Through the Wormhole s03e06 Episode Script

Can We Resurrect The Dead?

Freeman: Death will someday come for us all.
[ Thunder crashes ] But are the dead really gone forever? Advances in medicine and bold leaps in computer science may soon allow the dead to walk the earth again or survive in some other strange, new form.
Can we resurrect the dead? Space, time, life itself.
The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.
Death is our ultimate destination, a place from which no one ever returns.
But what if death was not the end? We each have a genetic blueprint, one that science can now read.
Soon, it may be possible to reproduce my body after I die.
But what about the lifetime of knowledge and experience contained in here? Will we ever have the tools to raise body and soul from the dead? All of us must eventually come face-to-face with death.
No matter how hard we wish to hold on to someone we love, sometimes, we just have to let go.
I had a dog I loved to go exploring with.
[ Whines ] But worms had eaten away at his heart.
The pain of saying goodbye forever cuts deep, but it is unavoidable.
Or is it? [ Breathes deeply ] [ Flatline ] Freeman: This patient is dead.
He has no heartbeat, no respiration, no blood flowing through his heart.
But today, he will be brought back to life by this man, heart surgeon John Elefteriades of Yale-New Haven hospital.
John regularly kills his patients, then resurrects them.
Once I got to medical school and residency, heart surgery was the only thing I ever wanted to do.
At that time, it was kind of like being a fighter pilot within medicine, if you know what I mean.
It was exploring the frontiers.
It was high-risk.
Freeman: John still flies at the edge of the surgical horizon.
Today, he's trying to repair a severely damaged heart, a heart that can't be fixed while blood flows through it.
The heart must be shut down, but doing so will cut off the blood supply to the patient's brain, starving it of oxygen.
John needs 45 minutes to operate.
At normal temperatures, the brain will begin to die after just five minutes.
John's radical solution is to freeze the patient into a state of suspended animation.
[ Flatline ] The brain doesn't tolerate more than a momentary interruption of blood flow.
If the interruption of blood flow goes beyond several minutes, then the brain cells start to die, and that's where the protection of low temperature gives us the opportunity to protect the very vulnerable brain.
Freeman: The patient's warm blood has been drained from his body, run through a bypass machine filled with ice, then pumped back through his veins and arteries.
This has gradually cooled him down to 18 degrees Centigrade -- The activity of his cells and neurons cannot be measured.
If you had a general practitioner or a cardiologist or somebody come in and use their regular criteria for life or death, all the criteria for death would be fulfilled.
At this point, the heart-lung machine and the respirator -- the devices that keep him alive -- are shut off -- no breathing, no blood pumping -- a condition virtually identical to death.
[ Flatline ] John has 45 minutes to operate in safety.
After an hour, brain damage will set in.
Now his decades of experience come into play.
We're still in suspended animation.
So we've got 15 minutes to go for safety.
Freeman: Finally, John and his team manage to complete the repairs with seven minutes to spare.
The patient has been virtually dead for 38 minutes.
They slowly bring back life support, returning him to the land of the living with no damage to the brain.
Each and every day, I'm amazed that this can be done.
The definition of death has changed, really, and death is death when it's permanent.
But those criteria in this very, very special high-technology scenario of suspended animation or deep hypothermic arrest -- those criteria for death don't really apply.
Freeman: But can we bring life back to those who die in less controlled situations? [ Thunder crashes ] Lance Becker is the director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Resuscitation Science.
He believes the key to resurrection is buried deep within our cells.
Well, what we've known for just literally thousands of years is that, if you keep meat cold, it keeps longer.
The decay process, which is actually that death process -- [slowly] All of those things are slowed down in the cold setting.
[ Normal voice ] When the temperature comes down, the cells don't need as much oxygen, they don't metabolize as much, and they essentially sort of go into slow-mo, hibernation-style.
Freeman: Your body is made of tens of trillions of living cells.
Regulatory genes tell these cells how to behave.
Think of them as the cells' operating system.
At the end of a cell's life, the genes produce destructive enzymes that tear the cell apart.
Every day, roughly 50 billion of your cells die.
