Due to a series of recent scientific developments, human beings may soon have an inexpensive and reliable way to preserve their brains, including the molecular features that give rise to their memories and identities, in room-temperature storage after they die. This technology is called plastination (chemopreservation), or chemical fixation and embedding in plastic, and is a distant cousin of the process seen in such exhibits as Body Worlds. Today, "perfect" plastination is routinely done for very small amounts of brain tissue (one millimeter cubed), and soon it will be attempted for whole animal and human brains. Cryopreservation (involving very low temperature storage) is another, more expensive process that also deserves to be carefully evaluated for its ability to preserve the critical structures of our brains. Today, leading-edge neuroscience is identifying the synaptic structures that store and generate our unique memories and identity, and new imaging techniques are allowing us to verify when these special structures have been successfully preserved, starting with general synaptic connectivity all the way to the signal states of individual brain proteins.
Given these developments, BPF has launched the Brain Preservation Technology Prize, to promote exploration of brain preservation technology in service of humanity. The Prize, presently $106,000, will be awarded in two parts, 25% to the first international team to preserve a whole mouse brain, and 75% to the first team to preserve a whole large animal brain in a manner that could also be adopted for humans in a hospital or hospice setting immediately upon clinical death. Such a procedure would be of great actual and potential benefit to humanity, for at least the following reasons:
1. For Science. High-fidelity brain preservation is a necessary step to an eventual Human Connectome Project, understanding the circuit-level organization of human and other animal brains. Progress in connectomics, or plastinating and scanning human and other animal brains, will allow us a much deeper understanding of healthy and disordered mental behavior, and may also help create significantly more intelligent and useful computers.
2. For Memory Donation. Brain preservation would appear to provide interested persons worldwide a means of preserving their memories and experiences. Those who wish to leave behind such memories for loved ones, for cultural preservation, or as a donation to the human experience pool would be able to do so, to the great benefit of society. Neuroscience strongly suggests brain memories could be read at a later date without revival of the individual, if revival were not desired, much as we read computer hard drives or archeological digs today.
3. For Continued Life. Brain preservation might provide a reliable means of avoiding death entirely and reaching the distant future. For those who accept the hypothesis that they are encoded in their brain structure and process, all evidence to date suggests this would work, for those who might desire it. Furthermore, if general artificial intelligence emerges in this century, as many scholars expect, reanimation might occur not centuries, but mere decades from now, while your friends and loved ones are still alive, and could personally benefit from your revival.
4. For the Future. Even for those unsure of the value of preservation, such a procedure could be desirable if it were inexpensive. Such individuals might "leave it to the future" (future family, institutions, or society) to decide if memory or identity revival was desired, in their individual case. With certain knowledge that one's mental complexity will otherwise disappear from the world, and comparatively few resources necessary for plastination, preservation for the possibility of future service to loved ones or society might be seen as a particularly responsible and humble end-of-life decision.
If these reasons are not sufficient convince you of the potential value of this choice, please read Overcoming Objections to Brain Preservation, for a list of common concerns and plausible answers for your consideration.
At present, roughly 57 million unique and highly experienced human beings die every year on our planet. This is 155,000 individuals every day, a near-unimaginable loss of diversity and wisdom for humanity. Today, we largely avert our minds from this historically unprecedented level of complexity destruction, as medical science has barely begun to make progress in preventing biological death. Meanwhile, whole brain plastination, the perfect preservation of human memory and identity, appears on the verge of scientific reality. Due to its low cost (likely much less than a casket burial), simplicity of storage (in cemetaries, contract storage, even private homes), and its potential for synapse-level validation, brain (or body) plastination may become an option for anyone who would choose to exercise it in coming years.
How might the widespread legal availability of inexpensive and verified brain preservation services change society for the better today? How might it change your own, and our society's outlook on the future? How soon after synapse-level preservation is proven to work, could we see inexpensive services available in every country? If the technology were affordable, reliable, and a number of your friends had already done it, would you consider brain preservation at the end of your own life, for any of the reasons above? If not, why not? Please contact us and let us know your thoughts.
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