from the world's big
Mind-altering drugs: The magical history of LSD and mushrooms
Why did government officials stop psychedelics from reaching mainstream culture?
Michael Pollan is the author of How to Change Your Mind and seven previous books including Cooked, Food Rules, In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemmaand The Botany of Desire, which received the Borders Original Voices Award for the best non-fiction work of 2001, and was recognized as a best book of the year by the American Booksellers Association and Amazon.com. PBS premiered a two-hour special documentary based on The Botany of Desire in fall 2009.
MICHAEL POLLAN: I think like most people, I thought before I started this project that psychedelics were a product of the '60s. And the word psychedelic is such a '60s word. And it comes into our awareness with Timothy Leary and all of the counterculture interest in psychedelics. But in fact, there's a much older history. I mean, there's an ancient history. Psychedelics have been used in societies in Central America, and South America, and the Old World as well, for thousands of years. As a sacrament in religions, for divination and purposes like that. So there's an ancient history of psychedelics.
It goes way back. And then there is the kind of mid-century, 20th century history, which begins with Albert Hofmann, who is a brilliant chemist with the Sandoz Company in Switzerland. And he in effect invents LSD-- first in 1938, but he doesn't know what he has yet. He's looking for a drug to help women in childbirth. And he's working with something called the ergot fungus, which is a fungus that infects grain and, in fact, was responsible for various episodes of public madness throughout European history. It may have been involved in the Salem witch trials, too. People who eat this infected grain would have hallucinations and go kind of crazy.
They'd also get gangrene. It was a pretty nasty fungus. Ergotamine molecule and making all these derivatives from it. And the 25th-- LSD 25-- he tried on animals. It didn't seem to do anything-- put it on the shelf. But then in 1943, in the Middle of World War II, he got this premonition that this was a particularly interesting and beautiful And he should take a second look at it. And he resynthesized it and accidentally ingested some of it, perhaps through his skin or by touching to his eye, and realized that this was a powerful psychoactive molecule. He then decided to properly dose himself to see what was going on. And that was very common at the time, that people would dose themselves before they give it to anybody else. And he took 250 micrograms, which he thought was a very small dose, and for any other drug, it would be a very small dose, but LSD was immensely powerful.
And he has the first acid trip in history. And it's not a pleasant experience. He feels like he's going mad. The furniture is coming to life. He leaves his body and sees himself from the ceiling. And he tells his research assistant, this young woman, that he's got to get home because he was in the lab. And it's the war time. There's no gasoline, so they take a bicycle. And there's a famous bike ride, which is still commemorated here, 421 I think, The bike with his lab assistant. And he gets there, and he summons the doctor. And the doctor takes a look at him and says you're fine. Your pupils are dilated, but all your vitals are normal.
And as the experience wears off, he starts feeling really good, and he gets this powerful sense of well-being. And he goes out in the garden, and he describes the garden jeweled with dew and how it looked. He felt like Adam on the first day of creation, and that was the kind of ecstatic piece of the experience. So there you have it, the first acid trip. But he didn't know-- and Sandoz, the company he worked for, really didn't know what was it good for. How could you use this drug? How could you monetize it, as we would say? So Sandoz does something very interesting. They organize basically a crowd searched research project, where they offer LSD to any researcher, therapist, who wants it, for free. And really, all you needed was some good letterhead, and you could get a ton of Sandoz LSD for a period that And this led to this very fertile period of research in the '50s.
And again, most people now don't realize how much LSD research was going on. And so people used it in a variety of ways, and there was this effort to figure out Originally, it was called the psychotomimetic. That means a drug that mimics the effects of psychosis. And that's certainly what it looked like to a psychiatrist. I mean, the people on it were hearing voices, seeing things that weren't there, and feeling their personalities fall apart. And so it looked like a psychotic reaction. And that's what they thought it was. And the thinking was that maybe since a chemical could induce this experience, perhaps it's a chemical interpretation of schizophrenia.
And perhaps we could use this drug to understand the mind of the madman. That the therapist could really put him or herself in the shoes of someone With schizophrenia. So that was the original idea, but then some of those therapists started using the drug themselves-- again, normal at the time. And they were like, this isn't psychosis. This feels much better than psychosis. And this is something else. And so they tried to come up with A new paradigm of understanding. They threw out the word psychotomimetic. And they then moved to two ideas. One was pyscholytic, a mind loosening drug, and that at moderate doses-- 50, 75 micrograms of LSD-- someone could sit in a chair in their psychoanalytic session with a psychiatrist, and they would have unusually free access to their unconscious.
That they would feel less defended, more open. And indeed, this worked quite well. There was a real period in the 50s of pyscholytic psychotherapy going on, especially in LA. And a great many celebrities, people like Cary Grant, and Jack Nicholson, and André Previn, and a whole list of Of therapy. And they found it immensely useful. Cary Grant gave a famous interview about how it changed his life. It had helped him transcend his ego, and made him irresistible to women, And made him a much better actor. It doesn't sound like he totally transcended his ego. So that was one path. And then the other path came to be known as psychedelic therapy. This word is coined in 1957, I believe, by an English psychiatrist working in Saskatchewan named Humphry Osmond. And it means simply mind manifesting, the idea being that these drugs would amplify mental processes, give you access to the unconscious, and could be useful in a therapeutic way.
