Rosetta (a pseudonym) has died.
I, her neuroscientist dad – who freely self-describes as very odd and a hopeless geek – recorded the electrical activity inside her brain in utero at 2, 4, and 6 months; 30 minutes after birth, a breech; at intervals as she grew up, in different states: asleep, awake, in front of the TV; in her adulthood, periodically, including on the evening of her mother’s fatal stroke; as she herself fell prey to premature dementia, then to coma; as her heart stopped; and once more as her cadaver lay in the funeral home.
I doted on her every minute she drew breath, and never for a second entertained the prospect of surviving her to carry out this late-stage work myself. But now, even amidst my grief, admit I find the opportunity enlivening. That’s what a hopeless case I am. She’s pleased me even in her death.

From every quality of consciousness, my algorithms culled 11 tags which I believe are unique to my daughter’s electrical emissions. The emissions of her Day 2 corpse match 2 of these: the distinctive signature emitted by the stapes of her middle ear reverse port, and the signature of the general decay of her brain-stem neurons, which of course proceeds – both as predicted. For the other 9, my hopes rest on this hand-held Geiger-counter-like electron sequencing device (ESD), with which I’ll take comparative readings at some of the various locations that I predict her residuum, if any, might revisit.
Don’t let the recycled iPad hull deceive you. Inside, it is packed with state-of-the-art detection and analysis instruments, thanks to several of my amazing grad students, including one who’s on the leading edge of boron-doped silicon nanowire research, and a second equally ground-breaking in the field of electrophoresis devices.

Do entities exist in forms that leave detectable emissions which are subtler than what we can perceive as light, sound, or heat – or bumping up against them in the night, become aware of through the sense of touch? – emissions also subtler than what we can detect with common extra-sensory tools such as sonar, infrared and other imaging devices?
That’s what I’m studying. My ESD sensors filter out the background buzz – phone and wifi microwaves, tv and radio, the heat put off by everything from the sun to a speck of dust, and shock waves whether from the wind or a cricket’s violin – and compare the signatures of the detected idiosyncratic emissions with those I’ve recorded from my daughter.
The goal is not Find-My-Phone for a dead loved one, but to test the widely held hypothesis that there exists a unique electrical successor to the solid manifestation which we call a human being – a presence which l call Rosetta.

I do doubt that such ghosts exist, or if they did, that I’d ever be able to identify my daughter’s. But crazy things have always been attempted in the name of science; my work has found funding, though my colleagues find some of its sources slightly comical; plus, there is always a chance of stumbling across something entirely different from the object of investigation, which gives rise to a different hypothesis no one has considered before. That’s the way science works.
Would this be of interest to a journalist who’s probably tired of covering the same old stories, with all the same little lies, only different names and dates? Unfortunately I can’t invite you to delve into who I am personally, or who my daughter was. The more I rub my colleagues’ noses in the details of my work, the more tenuous my tenure at the university becomes. So that would leave you with a human-interest story without the human.

(…to be continued, inshallah…)


Tom Riordan lives in New Jersey. He’s a retired restaurant worker and teacher, and dreams about becoming pope for his next career.

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