The Coming of Post-Translational Society

LITTLE IS known about China in Europe and America. Although the Chinese were enviable thinkers for over three millennia, almost nothing of their originality has reached us intact. The reason for this is simple. The Western world guarded against foreign knowledge with an old language trick: Translation. This has to stop.


My Language, Your Prison

If a 'world without translation' seems a bold proposal, think about how mystics and saints once frowned upon the coming of the secular order.

It may be surprising to learn that first, in science, a 'translation' is a transformation – one thing changes into another, and second a computer never translates. Only human beings mistake, say, a verse from the English Bible as the words of Jesus Christ. That's of course impossible. Jesus spoke Aramaic (some say Hebrew), certainly not English.

Translation distorts Cultural Reality

The discovery that a translation is always different from the original is a small but significant revolution. In the past when people saw a word and its translation they obviously noticed the difference in form and shape. In order to explain this irritation away, philosophers invented a ghost: the ghost of "meaning." For the sake of this metaphor, let us call meaning "sauce" - as in ketchup sauce.

Historians would then go around and construe something like "those two words have the same sauce" or "this has a different sauce." Mysterious as this sounds, people still believe in this invisible, magical dominion called "meaning," and they still build all the humanities on it.

Philosophers are a Syndicate

Translation is a shameful secret. When it becomes a nation state's strategy, it turns into ruthless theft of cultural property. Plato and his school of "philosophers" simply branded all organized thought as "philosophy," which then was sponsored by Christianity and has now become the world's greatest syndicate. Even today China, India, Iran (former Persia) and Japan, are expected to award "PhD degrees" – doctors of philosophy - even if what their people studied had nothing to do with it.

Entire branches of humanity are disowned of their intellectual genius this way, yet historians still don't want to talk about it. Yes, some Chinese key terms escaped the translational onslaught; words like dao, kungfu, yin and yang, or even dim sum – that Cantonese "steamed food." But that is just a tiny fraction of the tens of thousands of terminologies, words like wenming, shengren, and tianxia, which are still out there, buried in the Chinese text, beneath all-too-convenient Western translations.

China Evangelized

The first European missionaries wanted to christianize China and saw a biblical "messiah" in Kong Zi. Hence rujia – this is the real name of China's tradition - was re-named into "Confucianism," following the same logic that made Christ personify our "Christianity." The truth is that Master Kong was just one of many thinkers; yet the Europeans got their way.

Linguists can now reconstruct translation history and trace vocabularies like scientists trace migration. Yes, languages do morph, dialects emerge, terms are created, letters change, and two words never have identical fingerprints. But there is no "meaning" in words. Definitions may help us to distinguish between two concepts, but they are just this: more words.

A World without Chinese?

Dictionaries are man-made. They were often believed to be the word of God, while foreign languages were simply "confused." European people, to this day, swear they are able express all human thought with just one set of vocabularies - theirs. Everyone who studied a foreign language knows that this is not true; yet we prefer to keep silent, often for fear of being accused of culture treason.

In the past, the world witnessed unprecedented historical hubris. For example, any German philosopher (like Leibniz, Kant, or Hegel) could explain what the Chinese thought without ever having visited China or knowing a single Chinese terminology. This was good enough for the 17th – 20th centuries.

Today we know better. Cultures have a purpose; one of their main tasks is to differentiate themselves from each other, and we need to give all cultures credit for what they spent their time on and what they've created. And the evidence for what cultures created is in their linguistic "fossils" – their vocabularies.

The Future of Global Language

No archaeologist would dare to falsify or displace a fossil finding, or obscure its existence, just because it threatens his prerogative. But in the humanities this is the rule. The discovery of a Chinese corpus of knowledge that wasn't there if China never existed – that makes any non-Chinese look what? - Limited, constrained, ignorant at best?

That's why our scientists – the impartial - taxonomized the entire animal and plant kingdom, and the material world, while no such thing crossed the minds of our humanists – the scheming. As a result, we live in a crazy world where the general Western public cannot distinguish between, say, an ulama, a junzi, a heshang, a guru, and a rabbi. To them, it's all a " priest."

We don't need to memorize all languages [computers can], but we must pay attention to foreign key terminologies that are untranslatable and promote them into the future global language. We must end translation.

Image credit: Minoru Suzuki/Shutterstock.com

Read it at China Daily

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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.