And they began treating alcoholics with it, and that was quite successful — people with depression, cancer patients struggling with anxiety and their fear of death. And actually, in the 1950s, LSD becomes — it's considered by many a psychiatric wonder drug that is getting better results than anything else out there. And just to give you an idea how widespread this was, there were 1,000 papers published on psychedelics, LSD, and psilocybin. A little later in the decade. There were 40,000 research subjects-- people who'd been dosed with it. And there were six international conferences on LSD. So here you have this very exciting, promising period of research that's going on without any government interference, without a lot of controversy.
But in the '60s, everything goes haywire. And what happens in the '60s is that basically the drugs escape the lab and become a very important ingredient In the creation of the counterculture. Timothy Leary has something to do with this. He is a psychologist who ends up at Harvard in 1960. But the summer before he gets there, he is introduced to psilocybin while in Mexico and has a profound experience. He was by the pool in Cuernavaca, and he said he learned more in those four hours on psilocybin than he learned in 15 years as a therapist, as a psychologist. And decides when he gets to Harvard, he's going to start something called the Harvard Psilocybin Project to research this promising drug. Psilocybin had come to the West only a few years before.
In 1955, an amateur mycologist by the name of R. Gordon Wasson, who happened to be a vice president of Chase Bank in New York, decided that he had heard rumors that there were mushroom cults using psychedelic mushrooms in religious observance in Central America. So he makes a dozen trips to Mexico looking for evidence of this, and discovers that it is indeed true, and finds a [SPANISH],, or a healer, in southern Mexico near Oaxaca willing to give him a psychedelic trip, a psilocybin trip. And he writes about this in the pages of Life Magazine-- big article with a very splashy headline on the cover, The Strange Growths that Give Men Visions. And it's like 17 pages in the magazine, and this really introduced most Americans to the idea of psychedelics The psychedelic mushrooms. So those are the mushrooms that Timothy Leary is exposed to.
He gets to Harvard. He starts doing research, loosely defined, into psilocybin, and then LSD when he gets access to that. This is going along fine, but like several people who studied psychedelics, Leary gets intoxicated by them, By the promise not just to heal, but to change society. And this is a very dangerous thought. And he basically comes to the conclusion that everybody should be on these drugs, that it really has enormous social benefit. So he starts giving them to poets, and writers, and musicians. And the pretense of research gradually fades. Eventually, some students are given the drugs, not by Leary, but by Richard Alpert, his collaborator who becomes Ram Dass later. Scandal erupts, and they're both tossed out of Harvard. And Leary then becomes a psychedelic evangelist. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Everybody should use acid. We can blow the mind of America. And it becomes very threatening to the powers that be. Richard Nixon called Leary the most dangerous man in America. He felt that LSD and other drugs were sapping the will of American boys To fight in Vietnam. And he may well have been right.
LSD encourages people to think for themselves, to not accept the frames of social values, the games that we play socially. And in important ways, LSD did fuel the counterculture and was very threatening to adult society and to the powers that be. So there is a backlash. And beginning around in the late '60s, you have the media, which had been very pro-psychedelic and amazingly positive press for psychedelics as a miracle cure, as something just really interesting, suddenly turns on it. And you start reading scare stories about people thinking they can fly and jumping off buildings and kids staring at the sun until they go blind. LSD can scramble your chromosomes, was a big headline at the time. Most of this is all disinformation, scare stories, but it had a big effect. And this moral panic took hold against psychedelics. By the end of the decade, they're made illegal-- schedule one drug beginning in 1970. The research gradually atrophies and dies by the mid '70s, early '70s, which is unprecedented in science, that you would have this incredibly promising avenue of scientific inquiry that's stopped for reasons that have nothing to do with the science.
But the funding dries up. People are embarrassed to study it. There's just such a stigma attached to psychedelics that we go through this All through this period, there is a handful Researchers, people who have not lost track-- partly because they're using them themselves-- with the promise of these drugs. And they plot, over a period of many years, a return to respectable scientific research. With some private funding from some people in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, Johns Hopkins undertakes to begin studying psychedelics again-- Roland Griffiths is a very prominent drug abuse researcher, somebody who's looked at addiction, and does animal models of addiction, and expert on caffeine, in fact. He is introduced to the idea of psilocybin research. He gets interested because he had had his own mystical experience as a meditator. He got very interested in new meditation. And something happened during one of his meditations that caused him to question the material understanding of the mind and made him very curious about mystical experience.
He, at just a very fortuitous moment, is introduced to a group that wants to start this research. And he decides to do it. And he does a very interesting study that's not published in 2006 that says something like psilocybin can occasion mystical type experiences in healthy volunteers with enduring positive effects. Kind of a mind blowing study — I mean, scientists studying mystical experience. But they gave it to a bunch of healthy normals. And in about 2/3 of the cases, they had these powerful mystical experiences that did have these Gave them a sense of ego That they had this loss of their sense of individuality and this sense of profound and beautiful connection with something larger than themselves — nature, divinity — however they defined it — the universe, other people.
