Scientists Are Giving Dead Brains New Life. What Could Go Wrong? – The New York Times

“But there was a worst-case scenario: A partly revived post-mortem brain, trapped in a feverish nightmare, perpetually reliving the very moment of its slaughter. ‘Imagine the ultimate sensory-deprivation tank,’ a member of the N.I.H.’s Neuroethics Working Group told me. “No inputs. No outputs. In your brain, nobody can hear you scream.'”

—Matthew Shaer—Scientists Are Giving Dead Brains New Life. What Could Go Wrong?The New York Times. July 2, 2019.

Brain in a Vat

“In a challenge to the idea that brain death is final, researchers have revived the disembodied brains of pigs four hours after the animals were slaughtered. Although the experiments stopped short of restoring consciousness, they raise questions about the ethics of the approach — and, more fundamentally, about the nature of death itself. ”

—Sara Reardon, “Pig brains kept alive outside body for hours after death.” Nature. April 17, 2019.

Reminds me of a question I heard about whether anyone is still conscious during organ harvesting. The idea of being vivisected while conscious is serious nightmare fuel.

Brain in a vat has the potential to be worse because it could go on indefinitely, see Iain M. Banks Surface Detail as one possibility.

Biohacking Bullshit

I’m seeing more articles about “biohacking” by rich dudes. One subset seems to be looking for immortality, or at the very least to extend their lives or mitigate the effects of ageing.

It strikes me as the archetypical problem of a beautiful woman trying to keep their looks as they get older. All of us go through it, this diminishment. I suppose it’s even harder when you were exceptionally beautiful, athletic, perhaps even smart, and you start to lose it, or even have to acknowledge that you could lose it, as part of the ageing process.

Something about this makes me sad, that pretending life or a particular attribute doesn’t end in some ways robs us of the perspective of transience, a perspective that endows every life with value because it is of a time and unique.

There’s another subset that in looking to optimize their lives. Tools for Titans by Timothy Ferriss is an excellent example of this tendency. It reminds me of a Donald Knuth quote:

“[P]remature optimization is the root of all evil.”

We don’t know enough to optimize human life. We can get some broad strokes, such as it is a good idea to exercise and eat a lot of vegetables. But, getting down deeper? How many minutes of exercise or cups of broccoli? We simply don’t know enough.

No matter the motivation, experiments like taking hundreds of supplements, injecting stem cells into joints, anti-ageing blood transfusions, etc., strikes me as an excellent way to have bad unintended consequences that shorten lives rather than lengthen them.

CPR as Death Ritual | Topic

“Only about one in five receiving CPR in a hospital leave the hospital alive.

Only 1 in 10 elderly patients receiving CPR are alive a year later…

…A society’s death rituals make a statement not only about what it means to die, but also what it means to live.

For a world obsessed with technology, our final rites are a last communion with data and machines.”

—Nathan Gray. “What Doctors Know About CPR.” Topic. December 2018.

CPR has a place, but it’s a small one. It should never be a piece of theater for families that cannot accept the fact that death comes to us all, and modern medicine cannot prevent it.