ethics

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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