The opposite of zombies minds without bodies
February 25, 2011 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend stories of disembodied minds?

I'm writing a paper and I need an example of a book/story or film where the human mind is separated from the human body with the mind being seen as the essence of the person in question.

If you could recumbent anything that would be great!
posted by SpaceWarp13 to Media & Arts (44 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't recumbent anything (AutoCorrect, you are a philosopher) but Donovan's Brain is one classic example. If you mean "consciousness" rather than "mind", Babel-17 by Samuel Delany.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:41 AM on February 25, 2011

A Wrinkle in Time?
posted by Melismata at 8:44 AM on February 25, 2011

William Hjortsberg (Nevermore, Falling Angel [later to become the film Angel Heart]) wrote a book called Grey Matters that is about disembodied brains, which isn't a perfect fit for your search but is somewhat close.

See also Julian May's Jack the Bodiless.
posted by adipocere at 8:45 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Ship Who Sang was a series about taking severely physically disabled people and using them as the "brains" for machines, like starships.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:45 AM on February 25, 2011

The Man with Two Brains, the Steve Martin film?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:45 AM on February 25, 2011

Does The Matrix count?
posted by jozxyqk at 8:47 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Roald Dahl's short story William and Mary from Three Tales of the Unexpected
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 8:47 AM on February 25, 2011

One of the neater strands in John Barnes' [url=]Mother of Storms[/url] involves a character using a mind-to-machine interface so complete that his mind steadily becomes more and more extended into the computers, to the extent that the meat brain part of the system he becomes is just slowing him down. So in effect, his arc consists of him becoming more and more disembodied as the plot unfolds.
posted by Drastic at 8:52 AM on February 25, 2011

They Saved Hitler's Brain!

I think there are a lot of these "brain in a jar" movies. On some level, this is the trope behind the Frankenstein films--i.e., stupid Igor steals the "abnormal" brain, which makes the creature violent.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:52 AM on February 25, 2011

Mother of Storms, to unbork the linking.
posted by Drastic at 8:53 AM on February 25, 2011

This happens in "Lord of Light" by Roger Zelasny, but it isn't a major part of the book. I know I've read a bunch of others ... I'll wrack my embodied mind.
posted by kyrademon at 8:53 AM on February 25, 2011

Joss Whedon's Dollhouse is a dystopia where people's personalities can be fully differentiated [almost] from people's bodies with predictable dystopian effects.
posted by jessamyn at 8:54 AM on February 25, 2011

The "Mongolia" chapter/story in the episodic novel Ghostrwritten concerns itself specifically with a disembodied mind; other chapters allude to it.
posted by rhymer at 8:55 AM on February 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan?
posted by synecdoche at 8:58 AM on February 25, 2011

Here's a link to Dahl's William and Mary
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 8:59 AM on February 25, 2011

If a mind in a computer counts, "Vast" by Linda Nagata, and "The Integral Trees" by Larry Niven.
posted by kyrademon at 9:00 AM on February 25, 2011

A sort of story on this theme: Daniel Dennet's Where Am I?
posted by Marty Marx at 9:01 AM on February 25, 2011

Oh, and how could we forget -- Tron.
posted by kyrademon at 9:02 AM on February 25, 2011

He's only half-human, but how about the Star Trek episode Spock's Brain?
posted by Rob Rockets at 9:03 AM on February 25, 2011

Probably not exactly what you mean, but worth a shot.

By Greg Egan: a few stories in Axiomatic (though in this, the consciousness is eventually transplanted into brains) and the novel Permutation City. Diaspora kind of talks about this, although some humans still retain their material existences.
posted by methroach at 9:07 AM on February 25, 2011

(Also, this question is driving me crazy because now I am trying to remember the name of a first contact novel about a woman who becomes a disembodied mind in an alien tachyon field generated by vageuly deer-like creatures and I CANNOT REMEMBER IT.)
posted by kyrademon at 9:08 AM on February 25, 2011

When I was a kid in the 1980s, I remember a British movie shown on Nickelodeon called "Chocky." IMDB lists it as a TV show, but I always thought it was a movie, and then there was a sequel later. Anyway, about all I remember was there was this boy who had psychic powers and he was visited by Chocky, a (benevolent) being from another planet. It was established that the big glowing ball he was seeing was actually just Chocky's brain, which had travelled without its body. I remember someone saying the line, "Because the mind has no mass, it takes no time to travel."
posted by LaurenIpsum at 9:15 AM on February 25, 2011

Neuromancer includes a character, McCoy Pauley, whose consciousness is stored on ROM memory.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:16 AM on February 25, 2011

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream?
posted by chazlarson at 9:17 AM on February 25, 2011

@LaurenIpsum - Chocky is a book by John Wyndham.
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 9:19 AM on February 25, 2011

Ray Bradbury wrote a short story, and I believe it was called West of October [I may be confusing the title with another story from the same collection]. In it, there was a girl who could take out the minds of people, and place them in something else. She does it for a family member, and while the mind is away, the body is destroyed. Fiascos ensue when trying to find a permanent placement for the mind.
posted by shesaysgo at 9:21 AM on February 25, 2011

This happens in John Scalzi's The Android's Dream but it's not the main plot.
posted by marginaliana at 9:29 AM on February 25, 2011

adipocere mentioned Hjortsberg's Falling Angel which is also about moving minds between bodies, although with magic rather than technology.
posted by nicwolff at 9:30 AM on February 25, 2011

In Orson Scott Card's Wyrm, after death the brain is removed and the person is 'conditioned' (tortured) until they tell all of their secrets. A distinction is made between the person's brain and the influence of their body (hormones, etc.).