When something goes very wrong -- say, you suffer a cardiac arrest -- the injured cells sound an alarm, telling their healthy neighbors it's time to die.
This sets off a wave of cellular suicide that spreads rapidly across the body.
We don't die by accident.
There's biological programming that actually controls the way we die.
And in that programming is the opportunity for modifying that program so that we can alter the outcome -- bring someone back to life.
Freeman: To find out what triggers the death program, Lance took healthy cells and starved them of oxygen.
He expected most of the cells to die and the survivors to flourish when oxygen was restored.
Becker: So, what I found was the opposite of what we thought we would find, which is the cells without oxygen just sort of laid there.
They didn't do anything, but they didn't die.
But what happened was, when we reoxygenated those cells, that's when cell death occurred.
So it is a little bit ironic that oxygen, the molecule that we love and that we live with, becomes the molecule that drives death.
Freeman: Somehow, reintroducing oxygen into cells triggers the death signal that causes them to commit mass suicide.
[ Grunting ] Freezing seems to interrupt this process.
Lance pressed on, knowing that, if he found the death signal's source, he might be able to stop it from transmitting without the need for freezing.
As we began to ask ourselves, "What could explain this sort of bizarre behavior?" We started seeing cellular pathways.
All of the paths led us to the organelle inside our cells that we call the mitochondria.
Freeman: Mitochondria lie deep within every single cell of your body.
They take the food you eat and the oxygen you breathe and convert them into chemical energy.
Becker: In some ways, it's a little bit like a nuclear power plant.
And you know how, in a nuclear power plant, there are rods that come together and they produce the heat, and if you don't control that process, you end up with Chernobyl.
What happens is, after one mitochondria goes nuclear, it starts to trigger a chain reaction that amplifies the death signal, and that death signal can be spread throughout the body.
[ Gags ] Freeman: Lance and his team suspect we might be able to stop this chain reaction by poisoning our mitochondria with sulfide, cyanide, and carbon monoxide.
A finely calibrated dose of these toxins might disarm the death signal.
It will be quicker than freezing, and it could reverse a cellular meltdown.
So, ideally, what we'd like to do is we'd like to get a few of those molecules on board as we're beginning to bring oxygen back to the patient.
We think we can restart that mitochondria, have it convert back to producing energy instead of producing death.
Freeman: These treatments are still highly experimental.
But if doctors can silence the death signal, it may soon be commonplace to revive the dying and the recently dead.
[ Thunder crashes ] Medical science has already proven that the dead can live again under a very controlled set of circumstances.
But can it take us further? What if we could grow the dead back to life? Imagine how much richer humanity might be if we could raise Einstein or Mozart from the grave or how much it would mean to us personally if we could bring back the loved ones we have lost? It may be possible.
Cloning has opened up a new road to resurrection But should we take it? Bob Lanza was born into a working-class Boston family.
Today, he owns an island in Massachusetts and lives in a sprawling compound that's part house, part natural-history museum.
These are the fruits of a career in biotechnology.
Lanza: Here's a brontosaurus femur.
One of the first things people ask me when they come into the house is, "Bob, are you gonna clone that?" And I tell them, "you can't clone from stone.
You need a living cell.
" Freeman: Over the last decade, Bob has successfully cloned mice, cows, cats, dogs, pigs, sheep, and horses.
In 2001, he used frozen cells to successfully resurrect an extinct southeast Asian ox called a Gaur, using an American cow as a surrogate mother.
Everyone said, "no, that won't work.
You can't clone one species using the egg from another one.
" And I said, "no, no, no.
If we do it and it's close enough, we should get it to work.
" So I actually took skin cells from the Gaur, and I actually put the DNA into an ordinary cow egg.
And then we created these spectacular little Gaur embryos, and we shipped them off to Iowa, where they were implanted into an ordinary cow.
And it turns out that, 10 months later, we had this beautiful little baby Gaur that was born.
It looked like a little baby reindeer -- just adorable.
Freeman: But where Bob sees beauty, others see monstrosity.
Opponents of cloning say he's playing God.
Bob doesn't see it that way.
Cloning really isn't all that unusual.
For thousands of years, people have been cloning plants.
