happy with the trade, and the other is not. I won’t give away what happens, but the story sort of unfolds from there. What’s interesting about “Rent, Don’t Sell” is that it digs down into what it means to own a body, to live in a body, and how that intersects with everything from law to personal identity.
Calvin: The main thing, and I think the thing that most explicitly comes through in this story, is I’m explicitly looking at this through a transgender lens. I am transgender. One of the protagonists in this story is transgender, and a huge plot point in crux of this story is the relationship of body swapping technology to transgender people.
Rose: And one of the things that Calvin wanted to kind of think about, through this story, is this idea of being quote “born in the wrong body,” which is a narrative that is applied to trans people a lot.
Calvin: And that is, kind of, actually a contentious statement for a lot of people.
Rose: So, I tried to find the original source of this phrase, “born in the wrong body,” “trapped in the wrong body.” I couldn’t find anything conclusive, but a lot of places attribute this concept to Christine Jorgensen. Jorgensen was not the first trans person, not by a very, very, very long shot, but she did bring the idea of trans identity into mainstream American news feeds in the 1950’s. Jorgensen had spent years in the military, and eventually found a doctor in France who was willing to help her medically transition, using hormones and surgery. And she was one of the first people to transition in that way. Her story was huge news in the 1950’s, she was a conventionally attractive woman and a media sensation. And some accounts I read say that she was the first one to that phrase, “born in the wrong body,” to try and help explain to reporters how she felt, and why she did what she did.
But a lot of trans folks today really hate this narrative. Everybody from Janet Mock to Meredith Talusan have written and spoken about how it pathologizes their experience, turns it into some kind of biological mistake. In a speech in 2010, the trans activist Sass Rogando Sasot said quote “I am not trapped in my body. I am trapped by your beliefs. And I want to reclaim this body from those who want it to breathe and be fed by their dogmas.”
And within this wrong body narrative is an assumption that we’ve come back to over and over again this season, which is that your body is simply a shell for your mind, which is where all the important stuff is. Jorgensen told reporters that she felt like a woman born into a man’s body, and her goal was to simply have her body match her “true self,” the one in her mind.
Calvin: The basic attitude we tend to have is that your brain is a little computer, and wires go through and connect to the rest of your body, but your self, your whole self is in your head and your personality. Your body is something separate.
Sav Schlauderaff: Some call it like the Cartesian split, because a lot of folks like to place mental disabilities and physical disabilities as polar opposites that never overlap. When it’s like, “Hi I’m someone who’s mentally and physically disabled, and a lot of people are.”
Rose: That’s Sav Schlauderaff, a PhD student at the University of Arizona.
Krizia Puig: So of course, if you come from a tradition in which the mind is everything that is important — in which everything that is sensorial, everything that is feeling needs to be left aside for the sake of objectivity and for the sake of, I don’t know, a hardcore science — there’s a moment in which the necessity to be attentive to your body as a living, breathing thing that needs rest and care, becomes an obstacle
Rose: And that’s Krizia Puig, a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz. Sav and Krizia are the cofounders of the Queer Futures Collective, which I will link to in the show notes.
It’s kind of hard to overstate how much this Cartesian way of thinking has infiltrated almost everything in places like the United States and Europe. It’s even encoded into our laws, the law treats the mind and the body totally differently.
For example, the Fifth Amendment, the one that people are referencing when they say “I PLEAD THE FIFTH,” forbids the government from forcing you to reveal self-incriminating thoughts. So they cannot force things out of your mind. But they can compel you to give up physical evidence, evidence from your body. They can require you to give up your fingerprints and your DNA, but they cannot require you to tell them your phone’s password for example. The stuff that’s in the mind is protected differently, more intensely. Or, another example, in court you can’t sue someone just for mental injury or distress, it has to come with physical injury.
And the case that decided that mental distress is not in and of itself worthy of compensation, is really interesting. So, in 1997, a railroad pipefitter named Michael Buckley sued Metro-North not for physical injury, but for mental distress. Buckley had been one of the so called “snowmen of Grand Central.” They got this name because at the end of every day these workers would emerge covered in white dust. That dust was asbestos, which we now know causes cancer. Buckley did not have cancer when he sued Metro-North, but instead, he sued for emotional distress; for the fear and anxiety he felt about getting cancer. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who decided that because there was no physical injury, Buckley had no case. Five dollar patrons are going to hear more about Michael Buckley and this case in the bonus episode, because there’s a whole bunch of interesting back story that we don’t have time for here.
