Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen's Face-to-Face Shows the Myopia of Climate Change Denial
Ice finally met fire on last night's episode of Game of Thrones, and their first conversation proved a perfect case study in the distance between power and reality.
While promoting his new documentary and book, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, on Pod Save America, former vice-president Al Gore paraphrases Nelson Mandela when stating, “It’s always impossible until it’s done.” He’s discussing the “ferocious resistance” to climate science, a movement he compares to Civil Rights in the South of his youth. Over time, he believes, the choice becomes clear. His universe bends toward justice.
When these questions get less complicated, when the underbrush is cleared away, and we get a clearer view of the binary choice at the heart of it, between right and wrong, then the outcome becomes foreordained. And I think we’re really close to that with the climate movement.
Perhaps. Civil Rights was a giant step forward in America, but in recent years we’ve witnessed a sense of racism and entitlement that was boiling underneath the surface all along. The same for gay rights: most Americans, thankfully, are for it, but then a tweet dismantling transgender rights in the military exposes bigotry in less than 140 characters. It might truly be minority opinion, but it’s a loud and crude one.
The White Walkers are ideal archetypes for whatever the society’s greatest fear is. In this column from episode three they’re white supremacists. Before season seven kicked off, Vox speculated that the entire series is about climate change, with the White Walkers leading the metaphor:
Their zombie minions are equally happy to rip apart people of all nations and noble houses. Yet instead of uniting to combat the shared threat to human existence, the houses in the show spend basically all their time on their own petty disagreements and struggle for power. White Walkers are generally ignored; some nobles deny their existence outright.
This theory came to life last night during the most-anticipated meeting in the show’s history, that of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. While the focus today has been on the fact Snow refused to “bend the knee,” their first conversation proved a perfect case study in humanity’s painful history of the distance between power and reality.
Targaryen’s sole focus is that the King of the North recognizes her legitimacy. A longstanding agreement between the Targaryens and Starks, with the former always ruling the latter, is “in perpetuity”—Tyrion provides the definition should the word not register with Snow. When the bastard replies that everyone is acting like a child Daenerys, well, acts like a child. She reminds Snow of the ancient pact and her flying friends.
Which is fascinating. No one believed the dragons could be resurrected, but she did it. That’s her superhero power. While she does receive a glimpse of Snow’s superhero power, the ancient concept of resurrection which dates back well before the Christ mythology, Snow instead turns to anecdote: I’ve seen the White Walkers. I know what they can do. Wake up.
Daenerys’s reaction is expectable: I only believe in my myth. Snow, of course, has seen the dragons, but given his last few seasons he’s more primed to take anyone at their word regarding magic and superstition. Daenerys, not so much. The well-traveled Tyrion proves more open-minded, which is why he brokers obsidian for trust. Daenerys’ thinking is fundamentalist, Snow’s, pragmatic, though in truth the Queen of Dragons is not so brittle that she’ll suffer Lady Olenna’s fate: a failure of imagination.
How do we confront an enemy no one believes in because no one can see it? That's the question Snow leaves us with. We can see iceberg calving thanks to patient videographers positioned at the planet’s edges—a relative term, of course, as circles don’t have edges. But at this moment most would rather watch the videos on their screens rather than give up the behaviors that are part of the problem that’s causing calving. We tend to choose the superstitions that benefit us, not the ones that point at our destruction.
Which defines metaphysical religious thinking. A benevolent “energy” for our ultimate good is one we desire, regardless of its absurdity in the face of biology and evolution. Likewise, one bent on our downfall cannot be the ultimate force in the “universe,” which bends toward “justice” and “love." Catchphrases stir our emotions even as they muddy the rising waters.
So as Daenerys continues her quest of legitimacy and Cersei pitches the benefits of monarchies to Mycroft Holmes Tycho Nestoris, Jon Snow prepares to mine the earth for cooled lava in hopes of defeating the planet’s biggest threat. He recognizes the binary choice Gore points to, the first of the bickering children to reach adolescence. We can hope the other leaders follow suit, but we shouldn't expect it. It would be a boon for humanity, but it makes for terrible religion fiction.
Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."
- Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
- Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
- Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
- A huge segment of America's population — the Baby Boom generation — is aging and will live longer than any American generation in history.
- The story we read about in the news? Their drain on social services like Social Security and Medicare.
- But increased longevity is a cause for celebration, says Ashton Applewhite, not doom and gloom.
Some evidence attributes a certain neurological phenomenon to a near death experience.
Time of death is considered when a person has gone into cardiac arrest. This is the cessation of the electrical impulse that drive the heartbeat. As a result, the heart locks up. The moment the heart stops is considered time of death. But does death overtake our mind immediately afterward or does it slowly creep in?
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.