Head Transplant or Body Transplant?


Would you like to donate your head to science along with your other organs?  Or have a head transplant because you don’t like the shape of the rest of your body? Is that a head transplant or a body transplant? The question is by no means academic nor whimsical.  According to the Daily Mail, Valery Spiridonov, a man with a body wasting disease that has left his head intact, would like his head to rest on different shoulders.  And Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group (a.k.a. Dr. Frankenstein) says that the operation may be possible by 2017. A successful operation would certainly bring hope to many quadriplegics. The shape of the beauty industry would also change dramatically.

Would such an operation be successful? An even more critical question is what would happen to consciousness of the head-patient? Would it accompany the head, or the rest of the body? Presumably one of the two donors would die, the body donor. Perhaps someone who wants to die because of brain damage or dementia.

The proposed operation assumes that consciousness is nothing but a property of physical processes in the brain. That the rest of the body plays no part in defining our self- identity. A second assumption is that our memories, which give us our sense of identity, are also stored only in the brain.

I predict that the operation will turn out to be impossible, and will pass down in history as an extreme example of hubris, where rather than listening and learning from nature we think we can dictate to nature how to run its show. Reasons for failure are likely to be more than biological – such as the difficulty of connecting the brain to the spinal column. The chief reason for failure is the false assumption that consciousness is entirely produced by the brain. Many Near Death Experiences have demonstrated that consciousness can operate outside the body, while the brain is dormant, or near death; even be aware of events in another room. Studies of organ transplant patients where some recipients experience personality changes also suggest that consciousness is not located only in the brain but may be located throughout the body.

If nothing else, the prospect of a brain transplant will result in a public debate on the nature of consciousness. Does it originate in the body or outside? Does it involve only the head or the entire body, and the biological field beyond it? Several field theories of consciousness suggest that.

Our culture places a great deal of importance on thought. Analytical thought. We’re trained to think from the time we can walk, in schools and universities. Our thinking function is regarded as the summit of human achievement. Other functions as feeling, willing, sensing, intuiting, relating to others or loving are certainly somewhere lower on the scale of importance. Our subjective experience of them often places them  in the fingers, the heart, the chest, our guts or the loins.

A Pueblo medicine man once told C.J. Jung, (Memories, Dreams, Reflections) that white people are crazy because they say that they think with their heads.

“What do you think with?” Jung asked.

“We think here,” the medicine man replied, indicating his heart.

by Paul Kieniewicz