Thursday, March 23, 2017

Brain transplant

On February 13, 2017, the Spanish newspaper La Razón Digital published an interview with Rafael Matesanz, expert in transplants, with the following headline:
Brain transplant would be the panacea
As usual, the media prefer the most spectacular headlines, regardless of whether they misrepresent the meaning of the article. In this case, for example, the headline was taken from a rather secondary part of the interview. The following:

The brain.
To make it replaceable, we should know how to connect with the bone marrow the fibers leaving the central nervous system, otherwise... We are still far away, although we would like to be able to do it, for that would mean being able to cure quadriplegia and paraplegia.
...
Consider what it would mean to people like Stephen Hawking, with a privileged brain, which you could transplant into a healthy body. Or many vegetative diseases that spoil the motor part of a body, with a healthy brain. It could be an unbeatable form of treatment, but we are far from it. Conceptually it would be the panacea.

Science fiction, obviously, but as usual, the writers of this literary genre had anticipated it. In 1928, Edgar Rice Burroughs (the author of Tarzan of the Apes) published The Master Mind of Mars, sixth in the series about John Carter of Mars. In this novel, he tackles brain transplantation as follows:
In a masterly way, Burroughs predicts in this novel almost all the ways in which brain transplant, if possible, could be misused. For instance, experimenting with mixed beings, partially human and partially animals, to which just half of the brain would have been transplanted. One of them, half ape and half man, becomes one of Paxton’s best helpers, when Paxton promises to return him his original body and his missing half brain.
What is the main scientific failure of the novel? That the brain also ages, and while a transplant to a healthier body could help an incapacitated person (as Matesanz suggests), it would not help to reach immortality.

Fortunately, brain transplantation, if possible, is so far away in time that we can forget about it, at least for the rest of the 21st century. It will be noticed that none of the futurologists who promise immediate immortality resort to this procedure to make it possible.

Manuel Alfonseca

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