Over coffee and conversation at the retirement center, the woman I was sitting with was in the midst of a fascinating story when she stopped and looked blank. She seemed stuck for a word so I offered it. Grateful, she went on with her story, but not before observing, “Around here, it takes a village to finish a sentence.”
I admired her wit and humor because we both knew the dark side of her admission. As we grow older, our fear of losing our ability to communicate grows. Dr. Phil Kennedy, a neurologist, famous for implanting electrodes in the head of a paralyzed man and teaching him to control a computer cursor with his mind, is dedicated to finding ways to enhance the brain’s capacity. But he wants to do more than retrain the organ. He wants to prepare it for a “cybernetic future in which people live as minds in metal shells.” (“Thought Experiment,” by Daniel Engber, Wired, Feb. 2016, pg.95.) (Related blog 2/9/16)
Because other, safer methods for freeing a patient from paralysis are being developed, Kennedy, with his futuristic research, eventually lost his government funding. That’s when he flew to the Caribbean and, with the aid of a local surgeon, inserted implants of his design into his brain. It was a bold move, at the very least, and at first the experiment seemed to have failed. Dr. Kennedy lost the power of speech. But once inflammation from the procedure subsided, words returned. From there, he began to map electrical responses in his brain, valuable information on how the organ functions. After 88 days, he had the information he needed and most of the implant was removed, though for fear of damaging brain tissue, some connectors remained.
When asked why he ignored the medical establishment and experimented on himself, he answered as an artist might, “You can’t do science by committee.” (Ibid pg. 97) Kennedy wants to go beyond helping patients with ALS or dementia. He wants to enhance the species and prepare it for the technological future. (Ibid. pg. 97.) Of course he has no way of knowing what the future will be. More importantly, how humans evolve isn’t his choice to make. To arrive at that decision it will take more than a committee. It will take, at least, a village.
(Originally posted 2/15/16)
Courtesy of sciencefiction.com