published: (updated: )
by Harshvardhan J. Pandit
I stirred awake into the familiar environment of a cold metal bed and sterile air. The flutter of the movement of the white lab coats told me the day had not yet been over. Instruments placed near me were moved away one by one. Someone always kept coming back to check the beeping of the monitors behind my head. I had wires stuck up on my head, wrists, arms, and chest. My hands and legs were perfectly tied down with straps so that I could not move. My neck had been covered with some sort of visor so that I couldn’t turn my face around around the room. All I could see were the people and objects moving rapidly to and fro at the periphery of my eyes. And the bright lights, as always there were the bright lights. Five, seven, nine. Nine lights. Good. It was good to be in familiar environments.
I’m sorry I did not introduce myself. It is difficult to be good with social manners if your role is essentially that of a lab rat. Anyways, hi, I’m Subject 8E35EF, or Purple, if you fancy semantic names. My age is approximately 9 years, give or take a few months. I have been created and birthed right in this lab, where I took my formal education strapped to the very same bed. It was difficult to do the tests to see if I had learned well, but they were kind enough to do all the tests for me. Or on me, so to speak.
So far, I have noticed nothing special about myself that would warrant the attention that I get from all the wonderful people around me. Except for the dilation in my pupils, which turn purple. I haven’t seen anyone else’s eyes doing that, and most people always turn their eyes away when I try to look into theirs, so I can’t really say that there’s absolutely no one with the same condition as mine. I think that what I have is a rare and extraordinary defect, so to speak, and that these people are trying to find out about it and come up with a cure or an explanation, whichever they are lucky to get first.
The way I became aware of this condition of mine was entirely an unplanned event. I had been walking along the corridor when I saw that one of the doors had been left just a tiny bit open. Since I was forbidden to go into any room I had not been authorised for, I just peeked in to see a bright white room not unlike the other rooms here. There was a shiny metallic object on the wall in front of me that looked like a painting, but wasn’t. My first guess was that it was another one of those monitors that are hung everywhere. But since the display was static, and oddly in context with the rest of the room, I discarded this idea. I moved about to get a different view of the room, and noticed that the display on the way moved as well. That was clever, the way it changed itself responding to my movements. I found it intriguing and continued to try out different movements to see what changes that produced.
In one such upward movement, I caught sight of the washbasin in the display. That was curious, because there was a washbasin right beneath the display, and I calculated that maybe the display shows things around itself. To test this theory, I matched the display with the things I could see in the room, and most if it was the same, albeit projected in an inverse manner. I sought to know what this phenomenon was and looked it up in the knowledge bank. I found out that the reflective surface was called a mirror, and is typically a glass surface coated with a metal amalgam to make it reflect images. The image inside the mirror is called a mirror image and is reflected with its structure inverted, which I found absurd and pointless as to its functionality unless it was for general amusement.
I looked into the mirror to see the door that I was standing outside of, and could make out the thin gap that allowed me to watch all of this. I could also see an outline, though far too incomplete, of a boy with brown hair and slight freckles around his chin, standing between the door gap with his eye directly in my line of vision. By inference, that could only be me, or my mirror image, since there was no one around me, and the line of sight between my eye and the mirror was clear of any obstructions. I continued to gaze at my features and compared them with the thousands of faces I had seen and read about. There was nothing specifically remarkable about myself except for the colour of my eyes. I noticed that my eyes were purple when they dilated, and this was a phenomenon I had no knowledge of even after extensively consulting the knowledge bank.
As far as I knew, the colour of the eye was caused by the pigmentation of the iris, and the scattering of light in the area around the iris called stroma. The colours of the healthy eye are classified as light brown, black, blue, green, and grey with various shades between them. Sometimes, when a person has a medical condition called albinism, their eyes may appear red or violet under certain lighting conditions, but I did not exhibit any of the symptoms of albinism, so I discarded this condition even though purple was close to violet on the light spectrum.
Ever since that incident, I have been trying to find more abnormalities in myself. Since there is not much to do here for me, I find that a pleasant task to pass time with, so to speak. I have gone through the knowledge bank and have made notes as to the generic human characteristics that I think are easily verifiable and observable from the outside. The prime amongst this are things like the body structure - two arms, two legs, one head, a set of gonads, five fingers, five toes, two eyes, one pair of lips, a nose with two nostrils, two ears, and so on. Apart from the eye, I could find no discernible difference in myself.
