THE TRANSHUMANIST SCRAPBOOK: THE MADNESS OF THE SCIENCE CROWD: HEAD, ...March 9, 2015
The light at the end of the transhumanist tunnel is increasingly looking like it's an oncoming train. In this case, it may be a case of a literal sort of transhumanism, the transplanting of the biological center, if you will, of one human being into another, or the grafting of one to another. In this case, so many of you sent be various versions of the article that it would be impossible to mention you all, but it is worth taking careful note of this story, and its possible implications:
Now, obviously, the idea of head transplants in conjunction with transhumanist memes has been around, after a fashion, since Percy Shelley's Frankenstein (yes, I said Percy Shelley's, and not Mary Shelley's, Frankenstein. See my friend Scott D DeHart's Shelley Unbound). With a little digging, one can even find bizarre papers and in some cases patents for head transplant techniques going back to the 1950s and 1960s. The idea isn't new. In fact, in one of those curious synchronicities that one so often finds between "science fiction" and real life, Oxford literature don C.S. Lewis wrote of a head transplant in conjunction with "shady Italians" and a DARPA-like group called the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.), and Arthurian memes and Templar references in the last novel of his "space trilogy," That Hideous Strength.
The technique being proposed almost reads like Lewis' fantasia in That Hideous Strength, for in the novel, a convicted criminal's head, executed by guillotine in France, becomes the "donor" for NICE's experiment. Similarly, the new technique reads not only like an updated version of Shelley's Frankenstein but of That Hideous Strength as well:
"This month, he published a summary of the technique he believes will allow doctors to transplant a head onto a new body (Surgical Neurology International, doi.org/2c7). It involves cooling the recipient's head and the donor body to extend the time their cells can survive without oxygen. The tissue around the neck is dissected and the major blood vessels are linked using tiny tubes, before the spinal cords of each person are cut. Cleanly severing the cords is key, says Canavero.
"The recipient's head is then moved onto the donor body and the two ends of the spinal cord – which resemble two densely packed bundles of spaghetti – are fused together. To achieve this, Canavero intends to flush the area with a chemical called polyethylene glycol, and follow up with several hours of injections of the same stuff. Just like hot water makes dry spaghetti stick together, polyethylene glycol encourages the fat in cell membranes to mesh.
"Next, the muscles and blood supply would be sutured and the recipient kept in a coma for three or four weeks to prevent movement. Implanted electrodes would provide regular electrical stimulation to the spinal cord, because research suggests this can strengthen new nerve connections.
"When the recipient wakes up, Canavero predicts they would be able to move and feel their face and would speak with the same voice. He says that physiotherapy would enable the person to walk within a year. Several people have already volunteered to get a new body, he says.
"The trickiest part will be getting the spinal cords to fuse. Polyethylene glycol has been shown to prompt the growth of spinal cord nerves in animals, and Canavero intends to use brain-dead organ donors to test the technique. However, others are sceptical that this would be enough. "There is no evidence that the connectivity of cord and brain would lead to useful sentient or motor function following head transplantation," says Richard Borgens, director of the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana."(Italicized emphasis added).
Note the implications of the two italicized statements in the quotation above. Dr Canavero's approach to "reconnect" the transplanted head with a new "body" (raising the question, is this really a head transplant, or a body transplant?) strikes one as a kind of clumsy "shotgun" approach: immerse the (cleanly) severed spinal cords in polyethylene glycol and more or less "hope they interconnect." But in a supposedly "transhumanist" age when nanotechnology - one of the components of the transhumanists' favored GRIN technologies (Genetics, Robotics, Information processing, and Nanotechnology) - could conceivable perform such interconnections rapidly and accurately, one wonders which this head transplant idea and its macabre Shelley-esque techniques are being debated at all.Similarly, why even bother with nanotechnological "grafting" of this head on that body, when genetic therapies coupled with nanotechnology might be able to repair heads or bodies on a cell by cell level. And this the question: If one can envision the growing capabilities along the arc of development of each of these technologies, then why the push for "head/body transplant technology and techniques" at all?
Pursuing this line of reasoning, and tracing out the implications of the second italicized statement in the above quotation, one must then ask might there be a wholly hidden agenda that is being pursued in this latest proposal in a long line of "head transplant" proposals and experiments? The key, I suggest, is both obvious and occult(in perhaps all senses of the word). The obvious one is the notion of achieving some sort of "virtual immortality" by means of such techniques: "old body riddled with cancer? No problem. Just schedule your out-patient guillotining and head transplant with the receptionist." Dr Canavero suggests this is the real reason for his proposals.
But I suspect there are even deeper - high octane - ones. As I noted above, projecting the arc of the development of the GRIN technologies, such procedures as Dr Canavero is suggesting ultimately make no sense; they would simply be an unneeded and barbaric relic of a bygone "surgical" age. So why propose them at all? I suspect here the answer has to do with consciousness, and the attempt to "locate it" within the body, if one operates out of the assumptions of a materialist cosmology. I suspect the real hidden purpose may be that an attempt is being made to understand that mind-brain-consciousness-personhood link, and perhaps even be able to manipulate it.
It is perhaps significant that Lewis, in his novel, speculated that the severed head at NICE was kept "alive," only to become the masque not of the criminal personality that once dwelt in it, but of something else. It may even be significant that Lewis is successful in evoking the Templars and their own "severed head" charges without having to mention them by name.
See you on the flip side...