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Question #92198 posted on 04/24/2019 1:36 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

https://futurism.com/the-byte/decapitated-pig-brains-alive-36-hours

What are your thoughts on this study? Does it have any implications for what consciousness is and if our minds and bodies are separate things?

-My Name Here

A:

Dear friend, 

My thoughts on this study can be explained by one word: "Gross." 

Other than that, I'm pretty sure it's not abnormal to consider body and soul to be separate things. I mean, if you read pretty much any philosophy, the fact that human beings are capable of being self-conscious about their own thinking and our own bodies, that we are able to comprehend our existence consciously outside our bodily confines indicates to me that body and soul, or body and consciousness are two different things. This also follows for people who have had out-of-body experiences, that sort of thing. I dunno, it's not really shocking news to me. 36 hours is surely impressive, but I don't think it has any really new implications regarding consciousness, though it does raise the question about whether we could possibly transfer consciousness someday to a newer body, right? If the brain is still alive, is there any possible way that science in the future could allow a person whose body is dead to continue living in a new body with the same consciousness?... though surely that would have crazy ethical issues attached to it. That about sums up any thoughts I had about it. 

Cheers, 

Guesthouse

A:

Dear clock-a-roni and cheese,

I enjoyed the National Geographic discussion of it, "Pig brains partially revived hours after death—what it means for people."

The article discussed how the study didn't measure—in fact, it sought to inhibit—any degree of consciousness. 

The team took steps to ensure that the brains would not “wake up” in any way, let alone have awareness of the procedure's trauma. Though none of the brains in the experiment showed any sign of awareness, researchers stood at the ready to administer anesthesia and lower the brains' temperatures, just in case. What's more, the team added compounds in the solution to block neural activity, which served the extra goal of resting the brains' cells to give them better odds of healing.

“It was in fact never a goal—and even sort of the opposite of a goal—of the research to have consciousness restored,” says study coauthor Stephen Latham, director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.

While I don't venture to know the ethical quandaries of such an experiment, something like that would go a long ways towards solving that question. I feel like they're tightly connected, however, because treating someone for mental illness can dramatically shape their mind and personality, and someone who suffers a traumatic brain injury can change significantly as well, such as with the case of Phineas Gage, who in 1848 survived being impaled through the head with a railroad tamping iron.  

I don't really have any other ideas about this besides those, because I'm really tired right now, indeed, hardly conscious at all. 

Interesting question. Thanks for writing in. 

Suerte,

--Ardilla Feroz

A:

Dear you,

The study reminded me of this. I guess it doesn't really surprise me or make me question anything, since I had already known that chickens and other animals can survive without heads for a time and after people are guillotined they can still blink their eyes for a few seconds afterwards.

I'd suggest you watch Ghost in the Shell. No, not the Hollywood action movie that came out a few years ago (I haven't seen that and I have no intention to), but the original anime series. minnow introduced me to it, and it's quite fascinating. The series is actually very philosophical. It's set in a future earth with robots and robotic bodies, but they'll often question things like is there a ghost (spirit) in the shell (machine) if machines have been programmed to think and feel in similar ways to humans. I'm not a huge anime fan but I really loved this series. Here's a small clip.

-guppy of doom