Oregon Brain Preservation
A Non-profit Organization

Scientific Basis

Brain Preservation is based firmly in science.


Types of Evidence

There are many different types of evidence, and they are certainly not all equal. Most people don't understand how to categorize good versus bad evidence.


Anecdotal Evidence: This is evidence based on personal observation and is nearly worthless in most situations. Anyone can claim anything and they regularly do. Many people regularly fall for anecdotal claims even though they should know better and should not be so gullible. But what's really interesting is that many scientific papers are also anecdotal. For example, a case report might be published in a reputable journal observing that Covid cases are higher in a certain subpopulation in a single hospital. All case reports are anecdotal evidence. They are not intended to influence any decisions about patient care, but are instead intended to be used by other scientists to give them suggestions on actual research that they might perform to try to determine if this observation applies more broadly and what to do about it. Lay people should never quote a scientific article which is based on anecdotal evidence because they are not the intended audience. Nevertheless, this happens with great regularity. Many uninformed people are convinced that it must be true if it's published in a scientific journal, but that simply isn't the case. Opinion articles by scientists also frequently fall under this category.


Observational Studies: These studies draw inferences from populations. There is no control group, so the evidence is of fairly low quality.


Experimental Studies: These include randomized and non-randomized controlled trials and are of higher quality.


Secondary Reviews: These summarize other research and include systematic reviews, practice guidelines, and meta-analyses. These are the highest quality of evidence. Lay people can get some benefit from these if they are careful.


Tertiary Sources: Encyclopedias and textbooks summarize and quote secondary reviews as well as lower quality evidence. These are the most useful source of evidence for lay people as long as the writing is carefully vetted in the editorial process.


How to Weigh Evidence

Even if lay people only look at the high quality secondary reviews, they are not really qualified to properly interpret them. There can be a lot of complexity and nuance. It is for this reason that lay people should generally rely on experts in their field to interpret evidence for them. All the experts will usually agree, but sometimes there are outliers. It's very important to learn how to identify those outliers and ignore them. The main approach is to look at official statements produced by groups of experts and to defer more to "mainstream" sources or to tertiary sources. Let's take climate change as an example. There is strong consensus among scientists that human activity is the cause of global warming. Reviews have been written that indicate that over 99% of scientists agree, so there is no controversy. Other studies have called out the denialism as pseudoscience. So what's a lay person supposed to believe when an "expert" confidently claims that there is scientific controversy surrounding the cause of climate change? They need to decide whether the expert is truly an expert. They also need to determine whether the expert represents the mainstream consensus or whether they have their own agenda. If this person starts giving reasons why the mainstream is wrong, you now know that you can just ignore everything they say because the mainstream experts are already aware of that evidence and have properly considered it when arriving at their mainstream consensus.


Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine is that which is not scientifically supported. Does that mean it should be avoided? Nearly always, yes. It's a waste of time and money and can have negative consequences. In spite of this, 36% of US adults use some form of alternative medicine, not even counting prayer. 88% of adults believe that "there are some good ways of treating sickness that medical science does not recognize". They are wrong. However, there are a few situations where alternative medicine is not as strongly discouraged. It's generally considered acceptable to use alternative medicine for chronic pain or in dying patients when it does not endanger the patient. In other words, when science has reached its limits, the main consideration becomes prevention of harm.


Future Technology

Predicting the feasibility of future technology involves both scientists and engineers to varying degrees. But what is frequently assumed to be a science problem is often really just an engineering problem. For example, scientists don't have much to say about the future of robotics because it doesn't really involve any new science. It's an engineering problem. As another example, the first rocketeers claimed we could eventually fly to the moon. Even though the physics was rock solid, most people scoffed because they could not envision such complex guidance systems ever being built. Humans would not be able to do the math fast enough. But the engineering only took 70 years, and no new science was needed.


Another problem with predicting future technology is that the farther out the prediction, the harder it is for everyone to imagine. Most predictions are accurate short term but inaccurate long term.


Evaluating Evidence for Brain Preservation

Brain preservation has two distinct phases: The first phase is structural preservation, and then a hundred years later, the second phase is memory reconstruction. We will consider these two phases separately.


Phase 1: Structural Preservation

The science of structural brain preservation is well established. There is broad scientific consensus that preserving brain tissue with aldehyde or by cooling it in liquid nitrogen preserves the structure. There is a lot of nuance about certain kinds of damage in certain situations, but fundamentally all scientists agree that the structure is getting preserved. As long as no claim is made about viability (biological revival), scientists will universally agree that preservation works. These two techniques are used widely by brain banks and neuroscientists every day in order to preserve brain structure and study it. Even if we still don't know exactly how the brain works, that doesn't matter because we just preserve everything.


Phase 2: Memory Reconstruction

This is where some mainstream scientists will balk, especially if it's called revival instead of memory reconstruction. But remember that this is mostly an engineering problem and that it's too far in the future for there to be any kind of consensus. Maybe scientists object because they think that reconstruction might violate some laws of physics? Tellingly, they do not make this claim. Quite the opposite. Instead, you see many scientists pursuing exactly this goal of reconstructing memories based on tracing the pathways, otherwise known as the connectome. They are doing it at OpenWorm, Drosophila Connectomics Group, Human Connectome Projects, Blue Brain Project, and many other places. Clearly, there is scientific consensus that tracing the entire connectome is feasible some day, even if it's far in the future. The only limitation is computing power.


Scientific Skepticism

There are three general reasons why scientist tend to discount brain preservation:

1. The wrong questions are being asked. Brain preservation is not Suspended Animation or Cryonics, but nearly every scientist is confused by the differences.

2. They lack imagination. They know that it should eventually be possible to reconstruct memories, as exemplified by the many scientists pursuing that exact goal, but it takes a leap of imagination to grasp the consequences of scaling that up to an entire human brain.

3. They forget that exponential growth of computing power and AI can compress the timeline in certain ways. When we were trying to sequence the human genome, it looked impossibly complex, and then we were suddenly done. Humans don't intuitively understand exponential growth.