Gerard Senehi Denies He Is the Second Coming
Question: Do some people believe in you too much?
Gerard Senehi: Yeah, well I always like to make the distinction between psychic and spiritual that they’re not the same thing because sometimes I get people who respond quite strongly and then they assume that it must be the expression of something higher or some expression of God or something like that and of course that’s crazy but I do it by making the distinction between the psychic realm and the spiritual realm--because that’s an important distinction because we often assume if we experience something that’s not normal to our experience that there’s deeper or higher to it and that’s not necessarily the case.
Question: Are science and spirituality incompatible?
Gerard Senehi: I think spirituality can be approached in a profoundly objective manner because it has to do with the reality of our experience and our experience it’s important to be objective about our experience and we can quantify our experience, we can look at it objectively and that’s…that’s really important and we can look at that and recognize that something is deep versus something is not deep. We can recognize very objectively motivations, pure motivation, impure motivations. So, I think we could be very objective.
I mean, science has given us an incredible tool and at the same time we have to have the capacity to expand our consciousness. We have to have the capacity to let go and connect with something that we can’t hold with our minds but yeah we could still be objective as to whether we are doing it or not. So, there is still an element of profound rationality and reason. I think sometimes spiritually people think we should discard reason and…I think there is different sides to it because reason’s really important and our capacity to also let go and transcend reason is also really important.
Question: How do you pursue truth?
Gerard Senehi: Well it’s really something that we’re all collectively engaged with and it’s great to just kind of say, “That’s what I’m interested in. That’s a part of me.” And of course, we all should be interested in truth we…It doesn’t get the kind of recognition and it’s almost like, “What, you’re interested in truth? “And actually it should be “Well, of course.” You know, and isn’t it great what we can just say that and say and pursue that and explore what it means and not be afraid also of…of it’s implications because often if you’re interested in truth; part of it is like, “Well, who’s truth are you talking about?” And it’s like, “Wait a minute we actually are here to discover more and to get closer to truth.”
We don’t want to just kind of flatten it all out and say, “There’s no truth. That’s not possible to discover truth.” So, this is great. It’s great to; because I think also it may create space for all of us because it’s something that we’re all discovering together. It’s not just something that one person is going to figure out but we actually have to really kind of claim that it’s even possible.
Recorded on: June 4, 2009
When people take the unexplained too seriously.
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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.
- 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 plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just proposed a bold education reform plan that would forgive billions in student debt.
- The plan would forgive the debt held by more than 30 million Americans.
- The debt forgiveness program is one part of a larger program to make higher education more accessible.
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