As a follow up to my last article about the possibility of immortality through computers, I thought it would be good to discuss all the incredible feedback and expand on the possibility of immortality/life preservation even further.
Incase you missed it, I discussed the possibility of immortality by uploading ones mind onto a computer/robotic system. After posting that and receiving the mass of feedback both supporting and critiquing the concept, I began to think even more about the possibility of preserving ones mind beyond the lifespan of it’s bodily limits.
Certainly moving ones mind to a computer may seem possible, but many brought up the great point that I touched on at the end of my previous article. Even though a computer may have your memories and function as you do, the transfer of your ‘consciousness’ might not actually survive. Simply leaving a copy of you that has not preserved your true self. The reasoning behind this is that a brains function is not only reliant on a type of copiable coded information, but also on a very intricate chemical/physical structure that only the human brain has. We can’t be sure if a consciousness requires this physical and chemical make-up to exist, but assuming it does, uploading onto a computer does not seem like a true way of achieving “immortality”. It’s simply passing along your likeness to a machine.
So continuing with the assumption that our brains are so unique that a consciousness can’t exist without them. How do we live forever? Many would just stop there and say we can’t, but anything is possible within the laws of the universe (which we aren’t even close to fully understanding). So let’s figure out a way to preserve our minds without a computer…If your consciousness relies on a body to exist, what do we need? Notice how I said ‘a’ body. Not ‘your’ body. Theoretically, the mind only requires a means to exist, i.e. a brain and something to keep that brain alive (pumping blood and oxygen to it). The actual existing of a consciousness all comes down to the processing, analyzing and storing of information/data. So this means that we don’t need OUR specific body/brain to exist. Granted our bodies are made according to our DNA which does have a big impact on who we are; our actual consciousness is relatively separate. The French philosopher René Descartes, famous for his quote “Cogito ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am)” had the opinion that our thoughts, personalities and minds are mostly divorced from our bodies.
Descartes and other dualist philosophers propose that while the mind exerts control over our physical interaction with the world, there is a clear delineation between body and mind; that our material forms are simply temporary housing for our immaterial souls. – Scientific American
With that said, a recent study has shown that our minds actually are connected to our bodies. Suggesting that our state of mind can actually change the build up of our DNA based on how we use it.
The body and mind appear inextricably linked. And findings from a new study published in Cancer by a Canadian group suggest that our mental state has measurable physical influence on us – more specifically on our DNA. – Scientific American
The study shows that in breast cancer patients, practicing mindfulness meditation and attending support groups actually preserves the length of our DNA’s telomeres. While there are no specific diseases caused by shortened telomeres, people with cancer and similar diseases tend to have shorter more withered ones.
While mind/consciousness may have an affect on your DNA, this doesn’t mean we need our specific body to survive. This just means that our mind has an impact on the body it is utilizing. So where does this leave us when it comes to preserving our consciousness?
Well…it leaves us with a few options. We either need a fresh body/brain to transfer our current consciousness to, a fresh brain that can exist without a body, or we need to be able to keep our existing brain from deteriorating. Perhaps putting it into a machine that can keep it living and functioning.
Let’s start with the first option, a fresh body/brain. With all the recent advancements in the growing and 3d printing of body parts and organs, it is inevitable that we will eventually be able to successfully generate a perfectly engineered human body. It’s just going to happen. We can currently grow limbs and multiple different functioning organs using a receiving patients own cells. This means that there is no chance of rejection. It’s only a matter of time that we will be able to print a fully functioning human body and brain.
We can take cells from you, create the structure, put it right back into you, they will not reject. And if possible, we’d rather use the cells from your very specific organ. If you present with a diseased wind pipe we’d like to take cells from your windpipe. If you present with a diseased pancreas we’d like to take cells from that organ. – Anthony Atala
We obviously don’t know when this technology will advance to the bio engineering of full human bodies, but there is no doubt in my mind that it will be possible. So what happens when we can grow a complete, functioning human body and brain? Well, we need a consciousness to insert into it. Theoretically, inserting ones mind into a new brain would work. Bringing the person being transferred to life in the new body. The only factor we don’t understand at this point is the physical transferring of the consciousness. But it’s not hard at all to imagine there being a way to move the electrical signals that make up your consciousness/ mind to a new brain that has been constructed using your cells. But it’s currently not understood how. This is where companies like Humai come in. Leading me smoothly into the second option of having a machine that can contain a human mind and keep it alive and functioning.
