February 13, 2013
When I first heard about brain preservation, it caught my interest immediately. People replacing their brains with brain chips to live forever seemed so bizarre. I have always loved science fiction and the idea of scientists trying to apply fictional ideas to the real world made me realize this was the topic for me. I wanted to see if there was more and there was. Brain preservation brings up different feelings from different groups of people. In my paper, analyzing some of the perspectives on brain preservation is key to help the reader formulate an opinion about this technology. A Pentecostal Pastor, a neurologist, and a futurist will be heard and their ideas will add depth about the ethical implications involved with the preservation of the brain. Some will share their views on immortality and the value of life, and some will share how this technology can help or hinder society. Formulating your own opinion about whether this technology should be used or not in society is important when it comes to your mortality. Humans should be cautious when it comes to living for as long as one wants through brain preservation because it may involve the deaths of many lives without the benefits of having a second life. Here is a possible scenario if society chooses to use brain preservation in the future.
A man goes to the hospital and meets a nurse in the main lobby. She hands him a pen and some forms to fill out. The man sits down in one of the numerous chairs in the lobby and he fills out his information carefully. The man holds his pen firmly as he signs his name at the bottom of the last document. He places the forms neatly in a pile for the nurse and she puts them away in a file. While the nurse does this, the man’s family walks in. A smile moves across their faces at once and they all say, “We support you John.” But behind those smiles are stiff bodies and John cannot seem to understand why the rest of his family or his friends cannot move like him. He lets this thought go as his family waves at him in a uniform manner. He walks away with the nurse and leads him to the operating room. There he meets the doctor who will perform the surgery. The doctor like the operating room seems cold but he gives a faint smile to reassure John. When John puts on his gown, he reflects on his life. He remembers when he first tied his shoe and when his father taught him how to shoot a basketball. He remembers having a crush on a girl and being too shy to talk to her. He remembers the stories his grandmother gave him on how to develop a good character and how he should help others when they are in need. He remembers the time he fell from a tree but his mother embraced him and wiped his tears. But he could not go in the past and retrieve those events; it was time to move on. The operation was ready to take place and he lied down on the operating table so he could go under anesthesia. The last thing he remembers was seeing the bright light in his face and the sweet thought of his mother holding him in her arms…
People like John may have similar stories in the future. They all may go to the hospital to get their brains preserved. John, after going under anesthesia, would then have chemicals placed in his body which will preserve his brain (kurzweilai.net). However, the price for having this process done is that the chemicals kill the patient once they enter in the body (kurzweilai.net). The brain is removed and then put in a mass of plastic. This part of brain preservation is called “plastination” (brainpreservation.org). Once the brain is in the plastic, a temperate room will be set aside for the storage of this preserved brain (brainprservation.org). After a certain period of time, scientists can take the brain out of the plastic and copy it onto a brain chip. This is called mind uploading. The brain will be sliced and the information on each slice of the brain will be shared onto this chip (kurzweilai.net). Once the brain’s information is on the chip it can be placed into a “robot” so the person can live again (kurzweilai.net). Although this may seem like an appealing option for some, others will decide to just get their brains preserved and copied onto chips so people can see their thoughts and what life was like in the past (brainpreservation.org). Their brains essentially may become a history lesson for the world. Either way, this technology would enable humans to continue with a “legacy” that would never come to a close because of a failing biological body (brainpreservation.org).
Mind uploading can also allow humans to put new information onto their brains without actively learning. Instead of going to sports practice one could just download the sport’s information onto their brain and automatically play like a professional. Although this may sound convenient it may take away the lessons learned while someone is trying to master a skill. This issue is just a piece of the larger issues associated with brain preservation as a whole. Although mind uploading in itself has tons of ethical implications to look at, I will be analyzing the safety, effectiveness, quality of life, and social issues of brain preservation. Safety and effectiveness are the most important issues because this technology requires the death of a patient before they can reach the promised immortal life; losing lives over this would be tragic for the families of those who tried it out and for the individuals themselves.
