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.

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.

Modern Dying

“I have heard it said that modern dying means dying more, dying over longer periods, enduring more uncertainty, subjecting ourselves and our families to more disappointments and despair. As we are enabled to live longer, we are also condemned to die longer. In that case, it should come as no surprise that some of us seek out the means to bring a dignified end to the ordeal, while we are still capable of deciding matters for ourselves. Where is the crime in that? A sorrowful goodbye, a chance to kiss each beloved face for the last time before sleep descends, pain retreats, dread dissolves, and death is defeated by death itself.”

—Cory Taylor, Dying: A Memoir. (Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2017), 140-141.

Dying Isn’t the End of the World

“‘Dying isn’t the end of the world,’ my mom liked to joke, after she was diagnosed as terminal. I didn’t really understand it until, suddenly, I did—when my breast cancer became metastatic and incurable. There are so many things that are worse than death: old grudges; a loveless life; insufficient self-awareness; severe constipation; a lack of curiosity; no sense of humor; this grim parking lot.”

—Riggs, Nina. “The Crematorium.”  Catapult. August 8, 2016

Nina Riggs died last month.