TransHuman

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I started watching this clip (it is long at 50 mins), and I have to say it blew me away.  In 1963 Dr. Robert White of Cleveland Medical Hospital performed the first experiment to keep the brain alive outside the body.  1963!  Almost 50 years ago!  I can’t imagine how far we have advanced… and where we will be in 50 years…

He successfully transplanted a monkey head, and according to the video the monkey lived for 7 days, until the creature rejected the head.  According to Wikipedia, “These operations were continued and perfected to the point where the transplanted head could have survived indefinitely on its new body, though the animals were in fact euthanized.”

Is the day coming where we will keep our heads and move on to new bodies when we wear out the old ones… or choose new designer bodies to fit the fashion of the day?  Or would we forgo the flesh and bone, and choose the mechanical?

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An interesting side note from Dr. White’s biography was that he was a devout Roman Catholic, attended mass regularly and prayed before performing surgeries.  It struck me as a curious thing that someone who succeeded in a head transplant would be so religious.  I would have thought that the idea of creating a new creature with parts from others would clash with the ideologies of the Catholic church…

“But the Catholic Church, apparently, has no problem with the research.

Head transplantation does not violate any fundamental theological principle, says Dr. Helen Watt of the Catholic Lincare Centre for Medical Ethics.” (Orlando Sentinel)

“Pope John Paul II’s Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences February 3-4, 2005 included, “It is well known that the moment of death for each person consists in the definitive loss of the constitutive unity of body and spirit. Each human being, in fact, is alive precisely insofar as he or she is ‘corpore et anima unus’ (Gaudium et Spes, 14) [body and soul united], and he or she remains so for as long as this substantial unity-in-totality subsists.” (Catholicculture.org)

It would seem to me that removing one’s head could be construed as breaking the tie between body and soul… but then, what is the “soul”?  Is it consciousness, does it exist solely (no pun intended) in the brain?  Would one’s consciousness and soul move to the new body, or would the old you die and something else be born from the amalgamation of parts?

Wow… how did I get onto religious ethics again?

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One Response to TransHuman

  1. Jeremy Keith Knox says:

    Interesting post here Kevin, and you highlight the Transhuman themes of disembodiment, scientific progress, emancipation, and…well…what I would consider an obsession with heads. I think it is fascinating how Transhumanism justifies itself on both religious and scientific terms, as you describe, yet the theological and the positivistic could be considered opposed to one another. These head-swapping transhuman endeavours seems to be a clear expression of science; justified by the doctrines of progress, human betterment and the quantification of life, yet they are also legitimated by the rules of the Catholic Church. Fantastic inclusion here of the Pope’s address, which for me, emphasises the Transhuman adherence to an essential ‘life’ that must exist behind the material of the body. The acknowledgement a ‘soul’ would seem to justify the kinds of experiments described here, as does a privileging of humans over other animals.

    All this talk of heads and brains must have some implications for learning, and education. How do you think the transhuman themes of disembodiment, scientific progress and emancipation-from-the-material play out in education? If a soul does indeed exist, is it that which learns and not the body? Is there a difference between learning of the body and that of the mind? These all sound like fascinating questions to take further. Great post Kevin!