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Friday, March 22, 2013

Brain On The Train

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot:
Quick question Dale. I was having a discussion in my class yesterday about thought and consciousness (though quite frankly I am doubtful/skeptical of such things), and we all wondered what would happen if you transferred a persons brain into another body? Akin to how a heart transplant is done. The individual has died and has a written will deciding to donate their brain tissue to someone who is need of it. Better yet what if you took the lobes of a persons brain and transplanted it into two distinct living bodies? I have my own speculations on the matter, but I wanted to read your thoughts on the matter. Especially since you correlate the brain to a gland, which I am inclined to agree with. I am well aware that brain transplants are not possible as of today, but seeing as how adaptable the physical body is, and how transplants of every kind and type have been/are being tested, and have been successful, I wonder what will happen when surgeons successfully migrate brain tissue or cells from one patient to another.
Well, I daresay a dead brain will remain dead even after finding its way to another head, but a sybil shouldn't quibble -- to misquote Noel Coward. As to your larger (is it "larger"?) point, though, I do think we are all much better off crossing this bridge only if we come to it -- as I very much doubt anybody living or even thought of ever will, since I share your skepticism about the proximateness and possibly the very possibility of such techniques. Needless to say, the introduction of tissue or cells into a brain from elsewhere in the body or from somebody else's body or from a lab somewhere, for whatever reason, wouldn't be the same thing as a "brain transplant" in the sense I think you are meaning to evoke, and I am not sure the figure I would mobilize to describe such a modest procedure (let alone the more drastic postulated one) is "migration," with all its baggage of citizen-subjects crossing borders and so on. While I think colorful analogies used in theory can sometimes clarify perplexing conceptual or ethical dilemmas, I wonder whether they sometimes introduce perplexity where they there is little use in it. Robot Cultists rely on such befuddlement (and on general technoscientific illiteracy coupled with irrational passions like fear of aging/death and greed for effortless riches) to peddle their faithful wares, for instance. Nota bene, by the way, that in declaring the brain to be more like a gland than a computer I am not identifying it with a gland so much as dis-identifying it with a computer for the benefit of Robot Cultists who rather ridiculously propose the latter identification. I will add, however, more in the spirit of the thought experiment/romp you have generously invited me to indulge in here, that I do not agree with those who would insist that "I" am only my brain, nor do I concede that the brain alone is the site of the phenomena loosely evoked in the folk terminology "mind" "psyche" "affect" and so on when, to point to the obvious, say, the nervous system extends throughout the body or when there is such inter-implication in what we deem perception, interospection, introspection, and so on.


jimf said...

> what would happen if you transferred a persons brain into another body?

I recommend Edgar Rice Burroughs' _The Master Mind of Mars_ as the
first and last word on the subject. Especially the Ace paperback
edition of my own youth with the wonderful Roy Krenkel cover:

I remember that this novel added the word "pulchritude" to my
10-year-old vocabulary. I do not know whether the fascination
of the plot -- the evil old queen Xaxa swaps bods with the
beautiful and kind-hearted princess Valla Dia, and the hero spends
the rest of the book plotting to undo this gross injustice --
had anything to do with my being a budding queer. I suspect
that a lot of hetero sci-fi nerds found it equally compelling.

These days, though, whenever I think of the name "Xaxa"
(and you can believe I keep count of **that**) I think of
Zaza Napoli.
Probably the hetero ERB fans don't do that.

Black guy from the future past said...

Indeed. The nervous system which is connected to the brain, does run through and is integral to the entire body so I am inclined to agree and posit that the brain is not some vaunted seat of the soul or in more modern terms "consciousness", whatever the heck that means. I think the brain is simply a piece of flesh that processes and maintains and organizes external stimuli aka "information" and memory through and by the body, by some spooky chemical and electrical effects that scientists today don't yet fully understand; and is literally conditioned over time by such external stimuli, which gives the personal and subjective illusion that a person has a continuous self or memories or thoughts etc. The body is simply more sophisticated than any computer or simulation or machine out there, and I don't even think the body is even a machine for that matter. Many people seem to be using and falling for false metaphors and analogies comparing our complex bodies to simple objects and tools (computers) and this reveals that the way in which we describe and picture our bodies, means that we don't understand it. If a human being dies ,it's brain is indeed also dead, and there is no way to extract memories of thoughts from it. "Thoughts" information and data is not not there. All wee see is flesh, fatty tissue, and gray matter. This is so unlike a hard disk in which data can easily be extracted so long as the drive is even partly in good condition and does not depend on the chassis of a computer to survive. However, if there was a way to say give a stroke victim a healthy portion of brain tissue or brain cells from another person to restore some critical brain function, I think the surgery would have just as much an innocuous effect as receiving a heart from another person, say... an Olympic sprinter and putting it in the chest of a 60 year old man. Indeed even more so as the brain does not have antibodies to reject other tissue. Perhaps the inserted tissue would find a way to integrate itself or rewire itself per the configuration of the new body it has been implanted in.

Overall, I am nearly certain that a person would not see or experience the "thoughts" or life or another. I am skeptical that there are even such things as "thought". When scientists scan brains, all they see is electrical activity, not some ethereal or metaphysical objects called "thoughts". I am most certainly sure that a person could not and cannot live on in another individual based on their brain tissue alone, though such idiocy, I am sorry to admit, was entertained in the classroom, and one student even said that "the brain is like a computer" YIKES!

jimf said...

> Perhaps the inserted tissue would find a way to integrate itself or
> rewire itself per the configuration of the new body it has been
> implanted in.

**Something** like this comprises the maguffin of an SF/Thriller crossover
novel I spent a couple of hours speed-reading at Barnes & Noble a couple
of weekends ago. (It's not "inserted tissue" in this case, it's an
entire human cerebral cortex repurposed as a wireless-implant-connected
component of a computer/biological hybrid AI after what Gerald Edelman called the
"key reentrant loop" underpinning consciousness is surgically
severed in the human. Creepy! It's the basis of a Chinese "homeland security"
surveillance system whose name translates as "Supreme Harmony".)