A Couple of Articles on Plastination

Plastination is the basis for a possible technology platform that might compete with the low-temperature vitrification used in cryonics. In both cases the goal is to preserve the mind after death by preserving the fine structure of brain tissue - in which the data of the brain is encoded. This is the only chance at a longer life in the future available to those folk who will age to death because they are presently too old to wait out the near future of rejuvenation biotechnology.

Cryopreservation requires ongoing low-temperature storage whereas plastination does not. Both involve infusing tissues with chemicals, meaning that future restoration will require advanced technology - such as directed swarms of molecular machines that can repair each individual cell, remove all of the chemicals used in preservation, and so forth. The details would vary greatly depending on which preservation method was used, of course. But preserved individuals have time to wait for future progress in technology, and molecular nanotechnology of this sort is well understood to be possible and plausible.

It should be noted that there is a contingent of futurists who believe any copy of the self to be a valid continuation of the self, and who seek to preserve themselves via cryonics in the belief that they will be copied to run as software emulations in the future - the original preserved tissue to be discarded after that use. This will probably be easier to accomplish than physical restoration of the original, but from my perspective a copy of you is not you. I adhere to the definition of the self as the continuation of this slowly changing structure that is me, the changing pattern encoded in this particular set of matter. Given that copying will probably be easier than restoration, it is worth thinking about going into cryopreservation with an attached note (or tattoo or embedded metal plate) to say "do not copy, restore the original" if you have strong feelings about identity as continuity rather than simply a pattern.

In any case, I thought I'd point out a couple of articles on plastination from recent days:

How to Live Forever By Turning Your Brain Into Plastic

Assuming that brain plastination eventually comes into practice, the first step, regrettably, is that you have to die.

This could be in or near a hospital, hospice, or your home. Moments after your death, a response team will start the process of emergency glutaraldehyde perfusion (EGP) for protein fixation (a kind of advanced embalming process). This has to happen within 15 minutes of your death, otherwise the first phase of neural degradation will start to set in; brain cells start to die on account of oxygen deprivation.

The infusion of this molecule by the response team basically freezes your brain into place, creating a snapshot of your identity and your long term memories - though you might lose some short-term memories when you resume life after reanimation, just as sometimes happens after brain trauma today. "Glutaraldehyde is a very small chemical that gets into all your cells, and locks down your proteins and cytoskeleton, creating a kind of molecular cage," said Smart, "all protein-related interactions grind to a halt because of this crosslinking."

After this, your body will be moved to a centralized facility where, over the course of several months, your brain will be carefully removed and placed into a bath. Unlike cryonics, this stage is not time sensitive (whereas the standard saying at cryonics facilities is "time is trauma"). It's at this point that a chemical called osmium tetroxide fixes all the fats and fluid membranes in the brain cells. Then, a series of acetone-like solvents are used to convert the brain into plastic where it can be stored at room temperature. "All the water gets leached, out, but all the protein (and presumably, the other critical features) is still there," says Smart, "and so are all the neural connections, as are all the neural weightings - including the three dimensional structure."

Chemical brain preservation: how to live 'forever' - a personal view

A number of neuroscientists, working today with simple model organisms, are investigating the hypothesis that chemical brain preservation may inexpensively preserve the organism's memories and mental states after death. Chemically preserved brains can be stored at room temperature in cemeteries, contract storage, even private homes.

Our 501c3 nonprofit organization, the Brain Preservation Foundation, is offering a $100,000 prize to the first scientific team to demonstrate that the entire synaptic connectivity ("connectome") of mammalian brains can be perfectly preserved using either chemical preservation or more expensive cryopreservation techniques.

Such preserved brains may be "read" in the future, analogous to the way a computer hard drive is read today, so that either memories or the complete identities of the preserved individuals can be restored or "uploaded" in computer form.

As you might note, there is some thought that plastination might be cheaper than cryonics, but this may or may not pan out once total costs over time are figured in. Liquid nitrogen for temperature maintenance is very cheap and all the other costs of long term storage would be much the same once you remove that from the picture: rent, security, and so forth. Both processes require a skilled team up front at the time of death, and the initial portion of preservation is time critical - which is where the majority of the one-time costs appear, as it isn't cheap to keep a team on standby.


Has got to be more enduring than becoming a corpsicle. Whether brain-level information is sufficiently well preserved to allow resurrection is hard to tell. But given the uncertainty over the continuity of identity, this approach at least preserves the underlying molecular structure.

Posted by: Adam at November 1st, 2014 4:03 PM

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