Creating A Physical Map of the Brain – Article by Zena O’Brien
Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party publishes this article by one of our members, Zena O’Brien, as an example of the creative deliberations we encourage in regard to the design of future technologies and their implementation to improve the human condition. Here Ms. O’Brien writes about a possibility for providing a physical brain map that is both structural and functional through the use of sufficiently advanced cryopreservation techniques. We welcome input from our members regarding this concept.
~ Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, December 22, 2018
AN INTRODUCTION TO THE PROBLEM:
So I have this vague and speculative idea. I was trying to come up with a way of somehow overcoming the resolution and storage problems of brain imaging and mapping. I think of this in case we fail within our lifetimes in attaining the goal of extending life indefinitely. At first I thought of imaging the brain in high spatial and temporal resolution, but instead of storing the exabytes of information, you’d transmit them into space in the form of radio waves. You could transmit the radio waves towards a star or series of stars to be gravitationally slingshot back to Earth and received in maybe 200 or 400 years total from transmission to reception. By that time Earth should have developed a storage device with the capacity to store the information. This would solve the storage problem because you don’t have to create a storage device with such capacity. All you have to do is wait. However this would require you to image a brain in high resolution in the first place, and we don’t have that technology yet. We’d probably need advanced nanotechnology of some sort.
A Possibly More Feasible Solution. A Physical Map:
I want to reiterate that these ideas are vague and highly speculative. I came up with the idea of a physical map to overcome the resolution problem. Why image a brain in high resolution when you could just cryopreserve it? There are a lot of issues with this idea on the offset, but I think they can be overcome. The first is the formation of ice crystals. There is a solution to this already. It’s called vitrification. It has to do with the addition of cryoprotectants that prevent the formation of ice crystals and keep individual water molecules in place as the brain is cooled below freezing. This prevents a lot of damage to the brain that would occur if it was just cryopreserved without cryoprotectants.
You can learn more about vitrification here.
However, from what I’ve read, there is still a problem with fractures due to the nature of storage and not necessarily the process of vitrification. This problem will have to be overcome somehow for this idea to work. And some individuals are already working on it.
To learn more about fractures and solutions, read here.
If we could overcome this hurdle, then so far we would have a physical structural map of the brain. However, something’s missing: the pattern of neural activity before you died. The brain is a complex system, and to have the connections without the patterns of activity would mean that your last experiences before you died wouldn’t be reproducible. There would be no sense of continuity, AND this could really affect the development of your consciousness. This is why I propose finding “markers” that could be introduced to the extracellular fluid in the brain and somehow enter neurons when an action potential occurs and reliably transfer from one neuron to the next as the neurons fire so that these atomic or molecular markers always end up in the neuron that was last fired upon. They would have to not interact with or damage any part of the brain and be unable to affect the voltage of the cells. If we can achieve this, then when a person dies, these markers would indicate to us where the activity stopped. And if the brain is vitrified without fractures, then we have not only a physical structural map but a functional map as well. No need for advanced neuroimaging techniques or storage devices with high capacity. What do you think?
Zena O’Brien is a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, a polymath for social change, and a supporter of life extension.