Pentagon Looking to Repair Damaged Brains with Implants

Illustration for article titled Pentagon Looking to Repair Damaged Brains with Implants

Pentagon research arm DARPA has handed out about $15 million to various institutions to research new implants that would replace damaged parts of the brain, allowing people to return to normal.

The implants developed by the project will likely be composed of electrodes or optical fibers, and will sit on the surface of the brain. They'll read electrical signals from neurons, and deliver appropriate light pulses to stimulate other brain regions in response. The implants would allow the brain to operate normally, by acting as substitutes for areas that were damaged or "unavailable."

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But here's where my freshman year philisophy class comes in handy: if we're replacing parts of the brain, is it still the same person? What percentage of the brain can be replaced before the person is more implant than person? 20%? 51%? 95%? Will people be really the same or will they be made more "generic?" Or will the brain adapt to the new implants, retaining the personhood and using the implant to return to normalcy?

We'll see, I guess! They're hoping to start testing on lab animals within four years, so hopefully by the time my brain starts to go they'll have these things really humming. [Danger Room]

DISCUSSION

I love a nice Friday morning philosophical discussion about the nature of "self". If we were to follow your insightful questions to their conclusion, Adam, one would wonder if we really are "us" when we are under any personality altering effects, whether it be from medication, alcohol, your favorite mocha, or getting up on the wrong side of the bed. I think the most intense discussions of this outside the philosophical realm have been in court rooms attempting to determine whether a person is held accountable for deeds done at a time when it could be argued the person was not them. Such exceptions are out there, but we make them rare.

I actually have these discussions with myself (er - try not to read too much into that) about significant medication / chemo side effects on my own personality and brain synapses. After removing a major portion of my left frontal lobe I wondered whether I was still "me". Ultimately, I think I am - but I admit, I am also not the same. Treatments for schizophrenia and other mental illnesses also have drastic effects on the personalities and thought processes of individuals changing people dramatically.

I don't think I am answering a damned thing, but I love exploring the concept because it is truly important to have a better understanding of what makes a person who they are and when we, as a society, believe they are a different person.