But the gist is that the Supreme Court decided that the mind and the body are not the same thing when it comes to injury. In a paper about the ways that this dualism impacts law, the authors write quote “A tort victim cannot recover for mental harm on its own because the law presumes that he is able to unfeel any suffering arising from his mind, in contrast to his bodily injuries over which he exercises no control.” You see mind body dualism in intellectual property law and patents and all sorts of various other legal nooks and crannies.
We are going to come back to how America’s dualism obsessed legal system might consider body swapping in a little bit. But it’s not just in law that we see dualism pop up. Think about all the people who have preserved their brains, because they believe that in the future those brains could be plopped into a new body — bionic or fleshy — and that the result would be them, just in a new form. Or think about today’s fitness culture.
Calvin: The message I get is that my body is not me. My body is a special house that, for my own pleasure, satisfaction and health, I can manipulate, and I can do things that are aesthetic to it. Or things that will supposedly make it look good. Or things that will make other people like my body. Or I can do things that make my body an undesirable place to inhabit. But that is separate from me.
Rose: Fitness and wellness culture don’t just say that if you look better you’ll feel better, they say that if you look better, you will unlock the real you, the you hidden inside your body, perhaps masked by whatever the product they’re trying to sell you can solve – whether that’s weight loss, or getting rid of your pimples, or whatever. Your acne covered face isn’t you, they say, the real you is inside. We teach kids this, right, and to a point it’s good. Don’t judge a book by its cover.
But the idea that the real you is somehow inside and has nothing to do with your physical body, can also lead to bad things too. It reinforces this “trapped in the wrong body” narrative we talked about earlier. Like Sasot said in her speech, trans people are often trapped by the beliefs of the cultures they live in, and one of those beliefs is that there is this gender binary that everybody can and should fit into. So, okay, you were born in the “wrong” body but the real you is either a man or a woman, and if you just had the body to match, you’d be fine! Everything would be normal. And it’s an alluring idea, even for trans people, because it would make things so much easier!
Calvin: A lot of trans people I see, when they’re very, very early in transition — before they’ve started the medical process — a lot of people are hopeful that hormones, and surgery, and a new wardrobe are going to make them look both completely different, but give them a completely different experience of themselves and their bodies. Sometimes it sounds like — when I’m talking to people when they’re gearing up to that — when they reach the point that they are passing to the degree they want is when their life will begin.
Rose: But that’s… not really how this works. It’s more complicated. There was a study that came out recently that got some press. And the study claimed that the structure and activity of the brains of trans people tend to look more like the brains of their desired gender than their assigned gender. So, trans guys had brains that looked more like cis guy brains than cis girl brains. Cis, for those who are not familiar with that term, just means that a person identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. And some people pointed at this study and were like “see! These people really are women or men, they just don’t have the bodies to match.” And while this is rhetorically convenient in some cases, I think it’s a very dangerous road to go down. First, coding brains as gendered is already shaky science. Plus, the idea that we need some kind of medical diagnosis, some physical, biological, signal to confirm that someone is indeed trans, suggests that they can’t be believed themselves. Also, it assumes that there even is a binary here, that everybody will fall into one of two categories, we just have to scan their brains to see which one they land in. In fact, not everybody feels like a woman or a man. Gender is far more complicated than that.
Sidenote: If you want to learn more about gender, or hear more conversations about how complicated gender is, I highly recommend the podcast “Gender Reveal”, hosted by Molly Woodstock. It’s great, you can find it on all your podcasting apps. Go listen to that.
Anyway, a lot of scholars who think about bodies and the future and technology have started advocating for a new way of thinking about living beings, one that doesn’t separate out the brain and bodies as these two distinct entities. Instead, they write and talk about something called a bodymind.