You can actually start by taking a clipping from a plant -- you get some of the genetic material -- and then add a little nutrients get it to root, and to basically clone an entire new organism.
Freeman: Humanity has mastered the cloning of plants, and we are now working our way through the animal kingdom.
Could we someday take the DNA of dead people and bring their bodies back to life? Can we cultivate a garden of resurrected humans? [ Owl hooting ] Imagine a world where a woman could bring back her deceased husband by giving birth to him or a man could bring back his mother and raise her as his daughter.
If we have a living cell of a dead person, certainly, we could, in theory, clone that individual.
We published a paper about a year or two ago where we show we can actually now create human embryos that are genetically identical to a normal embryo.
The only way you would really know whether you could clone a human being is to actually implant that embryo into the uterus of a surrogate mother.
Of course, we cannot implant those -- that would be considered unethical -- so it's unclear whether or not they would -- would give rise to a human being.
Freeman: Society has vehemently rejected reproductive human cloning.
In this climate, it is extremely difficult for geneticists to obtain funding for their research.
There is also a shortage of material.
Lanza: So, one of the problems with human cloning is the supply of eggs.
So, with a mouse or a cow, we can get literally hundreds, if not thousands, of eggs.
We can go to the slaughterhouse, for instance, and get them for a dollar each and get thousands of these cow eggs.
With the humans, it took us over a year just to get five eggs.
Freeman: Even if you had the eggs, it could take hundreds of pregnancies to perfect human cloning, a process that could result in scores of babies with horrific genetic damage.
Lanza: It'd be very much like -- if you wanted to clone your child, it'd be like sending him up in a rocket with a 50-50 chance it would blow up.
Freeman: In most of the world, cloning humans is not illegal.
One day, a rogue scientist will pull it off.
But cloning a person is not the same as duplicating a person.
Lanza: A lot of people, you know, who have their pets -- they want to often clone them, and they want Fluffy back.
And what I tell them is, "you're not gonna get Fluffy back.
" As a matter of fact, we actually clone entire herds of cows from a single cell from the same animal, and they develop a whole hierarchy, just like we do in humans.
So you have timid cows and aggressive cows, and they're all clones.
So they develop their own behavioral patters.
So the environment has a very profound impact on your development.
Freeman: Let's say we decide to take DNA from Einstein's hair and grow some new Einsteins.
Those clones would not be the man who wrote "E = MC squared.
" Each would have a unique personality shaped by his environment.
[ Cellphone rings ] [ Speaking indistinctly ] Clones are like identical twins born years apart -- they may be similar, but they will not be the same.
Perhaps the key to life after death is not to grow an entirely new body, but to resurrect the one you have.
At the moment, our society does not permit human cloning, but that could change.
In the meantime, biotechnologists have another trick up their sleeves -- resurrecting people piece by piece.
It's an approach that could transform medical science and blur the line between life and death.
The revolution begins here, in a laboratory the University of Minnesota.
This is where Dr.
Doris Taylor breathes life back into the dead.
Taylor: I just want to change the world.
I want to change the world for people with disease.
I also have a brother who's chronically ill, and that's probably influenced everything I've done in my life.
Tipler: Doris is changing the world by growing new body parts from the shells of old ones.
She takes organs from cadavers and reanimates them using a method drawn from an unlikely source -- architecture.
Taylor: The bricks in a building are just like the cells in an organ -- different kinds, different shapes.
And they make rooms, and the rooms are like the chambers of a heart.
They're connected by doorways, like the valves.
They have hallways, like the arteries and veins.
Essentially, you can think of an organ just like you think of a building.
Freeman: Just as buildings can be rebuilt brick by brick, Doris believes bodies can be rebuilt cell by cell.
In building construction, they use a scaffold that -- like you see here -- to essentially provide access to otherwise inaccessible areas and to create a framework for what they're gonna build.
We essentially do the same thing in the laboratory with an organ.
We create a framework on which we can put cells.
Freeman: Doris reanimates major organs, including livers, lungs, and hearts.
Taylor: This is a ghost heart.
This is essentially the framework, or scaffold, on which the cells sit.