We’re using artificial intelligence and nanotechnology to store data of conversational styles, behavioral patterns, thought processes and information about how your body functions from the inside-out. This data will be coded into multiple sensor technologies, which will be built into an artificial body with the brain of a deceased human. – Josh Bocanegra, Founder of Humai
Obviously facing significant challenges, i.e. resurrecting a deceased brain and wiring it up as to control a silicon-based machine; Josh Bocanegra and Humai aim to make all this a reality. Popsci was able to interview him and discuss some of the challenges facing the process.
Our mission is fairly simple to understand but obviously difficult to execute. We’ll first collect extensive data on our members for years prior to their death via various apps we’re developing. After death we’ll freeze the brain using cryonics technology. When the technology is fully developed we’ll implant the brain into an artificial body. The artificial body functions will be controlled with your thoughts by measuring brain waves. – Josh Bocanegra
While this may sound like what I discussed in my last article, it’s actually quite different and nixes out the problem of only creating a copy of your likeness. Josh Bocanegra wants to develop a silicon based robotic body, and then insert/connect the actual human brain to it.
This would not require any movement of ones consciousness, just a system that can keep it alive and functioning. Pretty much like the heads in Futurama. Then the only problematic factor is combating brain age/decay (my third point), which Josh claims will be possible using nano and cloning technology to repair cells.
As the brain ages we’ll use nanotechnology to repair and improve cells. Cloning technology is going to help with this too. – Josh Bocanegra
Does this sound like a viable option for sustained life if not “immortality”? With no actual transferring/copying of the brains consciousness, there is no possibility of the resurrected brain being a copy. It will HAVE to be that person, assuming the brain wakes up.
We believe we can resurrect the first human within 30 years. – Josh Bocanegra
First tests will have to be done on a recently dead person, as we still do not know if freezing a mind for a long period of time will actually preserve ones self without memory and function loss. If we were to transplant a brain from a recently deceased person into a machine possessing all necessary elements to keep the brain alive, why wouldn’t it work? If it’s transferred within the 6-10 minute window before the brain begins to die, there is no evidence to show that it wouldn’t work. Long term freezing doesn’t seem far fetched either, with certain surgical procedures keeping people in a clinically dead state for over 30 minutes with no negative effects.
During certain surgical procedures, patients are routinely held in a clinically dead state at temperatures between +12°C and +18°C for 30 minutes or more with no brain electrical activity and later wake with memories intact. Retention of memory has also been proven in other large mammals after cooling to +10°C, three hours of clinical death at +3°C. – Cryonics Wikipedia
While this is all still in it’s very early stages and mostly speculation based on evidence at hand, there have been such great advances in bioengineering that some of it seems extremely plausible. While the actual transferring of someone’s mind (whether it be to a new body or computer) seems to have it’s flaws until we full understand how the mind functions. Preserving/moving a brain to a body and or machine seems more plausible than ever. The first human head transplant is on schedule to take place in 2017. The doctor who is planning on attempting it already has a willing patient. He has successfully fixed severed spinal cords in mice and has even made a successful head transplant with a monkey.
Once we’ve successfully transplanted a human head, we will begin to better understand the signals sent from the brain and how to reconnect them. This will in turn lead to the possibility of connecting a brain and/or head to not only a new body, but a machine, as Humai hopes to do.
So what do you think? Will we be able to grow a human brain/body and succesfully transfer someones mind to it, or will we need to create a machine and attempt to preserve our current mind. Is Humai’s claim of 30 years too human resurrection on a machine too ambitious? Let us know.
References: Popular Science – Science Alert – Science Mag – Collective Evolution – Wake Forest School of Medicine 2 – TED – Scientific American – Huffington Post – Gizmodo – Business Insider – The Independent – IFL Science – IB Times – Wikipedia