Brain Plastination
Resuscitation of Brain Functions

Why mapping the human brain matters
By Dominic Basulto

What could we gain by mapping the human brain?

Resuscitation of Brain Functions It turns out that President Barack Obama’s head-scratching mention of a project to map the human brain in his most recent State of the Union speech was more than just a casual comment.

John Markoff of the New York Times reported this week that the White House will soon unveil a massive, multi-billion-dollar research project to map the entire human brain that will likely involve scores of scientists, foundations and government agencies. When completed, a detailed map of how the human brain works would be a staggering development in innovation — one that could lead to cures for brain-related illnesses as well as unimagined breakthroughs in artificial intelligence.

Today’s technology landscape would be completely altered.

Similar to the Human Genome Project to which it has already been already compared, the Brain Activity Map Project would open up the mysterious workings of what makes us human. We already know something of how the brain processes information, but thus far, we only have isolated bits and pieces. A full map would let researchers know how every neuron fires, how every thought comes into being, and how the human brain learns over time. A map would let us understand the link between thought, memory and emotion. Now, this is where things get really interesting (and possibly scary), understanding how the brain works could, perhaps, help us solve some of the greatest mysteries of our age: What is the essence of genius? Do we have a soul?

Understandably, then, mapping the human brain has been a particular fascination of scientists such as George Church and Ray Kurzweil for years (Kurzweil’s newest book, in fact, is called “How to Create a Mind” and details his quest to reverse-engineer the human brain). It’s only been in recent years, however, that we’ve had the computing chops and brain imaging techniques to actually get a detailed look at the human brain at the level of the individual neuron. In 2012, for example, the Human Connectome project of the NIH found that the human brain was wired much like a Mondrian grid painting.

Knowing how the human brain works means that we will, at some point in the near future, be able to fundamentally change the structure of it by re-arranging a few neural pathways. If we understand how memory works, we may be able to download new memories into our brains. If we understand how language processing works, we may be able to insert foreign language knowledge into our brains just like a series of software upgrades. In his new book, Kurzweil includes some interesting charts documenting the exponential growth in new technologies that is making all of this possible. With each exponential increase in computing potential, new opportunities arise. At some point, we will be able to transform our computing machines into highly-intelligent thinking machines. Years from now, we may look back on early artificial intelligence efforts before the era of the Brain Activity Map and view IBM’s Watson supercomputer as the computing equivalent of a classroom dunce.

What’s fascinating, of course, is what the White House stands to gain. Is it a pure legacy play for by the Obama administration? In much the same way that the JFK presidency has become known as the one that sent our nation to the moon, will the Obama presidency be known as the one where we mapped the human brain and broke the bar on artificial intelligence forever?

It’s certainly not a jobs play, although it can be imagined that quite a few neuroscientists will be hired for this project. Maybe it’s an economic play, especially since Obama noted that every $1 invested in mapping the human genome has resulted in a staggering $140 in new economic activity.

The most likely outcome in the short-term, at least, is that our nation’s leading tech companies will use this new knowledge from the Brain Activity Map to make us much smarter in our everyday lives. This is just a guess, but now that Ray Kurzweil has landed at the Googleplex, it’s easy to see how a company such as Google could build on findings from the Brain Activity Map project and build new brain assistants for our computing devices that mimic the activity of the human brain.

At the same time, entirely new companies may emerge, offering futuristic services such as cosmetic brain surgery or “total recall” or “the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind

Modeling the human brain

European projects to model human brain, explore graphene win up to Euro 1 B ($1.34 billion) each
By Associated Press, Published: January 28, 2013

BRUSSELS — Two European science projects — one to map the intricacies of the human brain, the other to explore the extraordinary carbon-based material graphene — won an EU technology contest Monday, getting up to €1 billion ($1.34 billion) each over the next decade.

The projects were selected from 26 proposals.

“European’s position as a knowledge superpower depends on thinking the unthinkable and exploiting the best ideas,” European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said in a statement. “This multi-billion competition rewards home-grown scientific breakthroughs and shows that when we are ambitious we can develop the best research in Europe.”

The Human Brain Project will use supercomputers 1,000 times more powerful than those today to create the most detailed model ever of the human brain. Then the project plans to simulate the effects of drugs and treatments on the brain, for a better understanding of neurological diseases and related ailments.

In addition, the increased knowledge about how the brain works — and how it manages billions of processing units and trillions of synapses while consuming no more power than a light bulb —may lead to “a paradigm shift for computing,” the European Commission, the European Union’s executive branch, said in a statement.

“The economic and industrial impact of such a shift is potentially enormous,” the commission said.

The leader of the project, Henry Markram, a professor of neuroscience at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale of Lausanne in Switzerland, said earlier this month that it could not be undertaken without this kind of funding.

“The pharmaceutical industry won’t do this, computing companies won’t do this — there’s too much fundamental science,” Markram said. “This is one project which absolutely needs public funding.”

The Molecular Repair of the Brain


This article was published in two parts in Cryonics magazine, Vol. 15 No's 1 & 2, January and April 1994. Cryonics is a publication of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, Scottsdale AZ,, 800-367-2228.

The URL for this article is: "".

A short version of this paper, titled "The Technical Feasibility of Cryonics," appeared in Medical Hypotheses Vol. 39, 1992; 6-16.

You can search PubMed for published articles on cryonics.

More recent information on both nanotechnology and potential medical applications of nanotechnology is available, as well as a page on cryonics.



