To noted American PhD Neuroscientist and Futurist, Ken Hayworth, the answer is an emphatic, “Yes.” He is currently at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute developing machines and techniques to map brain tissue at the nanometer scale. He strives for the ability to trace connections between neurons and to provide a way to preserve a human brain’s total synaptic organization. The human brain contains 100 billion neurons and a single neuron can have tens of thousands of connections. If you are like Ken Hayworth, you believe having a full map of the human brain is the key to encoding our individual identities and an endeavor more scientists should be researching.
A self-described transhumanist and the President of the Brain Preservation Foundation, Hayworth’s goal is to perfect existing preservation techniques, like cryonics, as well as explore and push evolving opportunities to effect a change on the status quo. Currently there is no brain preservation option that offers systematic, scientific evidence as to how much human brain tissue is actually preserved when undergoing today’s experimental preservation methods. For example, theoretically vitrification (the process used in cryonics to prevent human organs from freezing when tissue is cooled for cryopreservation) provides a safeguard against tissue damage. However, actual research about the effectiveness of this procedure is based on a very little testing information available.
Discourse surrounding cryonics or other forms of human preservation after death has always evoked controversy. Advocates and skeptics hold strong opinions on opposite sides of the spectrum. Hayworth aims to utilize these conversations between advocates and skeptics to keep his intentions honest. The Brain Preservation Foundation has notable cryonics cynics on its board of directors to encourage even-handed discussions that will aid and legitimize brain preservation breakthroughs.
Hayworth formulated another incentive for scientists to focus on brain preservation: a $100,000.00 prize awaits anyone who demonstrates large mammal brain preservation at the synaptic level. The money, however, Hayworth says, is not the real prize. The real trophy is about creating credibility for the idea that we can preserve our identities after death.
Hayworth believes we can achieve his vision of preserving an entire human brain at an accepted and proven standard within the next decade. If Hayworth is right, is there a countdown to immortality?
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