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SmashTheState's avatar

What would be the effect of a lobe-swap?

Asked by SmashTheState (13347points) 1 week ago

The first human head transplant was completed in 2017, which means it is either now or will be soon possible to transplant lobes of the brain.

Currently, one of the treatments for severe, life-threatening epilepsy is a lobectomy, in which fully one half of the brain, an entire temporal lobe, is surgically removed. This is not only survivable, it has surprisingly little effect. This is due to the plasticity of the brain, which is capable of rewiring itself on the fly and adapting to new conditions or routing past damage, and even reassigning parts of the brain to perform new duties.

My question is, what do you believe the effect would be of removing one lobe of your brain and swapping it with that of someone else? There is every reason to believe that the brain is capable of adapting to such a situation, at least physically. What I’m curious about is what the psychological and possibly spiritual effect would be.

Would you become one body with two minds, each with their own separate identity? One of the less traumatic treatments for epilepsy than lobectomy is severing the corpus colossum, the major connection between the two lobes of the brain, and this has been known to produce some… interesting effects, such as alien hand syndrome.

On the other (alien) hand, you have cases like Abby and Brittany Hensel, conjoined twins with two heads who share a single body, and there is evidence that each of them can feel the other’s thoughts, at least on an unconscious level. This suggests that there might be two identities but with deep fundamental overlap, each identity merging seamlessly into the other so that there’s no discrete line separating where one stops and the other begins.

The third option would be the total melding of both identities into something entirely new, an identity which combines both previous identities and leaves nothing of the originals. We often see this kind of thing happen with major strokes, where insult to the brain results in major shifts in personality, talents, and even languages in the person affected.

Another possible outcome would be total dysfunction. Chaos and complete obliteration of both identities, unable to handle such extreme conditions.

Given your own understanding of neurobiology, psychology, philosophy, and theology, what do you believe the effect would be?

As a bonus question, assuming it was a full swap—that is, person A gets a lobe from person B, person B gets a lobe from person A—do you think the effect would be necessarily identical for both individuals?

As a bonus bonus question, would the resulting person have one spirit or two? If two, and if this case was a swap as in the question above, then we now have four spirits where we originally had two. Where did they come from? And would these spirits assume the sins of the previous identities after death, or would they get a clean slate?

As a bonus bonus bonus question, how would the law regard such a person? Assuming one of the people involved in the swap had committed a crime, would either of the people, both, or neither now be guilty of the crime?

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11 Answers

MrGrimm888's avatar

It’s a very thought provoking question. I took anatomy/physiology, in college, and worked in several medical environments, in different capacities. But… I feel extremely unqualified, to even attempt to give an answer, other than one that I wouldn’t like.

The only way to get solid information, would be human trials. The results could vary widely. There could be vastly different results, for each experiment. Some, could be beneficial, and some could be catastrophic, as you eluded.

I did read an article about the head transplant. I recall many experts opining that it would be far too complex, with current technology. If memory serves, it was to be performed in China, or by a Chinese doctor. I was unaware that it had actually been a success. I will attempt to research the procedure’s results. Then, perhaps I can offer a better contribution…

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

If it were possible and we could connect all of the senses back I’d be inclined to think it would be like two people sharing the same body. There would be two conscious beings, like conjoined twins. If we can connect the lobes back together then I think things would get interesting. It would probably kill them both.

flutherother's avatar

I can’t see it ever being practical to transplant half a brain into another skull. There are millions if not billions of connections that would have to be made to connect the two lobes and to connect the transplanted lobe to the body. Assuming it were possible the effect might be similar to psychological problems such as schizophrenia that occur in malfunctioning brains. As for crimes the only crime would be that of the surgeon who carried out such an operation.

What if you removed someone’s brain and kept it artificially alive but without any sensory input. That would be a little more practical. Could such a brain be considered a person?

SmashTheState's avatar

@flutherother The only two major connections between the two lobes of the brain are the corpus colossum and a small bundle of neurons between the two language centres. Furthermore, nerves do regrow over time, and in the brain in particular, where connections are constantly being made and broken.

It’s also why I specifically mentioned that the first brain transplant has already been completed in 2017, which means we have the capacity for reconnecting the brain to the brainstem.

flutherother's avatar

The head transplant wasn’t very successful as far as I know. The corpus callosum consists of around 200 to 300 million fibres a bit tricky to connect up the right way. Personally, I don’t think it will ever be done but the origins of our sense of self is an interesting topic to think about.

SmashTheState's avatar

We don’t need to get perfect one to one reconnections. Brain plasticity means it can adapt to the new signals over time, learning heuristically how to interpret the data it’s receiving. As long as we can get the neurons close enough together to regrow severed connections, the brain itself will knit everything back together.

The brain, however, is holographic; every neuron contains part of the data of every other neuron. The question is whether two lobes containing holographic data of two entirely different brains can somehow make sense of this.

It’s important to remember the Lorber case. He was doing brainscans of his students when he discovered quite by accident that one of them had almost no brain. Cerebral pressure had crushed his cerebellum to 1% of its original thickness—yet he had an IQ of 128, held a degree in mathematics, and was intellectually and emotionally normal. It shows the incredible degree of plasticity, adaptability, and holographic complexity of the brain.

MrGrimm888's avatar

So. I did the best I could, to find the results of the head/body transplant. Everything from Science Alert, to Popular Mechanics, suggested that no such procedure has been successfully completed. The closest thing I found, was that they may have been able to do it, with two cadavers.

So. I’ll have to stick with my original post. We’ll have to do human trials.

If anyone else, can find different results of the surgery, please let us know.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

There has never been a successful human head transplant. It hasn’t even been successfully done on an animal and then reported.

MrGrimm888's avatar

Well. According to my research, not on a live animal. Most articles I read, stated that we are still having great difficulty doing successful hand transplants.

As the OP mentioned, the brain has a different type of plasticity, or adaptability. But the exact details, are beyond my qualifications.

SmashTheState's avatar

@MrGrimm888 Yes, the transplant to which I was referring was on a cadaver, but it was completed successfully. It means there’s now a proof in concept of the procedure, and could be attempted on a living human at any time.

edit: I should add that Vladimir Demikhov successfully transplanted a dog head onto the body of another dog in the 1940s, and did extensive work keeping disembodied dog heads alive and functioning for considerable periods of time. The science to do this exists, it just hasn’t been attempted yet on a living human (to our knowledge) for ethical reasons.

MrGrimm888's avatar

^Yeah. Ethics, as you know, can/will be brushe’d aside with money. I have no doubt, that it will be attempted.
Having studied it further, there are even more variables, than I originally remembered. I am a firm believer, that “what man can contemplate, man can achieve.” So. I am certain that it not only will be done, but one day, may become common. From my understanding of the procedure, the best chance of success, would be to attach a “used” head, to a body cloned from the head’s original DNA. Being as many complications could result from variations in body chemistry.

Back to the original question. I would think cloning lobes, or other parts of the brain, would also probably be more successful than using two different people. One exception, could be identical twins, exchanging “parts.”

Instinct tells me, that there are all kinds of ethically questionable procedures already being performed by privately funded organizations, around the world. In secret, of course…

I bet the Nazis, did all kinds of crazy things, with far less technological/medical knowledge. Well. I know they did a lot of wild things. But we may never know how far they pushed things. We probably don’t want to know…

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