Notices
Results 1 to 4 of 4

Thread: Brain Preservation, and the consequences of human "immortality"

  1. #1 Brain Preservation, and the consequences of human "immortality" 
    New Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Posts
    1
    Hello. It is my first time on these forums, so please bear with me. But I needed to clear a nagging topic from my head.

    I am very interested in the sciences of brain mapping, human consciousness and artificial intelligence. It was thus that I came across a certain site while
    perusing the internet a few days ago.

    The site in question is that of the Brain Preservation Foundation, an organisation that is dedicated to the survival of the human brain beyond the death of other organs.
    It has some very interesting theories, all of which revolve around the possibility of mapping out the brain's synaptic connections. This is no small feat; to preserve these important connections in the human brain is to theoretically preserve all the memories and the full identity of the person in possession of said brain.

    It is a very well constructed site, with the organisation even going so far as to construct some rudimentary ethics and legal guidelines for a future where one might choose to have their brain preserved for its continued survival. However, it has raised several disturbing issues within my head:

    First of all, let us assume that in one scenario "brain preservation" encompasses the successful placement into stasis of the whole human brain, or best case, their entire body. This is not as bad as the following speculations; with the entire brain intact and placed into storage, one would theoretically be able to be "revived" with a fully operational consciousness. However, putting aside the possible issues of adapting to life without a body, an excerpt from the site's guidelines sections raises my concerns -

    "Legal rights should be secured for persons in storage. Their rights will not be equivalent to the living, but no longer will they have no legal rights whatsoever, and be considered only as donated anatomical specimens. Specifically:
    a. Perserved persons should be ensured a quality surgical preservation procedure performed by a licensed professional. These rights should be on par with the guarantees against malpractice in surgical procedures today.
    b. Preserved persons who have entered a preservation agreement should be ensured quality long-term storage and protection from harm with no removal from storage due to insufficient funds.
    c. Some legal rights should be available to allow persons in storage to retain some monetary and other assets, in trust form, so that they can be retrieved by the individual upon successful revival.
    d. The revival wishes of the individual undergoing brain preservation should be respected, when technically feasible. This includes the right to partial revival (memory donation instead of identity or self-awareness revival), and the right to refuse revival under a list of circumstances provided by the individual in their preservation contract."

    It is stated within these rules that while persons in storage will be able to retain financial assets and will not be treated *only* as donated anatomical specimens, said persons will still not have rights that are equal to those of the living. This is frightening on many levels; what is to stop medical and scientific institutions and governments from utilising these stored individuals however they please if they not only do not have concrete legal rights, but are also helpless to argue their own case in their current state? The guidelines do suggest for rules prohibiting the damage of the preserved, but these are only suggestions, and medical experiments may still be able to circumvent such laws.
    Secondly, another aspect of these concepts that worries me is the fact that the BPF's "optimal" future includes a citizen's ability to request an emergency brain preservation feature at any time if they only have six months to live (they can also be operated on without spoken consent if they have listed is as their medical preference).
    And the apparent ease with which such an operation may be requested and performed only adds to another extremely problematic issue; what will be the effects of easy and cheap preservation and revival on the world's population? Disease and natural death are heartbreaking and terrible to experience, but at a base level they are the biological universe's way of keeping the population (somewhat) within safe boundaries. With the dangers, and therefore also the overall benefits, of natural death removed, Earth's already unstable populace could skyrocket beyond any sustainable limits.
    Finally, I must voice my most dire concerns, and a question to all who may read this.
    The BPF states that their proposed solutions to death have the potential to be desirable for some individuals; that the preservation of one's memory and identity is something great. However, what truly scares me is the fact that they did not, in this particular context, mention once the preservation of the human consciousness.
    Consciousness is our brain's unique relationship with the world around us, and it is one of the most incredible tools of humanity. It gives us emotion, sensation, subjectivity, and near-absolute control over our physical form. However, most importantly, it grants us awareness and self-hood. Our consciousness is, in a sense, us; it is what allows us to understand what happens around us so fluently, allows us to have feelings, and forges our individuality.

    And the reason that the BPF's proposals terrify me is the fact that even in a future where such miraculous and life-saving surgeries are possible, what happens if the memories and identity of a person are preserved, but not the consciousness? It is difficult for me to explain my fears, but I will simplify:Our consciousness is us. It is our mind, our awareness, our perception of the world. It allows us to observe and understand, and to analyse and fully grasp the capabilities of our memory and individual identity. Now imagine that your entire brain was copied, that everything, right down to your earliest childhood memories, was recreated, complete with your full identity and personality to boot. However, my issue is that no matter how similar this copy is, no matter how exact the procedure is, that entity is not you. It is a replica, and a very good one at that, but you do not see out of its eyes. You are not *inside* its mind. I fear that such surgeries will not magically resurrect us inside another exact copy of our brain, but that we will still die, with a perfect doppelganger of ourselves continuing to survive in our place, exactly the same, but an imitation of your true, dead self nonetheless.

    Please, correct me if I'm wrong. It terrifies me, and any assistance in understanding would be helpful to my knowledge. But if my above statement is accurate, then is brain preservation really that desirable? What family, in my opinion, would wish to watch their loved one die, only for a perfect copy to rise up and take their place? One's memories and identity are only data, in a sense; what really makes us human is our inner mind, our conscious perception of the world. It is understandable that the most brilliant minds would wish for their intelligence and mind to live on; a humble sacrifice which would allow them to keep making the world a better place long after they are dead. But with that is a dark side, and when every person has the legal power to leave a shadow of themselves in the world after death, how will our kind ever again be able to define the difference between reality and falsehood?

