how far we want it to take us.”
Cessini raised his hand, and then spoke. “My dad said he’s going to take me and that girl sitting down there to the fair this summer to win stuffed animals and eat some cotton candy,” he said. Meg glanced up, but then hunched back down over her game. “I let her play with my tablet. My dad made it for me.”
Daniel rested his hand on Cessini’s arm.
“Interesting, young man,” the host said. “But we’ll get to you in a minute.” Then the host snapped his fingers and pointed. “Wait a minute, Professor. You dodged my question. Free will or fate?”
“There is no free will to choose,” the professor said. “Our fundamental behaviors guide us whether we realize it or not. We’re pre-programmed over thousands, millions of years.”
“It’s far more recent than that—” Robin said as the man next to her sprang forward first.
“I am convinced—” the man interrupted.
“Reverend?” the host allowed.
“I am convinced societal fear is due to the decay of religious unity,” the reverend said. “And I wholeheartedly disagree with Andy’s evolutionary hypothesis. Individuals who practice their faith most adherently are those least afraid of dying. But an entire generation of technology is taking us further away from our faith. And without faith, we have more fear. More fear raises feelings of loss of control, and with that, the loss of free will. But ironically, this loss of free will one feels, in the absence of religion, more than reinforces my theological view that a higher being is the one in control. Free will belongs only to God.”
“If you’re suggesting we shut off the flow of technology and everything will be fine,” Robin said, “then that’s a dream that simply won’t work. Speaking both as a mother and cognitive neuroscientist, I can tell you molecular processes are directly linked to behavior. We don’t have to go back thousands or millions of years. It’s happening now. I’ve studied fear-conditioning behaviors in the real world, the processes that bring about long-term potentiation, or LTP. LTP is the induction of synaptic plasticity by the electrical or chemical stimulation of the lateral amygdala neural circuits.”
“Whoa, you just blew my lateral amygdala circuits,” the host said. “Anyone ever tell you that you talk like a computer?”
“I’ll vouch for that,” Daniel said, leaning in.
“To translate,” Robin said, “Fear is learned.”
“A chicken pecks on a kernel of corn and gets shocked, so it decides to eat lettuce instead,” the host said.
“Exactly. It’s called Hebbian synaptic plasticity. For modeling, in the lab, we’ve already completed large-mammal brain emulation. Soon, we’ll be announcing the completed scan and modeling of a human brain in its entirety, beneath the connectome’s one hundred trillion neuron pathways, to the level of the synaptome. We’ll scan every property down to the individual receptors and small molecules in the synapse, every signal state, including phosphorylation and methylation of the proteins. Given that model, we’ll be able to measure the very subjects of our discussion: free will, fate, and fear. But for now, no, it’s not free will. It’s chemical fate.”
Cessini swiveled to find what Daniel was looking for on the ceiling. The lights, the tracks? There was nothing different up there, but then, Daniel’s eyes were actually closed, and he was grinning, listening. When Daniel opened his eyes, he looked happily at Robin. She shifted in her chair and ran her fingers across the top of her ear to tuck back her hair. Pressed tight to her lobe was a tiny red earring in the shape of a key. She didn’t wear much jewelry but it made her look really pretty.
“Back in grad school, I studied the problem with imagination,” Robin said. “How the mind goes immobile in the face of a constant reminder of death. DigiSci was searching for the body’s longevity switch, and found