Head transplantation done

Nicholas Bostrom (bostrom@mail.ndirect.co.uk)
Mon, 3 Nov 1997 22:13:57 +0000

I read in The Times newspaper yesterday that a researcher had managed
to transplant monkey heads and keep them alive for up to a week after
the operation. We have discussed the possibility of brain
transplantation at some point on the extropian or the transhumanist
list, and we concluded that it seemed unlikely (at least before the
arrival of nanotech, at which time there wouldn't be any use in
transplanting heads anyway). The reason we thought the project looked
hopeless was that the task of making the nerve fibers in the spinal
core match up correctly after the transplantation looks absolutely

What we overlooked was the these nerves don't need to be matched up
in a certain way or even reconnected at all! What the researcher I
read about had done was to keep the brain stem of the donor body.
This makes the donor body continue such functions as respiration,
heart activity and digestion, thereby supplying the transplanted head
with oxygen and nutrients. The transplanted brain has control over
the facial muscles and would thus be able to read, eat, and in some
way or another communicate. But it has no connection with the brain
stem or the rest of the body, so the animal is 90% paralysed.

To me it seems unnecessary to have a donor body: might it not be
possible to replace it with a heart-lung machine?

I don't think that this breakthough will have any major practical
consequences, but it represents yet another development that forces
people to come to terms with the weirdness of the future and of the
present day. Perhaps the shock value of head transplants will help
desensitize people so they become more accepting of, say, the idea of

Nick Bostrom