Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Same Head, New Body

Imagine yourself ten years from now and that your body is failing you.  The only part of your being that is still functioning properly is your head.  You’re given the option of transplanting your head onto a brand new body: a perfectly healthy body.  Do you do it?  Would you still be the same person?  Is a new body worth all of the potential risks?  Would head transplants for medical reasons begin a slippery slope to head transplants for cosmetic purposes?  The idea of a head transplant sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, but it may be closer than we think, and these are the sorts of questions that are being asked.  

While it may seem impossible, Sergio Canavero – an Italian neuroscientist – claims that the medical technology to perform a head transplant is already here, the world just needs to embrace it.  In the 1970s there was an attempted transplant of one monkey head to the body of another monkey.  The transplant was technically successful, but the monkey was unable to move its body and was only able to breathe with help.  It then died eight days later. 

This certainly doesn’t sound successful to me, but Canavero claims that science and technology have advanced enough that not only could a head transplant be successful, but if embraced by the scientific community it could be successful on humans in just two years!  He claims that by cleanly severing the head from the spinal cord and using a mixture of chemicals to fuse the spinal cord together on the new body, the person would wake up with all of their own memories and would be able to walk after only a year of therapy. 

            While this entire idea is fascinating, Canavero himself exhibits many signs of creative thinking.  He appears to have strong intrinsic motivation, something that Collins and Amabile note is essential to a creative mind.  The idea of a head transplant is likely to be controversial.  There is a strong likelihood that the idea will not be accepted by the scientific community, and that all of his research and theories become irrelevant since they cannot truly be tested.  Canavero also seems to exhibit the “six resources” that Lubart and Sternberg address in their chapter “An Investment Approach to Creativity: Theory and Data”.  The six resources that they address are intellectual processes, knowledge, intellectual styles, personality, motivation, and environmental context.  Canavero clearly exhibits a tendency toward problem solving in his intellectual process, as he took previous work done and came up with what he believes could be a successful solution – fusing the spinal cord.  His knowledge cannot be discounted as he had to do a lot of research in order to come up with a possible solution, and his intellectual style seems to be a combination of global and local.  While a local style is generally associated with negative creativity according to Lubart and Sternberg, Canavero uses it as a way of making his global thoughts concrete.  He was able to think about the task in a broad (global) way in order to realize that fusing the spinal cord successfully would help solve problems previously experienced, and was then able to use a local style to come up with a solution of how to fuse the spinal cord.  He exhibits most of the personality traits that Lubart and Sternberg attribute to a creative personality, which goes along with his intrinsic motivation that was discussed earlier.  Finally, though I don’t know much about his typical environment, it would follow logically that he was in an environment that allowed creative thinking since his ideas are not likely to be accepted without serious controversy. 
            Who knows if head transplants will be a reality in the near future, but the fact that it is even being discussed is in large part thanks to Sergio Canavero.  I certainly don’t know how I feel about the idea, but it will be interesting to see whether the idea is accepted as something worth investigating and pursuing.

Collins & Amabile: Collins, M. A., & Amabile, T. M. (1999). Motivation and creativity. In Robert J. Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of Creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lubart & Sternberg: Lubart, T.I., & Sternberg, R.J. (1995). An investment approach to creativity: theory and data. In S.M. Smith, T.B. Ward, & R.A. Finke (Eds.) The Creative Cognition Approach (pp.271–302). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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