Sav: Basically, it’s just moving away from seeing our bodies and our minds as inherently separate things, and just seeing them as things that are interconnected. Krizia and I also use the term bodymindspirits, which has a lot to do with Chicanx feminism, and people like Gloria Anzaldúa. So also seeing our spirits as inherently interconnected with our bodies and minds, and as all these things like overlapping and working together.
Krizia: They insistence in separating the body, the mind, and the spirit causes the loss of our sense of relationship with others. And our sense of relationship with the trees, the world, the leaves, the coyote, you know.
Sav: There’s a lot that our body can teach us about ourselves, that if we’re only focusing on our minds, that we’re really not going to be able to pick up on.
Rose: And even the field of medicine has come around on this, particularly in psychiatry and psychology. Because scientists now have a lot of evidence that the mind and the body are not disconnected entities. That they, in fact, interact constantly, and in really, really deep ways. Studies have shown that pain patients who can’t find relief with medications, feel better on days when they go to support groups, on days they feel heard. We know that amputees often feel like their limbs are still there, they feel that physically and mentally. We know that eating disorders and body dysmorphia and PTSD and trauma are all things that cannot be understood as brain or body problems. They’re both. And pretending that they are one or the other, actually harms patients.
Krizia: A big part of my trauma also comes from the consequences of that split. You know what I mean? Of people telling me that what I perceive was not real. Or people telling me that I am crazy, or people telling me that my feelings are not valid, or people telling me that I am exaggerating my pain.
Rose: And in this context we’re talking about, the context of bodymind, or bodymindspirit, the idea of a body swap … doesn’t make sense right? What are you swapping, exactly? And if you did just put a brain in a new body, would you wind up creating a completely new person… like some weird offspring between one mind and one body that creates a totally new bodymind that’s basically a different, third person?
So, I should probably say at some point, that this kind of transplant, this idea of removing yourself from one body and placing yourself into another, like a medical copy paste job, is not possible. Despite stories you might have read about brain transplants or head transplants, this isn’t a thing we can do. And most experts I’ve spoken to about this don’t think it’s a thing that we’ll ever be able to do. But when has the complete impossibility of a future ever stopped me on this show? Never! And when we come back we’re going to talk about some of the logistical, psychological and social factors we might see at play in this future. But first, a quick break.
Rose: Okay so, let’s say we live in this world. We can swap bodies. We’re like those pants with the zippers, where you can unzip the bottom half and make shorts, and mix and match with other pants to make weird new pant leg combinations. Oh, you don’t do that? Just me? Okay… well… moving on…
One of the things that I immediately wonder with any technology, but especially with this technology, is who has access, who is allowed to swap bodies.
Sav: Yeah. I mean another question to be, would we even be allowed to participate though, and what would the screening processes of that be? Not only financially, but if you’re screened to not be a person that someone would want to swap bodies with, then you wouldn’t even be allowed to access the tech in the first place, though?
Rose: People with disabilities, for example, might be excluded from body swapping altogether. And even for able bodied people, I wonder if there would be rules about things like, criminal record. So here’s a question: would you swap bodies with someone who had committed a murder, for example? If we buy into this idea that really the body is just a meat cage, a machine to operate with your mind, and that the mind is the thing that matters, then it shouldn’t really make a difference what that body has done in the past, right? But I would guess that most of you would probably not want to swap bodies with a serial killer… right? Can you imagine looking down, at your hands, and knowing that those literal, actual, hands killed people?
Susan Gelman: You know, when we see something, we never only think about what’s there in front of us. We think about what it went through, the historical path that it went through.
Rose: This is Susan Gelman,
Susan: I’m a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan.
Rose: And Susan studies something called essentialism.
Susan: Essentialism is this into intuition that people have that inside all of us there’s some invisible quality that makes us who we are. And this is true not just for people, but also for pretty much all living things. So dogs have some special dog quality that makes them members of that species. And cats have a cat essence that makes them what they are.
Rose: I asked Susan if she had a favorite experiment that really demonstrates what essentialism is, and she told me about this study done by a guy named Frank Kyle, who’s at Yale. So, he sat a bunch of kids down and showed them a picture of a racoon. So, you know, striped tail, black splotches on the face, creepy hands, beady eyes that say “I’m going to eat your garbage and then maybe murder you in your sleep…” a raccoon. And then he described this raccoon basically going through elaborate plastic surgery.
