A Totally Different Head

One of the ironies of the information age is we are probably dumber as a result of the sea of information in which all of us now swim. Some of it is due to the volume of information coming at us. It’s just too hard to sort the nonsense from the truth. At the same time, publications are so desperate to get our attention, they are willing to post the most outlandish click bait. People naturally assume there is some effort by publishers to vet their stories.

Mass media seems to have encouraged the production of bullshit too. Social science stories are a pretty good example. The researchers slap on a press release that wildly overstates their results, because they know the stupid people in the media will run with it. The result is we get, often on the same day, a report saying coffee causes cancer and coffee prevents cancer. In reality, the studies are crap and don’t pass the laugh test, but that no longer matters.

Anyway, that’s always important to keep in mind when reading any medical story these days. This one about head transplants is a good example.

After more than a year of deliberation, the controversial Italian has set a date of “around Christmas 2017” in China to perform the first ever human head transplant.

He said that his team of Chinese scientists and the technology are now ready to perform the operation, and that the only obstacles needed to be overcame now are funding and, perhaps the most problematic of all, ethical approval.

Dr Canavero said: “We’re looking at a date around Christmas 2017 to perform the transplant in China.

“The Chinese team has already experimented on human cadavers to hone the technology.”

He added that the patient, who will be Chinese, could make a full recovery within a year of the procedure.

The Italian had said that he would perform the controversial operation on Russian patient Valery Spiridonov – a sufferer of a rare muscle-wasting disorder, but he said that he could not find a donor in China due to biological reasons.

Despite the obvious high-risks associated with the surgery, which will see Canavero remove a person’s head and put it onto another body, he says that he has established a way to perform it successfully.

He will cool both the donor and recipient to 12C so that cells don’t die due to a lack of oxygen.

He explained: “This’ll give enough time to cut the tissue around each neck and link the majorblood vessels through tiny tubes.”

The recipient will then be kept in a medically induced coma for several weeks “to limit movement of the newly fused neck, while electrodes stimulate the spinal cord to strengthen its new connections.”

That last bit is where I get off the bus. Medicine has been stymied by this for a generation which is why they have had no success treating spinal cord injuries. As of now, there is no way to reattach a severed spinal cord. It’s why we have protocols for handling suspected spinal injuries. It is to prevent further damage that could come from a broken vertebra. If these head transplant guys have figured out how to reattach a spinal cord, that would be a huge breakthrough for medicine.

The technical aspects are just one part of it. The human brain grows and develops with the body. This proposed procedure is not a head transplant; it is a body transplant. The brain would have to instantly figure out how every cell in the new body works without making a mistake. We know from stroke victims that “re-learning” basic functions can take years. Your brain would take a lifetime to figure out how to use a whole new body.

That said, it does bring up an interesting subject. Our sense of self lives in our consciousness, but is intimately tied to our physical self. The new body would most likely trigger a degree of madness that is unimaginable to us. Even schizophrenics can rely on their fingers moving as expected and their eyes blinking without any surprises. Imagine ever conceivable sense being foreign and relentlessly assaulting the patient’s mind.

That would be the great challenge for the singularity guys. Uploading yourself to the grid assumes you can digitally recreate all of the sensory inputs that make up your sense of self. You may be able to upload your mind to the internet, but the result is you go insane and are erased by an anti-virus program. Since you can’t know these things in advance, the singularity could very well be nothing more than a brief period of madness before death.

14 thoughts on “A Totally Different Head

  1. Pingback: Want Head? | News Headquarters

  2. I can tell you what the reaction of most young people is to too much information–it is to believe what everybody in the room believes and hang on to that like it’s the nuclear football.

  3. I suspect people are getting stupider, not just more ignorant, although ignorance does tend to beget stupid.

    OSHA has contributed to a dirty gene pool (Of course there are many other contributing factors far to numerous to mention here.). A machine shop in the 20’s, with no belt or blade guards, open face carbon pile rheostats, continuous belt man lifts, etc. would have a crew of young workers followed by a 5 or 10 year age break and then older workers. The normal hazards of the workplace killed/culled the dumb ones leaving the smarter ones to produce the next generation.

    The acceptance of the outlandish in this century is, I think, due to a population that is both stupider and much more ignorant than that which welcomed in the last century, more so than just information overload.

    Science as perhaps 99.99% of the people today understand it is based on consensus, not on reproducible experimental results.

    News Reporters used to built stories around ‘who, what were, when. Today’s reporters are only interested in asking an interviewee/victim, -no matter if the story is about a hurricane, or a women’t bathroom or whatever; “And how did that make you feel?”

    It’s been many generations, I’ll say at least 4, for an arbitrary number, since critical thinking has been part of the national (Hell, not just national, the world. ) education system. If you are part of the 4 generation group I referred to above, and you can indulge in critical thought, it is highly unlikely that you learned such skills within the walls of academia.