Brain preservation requires the death of a patient before their brain starts deteriorating with age (kurzweilai.net). Kenneth J. Hayworth is a scientist who tries to find ways to make brain preservation work (kurzweilai.net). He would like to use brain preservation so he can have a second chance at life. But there is an issue that arises with this process: one has to give up their life before they have reached the point of natural death. In this case it has the nature of “physician assisted suicide” (brainpreservation.org). Should doctors help their patients die so they can have a second life as modified humans with their brain’s information copied onto brain chips? Many may die at a younger age than they would have if they did not get brain preservation. If this technology does not work people may miss out on things that they always wanted to do because they were preoccupied with getting their brains preserved. While they were pursuing quantity of life they may lose their quality of life in their new robotic bodies. An athlete may not have the same mobility he had while he was living his first life for example. There may also be a situation where some people can successfully get their brains copied onto brain chips and live again while some may not. People may also have brain preservation and get mind uploads but it may just result in a copy of them. It may not be them in a conscious state. If this was the case, then there would be no point in getting this technology because a person would lose their life with or without brain preservation.
To analyze what makes us conscious, two individuals shared their perspectives on that. Bishop Stacy McQueen is a Pentecostal Pastor in Newark, NJ. The other individual is named Dr. Robert Felberg and he works at Overlook Hospital as a neurologist. These two individuals will share a Christian and a scientific perspective respectively. In the interviews with Bishop Stacy McQueen and Dr. Robert Felberg, they brought up an idea of identity and what makes us “human.” Based on a Christian perspective we are a “trichotomy” (McQueen). A body, soul, and a spirit make us up as humans and God created us to be broken up into three parts that way. He also shares that, “the life of the individual is not in the brain” but it “is in the spirit of the person” (McQueen). It is “because of this” that “the brain cannot retain life on its own (McQueen). The idea of one brain chip setting the identity of a robotic human in the future does not agree with a Christian perspective; a scientific perspective does not go along with that idea also. It shares that a human’s identity and what makes him human is the fact that he “dreams,” “thinks”, and feels “emotion” (Felberg). The thoughts and ambitions of a human determine his being and not just a copy of a human’s “memories” according to a scientific perspective (brainpreservation.org).
Some may argue that brain preservation will be relatively safe because the desired amount of information to be preserved from a human brain is 99.9% (brainpreservation.org). That is the majority of our brains and may include the memories, abilities, and motor functions of a human (brainpreservation.org). It has not been specified what happens to the 0.1% but for now all humans experience life with 100% of their brains. But some may say that we do not use 100% of our brains and that losing only 0.l% of our brain in the brain preservation process will not be harmful. It may be just a small thing that will happen if brain preservation is used. That 0.1% may not be missed in the second life of a person. As long as they have their “memories” from their present life and mobility in their new bodies then, it won’t be necessary to have that 0.1% of information (brainpreservation.org).
A positive view on the effectiveness of brain preservation comes from a futurist named Ray Kurzweil. In Ray Kurzweil’s new book, How to Create a Mind, Ray Kurzweil shares a perspective on brain chips. He mentions how the thought process of a human will get “faster” with this form of technology (Kurzweil 123). He states, “…ultimately the digital neocortex will be much faster than the biological variety and will only continue to increase in speed” (Kurzweil 123). Speed seems to be a big part for the goals of brain technology in general. In terms of brain preservation and mind uploading, one can possibly download information onto their brain using little effort compared to actually reading or acting out the information. This will save people time and also may encourage an even faster society compared to ours today. Humans have microwaves to make food in minutes, the internet to make research an easy task, and online banking to avoid the long lines at the bank. Like these items listed brain preservation can make life more convenient.
A differing perspective on the effectiveness of brain preservation comes from the neurologist Dr. Felberg. The neurologist also shares that the “functions” of the brain are “quite complex and not well understood” (Felberg). The brain “seems to be more than the sum of its parts” (Felberg). The fact that the brain cannot be explained contributes to the belief that brain preservation may not work in a neurologist’s perspective. The effectiveness of this technology is not accepted and the safety is not either. He “believes that it is morally wrong to actively cause the death of another” (Felberg). Brain preservation requires “physician assisted suicide” and since its effectiveness is questioned, this technology should be considered unsafe (brainpresrvation.org).