Susan: So he’d say, “Okay, imagine a scientist came along, and he took some of the fat out of the belly of the raccoon, and he painted a white stripe down its back. And he died the tail.” And he described in a series of transformations, and then after all of that, here’s what it looked like. And he showed them a picture of a skunk.
Rose: And then he’d ask the kids, “is this still a raccoon, or is this now a skunk?”
Susan: They would say it’s still a raccoon. You can’t change a raccoon into a skunk. Even though it looked identical to a skunk, that was irrelevant. This idea that what something is is hidden deep inside of it, can’t be changed, and no matter what superficial changes you make it’s still going to be the same thing.
Rose: I’d love to know what these kids would say if presented with the scenario we’re talking about today on the episode. If the skunk and the raccoon swapped bodies how would the kids classify each animal?
Susan has done some really interesting research about how this kind of thinking shows up in how people feel about organ transplants. In one study, she asked people in the US and India a series of questions about a couple of different types of transplants: a whole heart, blood, and DNA.
Susan: And then they were given a series of possible donors, and the donors ranged in how how similar they were to the person who was participating in the study, as well as how positive or negative their attributes were.
Rose: So some of the options would be people just like you; same gender, same everything. But other options were really different, like, someone who has been convicted of a violent murder. Or, on the flip side, someone who does a ton of charity and philanthropy.
Susan: For each of these potential donors, one at a time, they had to answer a series of questions. Some of the questions had to do with basically, “how would you feel about this?” Would you be creeped out by it or not.
Rose: And what they found was that about a third of the people they asked in the US, and about half the people they asked in India, believed that they would receive some kind of something from the donor. Something that would change their personality or behavior in some way.
Susan: A big chunk of people thought, “yeah, you know, I’d really rather not get that heart from a murderer because you know. I don’t want to risk it.”
Rose: In 1997, a woman named Claire Sylvia wrote a memoir undergoing a heart lung transplant called A Change of Heart. And in it, she described feeling as though the transplant had completely changed her behavior. The heart and lungs she got were from an 18-year old man from Maine, who had died in a motorcycle accident. And after the transplant, Claire described suddenly liking beer, green peppers, Snickers Bars and KFC, things she would have never touched before. She also wrote that she started to feel, in her words, more masculine. Here’s a quote from her book: “I was more aggressive and assertive than I used to be, and more confident as well. I felt tougher, fitter and I stopped getting colds. I felt a new power that I associated with strength and vibrancy.” She also said that she started walking differently, “lumbering” she wrote, “like a musclebound football player.”
So Claire went out and tried to find scientists to substantiate these claims, but she never really could. Most researchers simply chalked this up to the fact that a heart lung transplant is an extremely traumatic and stressful event.
Susan: There are a lot of things going on there. You’re probably on some pretty heavy duty anti rejection medications. You’ve just gone through major surgery. You re-evaluate your life, and all of this.
Rose: Claire Sylvia died in 2009 but she’s not the only one who’s reported this kind of thing. One guy who got a heart transplant claimed that he inherited the artistic talent of his donor. Another woman who got a liver says she suddenly became handy, and knew how to fix and build things.
When you ask scientists about these stories, they say that there’s no known mechanism for what these people are describing. And you get the sense that most of them think that this is a load of hoo ha. But even scientists and doctors, even if they don’t think it’s real per se, understand this feeling.
In 2008, a doctor named Neil Spector wound up in the hospital with complete heart failure due to undiagnosed Lyme Disease. He had 72 hours to live, and his doctor came into the the room and asked whether he would accept a “high risk heart.” In this case, that meant that the heart came from a pedophile who died in prison. They needed Neil’s permission to accept the heart, he could say no. Neil did an interview with The Cut in 2015, and here’s what he said about that decision: “When I tell that story, people always assume I said yes. I was dying. Of course I’d take the first heart. But I actually didn’t know what to say. I immediately thought of this movie where some guy gets a hand grafted and it’s from a criminal and then he starts to kill people. It was like this psychotic hand on this normal person.”
The movie that Neil is referring to is called Body Parts, it’s from 1991.
