The Gods Ate Small Children

It was a fact that on Planet Xeron 12, the gods ate small children. It wasn’t that these celestial highness’s gained extraordinary powers or insights from the experience--small people simply tasted good. Naja Krait wasn’t about to lose her only child to the greedy, Elysian mouths. 

 

It was a fact that on Planet Xeron 12, the gods ate small children. It wasn’t that these celestial highness’s gained extraordinary powers or insights from the experience--small people simply tasted good. Naja Krait wasn’t about to lose her only child to the greedy, Elysian mouths. 


She drew the string on her bag of mushrooms and headed up the meadow path. Above, five moons orbited within the clear blue sky. Every twelfth year, and for only the second time in Naja’s life, the powerful sixth moon came into alignment. A tiny rip formed within the cosmic fabric that bound the universe as one. And it was through this very gap, so the storytellers said, that the invisible gods had spotted the children of Xeron 12 and found they tasted very good indeed. They had begun with infants, the smallest and weakest of the peaceful race, but bland and without crunch. The gods quickly shifted to six year olds; the perfect combination of fat, flesh, and hardened bones.

     Naja’s child, a daughter named Kimini, small for her age and inclined toward reflection, had yet to show the speed and agility necessary to pass the preparatory games. When other children practiced darting and dodging patterns, while they formed survival foraging bands and fuliginous emittance units, Kamini preferred to sit at the edge of the green water pond and sketch lily pads.

     This afternoon the rip would form and for weeks howling storms would race across the planet. Every six-year-old in the ancient community would quiver and hide. They would dodge invisible fingers that searched for them within the nooks of the land. But still Kimini sketched.

     Naja reached the end of the meadow, took a left over a small rise, and descended to the green pond and her daughter who sat blissfully unaware, it would seem, of the imminent disaster.

     “Kimini.”

     The small child looked up, the reflection of the green water still rippling in her eyes.

     “It’s time to go. They’ll be here soon and you won’t be safe out in the open.”

     A wrinkle passed over Kimini’s forehead. “Who?”

     “Who?” Naja dropped her bag of mushrooms. “The gods, daughter. It’s your year.”

     “But look.” Kamini pointed to a cluster of lily pads, their wide green leaves overlapping. Within each lily, a flower had formed, small, white with yellowish edges.

     Naja kneeled next to her. “Child, they’re beautiful. But you should be afraid. Soon the gods will descend and you may never see the flowers again. Only by running now, can you come back later to draw them all you want, every day each day until you’re an old woman.”

     Kamini shook her head. “But I have them already.” She held up her parchment.  Within her drawing flowers danced and weaved in another world’s breeze, each petal distinct and vibrant. Lily leaves swirled and dipped within the thick, green water.

     Naja sat back on her heels. The drawing in her daughter’s tiny hands seemed more alive than the pond before her.

     “Here,” said Kamini, and handed her mother another parchment. Purple and orange fish darted within slender reeds and knock-kneed roots. A moss-covered turtle, its shell sparkling with starlight, paddled its way across the drawing until it butted up against the border.

     But it was her daughter’s third drawing that made Naja gasp. The invisible gods, clear as if they stood before Naja, fumed and pondered within a spiraling mass of planets, moons, and suns. One of them, older, his chin resting in a massive palm, turned and stared straight into Naja’s eyes. 

     Just then a giant snap reverberated through the sky. A crack appeared in the heavens and a shadow as black as obsidian screamed across the land.

     Naja held Kamini tight. “They’re here,” she whispered into her hair. “Stay still child.”

     The air wavered as the invisible gods descended. Space and light bulged and roiled over the pond. Naja trembled and she covered Kamini’s small body with her own, hoping the hungry deities would pass right over. For hours the screams of the universe tore through Xeron 12. Winds bent the trees sideways, the waters of the pond heaved and roiled, and small bushes whipped through the air. But still Naja clung to her daughter. She lay her body flat on the grassy bank, and willed herself to protect them both.

     Gradually the roiling air calmed, the winds of the universe quieted through the celestial rip, and the land fell silent. The storms should have lasted for weeks but the gods had vanished.  Naja lifted herself up and found herself alone. Kamini was gone.

“Kamini!” She hoisted herself up and turned in a circle, searching for her daughter. The grass lay flat and the pond reeds bent over completely submerged. She scrambled over the bank of the pond and into the green water, slashing through it toward the reeds. She dove under the lily pads, searching amongst the roots and leaves and came up gasping for breath.

She arched her head back and screamed “Noooooo!” into the sky. And stopped. A black crack stretched across the blue and the six moons lined up perfectly; each one larger than the next until the giant sixth moon filled half the sky.

Something fluttered high above; a parchment, swaying back and forth like an autumn leaf slowly descending. It wafted down to settle upon Naja’s toes. One of its corners flickered in the breeze.

Naja picked up the parchment. It was the drawing her daughter had done of the ancient god, his chin resting on his huge palm. Within that palm, perched with her legs swinging over his smallest finger, sat Kimini, sketching.

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  • 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.

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Personal Growth

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.

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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

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.

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • 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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