And by washing out all the cells, what we have left is a scaffold that we can repopulate with cells to now build a new organ.
So, essentially, this scaffold is what tells cells how to join together and become a heart.
Freeman: What happens when you put fresh cells into a decellularized heart? This -- a modern miracle.
Right now, if you need a body part, you face the grim prospect of organ rejection, but Doris' replacement organs -- heart, kidneys, and livers -- will be tailor-made for your body.
We'll take an organ from a pig, strip all the cells, take your stem cells, put them in that organ, and build something that matches you.
Freeman: So, if Doris and her team can bring hearts and livers back from the dead, could they also reanimate a human brain? Dr.
Taylor: Now, could we build a cluster of neurons and glial cells and everything that looks like part of a brain or a brain? I have no doubt that, one day, we'll be able to do that.
Can we resurrect you and who you are -- your personality? I don't think we know how to do that yet.
Freeman: It's more likely this technology will be used to replace damaged sections of the brain, perhaps even extending its life beyond the rest of the body.
[ Thunder crashing ] But can we go even further? As we die, could we have our brains transplanted into healthy donor bodies? [ Thunder crashes ] I suspect the biggest challenge to a brain transplant is keeping it alive during the time of removing it from an individual and all the connections that would have to be recapitulated in a transplanted individual, because unlike the heart, it's not just about hooking up the blood supply.
It'd also be about hooking up the spinal cord, hooking up all the nerves.
I can't imagine how we could make all those connections in a timely way that maintain function.
Freeman: But do we even need to have physical brains? The key to resurrection is to restore what fundamentally makes us unique -- the contents of our minds.
As technology advances, the prospect of copying our brains becomes more and more likely.
Bringing the dead back to life may just be a matter of combining the right zeroes and ones.
Our lives are continually monitored by technology.
Almost everything we do leaves a digital trail.
This immense library of information may still exist long after we die.
If we gathered up a lifetime of these digital footprints, could we use them to bring someone back from the dead? These students could be the first humans to rise from the dead.
They call themselves extreme lifeloggers.
And they are digitally archiving their existence.
Everything they see and hear, wherever they go, whomever they are with, how fast their hearts beat, even how much they sweat -- it's all recorded onto hard drives at Dublin City University.
This is the brainchild of search-engine specialist Cathal Gurrin.
Hey, how did it go? Pretty well.
Woman: It was fun.
How about the weather -- was it cold? Bit cold.
You got the devices.
We can have a look? Yes.
Yes, accelerometer.
Here is mine.
Oh, thank you.
And the camera.
Let's have a look.
Freeman: Cathal has recorded his own life for 5 1/2 years.
So far, he has gathered over 8 1/2 million images and sensor readings.
So here's, for example, a typical day in my life -- on the 10th of November.
Here you can see what I did on that day.
I got up in the morning.
I made breakfast.
I went to my office.
I worked pretty much all of the day, with a coffee break, and then, driving home at night, going by a restaurant on the way.
The software we have has managed to take about 3,000 pictures on that day and summarized them down into this collection of about 30 pictures.
Freeman: Cathal is creating an auxiliary memory -- something that can be searched when his biological memory fails him, preserved in a medium far more accurate than the human brain.
When you're faced with this kind of data about your life -- your life in the past -- then you start to identify times you make mistakes in your memory.
It becomes very apparent when you remember an event in the past and you go back to look at it -- the differences in the reality versus what you actually see itself.
And that's where a life log can really help you to identify the truth about what's happened in the past, not just your memory's version of it, which we know, from research, that we'll have inaccuracies -- we'll have flaws in that memory.
Freeman: Anyone who's spent time on social-networking sites knows that a basic form of lifelogging is already practiced by millions of people, anxious to share their every passing thought, no matter how trivial.
It's estimated that humanity today generates more data in two days than it produced in all of history up to the year 2003.
And this data stream is expected to increase exponentially in the future.
Extreme lifelogging will add an enormous amount of new imagery and data to the vast amount that already floods the Internet.
Gurrin: We will typically capture at least a million photographs a year for an individual person.
So that's an incredibly huge data set to be handled by a search engine.
