The Human Brain - Chemically Fixed And Embedded In Plastic
Is it possible to use standard chemical fixation and plastic embedding techniques to preserve the synaptic connectivity of an entire human brain?
This question is asked by The Brain Preservation Foundation, for the following reasons:
The new science of connectomics is gearing up to map the connectome, the full synaptic connectivity of an entire brain. The first major milestone for mammals will be a mouse brain and eventually, we will map an entire human brain. Development of whole brain chemical fixation and plastic embedding procedures seems an absolute prerequisite for such a scientific endeavor.
Since most neuroscientists today would agree that our unique memories are written into the brain at the level of synaptic connections, successful synaptic preservation of an entire brain after clinical death would very likely preserve the memories and identities of all individuals who might wish to do so, for themselves, for their loved ones, for science, or society. There are many who would desire the option to perfectly and inexpensively preserve their brains at the nanometer scale today, for the possibility that future science might be able to read their memories or restore their full identities, as desired.
If it is workable, this method has some benefits over cryonic storage of the brain, in that chemically preserved brains can be stored at room temperature.
Futurist John Smart discusses the idea at some length in the following video.
(Futurist John Smart discusses brain preservation)
Science fiction writers have been working on different versions of this idea for a long time. I'm thinking in particular about the Laminated Mouse Brains used as space craft autopilots, as described by Cordwainer Smith in his 1962 novel Think Blue, Count Two:
"This brain isn't frozen," said Tiga-belas indignantly. "It's been laminated. We stiffened it with celluprime and then we veneered it down, about seven thousand layers. Each one has plastic of at least two molecules thickness. This mouse can't spoil. As a matter of fact, this mouse is going to keep on thinking forever. He won't think much, unless we put the voltage on him, but he'll think. And he can't spoil..."
What would it be like to interact with a brain that has been preserved in this way? In his 1984 classic Neuromancer, William Gibson describes a hardware construct, "a hardwired ROM cassette replicating a dead man's skills, obsessions, knee-jerk responses."
Philip K. Dick gave an interesting description of what it might be like to be preserved after death, but still accessible, in his 1969 masterpiece Ubik. In the story, preserved persons can experience a kind of "half-life" after death, thanks to the technology called "cold-pac":
Herbert made his way back to the cold-pac bins to search out number 3054039-B.
When he located the correct party he scrutinized the lading report attached. It gave only fifteen days of half-life remaining. Not very much, he reflected; automatically he pressed a portable protophason amplifier into the transparent plastic hull of the casket, tuned it, and listened at the proper frequency for indication of cephalic activity...
The customer seated himself facing the casket, which steamed in its envelope of cold-pack; he pressed an earphone against the side of his head and spoke firmly into the microphone: "Flora, dear, can you hear me?"
(Read more about Dick's cold-pac)