Brain Plastination
State of Potential Application
Can Brain Plastination offer inexpensive brain preservation services in Asia?
Archiving the Brain’s Writing: Cryo or Chemo

Views of Max More and Sebastian Seung

We live in very exciting times. Soon, people all over the world may have at least two reliable and proven ways to preserve their brains, including their individual memories and identities, after they die.

One preservation technology is called Plastination (chemopreservation). It involves chemical fixation and embedding of brain tissue in plastic for room-temperature storage. It is a much-higher-end version of the process seen in such exhibits as Body Worlds. For decades, perfect plastination has been done for very small amounts of brain tissue (one millimeter cubed). Soon, it will be attempted for whole animal brains.

Another preservation technology is called Cryonics (cryopreservation). It involves preserving brain tissue with chemicals that prevent ice formation, followed by low-temperature storage in a "glass-like" state (vitrification). Recent cryonics advances have allowed organ cryopreservation, thawing, and successful re-transplantation in small animals, bringing this technology closer to its goal of reversible solid-state suspended animation. Each of these technologies, and other less sophisticated ones, such as chemical fixation without plastic embedding, deserves to be carefully evaluated for its ability to preserve the critical structures of our brains, an evaluation that has never before occurred for an entire human brain.

Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as study the ethical aspects involved in developing and using such technologies. They predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label "posthuman".

Some transhumanists cite scientific and practical considerations that strongly support cryopreservation rather than chemopreservation for bio-stabilization.

Chemopreservation imposes unknown but probably substantial chemical damage. Infusion of plastic resin into an entire brain takes considerable time, during which extensive damage is likely. Chemical fixation is irreversible by known means. By contrast, cryopreservation seeks to maintain viability of the brain as far downstream as our capabilities and resources permit – an approach that reflects our view of cryonics as an extension of contemporary medicine.

Cryopreservation preserves more options in that a cryopreserved brain could be scanned in future, or later chemically fixed, but the reverse is not true of a chemically fixed brain. The cost benefits of chemopreservation over cryopreservation are heavily exaggerated, largely because the standby and treatment procedures would be just as extensive, if not more so, even assuming that highly toxic chemicals could be worked with safely in the field.

Chemopreservation is being inherently tied to mind uploading, an association that is likely to limit its acceptance as a form of experimental critical care medicine by apparently requiring acceptance of the idea of substrate independent minds.

Fortunately, neuroscience is now identifying the synaptic and nuclear structures that contain our unique memories and identity, and new electron microscopy (EM) imaging techniques are allowing us to verify when these structures have been successfully preserved, from gross connectivity in the connectome, all the way to particular synaptic features, receptor distributions, and even the signal states (phosphorylation, methylation, etc.) of individual brain proteins.

Preservation quality can be validated by careful EM imaging of samples taken from an entire preserved brain. Such a validated procedure will be of great 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, descendants, or as a donation to culture would be able to do so, potentially very inexpensively, and potentially to the great benefit of society. Neuroscience strongly suggests brain memories could be read by future technology 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's unique physical structure and process, all evidence to date suggests this would work. 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 and reliable. 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 life experiences and insights will otherwise disappear from the world, and comparatively few resources necessary for plastination or cryonics, 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.

Plastination, if validated, promises to greatly increase access to brain preservation globally. Given its very low cost (likely just a few thousand dollars, a fraction of the cost of a casket burial) and the simplicity of room-temperature storage (in cemetaries, contract storage, even private homes).

Cryonics, for its part, is also inexpensive when paid for incrementally via life insurance, and it also seems likely to gain much greater favor as medical and scientific cryobiology therapies advance.

It's time to put these two promising brain preservation technologies to the test.

How soon after these technologies are validated could we see inexpensive preservation services available in every country? If the technology was 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?

Still skeptical?

You may enjoy Overcoming Objections to Brain Preservation, which provides a list of common concerns and plausible answers for your consideration.

Brain Plastination could be a Sellable Service for Asians; competitive with Mortuaries, Funerals, Cremation, Burial and Cemetery Inurnment.