There is a Brain Preservation Foundation that raises awareness about brain preservation and what it can offer to society. The foundation has a website and it put down some rights people should have with this technology. For example, they clearly stated that this technology will not be forced on individuals (brainpreservation.org). It will be one’s choice if they want to have brain preservation. They also tried to make sure that for those who want brain preservation, they will be assured of the fact that 99.9% of their brain would be preserved (brainpreservation.org). However, there are some rights on their website that involve equity. The Brain Preservation Foundation wants to make sure everyone has access to this technology, but that is not possible with the estimated price for brain preservation being about two thousand dollars (brainpreservation.org). But there is a problem with this price…everyone may not have two thousand dollars. People in the United States and around the world may not have this amount of money lying around in their bank accounts or they may not have health insurance; this may cause some of them to opt out of brain preservation when they really want to try it. Some may die in their sleep or get killed before they can raise enough funds to get this technology or attain health insurance. So now we would have a situation where some have had their brains preserved and some have not based on their funds or the fact that one’s mortality (for now) can fail at any moment. Is it fair for some to have this technology and live again while others cannot? People did not have to worry about paying for their biological lives.
This brings up the question of: “Can one really put a price on life or in this case living again?” In terms of the Brain Preservation Foundation, one needs to put a price on this technology because the price of labor, tools, etc. needs to be accounted for. Getting the procedure done requires money but the actual life of the person is priceless. When a baby is born, the baby does not have to pay for coming into this world. Its parents have to pay for the labor, tools, etc. for the baby to be born. It’s the labor they are paying for, not the actual life. So when doctors try to bring back people from their preserved brains, are people paying for their second life or are they just paying for the labor? Remember that the person in their biological state has already been born and came into the world without a price on his life. While one may pay for this technology to have a second life one should consider whether they are just paying for the actual technology and labor or they are paying for both their second life and the labor. In the second life, scientists give the individual his arms, legs, torso, eyes, ears, nose, hands, fingers, feet, toes, mouth, and most importantly mind. In the individual’s first life in his biological state he did not have to pay for those things. Some may argue that people have to pay for prosthetic limbs in order to live or at least have a better quality of life. To feel a little bit more at ease about paying for services, Dr. Robert Felberg agrees with the fact that people have to pay for this technology. He says, “It is inevitable that all health care would need to be paid for somehow” (Felberg). In this case when it comes to paying for healthcare, both sides of those who are for brain preservation and those who are against it agree. But there is a gray line between paying for services and paying for the actual life when it comes to brain preservation. If an individual ultimately has to pay for his second life along with the services, one has to wonder why they were set at a price for a second life, when they came into their first life (biological state) for free. Are they paying just for the services and/or for a second life? Is someone worth the brain preservation price?
As I researched more about brain preservation, I noticed that people may lose the appreciation they have for life. People today die and they know they have a limited amount of time to do the things that they always wanted to do. This lack of time makes people realize that life is precious and that it needs to be taken seriously. A Christian perspective on treasuring life is that life “would probably get worse than what it is now…” through brain preservation. “Sanity” is believed to be “maintained” “because we fear certain things happening to us.” People may take their lives for granted if they could live forever. If they had a limit on how long they could live, they would make decisions on what they want to do with their lives wisely. If people knew they had unlimited time to do whatever they wanted without the fear of ever dying, they may get into mischief. Some may get into a life of crime knowing that they will not get the death penalty. However, this will allow society to just adapt to the fact that humans can live forever, and that different punishments that would threaten people mortally would have to be transformed into punishments that can threaten people immortally. For example, they may have a computer virus of some sort that can be downloaded onto a brain chip. For those who commit crime they may receive this virus, and it may take away the criminal’s focus or it may give them unsettling thoughts for a period of time. They could also not give a criminal in their biological state the option of being “revived” if they are preserved (brainpreservation.org). “Revived” simply means that the criminal will not be able to live again as a robotic human (brainpreservation.org). However, if society does not adapt its punishments for crime with this brain technology, then society may end up with a lot of individuals who see themselves as invincible beings who can do whatever they want.
In one of my case studies I read an interview done by Frontline some years ago. In this particular interview a woman named Estelle Strongin shared her views on life. She holds a steady job and she is a driven ninety-four old woman. In this interview she shares how her goals drive her life (pbs.org). She also shares that people are afraid of death but they also need to make goals to make the most of their life (pbs.org). If they do not make goals then they will wastes the limited time that they have.
