It’s Alive! (Sort of)

Back in May, I heard a rather intriguing and disturbing story on radio. The nub of it is that researchers at Yale University were able to induce brain activity in detached heads of pigs obtained from a slaughterhouse four hours after death. They accomplished this with a technology called “BrainEx.” A system of pumps, heaters and filters perfused the dead brains with an artificial blood solution. After six hours of treatment, the brains showed cellular activity. At least one scientist commented that if the treatment had been continued, some level of consciousness may very well have been achieved .

Here is a link:

My first thought: Fans of Frankenstein and Herbert West will love this! My second thought: I wonder what’s in that artificial blood. What colour is it — lurid green? Or maybe purple?

Seriously, though, this experiment raises a lot of disturbing questions, about time of death, when it’s okay to “harvest” organs for transplant, about animal experiments, and when is the spark of consciousness finally extinguished. The scientists took measures to make sure the brains did not attain full consciousness and stood by with anesthesia, just in case. (That was nice of them.)

The intent is to use the results of this study to learn more about post-mortem brain cell death and how damaged cells may be repaired. But there’s always the possibility that the unscrupulous will cite the experiment to prey upon the desperate, promising a form of immortality (for a large fee, no doubt) by hooking up brains to a pump full of magic solution. (This actually reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Whisperer in Darkness.”)

Fiction is a give and take between speculation and reality, the point where they intersect. These brain experiments may furnish material for ethicists, doctors, scientists, and for writers of speculative and horror fiction as well.

Pig Image by Ben Kerckx from Pixabay


  1. I’m interested in how the brain works, so I find this fascinating, but carried to the extreme (in a STORY, not real life), who’d want to have thoughts while sitting sightless and bodiless, unable to communicate, in a jar? Horror indeed!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh-h-h! When I saw this post, of course I immediately thought of your Herbert West, and especially the episode where he hallucinates about taking the head of one man and attaching it to another man’s body. I agree it’s really scary stuff, and especially in this modern day when ethical norms seem to be loosening. Btw, Audrey, thanks for the new reviews of v.4 and v.5 of the Ki’shto’ba series!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Lorinda. I’m saving the last two books for later, and I know I’ll likely reread the whole series in the future. And yes, while I was listening to that piece on the radio, I was thinking about Herbert’s experiments.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. After that length of time if the cells regenerated and the brain became conscious it would be a blank slate. Technology is just science practically applied. Those blank slate brain cells could then be used to repair damaged cells in the living. Stem cells seem to have a better shot at doing this that reanimating dead tissue. In my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that was the scientists’ intention–to determine the length of time cells remain viable and whether repair is possible. The ethical questions and “what if” scenarios are side issues. Thanks for your comment, Patrick.


  4. I’m sure there are unscupulous scientists somewhere, anywhere who would try anything. When it is said that people are reluctant to sign up for organ donors after death could it be they are rightly worried that thwey won’t be quite dead!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A very salutary post Audrey.
    The story goes that a French scientist / thinker at the time of ‘The Terror’ in France was arrested and sentenced to the guillotine. When his good friend visited him for the last time. He told him to keep a look out for his eyes when his head was displayed as he believed there would still be a shred of Life and he would blink. It is said as the head was displayed it did blinked. (I wish I could find the correct reference)
    I’m not sure how true that is but it does go to show how Science will always be moving into the ‘What If’ areas. And of course Commercial enterprises would decide to exploit this.

    Linked to this is the excellent and also very salutary book ‘Immortality Inc’ by Robert Sheckley…. (warning ignore adaptation the film ‘Freejack)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s a fascinating story from the Terror, Roger. It might be true, and certainly prompts “what if” speculations (which are the roots of fictional stories, as you know). And thanks for the book reference!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Quite right Audrey. The ‘what ifs’ are the basic building blocks, those seeds nurtured will grow.
        (I am currently trying to fit in a possible cosmological-scale reason why the world of the Precipice Dominions is the way it is….Tremendous Fun)

        Liked by 1 person

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