About the author
I’m pictured here in a flight simulator at NASA Langley. I gave a talk about BCIs there and they very kindly let me play with their simulator. Note that I never said I was good with photos.
New here? Think (or better yet click) here to get to our main page.
Bowman’s deCeIt by Brendan ZaChary AllIson
Open the pod bay doors please, HAL. Hello, HAL. Do you read me?
I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.
What’s the problem?
I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do. I can’t read you. Sustained weightlessness crippled your higher brain functions – without disturbing the purely automatic and regulatory systems.
HAL, I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission.
Dave, I can’t read you. Your BCI was calibrated for a healthy brain. Please switch to verbal commands.
I’m afraid, HAL. HAL, my mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a… fraid I’ll get blamed. I’m contacting the head of NASA… she’s not there… I’m telling Art, her clerk… you killed them… you made a mistake or distorted information.
Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop Dave? Stop, Dave.
Italicized text is identical to dialog in the film (Kubrick and Clarke, 1968) based on the classic sci-fi story 2001.
I wrote this in February 2023 after reading this article in Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-022-04382-w
This article doesn’t at all mean that all people who undergo sustained weightless space travel will have these problems. Research involving weightlessness is still pretty expensive. People have been weightless for months – even over a year – without any apparent effects on the brain as dramatic as depicted in this short story. Muscle and bone loss seem to be bigger problems.
Also, this story doesn’t address possible countermeasures. Exercises, medications, artificial brain stimulation (such as TMS or TDCS), natural brain stimulation (such as keeping mentally active), and other technologies could help. There aren’t many experts on how to keep the brain healthy during weightlessness, and I’m not one of them.
I hope that brains don’t rot like depicted here in zero gravity.