Using a method developed three years in the past, researchers from MIT and 21st Century Medicine have proven that it’s attainable to protect the microscopic buildings contained inside a big mammalian mind. The breakthrough means scientists now have the means to retailer and examine samples of the human mind over longer timescales—however the methodology may ultimately, perhaps, be used to resurrect the useless.
Back in 2015, we reported on how the identical staff, led by Robert McIntyre from MIT and Greg Fahy from 21st Century Medicine, was awarded the $26,735 Small Mammal Brain Preservation Prize, which is run by the Brain Preservation Foundation (BPF), a not-for-profit with the aim of furthering analysis in mind preservation.
In this case, the “small mammal mind” belonged to a rabbit, however a scaled-up model of the identical method has now been used to protect a pig’s mind, an accomplishment that has earned the staff—you guessed it—the BPF’s Large Mammal Brain Preservation Prize, which carries a handbag of $80,000.
Sounds like an incremental enchancment, however this newest step opens the door to human-specific medical functions, like the flexibility to check 3D sections of the human mind in beautiful element. More conceptually, the method may very well be used for long-term human biostasis. And the truth is, McIntyre is now working with this risk, and has cofounded a brand new firm known as Nectome with this said mission:
to protect your mind nicely sufficient to maintain all its recollections intact: from that nice chapter of your favourite ebook to the sensation of chilly winter air, baking an apple pie, or having dinner together with your family and friends. We imagine that throughout the present century it is going to be possible to digitize this data and use it to recreate your consciousness.
We’re nonetheless a good distance from importing our brains into a pc (something that may never happen), but when it ever turns into a actuality, we could look again on pioneering efforts comparable to these. As the BPF said in an accompanying press release, this mind preservation method, known as Aldehyde-Stabilized Cryopreservation (ASC), would allow sufferers—that’s, preserved brains in cryostorage—to “safely wait out these centuries” required to develop mind-uploading applied sciences. “For now, neuroscience is actively exploring the plausibility of thoughts importing by means of ongoing research of the physical basis of memory, and thru improvement of large-scale neural simulations and tools to map connectomes,” writes the BPF. “This Prize win ought to shine a highlight on such neuroscience analysis, underscoring its significance to humanity.”
Details of ASC have been printed within the science journal Cryobiology and independently verified by neuroscientists Kenneth Hayworth and Sebastian Seung, so this isn’t some idle transhumanist fantasy. The course of entails immersing a mammalian mind with a chemical stabilizer (a glutaraldehyde-based fixative) and cryoprotectants (to stop injury whereas cooling), then bringing it all the way down to -211 levels Fahrenheit (-135 levels Celsius) for long-term storage. In the occasion that scientists need to examine the preserved mind, both just a few months or just a few centuries from now, all they need to do is heat the mind and take away the cryopreservants. The finish end result is just not a organic substance, however a plastic-like object that also (theoretically) comprises the entire data that was packed contained in the mind in the mean time of loss of life.
It’s for that reason that the method is being heralded as a brand new type of cryonics. But in contrast to standard cryonics, the place a whole physique or head is preserved in a vat of liquid nitrogen, the ASC method makes no effort to protect organic perform. Instead, the aim is to stop “data theoretic mind loss of life,” whereby the “stuff” that’s wanted to revive an individual’s persona and recollections stays intact. Conceivably, slices of those preserved brains may very well be digitized and reconfigured in a pc to reconstruct an individual’s connectome—the totality of a mind’s particular inner wirings.
As reported in MIT Technology Review, McIntyre, together with enterprise associate Michael McCanna, will describe Nectome’s mind preservation system subsequent week at Y Combinator’s Demo Day in Mountain View, California. The Nectome staff has additionally spoken to attorneys about California’s End of Life Option Act, which makes doctor-assisted loss of life permissible for terminally sick sufferers; the concept right here is that the integrity of a mind preservation will work greatest when a affected person is euthanized earlier than a terminal sickness does injury to the physique and (particularly) the mind. Nectome isn’t preserving brains for purchasers but, however 25 folks have already been added to the corporate’s ready checklist, stories MIT Technology Review.
For these of you pondering this can be a path in direction of immortality, chances are you’ll be in for a profound disappointment. Technical hurdles apart, the ASC strategy doesn’t assure a continuity of consciousness. As talked about, this can be a type of damaging preservation, the place organic matter is mainly transmutated into a brief storage gadget. While your recollections and persona stand an opportunity of revival, your seat of consciousness will possible be obliterated forever. Brain preservation on this method is thus a type of suicide, however with information digital “copy” of chances are you’ll reside to see one other day.
But that is simply my opinion—we don’t but understand how consciousness works, so it’s nonetheless unattainable to know.