Male voice: I think there’s somethign the matter with me… it’s the arm… there’s something wrong with the person it used to belong to…
Female voice: You have this guy’s arm, you don’t have his personality.
Male voice: You put a killer’s arm onto my body and you didn’t tell me?
Female voice: That arm can’t do anything you don’t want it to.
Male voice: How do you know that? Where does evil live? Does it live in the soul? In the mind? Maybe it lives in the flesh…
Rose: And there are so many examples of this trope in fiction that I can’t name them all. There’s a classic Sherlock Holmes case…
Susan: That’s predicated on the idea that if the serum from a monkey gets into a man this man will now start behaving in monkey-like ways.
Rose: There’s the manga series Tokyo Ghoul, there’s the Russian satire Heart of a Dog, the list goes on and on. Ultimately, Neil, the doctor who was offered a pedophile’s heart, did not wind up needing to make that decision, another heart became available for him at the last minute.
But while a heart or a lung or an arm probably doesn’t, in and of itself, impact your personality and your preferences, when it comes to a whole body, well… things get a little bit murkier. Because we know that your body probably does impact your personality, and your behavior.
Susan: And maybe this is an illusion on my part, but I feel like if there was a whole body transplant, then it really does make the person a different person. I mean, certainly the kinds of activities that they can engage in, how people would interact with them, their sense of self, what they see in the mirror every day… everything would be so fundamentally changed that, in a way, they are a different person. But then, on the other hand, the brain is often assumed to be the seat of someone’s identity. So then is a person in two places? The person with the brain and the person with the body. It’s kind of mind boggling.
Rose: So, assuming that this body swapping situation was an elective medical procedure, it would probably only be accessible to people who meet a certain criteria. Nobody with disabilities, nobody with a criminal record. Probably only people who have a lot of money. And, like you heard in the intro, there might be additional little rules, like matching handedness, so you don’t have to remap which side you do things on.
There’s also a whole rabbit hole you can go down thinking about how this kind of technology might interface with things like biometrics — every system that has tagged your face as you, and your fingerprints as you, would have to be updated. How do you reconcile all the photos of you on Facebook, or whatever future social media service? They’re of you, but the past you. And now you’ve inherited all of these photos of this new you. What if it is revealed that whoever had your body before had done something really offensive, and there was photographic evidence of it… it wasn’t you, but you’re now living in that same body that’s all over the news.
And I think it’s true, like they said in the intro, that they’d try to make sure that you never saw whoever you swapped with. I mean how weird would that be? Seeing… you… but not you… walking around and living some whole other alternate life.
In “Rent, Don’t Sell,” Calvin’s story, there’s also a legal question. Let’s say, like the character in the story, you swap bodies, and then… you want to swap back. Can you? Who owns what in this situation? Are there returns and exchanges? Do you own your mind, or your body? And who gets to make decisions about what you are and aren’t allowed to do with that body?
In “Rent, Don’t Sell,” ownership is of your mind, not your corporeal self.
Calvin: It seems to me, how I watch our legal system, and how it treats people’s bodies, especially following years, and years, and years of abortion debates, I was following what I thought was most likely.
Rose: The laws around who owns organs is kind of complicated but basically, in the US at least, you can’t really own a corpse, or any of the pieces of that corpse. In 2006, there was a court case in New York State about a kidney donation gone awry — basically a man’s wife wanted his kidneys donated to his best friend, who needed them. Instead they went to someone else. But the courts decided that there was no case because the wife didn’t own those kidneys, she had no legal right to them. This comes up in cases where medical advances and profits are made off of someone’s removed tissues. In the 1990’s a businessman named John Moore sued the University of California, who used pieces of his spleen to develop a very profitable cancer-fighting cell line. The California Supreme Court ruled that he didn’t own that spleen, and so the doctors hadn’t technically stolen anything from him.
So in this future, if we assume that whole bodies are treated like organs, we might imagine a world where you have no actual claim to your body as property. Your mind is what you own. You can’t reclaim your body from someone you traded with, because you never owned it in the first place. Which again, only makes sense if you think that the true self resides in the mind, and the mind alone.
