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'Self/Less' Imagines a World With Mind Transplants

In "Self/Less," Ben Kingsley, faced with death, transfers his mind into the body of Ryan Reynolds.
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In "Self/Less," Ben Kingsley, faced with death, transfers his mind into the body of Ryan Reynolds.

This might sound like a fun "Freaky Friday" scenario, but instead the movie is a sci-fi thriller, complete with car chases, secret labs and, yes, a flamethrower.

At the heart of the movie, which hits theaters on Friday, is the question, "Would you put your mind into a younger body to avoid death?"

"Yes," Tarsem Singh, director of "Self/Less," told NBC News. He gets why people are freaked out about the idea. But until they are shuffling around with a walker and hearing aid, he said, they should reserve judgement.

"I can't think of anyone in their 80s or 90s who wouldn't want to do it," Singh said.

When he would tell people about the idea behind "Self/Less," several of them expressed interest in the fictional procedure, asking him, "Is that possible?"

It's not, for now. But Charles Higgins, associate professor of neuroscience at the University of Arizona, thinks that human beings could one day figure it out.

The first step will be transferring human consciousness to a computer, he said, pointing to the Johnny Depp flick "Transcendence" as an example.

"There is a good chance we will figure that out in the next 100 years," Higgins told NBC News.

Related: Depp Impact: The Science Behind 'Transcendence'

Then it's a matter of doing the same thing with human tissue instead of a computer. At that point, it will become a moral issue instead of a scientific one, much like cloning is today. People are already working on cloning a woolly mammoth and a "chickenosaurus." Higgins notes that we could probably clone a human being right now if we wanted to.

If anything, the idea behind "Self/Less" is so intriguing because it seems so plausible, Singh said.

"This is already happening with body organs," Singh said. "It's just laws and people's morality that keeps us decades behind where science could take us."

Last year, there were 29,532 organ transplants in the United States, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — and 22 people still died every day waiting for a transplant. That shortage has already prompted tough questions about who gets organs and where they come from.

"All of these issues exist now. To make it more dramatic, we took it one step further, so it's not just a hip or knee replacement, it's your entire body."

Related: Surgeon Promising Head Transplant Now Asks America for Help

Another issue: In a world where people can transfer their minds, some people would essentially become immortal.

"The fact that we have a limited lifespan gives you an impetus to do something," Higgins said. "What if I knew I could switch to a new body anytime? Why would you be driven to do anything in life?"

On the other hand, he said, giving the world's smartest people thousands of years to live might be a boon for society.

"What if you could take all of the greatest scientists from the last couple hundred years and put them all in a room," he said. "Think about all we could accomplish. We could have Steve Jobs marketing Albert Einstein's inventions!"

For now, we will have to settle for the 78.8 years — the average U.S. lifespan, according to the CDC — that we have on this Earth.

"It's something that has fascinated human for a long time," Singh said, "like in Ancient Greece, with the idea that the gods can change forms and become another person."