Cryonic suspension is a method of stabilizing the condition of someone who is terminally ill so that they can be transported to the medical care facilities that will be available in the late 21st or 22nd century. There is little dispute that the condition of a person stored at the temperature of liquid nitrogen is stable, but the process of freezing inflicts a level of damage which cannot be reversed by current medical technology. Whether or not the damage inflicted by current methods can ever be reversed depends both on the level of damage and the ultimate limits of future medical technology. The failure to reverse freezing injury with current methods does not imply that it can never be reversed in the future, just as the inability to build a personal computer in 1890 did not imply that such machines would never be economically built. This paper considers the limits of what medical technology should eventually be able to achieve (based on the currently understood laws of chemistry and physics) and the kinds of damage caused by current methods of freezing. It then considers whether methods of repairing the kinds of damage caused by current suspension techniques are likely to be achieved in the future.


Tissue preserved in liquid nitrogen can survive centuries without deterioration [note 1]. This simple fact provides an imperfect time machine that can transport us almost unchanged from the present to the future: we need merely freeze ourselves in liquid nitrogen. If freezing damage can someday be cured, then a form of time travel to the era when the cure is available would be possible. While unappealing to the healthy this possibility is more attractive to the terminally ill, whose options are somewhat limited. Far from being idle speculation, this option is available to anyone who so chooses. First seriously proposed in the 1960's by Ettinger[80] there are now three organizations in the U.S. that provide cryonic suspension services.

Perhaps the most important question in evaluating this option is its technical feasibility: will it work?

Given the remarkable progress of science during the past few centuries it is difficult to dismiss cryonics out of hand. The structure of DNA was unknown prior to 1953; the chemical (rather than "vitalistic") nature of living beings was not appreciated until early in the 20th century; it was not until 1864 that spontaneous generation was put to rest by Louis Pasteur, who demonstrated that no organisms emerged from heat-sterilized growth medium kept in sealed flasks; and Sir Isaac Newton's Principia established the laws of motion in 1687, just over 300 years ago. If progress of the same magnitude occurs in the next few centuries, then it becomes difficult to argue that the repair of frozen tissue is inherently and forever infeasible.

Hesitation to dismiss cryonics is not a ringing endorsement and still leaves the basic question in considerable doubt. Perhaps a closer consideration of how future technologies might be applied to the repair of frozen tissue will let us draw stronger conclusions -- in one direction or the other. Ultimately, cryonics will either (a) work or (b) fail to work. It would seem useful to know in advance which of these two outcomes to expect. If it can be ruled out as infeasible, then we need not waste further time on it. If it seems likely that it will be technically feasible, then a number of nontechnical issues should be addressed in order to obtain a good probability of overall success.

The reader interested in a general introduction to cryonics is referred to other sources[23, 24, 80]. Here, we focus on technical feasibility.

While many isolated tissues (and a few particularly hardy organs) have been successfully cooled to the temperature of liquid nitrogen and rewarmed[59], further successes have proven elusive. While there is no particular reason to believe that a cure for freezing damage would violate any laws of physics (or is otherwise obviously infeasible), it is likely that the damage done by freezing is beyond the self-repair and recovery capabilities of the tissue itself. This does not imply that the damage cannot be repaired, only that significant elements of the repair process would have to be provided from an external source. In deciding whether such externally provided repair will (or will not) eventually prove feasible, we must keep in mind that such repair techniques can quite literally take advantage of scientific advances made during the next few centuries. Forecasting the capabilities of future technologies is therefore an integral component of determining the feasibility of cryonics. Such a forecast should, in principle, be feasible. The laws of physics and chemistry as they apply to biological structures are well understood and well defined. Whether the repair of frozen tissue will (or will not) eventually prove feasible within the framework defined by those laws is a question which we should be able to answer based on what is known today.

Current research (outlined below) supports the idea that we will eventually be able to examine and manipulate structures molecule by molecule and even atom by atom. Such a technical capability has very clear implications for the kinds of damage that can (and cannot) be repaired. The most powerful repair capabilities that should eventually be possible can be defined with remarkable clarity. The question we wish to answer is conceptually straightforward: will the most powerful repair capability that is likely to be developed in the long run (perhaps over a few centuries) be adequate to repair tissue that is frozen using the best available current methods?[note 2] Eigler and Schweizer[49] have already developed the capability "... to fabricate rudimentary structures of our own design, atom by atom." Eigler said[129], " the time I'm ready to kick the bucket, we might be able to store enough information on my exact physical makeup that someday we'll be able to reassemble me, atom by atom."

The general purpose ability to manipulate structures with atomic precision and low cost is often called nanotechnology (also called molecular engineering, molecular manufacturing, molecular nanotechnology , etc.). There is widespread belief that such a capability will eventually be developed [1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 10, 19, 41, 47, 49, 83, 84, 85, 106, 107, 108, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 122] though exactly how long it will take is unclear. The long storage times possible with cryonic suspension make the precise development time of such technologies noncritical. Development any time during the next few centuries would be sufficient to save the lives of those suspended with current technology.

In this paper, we give a brief introduction to nanotechnology and then clarify the technical issues involved in applying it in the conceptually simplest and most powerful fashion to the repair of frozen tissue.


Broadly speaking, the central thesis of nanotechnology is that almost any structure consistent with the laws of chemistry and physics that can be specified can in fact be built. This possibility was first advanced by Richard Feynman in 1959 [4] when he said: "The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom."(Feynman won the 1965 Nobel prize in physics