woensdag 24 februari 2016

Substitute head

The popular science magazine KIJK (Look!) of February 18 contains an article about an Italian doctor who claims he will be able to perform a head transplant in a few years. He already has a donor, a Russian with progressive paralysis. The article struck me because I often joke that I am on the waiting list for a brain transplant if my head once again doesn't do what I want. In my opinion, that is where the core problem and contradiction lies. What houses where, when it comes to "I", "want" and "do"? 

The article is - rightly - very skeptical that this will ever happen and discusses all kinds of technical problems associated with a head transplant. Such as rejection symptoms and the question of whether you can cut the nerve bundles cleanly and sharply and if it will ever be possible to connect the countless nerves to the right counterpart and so on. You don't want the patient to suddenly urinate instead of reaching out, because the nerves in question are cross-connected.

But strangely enough, the article does not address the core question of consciousness and personality at all. Who is the donor here? The body or the head? Who is the patient? The donor may not be brain dead when his donor head is removed and the recipient patient will be brain dead soon after the start of the operation, when the unwanted head is removed. I can assume that, if the operation is successful, the donor's memories, recognition and learning experiences will be transferred to the new body. 

The Italian doctor - Sergio Canavero - even believes that with full recovery the patient can produce children, but only (according to the same doctor, because this is where my knowledge is inadequate) with the genetic material of the donor. The patient is therefore a stranger in his own family and in his own body. I think it is better to speak of body transplantation than of head transplantation.

For the time being, I will remain on my self-made waiting list for a while and try to survive long enough with the balding head that is now between my ears.

A while ago I thought my sister was also on the same waiting list. During the absence of her manager, she reported: "I can't come tomorrow because I have to replace my head." I replied, "Yes, I want that too."

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