Working for the London Comprehensive has presented me with many opportunities to interview pioneers, geniuses, psychopaths and the deranged alike. And, dare I say, I fear Professor Quentin is all of the above. My briefing read as followed: “Prof Charles Quentin, D.Sc FRS FREng has published his thesis- ‘The Mechanical Stride Towards Immortality and Solving the Human Condition’. Investigate this work- ask for synopsis and his views regarding humanity’s journey towards the future”. As the thesis concerned humanity’s future and (as I later found) delved rather heavily into the realms of philosophy, I found this briefing to be rather vague. Nevertheless, a vague brief was preferable in comparison to previous briefs I had received (my brief regarding my interview with a Gambian prince was longer than my article could ever hope to be). Of course, my biggest challenge would not necessarily be the conjuring of questions but rather how I would filter the answers the Professor would give so that the average Londoner could understand the response of one of the world’s smartest men in the fields of engineering and biomechanical science. After a short while of conducting basic research around the Professor’s thesis, I wrote down the questions I would ask in my trustworthy notebook (made from paper not Mircosoft) and set off for Professor Quentin’s office in Cambridge University.
Upon arrival I was directed by staff to a rather empty car park. Waiting for me under a grey sky were two students (in their second year of a Bachelor’s degree in physics, so they told me) and they lead me through a set of doors with the heading “Science department’s Staff Block” above. I followed the students through a corridor that became gradually darker as I journeyed forward. On either side of me were offices, each belonging to a Doctor or Professor (all famous in their respective fields one of my guides told me). At the end of the corridor was a closed door- it read “Prof. Quentin’s Office”. Inhaling deeply, one student knocked on the door and once the Professor answered “come in” we entered.
“Good morning sir. The editor from the London newspaper is here.”
“The London Comprehensive”, I interjected.
With the wave of his hand the two students took their leave. They left in such a respectful and solemn manner that I almost suspected that they should have bowed before leaving. I entered the office, closed the door behind me and took a seat from across Professor Quentin at his desk.
For a man of 57, the professor looked in very good shape. He was a relatively tall man (a sexy six foot one according to Jane from the research team). His slim build hinted at an athletic past and his skin was rather smooth yet pale. His grey hair was thin and combed back, presumably to cover the growing baldness at his crown. The absence of glasses ahead of his shallow blue eyes completed my determination that Professor Quentin’s appearance in no way whatsoever conformed to that of the evil scientist archetype.
“Good morning sir”, I said.
“Good morning”, Professor Quentin replied.
With pen and notebook in hand, I asked him my first question. “What is your thesis about?”
“It concerns humanity’s future and the action we should take to better ourselves”.
I quickly wrote down his response, thankful that his register did not need tweaking. “What do you mean by that”, I inquired.
After a momentary pause, the professor replied. “Tell me, what do you think I mean”.
A tad shaken by the sudden reversal of who was being interviewed, I replied. “I cannot say”.
“Humanity has been addressing his body’s weaknesses for entire millennia. Our bodies are too bare, too fragile, too weak! But what hasn’t changed is the very tool that has allowed us to address such flaws; our brain. Tell me, what is the most important part of our bodies?”
“The brain I take it”.
“No, no. That is the most important organ. The most important part of our bodies is our skull. Our heads more specifically. Everything we need whether it be clothing, vaccines, exercise or bathing, is all required so that are bodies can remain in good condition. In other words; so that the brain may be transported from one locale to another”.
“Are you suggesting that only the brain is necessary for our survival?” I asked.
“Of course not. The senses are also necessary and all of our sensory organs are located in our skull. Don’t you see journalist? Our very consciousness and everything we need is up here” he pointed at his head.
I wrote his response down rather slowly as I processed exactly what he said. I then looked around his office in an attempt to discover more about the professor. I observed the proliferation of certificates and awards hanging modestly around the room. All of his achievements seemed to be in the spheres of science, engineering or national-level rowing competitions (the latter of which I judged to have been received in his youthful years). But of all these testaments to his genius and commitment, his Doctor of Science degree sparked my curiosity.
“You are a Doctor of Science, that must have been a very proud day for you professor?” I inquired.
“It was a matter of course, nothing else”.
“But such a degree is rare, and a committee must vote in your favour. What made you stand apart from other nominees?”
“It was simple, I possessed a quality the others did not. Transgression. Modern science is too concerned with establishing itself amongst its founders. In doing so most scientists have lost their focus. In addition to this, religion and politics dare to constrict the throat of science in the name of ‘ethics’ and ‘rights’.”
“But such modern science was necessary in your education?”
“Indeed. But for too long I let a compromised science rule my grey cells like a God.”
This radical side to the professor was a genuine surprise to me. It would seem that he wished to usurp Isaac Newton’s throne in the scientific community. But I then suspected it was this more unique cognition that served as the very reason for his title as Doctor of Science. I noted his response.
“Aside from your higher degree, I see from your certificate that you are a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Why were you chosen?”