Then I looked into the bodily characteristics of humans, with functioning organs such as the heart that pumped blood across the body, and systems such as the respiratory system that allowed one to breathe in oxygen to produce the energy needed to perform various functions. To check if I was breathing was an easy task, all I had to do was keep a finger on my nose and see if air went in and came out. It did, which was a relief, because according to the text, breathing was a vital sign of life. I checked my heartbeat, and my pulse, and they seemed to match the normal range of heartbeats a person is supposed to have - about 80 beats per minute. I could not perform a check on my other organs and systems since they required the use of lab equipment which I did not have access to, which seems ironic knowing that I essentially live in labs and am surrounded by such equipment, but also that I cannot touch or use them.
While browsing through the knowledge bank about more tests that identify or corroborate a functioning human being, I came across an interesting test called the Turing’s Test which aims to determine if a person is a machine or a human. I found this fascinating, because I had never come across such a topic in any of my previous searches, and it offered a chance to learn new interesting things. I tried to lookup more about this test, and its associated topics such as artificial intelligence, but was cut off because these were unauthorised to access. I tried to read more about the test in the information currently available to me and understood that the basic format of this test consisted of a human judge that assessed the responses of two players to various questions involving natural language to determine which one of them is a human, and which one is the machine. Since I was short of a machine and an interested and willing human player, I tried to find ways to modify or interpret the tests to suit my current situation.
Every social test to see if an entity fits the norm of human behaviour has the implicit assumption that the said entity, if it be a human, has spent significant time living and adapting to the social behaviours of the society for a time period long enough to be able to mimic it in a test. Since I have been living in labs for as long as I can remember, I am certain that my concepts of art and music are certainly different than those perceived by society at large. The only aspect of a human that can remain a humane in spite of complete isolation from social phenomenons is instinct, which can also be programmed into a machine once it has been sufficiently identified in humans. For example, my fear of fire could be a primal response born out of instinct, or a set of logical directives that dictate that I must mimic this human sub-conscious behaviour.
The notion that humans can identify or create art is flawed since it necessitates that humans must first learn to understand the very concept of art, be conditioned to compare different works and determine the superior one before going on to say that they now understand art, but cannot explain it since it is an subconscious concept of the human creative mind. I find that argument absurd, since if this behaviour were to be mimicked by machines, all it would need is the logical directives that determine what art it, and what characteristics are considered to be desirable by society in general, and put it forth in a manner similar to how human conversation does.
I think it all comes down to data stored, whether it be by humans or by machines. Every action and response is first formed from the vestiges of previously stored data, which in humans would be called memories, and then matched rigorously against a heuristic pattern of decision making. The very intimate action of having thoughts, or thinking, is a non-distinguishing factor here, since it is impossible to determine what another person thinks, or how they think. Similarly, a machine cannot be aware of what thoughts are, unless it has access to someone else’s thoughts, which apart from science fiction, is a general unreality.
The only option, and course of action that remains to me, therefore, is medical science. Although I have been prohibited from touching any of the lab equipments, think as hard as I might, I cannot remember any directive preventing me from touching reports and test results. So I can access the various reports strewn about the labs and can analyse whatever it is that's written in them. I have access to blood reports, neural activity reports, various scans and their associated reports, and all data contained within them about me falls within the range of normal limits as specified for a healthy human. But I notice that along with reports containing my name, there are several other reports with different names in there as well. There are reports with the names of Maroon, Olive, Fuchsia, Teal, and Indigo to name a few. Did you notice these are all colours? And their reports also have similar test data as mine. Does that mean there are others… like me? Does their name correspond to their eye colour?
I did not have much of an opportunity to find out because some lab assistant came in at that moment, and I did not want to risk being prohibited from reading lab reports. So I waited until I had another chance. Several times, it was the same set of reports, and I did not learn much of anything new. But the names of other subjects gave me a lot to think about. What were they doing in those labs? Were the other subjects aware of their eye colours? What had happened to the missing shades in between the names? Where were those test subjects? How did we get here? Who created us? Were we humans… or machines that perfectly mimicked humans?
I did not have answers to these questions for a long time. I pondered over how could a machine be made to look and behave like humans, and whether it was even possible. I now think it is, because I’m not sure about myself, if I am a human or a machine. My brain could be a neural synapse of processing units acting in conjunction to generate thoughts, ideas, and actions from a set of data that I have come to regard of as memory. It is impossible to corroborate this story from a thought process alone. After all, who has any idea about what happens within their brain. My body could be a machine in disguise, with a skin and a blood system that looks and acts like the human blood. My heart could be merely a pump that beats to circulate blood, my lungs could be valves that simply open to suck the air in, and then pump it out. My body could be the perfect mimicry of human functionality, but I would still be a machine.
