The Last Sage Of Europe

CHINA has always been a ‘living sage culture’. A ‘culture without sages’, on the other hand, was a culture that lacked a profound respect for relationships – the relationships among people, and the relationships between the people and all things.


Without respect for relationships, there was no tolerance for others, inhibited consideration, and no commitment to oneness and interconnectedness. A culture without sages was a sad place.

Zhuangzi once said: “Delight in sageness is helpful to ingenious contrivances; delight in knowledge contributes to fault-finding.”

The Chinese sages were stressing the priority of wisdom from experience over blind faith in quick knowledge. Any piece of knowledge feels sharp when cut out of context and can be used as a weapon, yet once it was placed back, it was just blunt surface again.

A sage would always consider the whole and not fighting over the particular. A sage understood harmoniousness first – through self-cultivation – in his heart and mind; and then he understood the harmoniousness that binds his heart and mind together with the hearts and minds of all human beings.

READ MORE What is the Difference between a Sage and a Philosopher?

The sage was wise because he experienced the interconnectedness of all people. The sagacious approach to thinking – this particular expression of human intelligence – had caused the rise of sage cultures in Asia and was a necessary requirement for the formation and flourishing of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Shinto.

The sagacious approach to thinking had been discontinued in Europe already by the Greeks. Once the sages (sophists) were suppressed, no more sage culture could be sustained, thus nothing similar to Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Shinto could ever arise in Europe.

Jesus Christ was a sage, too, because he experienced the interconnectedness of all human beings. However, the European philosophical culture demanded a first cause (the premise) that lied outside human experience.

All Western thinking has been linear, from a beginning to an end, from the past to the present, the cause causes the effect. That first cause ideally should be looked at and treated like another piece of knowledge, the object of the philosophical enquiry.

That first cause and piece of knowledge was called God, and God, the cause, was necessarily separated from the effect, the creation of the world. God was not the world, but created it, and the world was thus separated from God.

In short, human beings were no longer one with the Creator. Inevitably, Jesus Christ became the last sage of Europe because he called himself the Son of the First Cause – God. No one after Christ could become like him. If He was wise, no one else could be.

READ MORE And I shall call you “Religion”

If no one can be like Him (God), he (Jesus Christ) is no longer one of us. He placed himself above humanity. Confucius would never have done that. Since highest wisdom and morality were now delegated to God, the sages became dispensable and had to denounce their human-based humanity. Those who taught humanity now taught the divine. They became the priests. Those who absolutely submitted to God’s will, however, the servants of God, became saints – Holy men by divine grace.

Not a single European spiritual personality was ever called a sage again, certainly not Moses, Jesus, not Augustine of Hippo, and not Meister Eckhart. Sage culture was gone and prevented from returning.

Image credit: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock.com

This is a condensed version of a chapter on ‘Sage Cultures' from the manuscript Shengren. You can follow me on Twitter, my Website, or my other Blog.

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Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • 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. 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.

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