How difficult to keep a severed head alive?

If you hook up a severed head to a heart & lung machine, would it keep the head alive and conscious for a short time? What technological breakthroughs are necessary to keep it alive longer? I know it’s impossible with current technology, but it’s got to be easier than the “brain transplant” discussed in another thread, right?

From what I’ve heard, the sheer shock of recieving such odd messages (What? There’s no lungs?) would effectively make the head… well, braindead.

If it were possible to straighten out the messages (and lack thereof) being sent to the brain, I’m pretty sure that would help.

All of this information, of course, is only what I’ve heard.

I suggest you read the novel That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis for an interesting take on this idea. It’s about a secretive organization whose top boss is called “The Head.” Suffice it to say that they meant that job title quite literally. :eek:

Well, this book was supposedly written by a guy who’s done it with monkeys.

Interesting. I tend not to trust scientists who publish results in their own books rather than peer-reviewed journals, but the Nature cite on that page may be worth looking up. I’ll see if I can dig it up later.

Anyway, I guess what I was really asking is, if the immediate needs of oxygen and circulation are met with a heart/lung machine, and if you can provide glucose (?) to the blood, what’s the next thing that will kill the head? If the blood supply is the problem, would continuous blood transfusions do it?

And clayton_e, by “messages” do you mean nerve signals, or do you also need other chemical “messages”?

Ummm…whose head were you thinking of trying this out on, scr4??

A severed head would of necessity be a vampire. That is, in the absence of significant bone marrow, it would require a constant supply of fresh compatible blood. If you refreshed the blood often enough, you might be able to get around needing a liver for detoxification. Oxygenation, pumping, nutrients and even some hormones could probably be handled with current technology. However, the immune system would go to hell too, so you’d probably have to keep the head in a germ-free bubble.

I must admit I’ve often wondered this myself. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to do. Just ensure oxygenated blood is being supplied through the aorta…seems simple enough.

They Saved Hitler’s Brain

Despite the film’s title, they did, in fact, save his entire head. :smiley:

Well, as long as it is not the head of the girlfriend, and you don’t have a monster in the closet… :smiley:

This reminded me of something I read before and I wish there would be more confirmation; however, it sounds serious:

That last report appeared in 2001, can we verify if this doc still around? I guess if someone would eventually try to this in a machine, this will be person to ask first.

You might try these threads, for resources…

How much of my body can I live without?

On the subject of decapitated heads and Soviet experimentation

And kudos and huzzah to GIGObuster for mentioning Dr. White. It’s always nice to meet a fan of the good doctor’s work. :smiley:

Could you get around the blood supply need if you’re willing to remove the brain from the head and maintain cerebrospinal fluid? You could, conceptually, increase the `blood-brain barrier’ to the size of the entire apparatus, feeding glucose and oxygen directly to the cerebrospinal fluid. I don’t think cerebrospinal fluid has any cells or structures above the molecular level, so recirculation through a (probably as-yet uninvented) system shouldn’t do as much damage to it as a dialysis machine does to whole blood.

But that would be a good way to induce a psychotic break: We know enough about complete isolation to know that it induces hallucinations of all kinds, as the brain cannot deal with a lack of input. A brain kept alive in a machine as described above would totally lack any sensory input (or, for that matter, output), creating something even worse than the Matrix. When your `reality’ has been reduced to the voices in your head, your mind begins to weave an existence out of nothing at all.

(As extra credit, prove you aren’t a victim of the above experiment. Platonists need not apply. :D)

Oh, dont forget about leaving a fresh bowl of yak stubble for the severed head fairy…

Just ask how they do it with GW Bush.
The technique’s been perfected quite a bit since Reagan, I would think.

Actually the lack of sensory input is what causes dreams. With no external information to generate a “sense of world” the brain turns to internal sources of information. Now, if the person whose brain is being kept alive is familiar with lucid dreaming, it might a dream come true, so to speak.

I only heard about the nerve signals, I’m not sure how the chemical messages (or lack therof) would affect the brain. I’m reasonably sure (again, only my opinion) that it would be easier to “fake” the balance of chemicals than it would be to keep the nerve signals up and going.

Boring weekend ahead?

This is the coolest. I’ve never wondered this, but it sure does rule.

I’ve heard that after you chop someone’s head off they are still conscious for a few seconds. Anyone know this to be true?

Cecil says so.

Of course it’s difficult supplying oxgyen and circulating blood around a severed head, but on the plus side, they don’t eat much.