Brain Facts

Brain Facts

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Cryonics and Nanotechnological Repair and Replacement

Another technology that may eventually challenge our death concepts is cryonic suspension, the freezing of heads, or whole bodies, for eventual reanimation. All diagnostic protocols for the determination of brain death call for ruling out hypothermia, but what if the brain is being intentionally and permanently frozen. Our current concepts of death don't very well address the status of a person who might eventually be brought back to life.

Unfortunately for those who wish to undergo this procedure, American law requires that they be pronounced clinically dead first. Cryonicists believe that future reanimation will be more successful if they could initiate the freezing before somatic death, and certainly before cerebral death. Cryonics firms have already been accused (and acquitted) of murder for having failed to have a physician pronounce death before they began the suspension procedure. In 1993, the California Supreme Court ruled that a man with a terminal brain tumor could not have his head removed before he died. Like the Non-Heart-Donor-Protocol, the cryonicists, or rather the physicians present, are forced to make a rapid diagnosis of death, and then initiate suspension.

Cryonicists acknowledge that the freezing process results in the rupture of many cellular membranes, and that micro-cellular repair will be the principal challenge of future reanimators. Cryonicists have therefore enthusiastically embraced the new field of nanotechnology (Drexler 1986; Drexler and Peterson 1991) (Regis 1995), which promises to eventually create microscopic, self-replicating robots capable of moving through frozen tissue without further disrupting cell walls, identifying damaged tissue, and repairing it. Cryonicists expect this level of nanotechnology to be available within the next hundred years.

Of course, nanotechnology holds promise in all fields of medicine and industry, not just for the reanimation of the frozen. Nanotech visionaries predict the convergence of molecular medicine, genetic therapy and nanotechnology to create tools to treat any disease, and immune system boosters capable of identifying and eliminating disease before it occurs. In combination with the neural-computer trends discussed above, increasing numbers of nano-enthusiasts believe that the brain structures and activities can eventually be replaced entirely by nano-machines, and/or read into new media. This is known in science fiction and cyber-culture as "uploading" (Dery, 1996).

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