The professor opened a draw from under his desk. He pulled from underneath a tattered notebook. Made of leather, some of its skin had peeled away and the corners of all its pages were xanthic and slightly curved. He carefully turned each page with the tips of his fingers as he searched for the desired page. Once found, he passed the book to me and I saw jaggedly-drawn diagrams of what resembled a kind of mechanical exoskeleton.
“These are my earliest, most primitive drawings of the solution to solving the human condition. I assure you, these sketches are cave paintings in comparison to the designs I have stored.”
“This is quite unlike anything I have seen before.” At his instruction, I turned the page to find drawings of a human head with an assortment of cables and wires lodged into the back. Even in its ‘primitive’ form, the diagram looked like the bastard child of Leonardo Davinci and Mary Shelley.
“What is this exactly?” I asked.
He took the book from me, placed it back in its drawer and opened his laptop. After a considerable amount of time, it seemed he found what he was searching for.
“Give me that.” He ordered. He was referring to my brooch.
Confused, I unpinned my brooch and passed it to him.
“Careful. It was gifted to me at the British Press Awards”.
“I am looking…”
“A camera. From my experience, the Press are humanity’s most deceitful creations.” Despite this rather slanderous comment, I almost nodded in agreement. He handed the brooch back to me.
“It would seem you are an exception to this however.” He informed me. “Now, before I show you my work, it is important that you do not misinterpret its intention. After all, scientific instinct should be followed independently of reason. Also, to see its true value, please temporarily abandon your societal inclinations.”
“Professor, as a journalist it is important I keep my mind more open than the average man.”
“I urge you to remember that.” He turned the laptop around and revealed to me his proposal to mankind.
I was shocked. I think it was shock. On the screen were more detailed, more revealing, more disturbing diagrams of human heads with cables and wires inserted in the back. With his permission, I scrolled down the pages and amongst the diagrams I saw photographs of an exoskeleton. One photograph in particular was of much interest to me. It featured an exoskeleton and two men; one wore a white coat and was writing on a clip board whilst the other was dressed in navy blue overalls inspecting one of the arms. The photo’s significance lied in the scale it provided me with. From it I inferred the exoskeleton itself could have been not much taller than six foot. As the Professor told me, the exoskeleton was quite clearly no longer in its “dawn”, its components were no longer exposed as was the case with the diagrams I first saw.
“Have you noticed the head of the exoskeleton?” asked Professor Quentin.
“No I have not.”
“Precisely! For that is wear the human’s head will go.”
In confession, I should have realised the connection between the exoskeleton and the cyborg head much sooner. The Professor’s intention was clear now. He wished to connect the human head with a mechanical body. The idea would have been laughable, ludicrous and simply insane, if not for the litany of research that, unsettlingly, seemed to testify its feasibility.
“The future.” The Professor said.
“It is logical. The body has its limitations. This will remove them entirely. No cells or organs will remain in the body, hundreds of diseases and more than one hundred cancers will no longer attack us. Thousands of calories will no longer be used to fuel our bodies, hunger will be eradicated. But most importantly, mortality will no longer restrict us to a temporary existence. No longer will we be confined to sharing the weaknesses of Earth’s most inferior species. We are above. Call it God or science; the fact remains that we have been given this capability and we must act upon it!”
The passion in Professor Quentin’s voice was startling. I believe in my work I have interviewed hundreds of people, yet the professor’s passion surpassed that of demonstrators, charity workers and dictators alike. Quite simply, Professor Quentin was the most devout man I had ever met.
“Sir, mortality would surely persist? After all, diseases of the brain and mind would still occur as would decay.”
“Please, do not insult me. Of course I am aware of such issues, yet such a solution for decay has been in existence for as long as 8000 years, albeit in imperfect versions. Embalming fluids. It would be deceitful of me to portray myself as an expert in this field. In fact, my knowledge extends only as far as noting the effectiveness of natron. But colleagues at Harvard university have found a way to not only postpone decay, but eradicate it completely.”
“Is that truly possible?”
“Yes. But you are correct, diseases of the mind like OCD, schizophrenia, and Dementia will remain as possibilities- consequences of nature’s most developed minds.”
When I sought to perfect my journalistic skills, I conducted research into dictatorships so that when I observed a shift in thinking I could comment on its durability and potential based on the momentum it had gained in particular parts of a society or group. In other words, Hitler’s radical steps to remove European Jewry would have only been possible with the support of the German people. It is this research that urged me to inquire if any other scientists in his discipline (or indeed in any discipline) shared his beliefs.
“There are people who believe in my research.” Said the professor.
“Can you say that as a certainty? I see there are engineers working in your project’s construction. But they work for a pay cheque, not for your vision. And these ‘colleagues’ at Harvard, it sounds as if their research into embalmment is a part of their department’s function. Their research was likely not done for your project.”
