Bizarre Neuroscience Of Immortality:
Scientist Wants To Die So He Can Live Forever

31 July, 2012 - Immortality is a hot topic among scientists these days.

There are scientists who want to upload your brain into a hologram to keep you alive forever, and now there are even those who are willing to die in their quest for immortality.

This idea does truly deserve to be labeled strange and bizarre neuroscience.

Kenneth Hayworth, neuroscientist at the Harvard University is one of many people who would like to live forever. The difference is that Hayworth is prepared to do more than most to achieve immortality.

"There are those who say that death is just part of the human condition, so we should embrace it. 'I'm not one of those people, " says Hayworth.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Hayworth has to die before he can live forever.

It does sound somewhat illogical, but there is a scientific explanation as to why this is necessary.

Hayworth wants that brain to be his brain.

He wants his 100 billion neurons and more than 100 trillion synapses to be encased in a block of transparent, amber-colored resin - before he dies of natural causes.

"If your body stops functioning, it starts to eat itself, so you have to shut down the enzymes that destroy the tissue."

If all goes according to plan, he says cheerfully, "I'll be a perfect fossil," Hayworth explains.

"Then one day, not too long from now, his consciousness will be revived on a computer.

By 2110, Hayworth predicts, mind uploading-the transfer of a biological brain to a silicon-based operating system-will be as common as laser eye surgery is today.

It's the kind of scheme you expect to encounter in science fiction, not an Ivy League laboratory. But little is conventional about Hayworth, 41, a veteran of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a self-described "outlandishly futuristic thinker.

To understand why Hayworth wants to plastinate his own brain you have to understand his field-connectomics, a new branch of neuroscience.

A connectome is a complete map of a brain's neural circuitry.

The quest for immortality continues...

Some scientists believe that human connectomes will one day explain consciousness, memory, emotion, even diseases like autism, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's-the cures for which might be akin to repairing a wiring error," Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

This brings us to the so-called grand theory.

Among some connectomics scholars, there is a grand theory: We are our connectomes. Our unique selves - the way we think, act, feel - is etched into the wiring of our brains. Unlike genomes, which never change, connectomes are forever being molded and remolded by life experience.

A human connectome would be the most complicated map the world has ever seen. Yet it could be a reality before the end of the century, if not sooner, thanks to new technologies that "automate the process of seeing smaller," as Sebastian Seung puts it in his new book, Connectome: How The Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are.

How far should scientists go to find a way to become immortal?

Hayworth looks at the growth of connectomics - especially advances in brain preservation, tissue imaging, and computer simulations of neural networks - and sees something else: a cure for death. In a new paper in the International Journal of Machine Consciousness, he argues that mind uploading is an "enormous engineering challenge" but one that can be accomplished without "radically new science and technologies."

Should Hayworth idea be taken seriously?

J. Anthony Movshon, a professor of neural science and psychology at New York University regards "Hayworth's belief in immortality as, at best, an eccentric diversion, too silly to take seriously."

"But to Hayworth, science is about overturning expectations: "If 100 years ago someone said that we'd have satellites in orbit and little boxes on our desks that can communicate across the world, they would have sounded very outlandish." One hundred years from now, he believes, our descendants will not understand how so many of us failed for so long to embrace immortality."

"Here's how Hayworth envisions his own brain-preservation procedure. Before becoming "very sick or very old," he'll opt for an "early 'retirement' to the future," he writes. There will be a send-off party with friends and family, followed by a trip to the hospital.

"I'm not going in for some back-alley situation. We need to get the science right to convince the medical community. It's a very clear dividing line: I will not advocate any technique until we have good proof that it works."

After Hayworth is placed under anesthesia, a cocktail of toxic chemicals will be perfused through his still-functioning vascular system, fixing every protein and lipid in his brain into place, preventing decay, and killing him instantly.

Then he will be injected with heavy-metal staining solutions to make his cell membranes visible under a microscope. All of the water will then be drained from his brain and spinal cord, replaced by pure plastic resin. Every neuron and synapse in his central nervous system will be protected down to the nanometer level, Hayworth says, "the most perfectly preserved fossil imaginable."

His plastic-embedded brain will eventually be cut into strips, perhaps using a machine like the one he invented, and then imaged in an electron microscope.

His physical brain will be destroyed, but in its place will be a precise map of his connectome.

In 100 years or so, he says, scientists will be able to determine the function of each neuron and synapse and build a computer simulation of his mind. And because the plastination process will have preserved his spinal nerves, he's hopeful that his computer-generated mind can be connected to a robot body.

"This is not something everyone would want to do," Hayworth allows. "But it's something everyone should have the right to do," Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

What do you think about Hayworth's idea?


See also:
Do We Live In A Computer Simulation Created By An Advanced Alien Civilization?

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