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Brain SENS

isolated brain sens

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#1 Daylen

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 03:00 PM

If you were to keep a brain alive using a life support mechanism, communicating through a brain-computer interface (let's assume that's possible, for the sake of argument); would keeping that brain alive using SENS be easier than keeping an entire body alive? Is there any kind of damage caused by aging which doesn't affect the brain?
For instance: cell senescence causes degeneration of joints, immune senescence, accumulation of visceral fat, type 2 diabetes. But none of those things would be an issue with an isolated brain.

#2 Darryl

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Posted 18 April 2014 - 04:11 PM

Look into sensory deprivation experiments. People go mad within days of darkness and quiet. Hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis.


Keeping a brain alive for a prolonged period after the death/decay of the body would represent possibly the cruelest torture yet imagined by man. Something for societies regretting that hell probably doesn't exist.


The technical problems of keeping the brain supplied with oxygen and nutrients are trivially easy compared to the problems of keeping a brain in a jar adequately stimulated. One has to imagine direct sensory inputs very far in advance of current capabilities, as well as outputs to prevent motor cortex atrophy, before this becomes a plausible avenue for life/personality extension.


If I recall correctly, we've done this experiment on animals, in a sense. I recall reading about the transplant of a primate brain (perhaps rhesus or chimpanzee) in the abdomen of another, and the brain's survival for a month or so (I'll have to look the book's title up when I get home). Given what we know about sensory deprivation, this may be the cruelest animal experiment I'm aware of.

Edited by Darryl, 18 April 2014 - 04:28 PM.

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#3 Daylen

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Posted 19 April 2014 - 04:37 PM

A functional BCI, including artificial vision and hearing, would be needed. I'd like to read about that experiment.

#4 John Schloendorn

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Posted 23 April 2014 - 01:28 AM

Is there any kind of damage caused by aging which doesn't affect the brain?



Good question.  Everything is so interconnected.  It makes these analytic questions murky.  I would guess there have got to be some organ-specific issues that don't apply.  For example diabetes -- yes, I believe that your vat might be able to manage its fluid glucose levels fairly well.  But immune senescence?  How does your vat intend to provide immunity?  If it does that in some way that approximates *all* the functions of a natural immune system, that's a nice goal to have, but I don't find it nearly as tractable a problem as glucose levels.  *All* its functions of the immune system would be a lot of crazy interrelated functions you know...  You'd have to build something that's somehow "good enough", but that's very, very hard, and the details aren't in any way clear to me today.  Could it be easier than keeping the body alive indefinitely in its current form?  Yeah sure.  Could well be.  It depends on the details.  Those would need to be figured out as one goes along.


Or how about visceral fat -- the professors tell us that visceral fat exerts its detrimental effects by and large via messing with our cytokine signaling...  So if that's the case, then presumably our vat would make sure that the brain sees a signaling environment that appears to it as coming from a young, lean body.  That would be fabulous, but we don't know what cytokine profile would accomplish that, how responsive to various contexts it needs to be, and what it might take to build such a thing.  How hard would it be to build a control system that we presently have no idea what it involves?   Again, if we try to examine the details, we find ourselves in way over our heads very quickly.


Maybe a different way to think about it would be to look at it in terms of major causes of death today.  First, we have heart disease -- does that seem to apply in the brain in the vat?  Well, most heart disease is ischemic (vascular aging), and yes that happens in the brain in a very similar way, and gives us ischemic strokes.  So if you keep your vascular system, that's a big one.  Second is cancer.  Cancer in the brain comes from stem cells, glia, and sometimes the vascular system.  So again, if you intend to keep those things around, rather than replace them with yet-to-be-defined vat functions, those cells might presumably still be able to go rogue on you. Then there's neurodegeneration.  We don't have much of a clue how that might be caused, other than the genetic association with ApoE.  If it's caused by bloodborne factors (ApoE expressed by macrophage/microglia...?), then there might be more hope for replacing those than if it's neuronal factors (ApoE expressed by neurons...?).  We just don't know...  Accidents, homicide.  We're all going to be sitting in steely super robot war machines, so let's not worry about those.  Oh wait..!


It's a very important question.  I can't begin to try to answer it.  I think it's very helpful to view our activities against the backdrop of your all-encompassing question. 


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#5 Daylen

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Posted 23 April 2014 - 11:15 PM

Wow, that was comprehensive! Thank you. I obviously imagined it would be very complicated, but I didn't know exactly why.

I imagine a whole-body transplant to a cloned body might be more attainable than an artificial life support system. But still, the life extension would be short when compared to what somebody like Aubrey de Grey is aiming to accomplish. Then again: even an extra 10 years can help some people reach longevity escape velocity.

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