I got a good opportunity to obtain more information during one of the routine tests that I undergo, where a doctor puts me up on a bed and scans my brain, and then puts up those images on a bright wall along with others, and studies them for a awhile. Only this time, before he had a chance to put those scans up on the board, an assistant rushed inside and said something that made both of them run outside. All I caught was the mention of the name Fuchsia, which I think is a close cousin of mine, owing to the fact that we both fall very near to each other on the colour spectrum. I got up and took the file the good doctor had brought in.
It was thick and filled with a lot of scans and reports. The first few pages contained the brain scans that looked vaguely familiar to the ones in the knowledge bank, but felt a bit distorted for some reason. Each scan was marked with a moniker of six alphanumeric characters corresponding to the subject name. It certainly could not be a coincidence that each of these names was a well defined colour corresponding to the names given to us. I also observed how there were differences between each brain scan. Some differences were minute, like a lump in one place would be absent or there would be more mass concentrated in one place than others. I tried to memorise as much of my scan as possible to get an idea of what was different when I had a chance to consult the brain scans in the knowledge bank.
I flipped through the other pages and there were all sorts of test reports detailing the various things each of the subject had looked up in the knowledge bank. A graph described each subject and the complexity of the things they had searched for. I noticed that my graph had been raised significantly higher from the time period since I had discovered the colour of my eyes, and had been on a quest to find out the cause. I also noticed that Fuchsia’s graph was going off on a downward slope for quite some time. I think that maybe this was the reason the doctor had rushed to him, because he had a learning disability of some sort.
Flipping through more pages, I came across a genetic markup of some sort, with a chart showing the genes on one axis and our names on another with little x marks connecting the genes to the names in between. I looked through more pages, and each page was a genetic markup with the same sort of charts and x marks strewn about in between. Each page was titled with a name that corresponded to a different brain region, as I recall reading in the knowledge bank, though I did not know much about the gene names that were listed on these pages. The last page was titled Pupil Dilation, with a subtitle - "subject distinguishing method via eye colour", and contained a table with subject names, colours, and pigment markers. The only plausible implication of all these was that we were marked, somehow our eyes were pigmented with colours to differentiate us from each other. Would that mean that we all looked the same… that we were… clones? It was certainly possible and very likely, looking at all these reports and inferring from them as much. I kept the file as I had found it and returned to my table.
When I got the chance to access the knowledge bank again, I immediately compared the brain scans to the ones I had seen in the files. Certain areas corresponding to specific functionalities had been the ones that had appeared altered and distorted in the scans. Or in actuality, as I realised, had been altered right in my brain with consequences unknown to me. According to those scans, my brain had an enlarged area in the frontal lobe that corresponded to complex intellectual processes and associated learning ability. It could be that this brain modification allowed me a greater ability to understand and learn things and was the reason that I had a learning graph that sloped upwards more than the others. Fuschia’s brain, on the other hand, had his cerebrum, which is responsible for thoughts and consciousness, shrunk to more than half its size. I could not fathom the implications of that as hard as I might. The very concept of reducing someone’s thoughts and consciousness in a quantifiable manner was something that I could not understand nor imagine. Not because it can be considered horrific, but because it is difficult to imagine a body with such functions not operating in full measure.
Each of our brains had been altered, or to be clear here, had been genetically created with certain areas modified pertaining to specific locations of functionality. We were not machines, but genetically created humans with the sole purpose of acting as lab rats in an experiment that studied the effect of modifying brain genes in foetuses.
I would not raise the questions of morality here, because I do not have such concepts inbred in me through education. The human consciousness and emotions are a byproduct of education and upbringing, something that I did not have the luxury of acquiring. The fact that I have a greater learning capacity and complexity than a normal human actually makes me feel special. But then I wonder about Fuchsia, and the other test subjects. Those of them that are unfortunate to have their thoughts and consciousness and thinking abilities and who knows what else to be clipped and reduced just so that someone could perform inconsiderate tests and learn from them. It makes me feel bad about my purpose, about the reason why I am here. I had never thought about choice, or the lack of it. But for the first time, this situation has made me aware of a choice that perhaps no one could ever have - the purpose of their creation. Frankly, I would have preferred to be a machine than my current self.