    Thank you for reading this. It means a lot to me.


    Reply With Quote  
     

  2.  
     

  3. #2  
    Forum Bachelors Degree
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Posts
    420
    Welcome to the forum.

    The issue that you raise is interesting.

    to preserve these important connections in the human brain is to theoretically preserve all the memories and the full identity of the person in possession of said brain.


    I suspect that it depends in what sense the synaptic connections in the human brain were to be preserved. If the synaptic connections were to be preserved in a functioning human brain, i.e. if some way were found to maintain consciousness of the human brain independent of the rest of the human body, then of course the memories and full identity of that person would be preserved. The more realistic way to achieve preservation of synaptic connections is to store the brain in such a way that the connections are left intact, and then ultimately to map all of the synaptic connections in silico using a programming language e.g. MATLAB. However, modelling static synaptic connections in this way fails to take into account the dynamic firing patterns of neuronal networks in response to any given stimulus. In this way, mapping synaptic connections in silico is able to preserve memories and identity to some extent - but is unable to provide full information re. how a person would process and respond to any given stimulus (i.e. personality) and is unable to preserve consciousness.

    what is to stop medical and scientific institutions and governments from utilising these stored individuals however they please if they not only do not have concrete legal rights, but are also helpless to argue their own case in their current state?

    Mm, I agree that the persons whom have been preserved and whom potentially could regain consciousness (assuming that this were one day feasible) would be vulnerable to abuse of their will by those in positions of power. Unfortunately, it is a fact of life that no legislature, executive or judiciary is infallible or immune to corruption. The most that one could probably hope to achieve is to enshrine laws surrounding use of preserved brains which allow for punishment of individuals whom misuse preserved tissue. Ultimately, there are no absolute guarantees in life and it would be foolish to place absolute faith in the trustworthiness of any other individual or organisation external to self (the only person who can be entrusted with having one's best interests at heart is oneself). Therefore, potential preservees should take responsibility for their own well-being and factor into their decision-making process the potential for corruption.

    what will be the effects of easy and cheap preservation and revival on the world's population?


    Well, of course the preserved brains themselves would be unable to reproduce. So the world population itself would not alter. If preservation were otherwise easy and cheap, I imagine that the main logistical obstacle would be finding sufficient storage space. This probably would not be a big issue at first but if demand was very high, would eventually become a problem.

    what happens if the memories and identity of a person are preserved, but not the consciousness?

    Yes, this is a distinct possibility and would probably be far easier to achieve than to sustain consciousness. It would depend on whether the preservee finds the idea of having a doppelganger, as you say, lurking around once they consciously have died. Some people may even prefer to be immortalised in this way whilst not wishing to stay consciously alive.

    As a final note, such technologies are in their absolute infancy and neuronal networks are only beginning to be mapped. Progress is slow and academics have yet to agree upon a universal definition or agreement of what, exactly, is consciousness - let alone finding a way to preserve it biologically. Most of humanity will settle for being immortalised biologically by other means (sexual reproduction) or via memetic immortalisation (works of art, scientific works, ideas).

    Best wishes,

    Tridimity


    Reply With Quote  
     

  4. #3  
    Forum Isotope Bunbury's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Colorado
    Posts
    2,590
    Many horrific issues arise:

    What could possibly be worse than your consciousness continuing to operate while you are unable to see, hear, feel, smell, touch or move? Torture, nothing less.

    How would you pay for your continued and useless existence as a bodiless mind? Set up a trust invested in a sort of 401K? The market crashes, you can’t pay and they pull the plug. What now? Perhaps it could be covered under Medicare and we, the living could pay for you. Isn’t it bad enough that you will be paying for me when I retire? So who could afford this type of immortalization? Do you really want Donald Trump to live forever?

    Pain: how would you tell your technicians that your pain neurons have been triggered and you are in agony? You can’t and this continues forever. And what about that bored sadistic tech that enjoys poking you with little electric shocks or a wire clothes hanger?


    Most of humanity will settle for being immortalised biologically by other means (sexual reproduction) or via memetic immortalisation (works of art, scientific works, ideas).

    Hear, hear.
    Reply With Quote  
     

  5. #4  
    Forum Professor Zwirko's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Location
    55° N, 3° W
    Posts
    1,085
    I think it unlikely that consciousness can be stored by simply mapping neuron connections. Consciousness is probably a property of mitochondria. And of the Golgi. And of the cytoskeleton. And of the plasma membrane. And of... well, many aspects of the basic cell biology of neurons and other types of cell found in the brain. Even if memories were somehow preserved by such an approach, then I don't think there would be any consciousness there, just a bunch of data that doesn't do much of anything.
    Reply With Quote  
     

Similar Threads

  1. A scientifically provable "Purpose of Human Life"
    By dickroose in forum Philosophy
    Replies: 19
    Last Post: February 16th, 2011, 09:31 PM
  2. Isnt "Cowardice" just selv preservation?
    By Raziell in forum Behavior and Psychology
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: May 23rd, 2010, 02:12 AM
  3. "Brain Training", or, I feel like my brain is dyin
    By Leukocyte in forum General Discussion
    Replies: 20
    Last Post: March 9th, 2009, 07:47 PM
  4. Human societies acting against "natural selection"
    By Burger in forum Behavior and Psychology
    Replies: 63
    Last Post: December 18th, 2007, 07:36 PM
  5. Human evolution "radically" reappraised
    By antares in forum Biology
    Replies: 4
    Last Post: April 2nd, 2007, 01:50 AM
Tags for this Thread

View Tag Cloud

Bookmarks
Bookmarks
Posting Permissions
  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •