David Hauslaib: Scientology and Hollywood
Question: Is Tom Cruise’s foray into scientology a publicity stunt?
Davidi Hauslaib: He certainly subscribes to scientology. And you know whether you’re going to call it a religion or a cult, it’s clearly been questioned in and outside of Hollywood. I think it’s a very unfortunate turn of events for him. You know he had so much star power; could open movies to millions and millions of dollars. And whether that’s on the wane, or you know he’s never gonna recapture that is still up for debate. I don’t think we’ve seen enough yet. But I do think his antics are out of control. His relationship with Katie Holmes; and the, you know, sort of ongoing suspicion about their daughter; to the attacks on scientology from various biographers; you know it doesn’t seem like the best place to be for him and his career right now. He really came to be as this sort of Hollywood hunk and really was the epitome of a leading man in Hollywood, and now he’s a punch line. And that’s a very quick turn of events that happened very quickly.
Question: Why does scientology attract Hollywood’s leading men?
David Hauslaib: The church has made no secret of the fact that they aim to ingrain themselves in Hollywood and celebrity culture. They understand that these people can sort of be liaisons for their belief system, and use that to export it. When you have people who are so closely watched by American and the rest of the world – whether they’re drinking Diet Pepsi, or you know reading a new book, or happen to be a scientologist – that will impact some people. You can’t ride the subway here in New York without being approached to have, you know, a stress test by a group of scientologists. So I think it’s no secret, again, that the church has tried to use celebrity for its own purposes. As far as, you know, the celebrities themselves, I think one of the most entertaining rumors or suggestions is that scientology has gone after closeted homosexuals in the industry and offered them scientology as a means to, you know, cure themselves of their gay ways. And I think the rumors are fueled by the fact that there’s so much speculation around Tom Cruise, John Travolta, even Will Smith about their sexuality. So I think that’s one of the more amusing rumors. How much weight it . . . How much weight it carries and accuracy, who knows.
Question: Why are scientology and Hollywood so intertwined?
David Hauslaib: I think it’s a safe haven. And I think that’s what any . . . any organized . . . Any organization that calls itself a religion – whether we’re talking Christianity, Judaism, Islam – you know I think what religion offers is that safe haven and that sense of community. You know if we’re gonna call this an alternative religion, so be it. But I think at the core it’s offering its members, who happen to be very high profile people, the same sorts of things that most other religions would promise, you know, its attendees.
Nothing is sacred when a religion uses celebrities to promote its views.
A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.
- Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
- Dark matter is estimated to take up 26.8% of all matter in the Universe.
- The researchers will be able to try their approach in 2021, when the LHC goes back online.
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.
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