Hey Bill Nye! Could Scientists Today Create Frankenstein’s Monster?

Has technology advanced enough that we could stitch together body parts and reanimate the dead? Bill Nye one-ups that old-school Frankenstein vision with newer (and cooler) scientific possibilities.

Lauren: Hi Bill Nye. My name is Lauren . I'm . First off I'd like to say that you're my favorite person ever in the world. But my question is do you think we can build our own modern day Frankenstein sewn together body parts and somehow reanimating it, do you think it's possible because you seem like the person to ask this. Anyway, thank you so much. I hope to see you on Big Think.

Bill Nye: Lauren, reanimating people from different body parts. Probably not, but something even more amazing is about to happen in biology and genetics. One point of clarification, Dr. Frankenstein created what came to be called Frankenstein's monster. The monster himself was not really called Frankenstein. Just a little science fiction point of interest there. So what will probably happen in your lifetime, just judging how old you appear on Big Think, is people like you will be able to regenerate parts of your body using your own cells that technologist in medicine and genetics are finding ways to get your own body to create more cells that it didn't used to be able to create. Like if you need a new pancreas you'll be able to grow your own pancreas. And I don't know about complex mechanical systems like hands and fingers, but it doesn't seem beyond the technology that's being developed right now. Because in my lifetime people came to appreciate the significance of stem cells. These are cells that have plenta potential. They can be anything when you're a blastocyst before you take on the form of a human or what have you. So the Ackerman is CRISPR and I know the P there is palindrome, palindromic, which is the same at both ends, the same backwards and forwards. And so people are finding ways, geneticists are finding ways to get cells to do whatever they want, whatever they want them to do. And it's presumed that instead of making a monster akin to Dr. Frankenstein's fictional great creature by assembling pieces from disparate other humans, instead you'd get each person's own cells to regenerate body parts or maybe in the womb create extraordinary people extraordinarily smart with extraordinary skills at dunking basketballs or what have you.

But the idea of taking your consciousness and putting it in another device or another system or another person, another biological system is something that's been around for a long time. Science fiction has got it for a long time. And I'm always charmed by the singularity when computers are going to be as complex and sophisticated as a human brain. And this moment in history is called the singularity and then you'll just download all of your memories and all of your experiences into this is presumed electronic storage system and then you would live as long as you're plugged in, as long as you have electricity, what have you. It just seems way more complicated and not something I would ever count on. And I don't think you can really be a whole person in the way that you seem to be here on camera without your senses, without your eyes, ears, nose and so on feeling the world around you your so called central nervous system, which is part of your brain. I don't think it's that simple to put a brain in another body and carry on or put your consciousness in an electrical receptacle and carry on, but you may be living at a time when extraordinary things will be done with your own cells that will far surpass anything that Dr. Frankenstein in the story was able to do. It's exciting. Carry on.

This week on Tuesday’s With Bill, Lauren from Tennessee wants to know whether it would be possible to assemble different body parts and reanimate them in the style of Frankenstein’s monster. Stitching together parts and inserting consciousness is likely not possible, says Nye – the closest future theory to it is the singularity, when AI gets as intricate and sophisticated as the human brain, and we’re able to upload our consciousness into it and live for as long as we keep the batteries charged. Nye has his doubts about that, however. What he is optimistic – and realistic – about is developing technology that in the next 50 years or so will allow us to regenerate our own body parts from stem cells. In our lifetime perhaps we could grow a new pancreas or a liver segment for our own transplant. Connected moving tissue like hands and fingers are much further into the future. CRISPR is another incredible technology that’s only in its infancy. It’s a genetic engineering cut-and-paste methods that allows genes to be manipulated to basic desires. Once that technology is developed, we may be able to create genetic supermen and women in the womb, and it likely has applications beyond what we can currently imagine. The potential for what humans can create is immense, and will be a lot sleeker looking than a flesh and thread patchwork a la Frankenstein. Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.


Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

America’s education system is centuries old. Can we build something better?

The Lumina Foundation lays out steps for increasing access to quality post-secondary education credentials.

Sponsored by Lumina Foundation
  • America's post-high school education landscape was not created with the modern student in mind. Today, clear and flexible pathways are necessary to help individuals access education that can help them lead a better life.
  • Elizabeth Garlow explains the Lumina Foundation's strategy to create a post-secondary education system that works for all students. This includes credential recognition, affordability, a more competency-based system, and quality assurance.
  • Systemic historic factors have contributed to inequality in the education system. Lumina aims to close those gaps in educational attainment.
  • In 2019, Lumina Foundation and Big Think teamed up to create the Lumina Prize, a search to find the most innovative and scalable ideas in post-secondary education. You can see the winners of the Lumina Prize here – congratulations to PeerForward and Greater Commons!

First solar roadway in France turned out to be a 'total disaster'

French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.

Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • The French government initially invested in a rural solar roadway in 2016.
  • French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
  • Solar panel "paved" roadways are proving to be inefficient and too expensive.
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What was it like to live in a Japanese concentration camp?

During World War II, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps throughout the West.

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Now that the issue of concentration camps in the U.S. has once again reared its head, it can be beneficial to recall the last time such camps were employed in the U.S.
  • After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps, ostensibly for national security purposes.
  • In truth, the incarceration was primarily motivated by racism. What was life like in the U.S.'s concentration camps?