And that's one of the issues about lifelogging that we are trying to solve in this research -- how to handle a million photographs a year for people, how to handle many hundreds of millions of sensor values, make sense of this, organize this, and take this enormous quantity of big, big data about people and make it useable and easy for the people to access their content from within that archive.
Freeman: Cathal and his students are creating backup drives for their entire life's experience -- black boxes of the mind.
Someday, we might all have these personal life recorders -- initially, to enhance our memories, but after death, our survivors could take our black boxes and hand them over for uploading.
Gurrin: Essentially, memory defines us.
A person's personality is based on their memories and their experiences over time.
By gathering all this type of data, we're able to hopefully, in the future, re-create that person's personality in the digital memory.
We're able to re-create how that person reacts to a certain stimulus in the environment, how that person reacts to interactions with other people.
We'd be able to take the digital memory data and by enhancing our artificial-intelligence algorithms and search engines right now, be able to re-create a fairly good representation of that person's personality from the digital memory.
Freeman: This would not create a perfect mirror of the mind, but it would reflect the stuff our minds are attracted to.
A computer algorithm would sort through your likes and dislikes and extrapolate a personality based on your experiences.
Cathal's route to resurrection might bring something similar to you back to life.
But is there a way to exactly re-create your inner self? This man says yes.
We just need the right tools for the job.
Your mind is the product of 100 trillion neural connections in your brain.
This dense pattern is you.
And when the brain dies, you die.
What if we could separate the contents of our minds from our brains? If we could pull the essence of who you are out of the fragile biology of your brain and put it into another container, you could live again.
[ Train whistle blows ] By day, Ken Hayworth is a neuroscientist at a prestigious Massachusetts University.
In his off hours, he runs the Brain Preservation Foundation, which looks for ways to resurrect our minds after death.
I want to see the future, and death is preventing that.
But if we can preserve and map our brains, we can get there.
[ Train whistle blows ] The wiring of your brain is like this train track, only the total length of wires in your brain is actually billions of times longer than the length of this toy track.
And the number of switching points in your brain numbers in the hundreds of trillions.
We call this set of wires and switches in a human brain the connectome.
The connectome is the seat of all of our memory, and it is the generator of our thought and our consciousness.
If we could copy this set of trillions of connections, we could re-create you, even after your body has died.
Freeman: The way to rescue all the information held in the connectome, Ken says, is to treat the brain like a computer.
So, this is a dead computer.
It's way out of date.
It has a burned-out motherboard, and there's really essentially nothing I can do to repair this computer.
And I'm really sad about that, because this particular computer has all my wedding photographs, my PhD thesis, and I'm going to just toss it into the trash and lose it forever.
But, of course, that's not true.
Those pieces of information are stored digitally on this hard drive, and I can copy that information onto another hard drive.
Now, what I'm saying is that neuroscience has told us that we, in essence, are digital information stored in the synaptic connections within our brain.
If we preserve that brain at our death, then that information that makes us unique -- all of those memories -- they're not lost, and they can be potentially brought back just the same way digital information can be brought back by putting it in a new computer.
Freeman: Software is physically written onto a hard drive.
Make an exact copy of a drive, and you have an exact copy of the information it contains.
Ken believes all the information in your brain can also be copied and stored.
All you have to do to preserve the connectome's trillions of neural connections is to copy the brain's hardware one slice at a time.
Ken's brain-scanning assembly line would work like this.
At the moment of death, the brain is extracted and preserved in plastic.
The brain is then chopped by a heated diamond knife into 20-micron cubes 40,000 times thinner than a human hair.
These tiny slices are sliced again, 1,000 times thinner, then scanned by ion beams.
The process is repeated millions of times until the entire brain is digitized.
Hmm? Hmm? It is technology that exists today.
We mapped small bits of neural tissue at this ultimate resolution already.
Freeman: The resolution is so high that we cannot only see the connections between neurons -- we can also determine their strength and type.
Once we have the ability to map a human brain and once we have the knowledge of how that generates a human mind, we will be able to simulate that brain in a computer substrate and bring that individual back to life inside of a computer simulation.
