How do you contribute?

Ken Adelman: Well there was . . . I don’t know if I really contributed that much in government. I think I did because Ronald Reagan came up with the real breakthroughs on that. But when I was, for seven years, the Arms Control Director, he needed somebody and a team to take his concepts, to take his vision, and to make it into a treaty. And that was not exactly Ron Reagan’s strong point. And I had a team in the Arms Control Agency that worked very hard, and were very competent, and dealt a lot with the Russians as we were going through to, you know, make sure that the verification was very good; make sure that we understood what kind of weapons were included and what were not included; make sure that we could have procedures for implementing this; make sure that we check up on it. So in that way, I could help him. I gave advice along the way, some of which he took and some of which he did not take. But all of it he would listen to, and he was very, very open in that way. And he was very good about really asking people for their opinion. And my experience in government – and I was in government for 12 years – is that when people worked for the President of the United States, they were very reluctant to speak the truth. And it was a real problem in the White House. Ronald Reagan was such a laid back, nice person that he didn’t mind if people told him frankly what they thought. He didn’t even mind if they corrected him. He would, you know, sometimes say things because he didn’t know about the weapons systems. He didn’t know about the details of this, or above the details and the big points. And if you’d say, “Well, Mr. President, there’s another way of looking at it.” That’s how I usually started the sentence, which means, “You’re dead wrong” in a nice way. But there’s another way of looking at it. He would take that in and say, “Thank you very much. That’s good to know, Ken.” And so he wasn’t going out and saying these things that were wrong. There. So I contributed something on that.

I think in the teaching of the Shakespeare, there are real lessons in Shakespeare. This is not just a device to get ______ leadership lessons of which, you know, ________ on how to do everything like that. But Shakespeare really had it all. And what we can do, and what we do do is that we uncork Shakespeare. We break it down into bite-sized pieces. We make it easy for people who are scared of the word “Shakespeare” and think, “Oh my gosh. I can’t understand a thing he ever said.” And so we can really open up. We don’t add to the insights of Shakespeare because no one can do that. They’re so fantastic. But we can add to the access of Shakespeare.

And number three is that the new program here at the Aspen Institute . . . what I contribute to that is to do something that’s kind of a bridge. And that’s what was wonderful about the Aspen Institute that Walter Paepcke, when he started this place 57 years ago, said. There should be a cross-fertilization of fields and minds. And that sometimes happened, but recently it hasn’t. And what this program does is look at the arts not in and of themselves . . . Because there’s wonderful lectures of the music festival. There’s wonderful lectures on art. You know, the artists did this and ________ did that. That’s not what I’m doing. But what I’m doing is building on that and saying, “Okay, how does that art form help us understand some issues or ideas?” And it’s a larger consideration of the arts. And that’s basically what we do at “Movers & Shakespeares”. It’s an art form. Drama, okay? How does that help us lead our life better? And there’s lots of . . . I mean Shakespeare had thousands of examples, but you just need someone to help you with that bridge. So we’re trying to do that not just with Shakespeare – through “Movers & Shakespeares” – but in the “Arts & Ideas” program. To take music, for example. _______, his personality. What does it tell us about creativity? What does it tell us about the way the mind works? Then it’s a nice leap to Freud, because Freud psychoanalyzed him. What is left of Freud today? What do we know about how we think, how we feel, how our instincts were? And through _______ and his relationship with Freud, we can understand ourselves better.

Recorded on: 7/2/07


Adelman talks about working with President Ronald Reagan on disarmament and about the illuminating the lessons of Shakespeare.

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A new method promises to capture an elusive dark world particle.

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  • Scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) devised a method for trapping dark matter particles.
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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.

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