“Of course. But there are those who share my beliefs of a homo-mechanical future. I know this because my vision serves as a logical step forward. And, after all, the main goal of any science is to explore mankind’s every avenue. So why avoid and neglect the most obvious one?”
My response to the professor after this statement has persistently irritated me upon reflection. Or, rather, my lack of a response. My irritation has long since been accentuated by my mind’s insistence that, in addition to having no response for the professor, my mouth was laxed open and my face resembled the gormless expression of Quasimodo. This irritation often peaks with the thought that the professor smirked.
After some seconds passed I asked the professor if he could name any scientist specifically who agreed with his research and shared his vision.
“There are around 20 who have expressed their agreeance with me but, beyond an email, they are not willing to express these views further. Surely you understand that, because of this, I cannot give you any names?”
“Good. It is a shame that supporters of my research wish to remain anonymous, yet critics publicly denounce my vision.”
“Such as who?”
“I was certain you would have pursued such blasphemy when conducting your research, journalist. I shall nevertheless enlighten you. Journalists from several countries have attacked my work, but the absence of university degrees and a proliferation of grammar mistakes have undermined their relevance.”
“What about fellow academics?” The professor audibly exhaled at this question.
“Yes, there are a few who disagree. I would say my most notable critics must be doctor Alice Kendra and mister David Conan.”
“On what basis?”
“Their notability is derived from their experience and the significance of their publications. Although I view them to both be inherently flawed. Doctor Kendra is a concoction of hypocrisy and conflicting ideologies. She believes her catholic alignment and a doctorate in physics grants her a unique perspective on science and its relation to God’s Will. In truth, her work is continuously shifting its own focus, with her publications constantly reaffirming either a religious or scientific view whilst simultaneously undermining her other concern. Because of this fact, her claims that my scientific endeavours deface God’s design is entirely irrelevant.”
“And what about David Conan? I take it the absence of a doctorate is what makes him “flawed?”
“Not necessarily. His flaws lie in his egotism. A man with a military career and a Masters, he has published some work on geology and psychology; the latter of which is admittedly quite ground-breaking. However, his aforementioned ego, inflated by an MBE, undoubtedly reinforces his belief that physical challenge moulds our psychology.”
“But that is correct. A military man has a disciplined mind due to the challenges and adversities faced during training and deployments.” My frustration at my muted response earlier on is sometimes countered by the satisfaction I received when the professor took a moment or two longer than usual to respond.
“Sir, I am saying that physical challenge makes us who we are. If we remove such challenge by placing our heads in a metal body, then we will no longer experience the pain that makes us disciplined. We will have an incompetent military force.”
“Speculation! Without pain military men will be able to breach and surpass a threshold that would no longer exist. Therefore, this perceived incompetence is inaccurate. Do not undermine your own intelligence, journalist!”
“But surely- “
“That is enough. I find that the topic of military competence strays too far from the purpose of my work. Its goal is not to create superior soldiers, my goal is to enhance humanity’s durability and to address our persistent weaknesses that keep us from unparalleled greatness.”
This was the first and only time the professor interrupted me. My surprise was not rooted in the interruption, but rather the lack of interruptions throughout the interview. Many times have my interviews with passionate and insane individuals been plagued with constant objections to my questioning.
“Sir, what would you like to say as a final message for the article?” I asked.
The professor paused, and then replied. “Shortcomings are not to be accepted, and solutions ought not to be rejected.”
I noted his statement down precisely. I stood up.
“Thank you for your time today professor.”
“When you write your article, be sure to remember your claim to open-mindedness. Intelligence correlates exactly with unclouded visions. Many journalists have concluded their articles with them dismissing my work as the ramblings of a mad man. Just be sure to remember; every mad mind has a sane message to give.”
“Of course.” His presence still commanded and act of solemnity. Preferring not to bow, I offered the professor my hand to which he shook gently and with a firm grip.
Closing the door behind me I walked down the hallway and out into the car park. It seemed that the Sun had begun to breach through the rainclouds. As I drove home I found myself reflecting on the interview with terrible frequency. I dare say my attention lay within my thoughts more than the road at several intervals. There was an instance where a driver behind me beeped so as to reawaken me from preoccupation before the traffic lights turned red again. Once home, I sat in my chair and continued to reflect- never before had an interview had such an effect on me. Charles Quentin’s vision- it gripped my mind, shackled it even, for I was unable to construct my article.
I am open-minded, but to what extent? And how open-minded are Londoners? I emailed the London Comprehensive, informing them that an article concerning Professor Quentin’s thesis would prove “futile and void of appreciable sustenance”. The newspaper’s head editor emailed me back, accepting my abandonment of the article and suggesting that I investigate an alternative subject so as to keep to the weekly publishing target.
I have often dwelled on how Professor Quentin viewed my decision not to write the article. With expressed criticism being abundant in many of the articles concerning his work, I think that my decision not to write my article proved to say more about Professor Charles Quentin’s work than an article could have ever hoped to.