Life Beyond Brain Death

Posted 18 Jul 2007 at 20:31 UTC by steve Share This

A Newsweek article covers the changing definitions of death. It used to be that when you reached "clinical death", that was it. Then it became possible to restart the heart. Doctors moved on to declaring "brain death", when cerebral function stopped. But it seems that even after the brain stops working, all the information is still there and, provided cellular death can be stopped or reversed in time, it's possible to boot the brain back up. Normally, unrecoverable brain damage occurs within five minutes but by lowering the body temperature, doctors can significantly extend that time. More interestingly, apoptosis and necrosis take time to destroy the information in the brain, during which it may be possible to reverse the process or cryogenically preserve the information making up the mind and transfer it to a new receptacle; perhaps a cloned brain or a robot. This leads to a new term: "information-theoretic death" is the point at which the physical structure of the brain succumbs to entropy and the mind can no longer be reconstituted. This moral uncertitude as to when death occurs is interesting in light of recent suggestions that organ donation should be mandatory or done on an "opt-out" scheme. Another article suggests individuals be allowed to accept the legal definition of death or define their own meaning. To learn more about the endovascular temperature modulation techniques described, see the Medical News Today article on the subject.

Brain to Machine info transfer, posted 18 Jul 2007 at 22:27 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

This idea about cells committing suicide at reperfusion is interesting and if it can be prevented will cause us to face some difficult questions.

Still, the question about whether transferring info from a human brain to another container recreates the WHOLE person remains. If we are only meat-machines as some suggest then yes, but if there is another aspect to our lives that we are missing and not transferring then no. I'm thinking the later.

We may not be able to tell though by simply interacting with the new machine holding the copy since all the memories will be there, habits, and even desires, phobias, etc. But there might be a subtle, detectable difference that points to a yet-to-be identified aspect of our humanness.


differences in behavior, posted 19 Jul 2007 at 03:05 UTC by steve » (Master)

There was a sidebar in Newsweek noting the possibility that people will see theological implications in the research (I assume a supernatural soul is what you're hinting at with your more than meat comment).

More likely, the missing aspect of the new mind's behavior would be the physiological drives produced by the rest of the human body. To some degree that isn't a new idea, even among theologians. I recall reading an essay by C. S. Lewis in which he talked about the existence of believers in an afterlife and the drastic difference in behavior he thought likely due to the lack of biological bodies with all the associated physiological drives they produced. So, even assuming the existence of a soul, he thought you'd still see easily detectable differences in behavior.

Science seems to agree with Lewis to the extent that it's now fairly well understood that many of the things driving our behavior, such as emotions, are not entirely the result of our brain but the whole body. So any extraction of the mind from the body, whether done by scientific methods or supernatural ones, could result in significant changes in personality. A cloned body might minimize the changes. Or in the case of a robot body, synthesized inputs might be provided to simulate natural bodily activity.

It's all science fiction and/or theological speculation for now of course.

Behavior, DrPepper, Non-Material, Fudge, posted 19 Jul 2007 at 13:52 UTC by Rog-a-matic » (Master)

I've wondered exactly how much of our actions are driven by are 'flesh' - hormones, pain, blood sugar, etc. I'm sure it varies person-to-person, and with time. It's obvious watching our kids grow up that this does indeed play a major role sometimes. For example, one of our children would be grumpy after drinking DrPepper. It took us a while to connect the two because of the delayed reaction.

You're right that these influences wouldn't exist if brain data was transferred to a machine. Maybe we would need to simulate some of these things to make interaction with the machine acceptable and understandable.

I don't know if this additional aspect of humans (soul) is supernatural or not. It could be more material than even us religiously-inclined might think. I keep my eye out for news and research into quantum physics, string theory, etc that might open the door in this area - I'm convinced it eventually will. The recent idea that the so-called dark energy (ie: fudge factor to explain expansion observations) is being hidden inside tiny dimensions is one example.

Reduced brain mass, posted 20 Jul 2007 at 11:51 UTC by c6jones720 » (Master)

Perhaps we dont need all that much brain matter after all...

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