Sharing the global stage: Musings on Mumbai
[cross-posted at the TechLearning\nblog]
After nearly 24 hours here in Mumbai, several things already\nare quite apparent to me...\n
- The Southern states in the USA - my previous benchmark for hospitality \nhave nothing on the folks that I have encountered so far in India (and I say\nthat as a native of the South). The people here have been uniformly gracious,\nfriendly, and welcoming. \n\n
- The word that best describes this city might be LOTS. As in LOTS of poverty\n(it's staggering, really, to a Westerner such as myself). As in LOTS of traffic\n(a bewildering mess of cars, trucks, taxis, buses, auto-rickshaws, scooters,\nbicycles, and pedestrians, all darting in and out of extremely small gaps in\ntraffic). As in LOTS of people and LOTS and LOTS of construction and LOTS of\nenergy. Somehow it all combines together into a positive, tangible buzz. There\nis a feel to this place a palpable sense that this is a city that is on the\nmove. \n\n
- Mumbai is a place of startling juxtapositions. At the foot of a gleaming\ncorporate office building will be a shantytown. Adjacent to an eight-block\nsection of decrepit, decaying apartment buildings (that, of course, are packed\nwith residents) will be a shiny glass-and-marble shopping mall. Next to a\nfilthy, tin-roofed store selling tires (that appears to be held up only by the\nposters and ads affixed to its rickety wooden walls) will be a new high-end\nelectronics store selling HDTVs. \n\n
- For all of the possibility that is here, there's still an enormously long\nway to go. Mumbai and other parts of India may be on a tremendous upswing but\nthere are hundreds and hundreds of millions of people who are seeing little, if\nany, of the economic growth. That said, it's a numbers game. Even if only one or\ntwo hundred million people in a nation of over a billion join the Indian middle\nclass, the economic impact on the global economy will be quite substantial. \n\n
- Any tech plan that starts like this (as does the American School of Bombay's) is probably going to be pretty\nsuccesful:
As our world becomes more technologically and globally interconnected,\nit's increasingly imperative that we all understand and plan how to facilitate\nstudent and faculty acquisition and mastery of 21st century skills. The 21st\ncentury isn't a time in the future; it is now.
Have I said anything that hasn't been said before? Probably not. But I now\ncan feel in my gut a sense of what this city is like. In Flight\nof the Creative Class, Richard Florida notes that the\nbiggest danger facing the USA is not terrorism but rather that talented,\ncreative people will stop wanting to come to America. There are\nplaces for those people here in Mumbai (and in South Korea, Australia,\nSingapore, Ireland...). Tom\nFriedman is right: we Americans are going to have to get used to sharing the\nglobal stage.\n
- The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
- Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
- Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.
In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.
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. 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.
A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.
- Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
- If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
- It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
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