Also, in Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs trilogoy, people have implants in their spinal cord ('stacks') which hold their (self), and allow them to change bodies.
posted by Adamsmasher at 9:48 AM on February 25, 2011

It's not a shoe-in, because the story centers around a disagreement about whether or not a disembodied brain is human, but Solis by A.A. Atanasio is fairly short sci-fi story about a cryogenically frozen brain.

The dream of cryogenically frozen brains has always been a second chance at life & being. But in this future, cryo-brains are not acknowledged as human, and generally are put to use as bio-computers, slaved to machine functions that require the unique processing abilities that brains represent.

It's a fun story, with the crux of the issue being the brain & his savior's insistence being that it IS and entity, & their quest to secure the rights normally bestowed on a human.
posted by Ys at 10:21 AM on February 25, 2011

I can't believe I know this, but. In the Star Wars universe there is an order of monks called the B'omarr, whose brains are removed from their bodies and placed into jars upon achieving enlightenment, so they can focus on meditation and not be distracted by the needs of the corporal body.

The jars are sometimes equipped with spider legs, which can be seen walking around Jabba the Hutt's palace (originally a B'omarr monastery) in RotJ. You can read a story from a monk's perspective in the surprisingly worthwhile Tales from Jabba's Palace - the brain removal does not always result in enlightened satisfaction, I seem to recall voiceless screaming and anguish.
posted by illenion at 10:28 AM on February 25, 2011

I could only get a third of the way through it because it was so... bleak.

Michel Houellebecq's Possibility of an Island
posted by stratastar at 10:28 AM on February 25, 2011

Tad Williams' Otherland series.
posted by tomboko at 10:51 AM on February 25, 2011

Seconding Dennett's little parable "Where Am I?" which is a philosophical story designed to give you every case you could want on the mind-body problem.

The collection The Mind's I, edited by Dennett and Hofstadter, has a bunch of short readings etc, on this type of issue. Your library might have a copy of it if you want to thumb through it. It's not mainly fiction although it has a few bits of fiction in it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:14 AM on February 25, 2011

Johnny Got His Gun - "Joe Bonham, a young soldier serving in World War I, awakens in a hospital bed after being caught in the blast of an exploding artillery shell. He gradually realizes that he has lost his arms, legs, and all of his face (including his eyes, ears, teeth, and tongue), but that his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body."
posted by mattbucher at 11:25 AM on February 25, 2011

Gargravarr from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. He's the custodian of the Total Perspective Vortex, and in the book is having a "trial separation from his body." But, you know, he doesn't like to talk about it.
posted by zoetrope at 11:59 AM on February 25, 2011

I suggest Orson Scott Card's short story "Memories of My Head." It may not be exactly what you are looking for, but it goes something like this... SPOILER ALERT!

The story is basically a suicide note being written by a man after he has already blown his head off. He thought that destroying his head would kill him, yet his body is beginning to repair itself and he is somehow able to "watch" the process and write a note using his hands. His "self" is not connected to the physical state of his body, apparently.
posted by tacodave at 12:19 PM on February 25, 2011

And speaking of Card's short stories.... "A Thousand Deaths" might fit your criteria as well. SPOILERS AGAIN!!!

The government doesn't like what a man has to say, so they sentence him to die. But before they kill him, they save his personality/memories/whatever in a cloned body. After they kill him, they bring out the new version of the man and make him clean up the mess they made. The killings are varied: boiling him alive, hanging him, cutting him up - and each time he dies, he is awake again in a new body.

This involves technology (cloning and memory transfer) so it isn't so much about a soul, but the point is that the essence of what makes him "him" can be transferred from one body to another.
posted by tacodave at 12:22 PM on February 25, 2011

H.P. Lovecraft's story The Whisperer in Darkness involves disembodying the brain as a means of space travel.
posted by tetralix at 12:52 PM on February 25, 2011

I finally remembered the name of the book I was trying to think of! It is "The Infinity Link" by Jeffrey A. Carver. If I recall it correctly, it is exactly the sort of thing you are looking for.
posted by kyrademon at 1:13 PM on February 25, 2011

Ghost in the machine
posted by tke248 at 2:15 PM on February 25, 2011

Eyes Do More Than See by Isaac Asmiov
posted by oflinkey at 6:15 PM on February 25, 2011

Majgull Axelsson's April Witch is like this, and it's absolutely dynamite.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:56 PM on February 25, 2011

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