Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization

First Edition

© 1975-1979, 2008 Robert A. Freitas Jr. All Rights Reserved.

Robert A. Freitas Jr., Xenology: An Introduction to the Scientific Study of Extraterrestrial Life, Intelligence, and Civilization, First Edition, Xenology Research Institute, Sacramento, CA, 1979; http://www.xenology.info/Xeno.htm


16.3.1  Androids and Organleggers

Exactly what is an android? There seems to be much confusion on this score even among science fiction writers. Some hold that an android is an automaton in human form; others describe it as a robot that can think. Still others require it to be biological, while a few permit both biological and mechanical "androids." Perhaps the most consistent traditional definition is the one offered by Groff Conklin in 1954: "An android is a living being that has been created partly or wholly through processes other than natural birth."1836

The classic biological android was the fictional Frankenstein monster created by the pen of Mary Shelley -- a living organism assembled in pieces by men. Under the Conklin definition, clones would probably also be regarded as androids. What of nonhumanoid forms? Arthur C. Clarke has coined the word "biot" (short for "biological robot") to refer to all animal androids, nonhuman beasts created by the hand of sentience. Remarks Freeman J. Dyson of the biot:

I would say that when we learn to use these biological techniques ourselves, and to build machines with biological materials, we shall probably be able to create intelligence. I think it will not look like an electronic computer, but rather more like a living organism.1558

Jeremy Bernstein, Professor of Physics at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, echoes this sentiment when he states:

The lesson of modern biology is that the distinction between living and nonliving material is almost arbitrary. So it is possible that one would be able to make machines biologically, in test tubes rather than in an electronics factory, and then it will be almost an arbitrary question as to whether one wants to call such objects machines or living animals.1558

Terrestrial organ transplant technology has advanced markedly in the 1970's. As shown in Table 16.2, transplants of virtually every major human organ have been attempted with increasing success.* Furthermore, the art of microsurgery -- essential fine detail work with tissues and capillaries involved in transplantation -- has made fantastic progress. Skilled microsurgeons now suture tiny capillary walls and can reconnect delicate wisps of nerve tissue, working under a microscope with needle and thread smaller than human hair.2882 For more than a decade, Chinese doctors have been replacing severed limbs with great success -- arms, legs, feet and fingers. (Since the thumb accounts for 50% of the efficiency of the hand, microsurgeons can salvage it even when it's smashed beyond repair. One of the patients big toes is transplanted onto the thumb stump. "Close up it looks a little strange," remarked one writer, "but it does the job."2652)


Table 16.2 Human Organ Transplant Biotechnology as of 19762365
Number of Transplant
Operations Performed
Success Rate
Arms, legs, feet, hands, and fingers
many thousands
Umbilical cord grafts



Where might replacement organs come from? They could be cloned from the patient’s own cells, but this takes time. Another way would be to store donated or pre-cloned organs "on ice" until needed. Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have developed a technique which may soon make it possible to store human organs for a century or more before thawing for use in a transplantation procedure.2653

William Gaylin, President of the Institute of Society, Ethics, and the Life Sciences, has proposed the controversial idea of using living cadavers, which he calls "neomorts," for medical experimentation and salvaging body parts. Neomorts -- living, breathing, feeding and excreting organisms -- would nevertheless be legally dead because of the cessation of electrical brain activity (brain death). Gaylin suggests that "bio-emporiums" be maintained using the victims of suicides, homicides and other accidents. Neomorts would serve as body part banks. Organs would be preserved in the still-living bodies, and there would be a regular supply of blood since the living corpses "could be drained regularly."2654

Science fiction writer Larry Niven predicts that widespread demand for donor organs might create a new type of crime which he calls "organlegging." As body parts change from a luxury for the few to a necessity for the many, demand will almost certainly outstrip supply. Niven claims that a black market in illegally-obtained organs would spring into existence, offering disassembled kidnap victims to the local Organ Bank at inflated prices.2020 As man becomes more android, will his crimes become more heinous?

What about brain transplants? About a decade ago, Dr. Robert J. White of the Brain Research Laboratory at Cleveland Metropolitan General Hospital carefully removed the brains of six dogs. Each organ was placed into the cranium of a new canine and connected to its bloodstream. Some animals perished within six hours of the operation, but one survived for two days. During this time, the living transplanted brain produced electrical signals on the electroencephalograph that was monitoring it.1646 Similar experiments have been conducted successfully on monkeys.2656

But to transplant an entire brain and restore it to full capacity, extraterrestrial microsurgeons must be capable of severing and reconnecting countless millions of individual nerve endings in a very brief span of time. This will be a most challenging operation because the neural configurations in the donor brain, much like the uniqueness of fingerprints, will display a complicated pattern that probably won’t match the connections in the recipient’s cranium.

If the whole head is transplanted, however, the cranial nerves continue to function normally.2655 For this reason it has been suggested that aliens may prefer to transfer heads rather than brains. Human scientists have already tried this. In 1957 a Russian surgeon named Vladimer Demikov grafted a second head onto the neck of a dog. The two-headed monstrosity survived nearly a week with apparently "normal" functioning. For instance, when exposed to light and sound both heads responded by trying to bark.2365 Aliens may use similar methods to graft old heads onto freshly-cloned headless neomorts.


* A review of the medical literature available in 1976 fails to produce a single instance of penile transplantation.1621 However, 13 cases of replantation of the traumatically amputated penis are noted, and 10 cases of penile reconstruction are recorded in which a new penis was fashioned from other neighboring tissues. A major impasse to penile transplantation appears to be donor organ procurement.


Last updated on 6 December 2008