DeFlip Side #125: Immortal Thoughts

DS125.mp3

Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

As I’ve stated time and again over these airwaves, I plan to live forever. And my intent has always been to have my head frozen against some magical future date in which I can be revived in an immortal new body and go off gallivanting around the Moons of Nibia, the Antares Maelstrom and perdition’s flames.

But contrary to how simple and adventuresome Khan Noonian Singh makes it seem, cryogenic preservation worries me. While I’m sure that successful revival will one day be possible, I’m less convinced that there will ever be a facility secure enough to preserve my frozen parts indefinitely. The horror stories from the early days of the cryogenics movement easily spoil any such notion.

And since not spoiling is the entire point, surely there must be an alternative?

* * * DeFlip Side will be right back after these messages! * * *

Say! Are you a busy transhumanist on the go, with no time to worry about the long-term efficacy of the cryo-preservation industry?

Well chum, put those worries in the deep freeze with Plastination! Yes, Plastination—a chemical process that replaces your gooey organic matter with space age polymers, creating a specimen that lasts forever! Plastinate your brain! Plastinate your abs! Plastinate your dog! It’s all the longevity, with none of the pesky rot! Yes, Plastination! With Plastination, your immortality is in the bag!

(Operators are standing by.)

* * * We now continue with DeFlip Side! * * *

Okay, so we’re having some fun there, but plastination is very real. Ever go to one of those “Bodies” exhibits where they have human figures in various states of dissection posed in the midst everyday activities? That’s done through plastination, a process developed in Germany in 1978 that lets you take any organic sample—an eye, a brain, an entire body—and replace the fats and proteins with polymers like silicone, epoxy or something called polyester-copolymers. Polyester-copolymers, has kind of a groovy 70s leisure suit vibe…

Grooviness aside, the upshot of plastination is that it replicates and maintains the structure of the original organism down to its individual cells. And that’s where the immortality comes in.

The theory goes that if you could plastinate your brain at death, you could indefinitely preserve its delicate neural pathways and synapses—the infrastructure that supports your brain chemistry, your memories, your identity and everything else that makes you uniquely YOU. And not only preserves them, but does so as a durable hunk of plastic. Medical schools already use plastinated organs routinely—including brains.

Now let’s take this one step further. Projected advances in imaging, scanning and computer technology make it highly likely that scientists at some future date will be able read this rubberized neurological roadmap and recreate you in some fashion—say as a virtual computer consciousness with access to a robotic body; or even an all-out flesh and blood reconstruction using your preserved brain as a template. It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Scientists are already using printers to build entirely new organs, cell by cell by cell.

This notion of whole brain preservation holds such potential for life extension that there’s even a Brain Preservation Technology Prize. The purse is currently about $106,000 and will go to whoever comes up with an inexpensive, surgical, long-term brain preservation technique—a technique, to quote the contest rules, “with such fidelity that the structure of every neuronal process and every synaptic connection remains intact and traceable using today’s electron microscopic imaging techniques.”

So the prize is fair game for any viable preservation method, not just plastination—though that is the main area of research for the The Brain Preservation Foundation which is sponsoring the contest. And though perfect plastination of an entire brain has yet to be achieved, it’s only a matter of time. Or so says Dr. Kenneth Hayworth, one of the Brain Preservation Foundation’s founders and a leading pioneer in this research. Here he is in a recent webchat:

“If there was really a concerted effort to develop… technologies for brain preservation, it would be easy to have a hospital procedure that is high reliability ready to go in every hospital, if we wanted to, well before the end of the decade. It is all a matter of will.”

Think about it. Perfect preservation by 2020. But that’s only the first step. The Brain Preservation Foundation also plans to map the entire human connectome—which is basically the wiring diagram for the brain. This incredibly complex endeavor will require years of research, which should be made easier by advances in imaging technology that are already on the horizon. And once we’re able to accurately map the connectome, and to create 3D computer reconstructions of the synaptic connections between neurons, the hows and whys of brain function should become more apparent.

As Hayworth told The New York Times in 2010:

“We will understand how this network of neurons is connected, how it stores memories, how it preserves the skills a person has and how these connections give rise to emotion. In 100 years, if we have the technology to bring someone back, it won’t be in a biological body. It is these scanning techniques and mind-uploading that, I think, will bring people back… (W)e have a cure to death right here. Why aren’t we pursuing it?”

A cure for death. Boy do I like the sound of that. And once we get the plastination part down, it doesn’t matter how long the connectome mapping takes. Our perfectly preserved brains can ride out the wait, perhaps as cherished family heirlooms or cherished family paperweights, without fear of power outages or premature thaws.

Best of all, plastination will be cheap—like $2,000 to $3,000 cheap. A far cry from the $90,000  to $150,000 price tag attached to cryopreservation. And let’s face it, if I’m going to plunk down cold hard cash in pursuit of some pipedream of immortality, I’m going with the pipedream that won’t beggar my survivors.

And since I’m eventually going to be one of those survivors myself, I’m throwing all my spare cash into commodities like gold, silver and Apple stock to bankroll my future immortality. Never mind the cost of uploading my polyester-copolymered connectome into my new robot body. With my luck, pricey vintage leisure suits will be all the rage when I wake up. And if you can’t look good, what’s the sense of  staying alive?

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Visit The Brain Preservation Foundation website!

Watch Dr. Kenneth Hayworth’s Plastination Webchat