This future is also interesting to me, in that it falls in line with what we’re seeing right now in terms of capitalism and consumerism. Don’t like this body, just get another one!
Okay, so now on to the big question… would you do it? Would any of our guests swap bodies? If given the chance, would they trade places with someone else? Let’s start with Susan Gelman, our essentialism expert.
Susan: I don’t think I would. I think it would be so disorienting, and unpleasant. It does not appeal to me at all. Just being perfectly honest here
Rose: Here’s Sav Schladueroff
Sav: I think it’s like… it depends on what day you ask me on. Because, some days I am in so much pain, I can’t get out of bed, and maybe on those days I would want to be liberated or feel that something like a word that I would be desiring. But on other days, I can inhabit and feel my body in ways that neurotypical and able bodied people can’t imagine or understand, or likely won’t experience. So on those days, no I don’t need to be liberated from my body, because I’m having a great time and there are still benefits. The only way that I would want to do that is if I could switch with my doctor. So that they could actually believe me, and it’s like, “oh wow you’re in pain all the time. This really does feel horrible.”
Rose: Calvin is also on team no. For him, the slow process of transitioning was actually really important. For him, there were just so many things, big and small, that happen as you transition, and it took him time to get used to them and to process. The idea of suddenly one day waking up in a completely new body would totally be a shock, and Calvin says it might not have been mentally healthy for him.
Calvin: I did not know, until I looked down about a month into transition, that men grew hair on their butts. I didn’t know, I’d never seen it! And you see a naked man in a movie, they’re usually rather waxed. At this point, I’m one of the hairiest men I know. And if I had known that was going to happen when I was 22, 23 taking my first shot, I would have been horrified. I also would have been horrified at the degree to which I’ve been balding. Going through these process the slow way, I’m not horrified. I actually feel very comfortable with the lack of hair on my head and the abundance everywhere else.
Rose: So that’s three no’s. But Krizia, they’re into it.
Sav: I mean, I think Krizia would, I think I would not
Krizia: I would do it so many times. I will have the machine in my house. I would do it as a Playstation.
Rose [on the phone]: Who’s the first person you swap with, if you could pick?
Krizia: Honestly I think I wouldn’t swap with people.
Rose [on the phone]: Oh, animals?
Krizia: Probably. Or like a tree, or like for real. I wouldn’t change with people, at all. I don’t care about being other people. Actually I hate other people. I just don’t have any curiosity about being another person, at all. If you give me this machine, I will be like, “okay I will be an octopus. Can I be a starfish? Can I be a tree?” I wouldn’t stay in the human realm.
Rose: And that, is a future for another episode.
That’s all for this future. Flash Forward is produced by me, Rose Eveleth. The intro music is by Asura and the outtro music is by Hussalonia. The episode art is by Matt Lubchansky.
Maria is played by Cara Rose de Fabio. The new Marquis is played by Xandra Ibarra, who has a couple of upcoming shows in San Francisco, Mexico City, and Montpellier, France. Check out her website for more on those. John is played by Keith Houston, you can find his voice acting work at keyvoicevo.com, or, if you’re in the Bay area and looking for some karaoke, check out Roger Niner Karaoke at rogerniner.com. Gaby is played by Eler de Grey, whose work you can find at degrey.studio that’s d-e-g-r-e-y dot studio. Special thanks this episode to Adria Otte (AH-tee) and Molly Monihan at the Women’s Audio Mission, where all the intro scenes were recorded this season. Check out their work and mission at womensaudiomission.org.
And if you want to support the show, there are a few ways you can do that too! Head to www.flashforwardpod.com/support for more about how to give. But if that’s not in the cards for you, you can head to Apple Podcasts and leave us a nice review or just tell your friends about us. Those things really do help.
If you want to suggest a future I should take on, send us a note on Twitter, Facebook or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing your ideas! If you want to discuss this episode, or just the future in general, with other listeners, you can join the Flash Forward FB group! There is a very important poll about what the best flavor of Doritos and Gatorade is. I still contend blue; other people disagree. You can find that, and more, but searching Facebook for Flash Forward Podcast and ask to join. And if you think you’ve spotted one of the little references I’ve hidden in the episode, email us there too. If you’re right, I’ll send you something cool.
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