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TagHead transplants

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Brain surgery

What Would Head or Partial Brain Transplants Do To Consciousness?

Researchers had some success swapping rodent heads (though there’s a catch) but no luck with monkeys. And then animal lovers weighed in…

Science writer Max G. Levy, profiling Brandy Schillace’s book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher (2021), reminds us of the strange case of neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White (1926–2010) and his quest to develop human head transplants — or, as he liked to put it, body transplants. A new body for your old head… an offbeat form of immortality. White started with rhesus monkeys. At Case Western Reserve University, starting in 1970, he attempted many such transplants. Only one attempt succeeded (sort of). Without the usual spinal connections and thus without access to a body, the monkey head lived only nine days. Another such monkey head transplant was reported in 2016 — carried out by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University, China…

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Anatomy human body model. Part of human body model with organ system.

Are Human Brain Transplants Even Possible?

What would be the outcome if one person received transplants from the brains of others? If it’s not possible, there may be a good reason why not

Earlier this week, I discussed the work of Dr. Robert White, a neurosurgeon in the mid-20th century who did extensive research on head transplants in animals. The operation sometimes worked, most notably in monkeys. But it has never been done in humans, mostly because head transplantation would mean cutting the spinal cord, which would cause complete and permanent paralysis. The most reasonable perspective on the soul is that it is the active principle of the body — that is, the soul is what the body does. Thus soul follows function. From this perspective, I infer that after a head transplant, I would see with my original eyes, hear with my original ears, etc. If I were able to move my…

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Electrocardiogram in hospital surgery operating emergency room showing patient heart rate with blur team of surgeons background

Are Head Transplants Soul Transplants?

Specifically, if your head were transplanted, would your soul go with it?

Wired offers a fascinating article about Dr. Robert White, a neurosurgeon in the mid-20th century who was famous for his extensive research on head transplants. He transplanted heads of various animals, often unsuccessfully (many animals died) but with some success, particularly with monkeys. The medical, ethical, and sociological issues are interesting in themselves, but I’ll focus here on the metaphysical issues. Specifically, if your head is transplanted, does your soul go with it? First, it worth noting that head transplantation is difficult surgery but doable. We know how to sew blood vessels together, how to fuse spinal bones, how to attach tracheas and muscles and peripheral nerves. Transplantation of an entire head (or an entire body, depending on your perspective)…