Seeking Immortality in Fact and Fiction

I just heard a really interesting piece on the science of brain preservation. Scientists are still working on it, with the intention that the information in frozen brains may be downloaded into… something, someday. You can read a synopsis or listen to the whole 20 minute article here.

Three thoughts I had while listening:

  • These guys are just like Herbert West!
  • Freshness is, indeed, important.
  • In the end, it’s a crapshoot.

To elaborate…

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Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Bringing people (or their brains) back from the dead is a stock element of science fiction. H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West is a quintessential mad scientist engaged with this effort. Like one of the present day real scientists on this quest for immortality, Herbert realizes you need a really fresh corpse to succeed. It seems it’s best to start the process before death occurs, meaning it might be necessary to kill the patient to save him.

The article examines this and other ethical and practical issues, concluding with the thought that even if the preservation and information retrieval techniques work (a really big if), by the time it’s possible to do all this, society will be totally different. The reactivated minds will find themselves in environments that may be alien and terrifying. And the uses to which the minds are put may be other than benign. Life after death for the awakened brains may be heaven, hell, or anything in between. Or it may never happen at all. Which is, when you think about it, pretty much where we are right now.

For fictional treatments of this topic, you might want to read H.P. Lovecraft’s stories Herbert West, Reanimator or, for a different take, The Whisperer in Darkness.” Then there’s my novel, The Friendship of Mortals, which presents my expansion on Herbert West and his motives.

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17 comments

  1. This was a fascinating item Audrey.
    One thing which struck me was. Can we determine if the ‘spirit’ who was the person would return? Much has been discussed from religious and scientific views as to how the ‘person’ can be quantified or even in the final analysis ‘identified’ in the complexity of the living body.
    Robert Sheckley’s ‘ 1959 novel Immortality Incorporated’ is one of my favourite novels on this subject.
    Thanks for the share.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. My own opinion is that there’s more to each of us than the contents of our brains, so I doubt the spirit can be preserved or manipulated. It’s a great topic for thought experiments and fiction, though.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I’d have my brain frozen. If a future society was so dystopian someone will have destroyed all the frozen brains out of spite. And future societies needn’t be terrifying; different people would react in different ways and over the last two hundred years societies haven’t changed unrecognisably. I’m up for it. Just don’t download me into another middle aged landscape architect’s body.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Weird wild stuff. I’m always fascinated by this kind of thing, as with cryopreservation. But the crapshoot side of it all is pretty terrifying. Even more terrifying is the possibility that the human mind is just software … 😐

    Liked by 3 people

  4. A lot to think about; even reincarnation is not appealing; the chances are very high of passing on to a life much worse. As for being frozen – whole body or brain? I haven’t put it in my will so I guess I don’t want either option. I was inspired to write my short story ‘Reanimation’ ( Someone Somewhere collection ) when an English family had to fulfill their teenager daughter’s wish to be frozen when she died of cancer. Would you like to know your ancestor was waiting to be reanimated?

    Liked by 1 person

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