Freeman: Mapping the human mind today would require an enormously expensive Apollo-sized project.
But as technology gets cheaper, that could change.
So, whereas it's tens of billions of dollars today to map a whole human mind, it will be thousands of dollars Anybody that wants to get to that future technology just 100 years from now can get their brain preserved.
Freeman: Imagine the future in which every hospital is equipped to preserve your brain if you dip near death.
Thousands of brains, sliced and scanned, will be ready to form a new population of the formerly dead.
Hayworth: That person's brain that's sitting there on the shelf for the last 100 years can be taken off, sliced, imaged, and downloaded into a computer simulation.
And that person wakes up like they were in a long sleep.
Freeman: And if we live on as digital copies of ourselves, what then? What would life be like as a computer program? How would we relate to each other? Could we bear to live without physical sensation? To bring back a brain and just leave it in some computer without legs, without arms, without eyes -- of course, that would be an experience worse than death.
Freeman: Resurrecting the mind may not be enough.
To truly live again, we will want to see the world around us and touch the ones we love.
The challenges of restoring a mind to a biological body seem insurmountable.
But there is another option.
Perhaps we could build new bodies to carry our resurrected minds -- robot bodies, like these.
Someday, we may be able to preserve our minds, but our resurrection will be incomplete if we don't have bodies -- not these fragile bags of chemicals, but perfect replicas of ourselves that never age and can be constantly upgraded -- robot vessels to carry our digitized minds.
Think of it.
In Japan, robots are a part of daily life.
Most of them work in factories and don't look too different from the machines they build.
But Japan also leads the world in building androids that straddle the line between humans and machines.
If Hiroshi Ishiguro has his way, the world of the future will be filled with replicants so realistic, you can't tell them apart from flesh-and-blood people.
Hiroshi's lab tests how much or how little humanity androids need to be accepted by humans.
They have produced a line of robots ranging from near human to these almost impressionistic creatures.
The Elfoid robots have a bare minimum of human characteristics, yet people are able to relate to them.
In the future, this might be the low-budget option for your robot body.
It's simple, but it does the job.
[ Speaking Japanese ] Freeman: For now, the Elfoid is remote-controlled, like all of Hiroshi's robots.
Software reads the facial expressions of the operator and transmits them to tiny actuators under the android's synthetic skin.
These mimic human facial muscles.
[ Speaking Japanese ] At the other end of the ladder are the Geminoids, meant to mirror humans as closely as possible.
The Geminoids are replicas of real people.
Imagine a body like this loaded with the contents of your digitized mind, or perhaps your disembodied consciousness would operate the android from a mainframe, just as these robots are controlled from a distance.
Hiroshi is already working on the technology to connect our minds to the androids.
Ishiguro: If possible Freeman: If Hiroshi does perfect a brain/machine interface, he will probably first test it on himself -- or, more precisely, his replicant.
Yeah, yeah.
He's restarting -- restarting.
Yeah, we have come -- we have come back now.
[ Laughs ] Okay.
Now it's okay.
Can you look at me? Mm-hmm.
All right.
Hiroshi often sends his doppelganger to other countries to represent him or to teach classes that he's too busy to attend in the flesh.
How do people respond to this and me? Well -- well, maybe they were -- in the first contact, they were a little bit nervous, but, you know, once -- as you know that, once you start to talk, they can concentrate on the -- in a conversation.
Hiroshi has essentially created a robot version of himself, and the better his hardware gets, the more his androids pass for real people.
The Geminoid "F" is an android so lifelike, it has performed onstage in plays, but its inventor is never satisfied.
Thank you for answering my questions, Professor.
You're welcome.
Freeman: This could be the future face of the living dead -- not decaying corpses, but smooth silicon flesh -- robots carrying the minds of our long-lost loved ones.
[ Breathes deeply ] The day when we never have to say goodbye may soon be at hand.
But what would it be like to see your dead grandmother again, living inside a synthetic body? Would she still be the woman you knew? We won't know until it happens.
The human race may one day be filled with new and unfamiliar ethnic groups.
The people next door might be the robotic undead, and the great divide in society would be between those who have lived only once and those who are on their second or fifth body.