The Slow Road Down

For many unfortunate people (more all the time), death begins long before the heart stops beating and the lungs stop breathing. The unique personal identity is eroded by loss of memory and disordering of personality from aging, injury, or some other cause or condition.

But for those who manage to make it intact to prolonged cardiac arrest and cessation of breathing, how long does the brain last? How long is there anything left in the brain that future medical technology could use to bring the person back to who they were before?

A person can be brought back even today after 5 minutes, under the best circumstances. Slightly longer times are possible without brain damage if the head or whole body is cooled, by a procedure called clinically induced moderate hypothermia.

If more than 5 minutes have passed and hypothermia is not used, the person is in big trouble. Restarting the heartbeat and breathing can cause a serious brain injury called reperfusion injury. The body may continue heartbeat and breathing, but the brain may never fully recover. The brain may never even receive circulation from the heartbeat. People put on a ventilator may be "brain dead" in a true sense -- the brain is seriously injured and begins the process of death.

If a person is "lucky" enough to be treated as "dead" -- without reperfusion injury being introduced, the process of death proceeds at a pace determined, at least in part, by temperature. Heat provides energy to the various reactions taking place. If there is no circulation, the body's drop to ambient temperature actually helps slow the process. The body being put in a cooler at near freezing temperatures slows it even more.

From there begin a series of changes to the brain. A neat summary (though based on the brains of dogs) is the following:

(Figure from Haines, D. E., & Jenkins, T. W. J. Comp. Neur. 132: 405-418. Studies on the epithalamus: I. Morphology of post-mortem degeneration: The habenular nucleus in dog.)

In the next post I'll talk about the significance of the changes...


An Adventure

I want to have the same last dream again,
The one where I wake up and I'm alive —
Just as the four walls close me within,
My eyes are opened up with pure sunlight.

I'm the first to know. My dearest friends,
Even if your hope has burned with time
Anything that is dead shall be re-grown,
And your vicious pain — your warning sign.
You will be fine.

Any type of love, it will be shown,
Like every single tree-reach for the sky.
If you're gonna fall , I'll let you know
That I will pick you up , like you for I.

I felt this thing I can't replace,
Where everyone was working for this goal,
Where all the children left without a trace,
Only to come back as pure as gold,
To recite this song.

And here we go . . .
Life’s waiting to begin,

I cannot live, I can’t breathe
Unless you do this with me.

Hey, uh, here I am,
And here we go.
Life’s waiting to begin,

Do this with me.
— Angels and Airwaves, "The Adventure" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIZ0iVi4hmM


Second Death

As you might have noticed from my profile avatar, I started this blog with quite a bit of optimism about the online virtual world, Second Life.

In the last few months, though, my enthusiasm has waned considerably. I have decided to try to put down into words the reasons why I am rarely in Second Life anymore, and why I don't expect to be there very frequently anymore in the future.

For one thing, I have tired of trying to get other people interested in trying out Second Life. I have found that, like cryonics, it simply is not a topic about which I can inspire much confidence in others. My recommendation is not good enough to attract the best and brightest people I know to try it out. Even for a moment.

Since one of the best applications of Second Life is for meetings, conferences, networking, gabbing, etc., this is a terrible drawback. Maybe someday the world will wake up to the advantages of virtual worlds and force themselves to learn how to use it -- kind of like they did for the World Wide Web (can anyone still remember how hard it was to get the average person to use a COMPUTER???). But I am not going to wait around wasting time till everyone else joins the party.

Second, I have come to notice several deep flaws of Second Life, and virtual worlds in general. I do not have much time to devote to Second Life, and I find this not just a coincidence, but a sign of how poorly virtual worlds integrate with everyday life. If virtual worlds do not help average people in everyday life do things they want to do better, then virtual worlds will never be accepted. As I said, I think virtual worlds already offer better teleconferencing than anything else, but since the world has so far refused to take notice, it may take some time to get this across. More importantly, the other uses that have been proposed for virtual worlds -- such as shopping, education, romantic mingling, sales -- are already better served by other media such as the 2-D Web or face-to-face. So far virtual worlds can't get past being novelty acts in these areas. Maybe it will require more sophisticated technology than just 3-D gaming tech to move beyond this impasse.

Lastly, Second Life has a wrong-headed business model, and already seems well on the way to being the AOL of virtual worlds. Although users in Second Life can create anything, they can't own anything. Because Linden Labs centralizes control of the virtual world around themselves, exercising the ability to delete entire university campuses at a whim, no one there will ever be able to feel safe investing time, money, and invention there. Users do not retain enough control over their creations, even when they rent ("buy") virtual island spaces for what it would cost to rent a home in real life. We all know where the evolution of virtual worlds is heading -- universal browsers with virtual spaces housed on the users' chosen servers, so that all virtual space can be privately and personally OWNED and where all virtual creations can likewise be owned, controlled, and backed up by users without getting permission from anyone else. By the time LL offers free space (the way virtual Disney already does), everyone will probably have moved on to somewhere else.

It is really a shame, considering the incredible effort that has gone into creating the many and varied creations of Second Life. We can only hope Linden Labs will do the honorable thing, back up their virtual world, and preserve it for users in the future to peruse for free, after their business model fails.