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized and directed military commanders "to prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion." Under the authority of this executive order, roughly 112,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent — nearly two-thirds of which were American citizens — were detained in concentration camps.

How did the camps get their start?

With the benefit of a nearly 80-year perspective, it's clear that the internment of Japanese Americans was racially motivated. In response to Japan's growing military power in the buildup to World War II, President Roosevelt commissioned two reports to determine whether it would be necessary to intern Japanese Americans should conflict break out between Japan and the U.S. Neither's conclusions supported the plan, with one even going so far as to "certify a remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among this generally suspect ethnic group." But of course, the Pearl Harbor attacks proved to be far more persuasive than these reports.

Pearl Harbor turned simmering resentment against the Japanese to a full boil, putting pressure on the Roosevelt administration to intern Japanese Americans. Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who would become the administrator of the internment program, testified to Congress

"I don't want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."

DeWitt's position was backed up by a number of pre-existing anti-immigrant groups based out of the West Coast, such as the Joint Immigration Committee and the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. For many, the war simply served as an excuse to get rid of Japanese Americans. In an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Austin Anson, the managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Administration, said:

"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the White man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. ... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks because the White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."

Ironically for Anson, the mass deportation of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 meant there was a significant shortage of agricultural labor. Many Caucasians left to fight the war, so the U.S. signed an agreement with Mexico to permit the immigration of several million Mexicans agricultural workers under the so-called bracero program.

Life in the camps

Japanese American concentration camp

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Circa 1943: Aerial view of a Japanese American relocation center in Amache, Colorado, during World War II. Each family was provided with a space 20 by 25 ft. The barracks were set in blocks and each block was provided with a community bath house and mess hall.

For the most part, Japanese Americans remained stoic in the face of their incarceration. The phrase shikata ga nai was frequently invoked — the phrase roughly translates to "it cannot be helped," which, for many, represents the perceived attitude of the Japanese people to withstand suffering that's out of their control.

Initially, most Japanese Americans were sent to temporary assembly centers, typically located at fairgrounds or racetracks. These were hastily constructed barracks, where prisoners were often packed into tight quarters and made to use toilets that were little more than pits in the ground. From here, they were relocated to more permanent camps — replete with barbed wire and armed guards — in remote, isolated places across the seven states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.

Many of these camps, also known as War Relocation Centers, were little better than the temporary assembly centers. One report described the buildings as "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Again, overcrowding was common.

As a result, disease became a major concern, including dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. This was problematic due to the chronic shortage of medical professionals and supplies, an issue that was not helped by the War Relocation Authority's decision to cap Japanese American medical professional's pay at $20 a month (about $315 in 2019 dollars), while Caucasian workers had no such restriction. As a comparison, Caucasian nurses earned $150 ($2,361) a month in one camp.

The U.S. government also administered loyalty questionnaires to incarcerated Japanese Americans with the ultimate goal of seeing whether they could be used as soldiers and to segregate "loyal" citizens from "disloyal" ones. The questionnaires often asked whether they would be willing to join the military and if they would completely renounce their loyalty to Japan. Due to fears of being drafted, general confusion, and justified anger at the U.S. government, thousands of Japanese Americans "failed" the loyalty questionnaire and were sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake. When Roosevelt later signed a bill that would permit Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship, 98 percent of the 5,589 who did were located at Tule Lake. Some apologists cite this an example of genuine disloyalty towards the U.S., but this argument clearly ignores the gross violation of Japanese Americans' rights. Later, it became clear that many of these renunciations had been made under duress, and nearly all of those who had renounced their citizenship sought to gain it back.

Since many children lived in the camps, they came equipped with schools. Of course, these schools weren't ideal — student-teacher ratios reached as high as 48:1, and supplies were limited. The irony of learning about American history and ideals was not lost on the students, one of whom wrote in an essay --

"They, the first generation [of Japanese immigrants], without the least knowledge of the English language nor the new surroundings, came to this land with the American pioneering spirit of resettling. ...Though undergoing many hardships, they did reach their goal only to be resettled by the order of evacuation under the emergency for our protection and public security."

Potentially the best part of life in the camps — and the best way for determined prisoners to demonstrate their fundamental American-ness — was playing baseball. One camp even featured nearly 100 baseball teams. Former prisoner Herb Kurima recalled the importance of baseball in their lives in an interview with Christian Science Monitor. "I wanted our fathers, who worked so hard, to have a chance to see a ball game," he said. "Over half the camp used to come out to watch. It was the only enjoyment in the camps."

The aftermath

When the camps finally closed in 1945, the lives of the incarcerated Japanese Americans had been totally upended. Some were repatriated to Japan, while others settled in whichever part of the country they had been arbitrarily placed in. Those who wished to return to the West Coast were given $25 and a train ticket, but few had anything to return to. Many had sold their property to predatory buyers prior to being incarcerated, while theft had wiped out whatever else they had left behind. Many, many years later, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act mandated that each surviving victim be paid $20,000, though that seems like a small fine to pay for irrevocably changing the courses of more than 100,000 lives.