    This, the lack of any ability to weigh and evaluate data, to pursue a concept to a logical conclusion, to critically evaluate the pros and cons of any statement containing more than one polysyllabic word, is, I think one of the ironies of the information age, -not the vast sea of data but the loss over the last few generations of skill sets necessary to process it.

  4. I think the smart longevity money is on DNA retro-virus treatments followed by an endocrin reset. Fix all the bad copies of cells, then reset hormones to a late-20’s level. Taking the consciousness out of the body is way off.

    • At 85 I’ve made a couple of mistakes and learned a few things. You can go screw your “reset hormones to a late-20’s level.” I wouldn’t remake those mistakes and relearn the things I’ve learned for all the bananas in Ecuador.

  5. I don’t see what the big deal is about a head transplant.
    Dr. Frankenstein successfully performed this feat well over a hundred years ago.
    They even made movies about it in the 1930s starring Boris Karloff though it was tough to actually identify him on the screen as “the” Boris Karloff, what with those bolts sticking out of his neck, the very limited dialogue he was given to work with and his bizarre, square shaped face which looked, amazingly enough , not too unlike those of American comic book action heroes.

    As an aside, eating eggs will kill you – clogged arteries and all; unless it is post, say, 2005, in which case eating eggs is now OK. That’s called scientific progress; post 2005 they got hens to lay healthy eggs but the previous 45 years the eggs would kill you because they fed hens junk food – potato chips, nitrate/nitrite laden beef jerky, cake, cookies, etc . Now they are feed broccoli, fresh fruit, fat-free yogurt, so all is fine…. nothing to now worry about other than global warming.

  6. We’re outsourcing more and more of our intelligence. A lot of people I know can’t navigate anymore since the GPS does that for them.

    I don’t think you upload your consciousness all at once. You keep outsourcing bits of your intellect to the machines. Right now it’s your navigation and spelling skills. As interfaces become more facile and software becomes more accommodating, more and more gets outsourced. Increasingly, it’s your memories, your motor skills (like backing up or parallel parking), or your social life (social media).

    In the end, all that remains outside the machine is the Will. By slow erosion, the rest of you has already been “Booleanized.” (I think that is the right word to describe the transition from the analog processes of the brain to the binary operation of the machines.) I am not clear as to how one would accomplish uploading the Will, but no doubt someone will come up with an algorithm.

    I am not a huge fan of any of this. But humans are lazy, perverse, and willful, and l cannot foresee a future where humans do not continue to outsource our intellects to the machines up to the limits of the machines’ abilities. So if the machines become capable enough for us to upload the Will, we will. If Moore’s Law loses its validity (we seem to have reached its limit in the silicon domain), then expect 10-20 more years of intellectual outsourcing as software catches up to hardware. Then, stagnation.

    • I agree with you, el baboso, and unfortunately this turn from intellectual skills such as spelling and reading maps has devolved further to include information gathering. Mr. Google is everyone’s best friend, and what he doesn’t know, Mr. Wiki can answer. I love to be able to google quick facts, but I don’t use it as a substitute for acquiring real knowledge via books and research. An awful lot of people today want the quick answer, that really might not even be correct. How would they know if they don’t have the ability to research? Does anyone under the age of 30 even know how to read a map? Maybe the future of humans will not include problem-solving skills and this part of our brain will atrophy. Our robots will do our thinking for us. Sounds like a depressing future.

  7. Obscure SF show “The Collector” [it was about a man who, as penance of his own, collected souls for the Devil, more or less] had an episode in which a young woman who [I think] had been raped or suffered some other severe trauma turned her [coincidentally] top-drawer neurological and IT skills to creating a robot body for herself. Our anti-hero tried hard to persuade her it wouldn’t work. In the end she ‘ transferred her consciousness ‘ successfully but couldn’t make the body move and her thoughts [audible to the audience] took on an eerie mechanical quality.

    Now the subsequent conversation between the lead character and his master got a bit faux metaphysical, and relied on the notion that she could get all the nerve connections perfect and even transfer mind, memory, and even personality, but could not transfer “will” or motivation to move. That struck me as too pat by half. But at least the ending didn’t assume such a transfer would be easy given the neurological wiring knowhow.

  8. Oh there you go with details. Never mind. To these guys, it appears they just think “parts is parts.” You know, like a carburetor or solenoid or some other part.

  9. You want to know the other reason we are stupider? We have gone from words back to pictures. We no longer read words and visualize the descriptions in our minds. We just get pictures. I fully expect the icons on the next iPhones to be stick figures.

    • I agree with this, but I’m not sure the causal arrows don’t point both ways. It used to be you had to have something on the ball to work in an office or a retail establishment. Everyone else worked in the fields, the factories, trades, etc. Then we shipped a lot of those jobs away or automated them. So, we dumbed down the office and retail jobs. I’m fond of pointing out that very smart people made it possible for very dumb people to overwhelm the smart people online.

      At the same time, when you live in a world of pictionary, you’re going to lose your edge, even if you are very bright. My attention span has shortened due to life on-line.

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