For those who treasure life like Estelle, they know that the major thing that makes it
so valuable is that it does not last for everyone. However if brain preservation came into existence the view on life may change. People could live forever or they could have the option for living as long as they wanted to. Since life ends at one point, people try to make goals for themselves and try to do as many things as they can with their lives. Strongin herself said she “had ambitions” at the age of ninety-four (pbs.org). But if our lives were extended to the point of where we were immortal on earth, people may lose that “ambition” and just do the things that they want to at a slow pace (pbs.org). Some may even decide to take risks mentioned earlier where more people may get into a life of crime. Another fact is that if people lived forever, adapting to this amount of time may be hard for them. Dr. Felberg shares that “humans would find eternity not to our liking.” He also says that humans “are not designed to appreciate this length of time (Felberg). Since living forever, is not common today, living forever in the future would be a hard thing for humans to cope with. People are not used to never seeing anyone die or never dying themselves. How will people respond to that? People may be excited to see that their loved ones are still alive but it may be psychologically pressing when a person has run out of things to do when they are one thousand years old. Immortality which used to seem like bliss may turn into torment.
In one’s biological life, they may gain many friends and they may have the support of their family. However, if a person happens to live longer than their friends and family they may grow lonely. This feeling of loneliness may increase as one may get their brain preserved. Estelle Strongin said that with the loss of family and friends comes a lesson “that teaches you to get over your fear of death” (pbs.org). However, if death was eliminated for her through brain preservation and the rest of her friends did not receive this technology, she would be left with the sadness of losing loved ones for the rest of her immortal life. In this case, living forever could become tortuous. The neurologist, Dr. Felberg touches on this matter: “…death is also a release of the suffering of life and allows new life to form” (Felberg). Near the end of a human’s life they may be going through the pain of losing friends and family to death. The only logical way for them to escape their situation of loneliness is surrendering to death itself. However if some people lived forever, there would be no way to escape the pain of losing loved ones who decided not to get brain preservation. While dying is seen as a negative thing in society today, it can actually be a good thing to avoid the torture of being lonely.
Now if Estelle Strongin’s friends and family had their brains preserved then they would prevent “new life” from forming (Felberg). “New life” here means more babies (Felberg). The more people that get their brains preserved the fewer babies there will be if people start walking around in robotic bodies. This would result in a stagnant population where the same people who were living one thousand years ago are the same ones living four thousand years into the future. There would be no new faces on earth and people may forget what it was like to have a child. This may hurt the preserved people psychologically and cause them to have lower quality of lives. But the good thing about everyone getting brain preservation is that people do not have to deal with being lonely and they can actually have a good time with their friends and family who would have died without this technology. It also allows them to keep living out their legacies without the interruption of death.
…John was part of a very small group of people who were willing to try out brain preservation. He had big dreams with an immortal life. He wanted to get married, have various careers as a professional athlete, doctor, lawyer, writer, engineer, astronaut, astronomer, biologist, etc. There were many things he planned on doing with all of the time he thought he was going to have. However, the process did not work out and he ended up dying. He never got to live out his full biological life because he was too pre-occupied with having a second one. People mourned for him and the others who lost their lives to brain preservation. The other subjects had some form of life before they died. They at least got to live to sixty, have a career, and a nice family. Too bad John was just eighteen.
With brain preservation and the rest of the technologies associated with it slowly making a rise toward reaching its ultimate goal of immortality, I urge everyone reading or listening to this paper to embrace the life that they have now. Do not worry about the possibility of living forever on earth because it may extinguish the one life you have. I agree with Bishop Stacy McQueen that scientists can remain in their studies of brain preservation, but just for the purposes of learning more about the brain and possibly increasing the quality of life for those who may have brain illnesses (Mcqueen). If they reach their goal, I think it should not be given to the public. If people were too preoccupied with having a second life then they may lose out on their first life. For example, if people get too busy with their jobs then they may miss out spending time with their families. The excessive time spent on the job can never be retrieved and people would have less time to spend with their families. I see this as the same way for brain preservation. If people spent all of their time trying to acquire this technology, then they would have lost the time would have had with their families or reaching their goals in life.
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Olivia Parker is a sophomore who has been attending Kent Place for two years now. When she heard about the bioethics program her freshman year she wanted to participate in it because she wants to have a career in the medical field. As a science fiction lover, the ethical issues of brain preservation was the topic for her. She cannot wait to apply the analytical skills she learned from bioethics to her classes and life after high school.