And they found that they could do this safely, that the drugs had very little biological risk. And in a controlled environment, which is to say with guides who are preparing you very carefully, telling you what to expect, sitting with you during the experience, and then helping you integrate or make sense of it after, that this could be done safely. And from that study come several others now looking at practical applications. First of those was a study that was performed there, and also at UCLA and NYU, to give psilocybin to people with cancer. Not to cure their cancer, but to help them deal with their anxiety, their depression, what the docs call their existential distress, and fear of recurrence, too, for people who had been treated.
And these people, in a study that was published in 2016, in about 80% of the cases, which is quite astounding, they found statistically significant reductions in standard measures of depression and anxiety, a bigger effect size than we have seen in virtually any other psychiatric intervention. And I think this is a very profound study. We have so little to offer people who are dying. And morphine might help them deal with pain, But doesn't help them deal with the mental suffering. I interviewed many people whose fear of death had disappeared, who acquired a sense of their self that became kind of broader and softer so that the loss of their own bodies, the death of themselves, wasn't as momentous. Because they were part of something larger and would continue to be.
Or people who acquired some sense of transpersonal consciousness and that perhaps their consciousness would survive their passing, Or people who really were able to break out of the repetitive And I interviewed one woman who went into her body during her trip, And she had had ovarian cancer that had been treated successfully, But she was so terrified of recurrence, she couldn't function. And she went into her body, as many of the cancer patients do imaginatively. And she saw this black cloud underneath her rib cage, which she knew Wasn't her cancer. It was in the wrong place. But she recognized it immediately, and she said, that's my fear. And she screamed at it. She said, get the fuck out of my body. And when she did, it just went up in a puff of smoke. And from that moment forward, she said she's Of her cancer recurring. And she said under psychedelics, she had the insight, which became quite profound for her, that she couldn't control her cancer. It was either going to come back or not.
But she could control her fear. And that cleaving of those two things gave her enormous freedom. So profound effects from a single application of a non-toxic drug is a big deal and I think portends of potential revolution in the way we practice mental health care. Other indications that the drugs show promise for-- and this is psilocybin mostly. That's the psychedelic that's been studied the most. Depression, anxiety, obsession, addiction-- There have been trials of alcoholics, of cocaine addicts and smokers-- All showing great promise. And there are future trials for eating disorders, And a new trial of obsessive compulsive is being planned. So this is a very exciting time. And again, the drugs still have to go further to prove themselves In larger groups of people. And we have to figure out exactly the optimal way to offer it to people.
But we've got some new tools, and we've had so little innovation In mental health care since the early '90s, Really since the introduction of the SSRI antidepressants, whose effectiveness is starting to fade and fail. And I don't think people fully realize how lousy the tools we have to treat psychiatric illness are right now and how many side effects they have. They put on weight. They cost people their libido. They're hard to get off of. And they only treat symptoms. And here we have something that appears to treat causes.
- In the '60s drugs escape the lab and become a very important ingredient In the creation of the counterculture. Timothy Leary, a psychologist at Harvard in 1960, has something to do with this.
- In Cambridge, he starts the Harvard Psilocybin Project which focuses its research into learning more about this promising drug. Because of its medicinal properties, and apparent positive effect on mental health, Leary believed that everyone should use acid, or psilocybin.
- Richard Nixon called Leary the most dangerous man in America. He felt that LSD and other drugs were sapping the will of American boys to fight in Vietnam.
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
A study published Friday tested how well 14 commonly available face masks blocked the emission of respiratory droplets as people were speaking.
- The study tested the efficacy of popular types of face masks, including N95 respirators, bandanas, cotton-polypropylene masks, gaiters, and others.
- The results showed that N95 respirators were most effective, while wearing a neck fleece (aka gaiter) actually produced more respiratory droplets than wearing no mask at all.
- Certain types of homemade masks seem to be effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
Fischer et al.<p>A smartphone camera recorded video of the participants, and a computer algorithm counted the number of droplets they emitted. To establish a control trial, the participants spoke into the box both with and without a mask. And to make sure that the droplets weren't in fact dust from the masks, the team conducted more tests by "repeatedly puffing air from a bulb through the masks."</p>
Fischer et al.<p>The results, published Friday in <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/08/07/sciadv.abd3083" target="_blank">Science Advances</a>, showed that some masks are pretty much useless. In particular, neck fleeces (also called gaiters) actually produced more respiratory droplets compared to the control trial — likely because the fabric breaks down big droplets into smaller ones.</p><p>The top three most effective masks were N95 respirators, surgical masks, and polypropylene-cotton masks. Bandanas performed the worst, but were slightly better than wearing no mask at all.</p>
Fischer et al.<p>Research on mask efficacy is still emerging. But the new results seem to generally align with <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">prior tests</a>. For example, a study from June published in <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0016018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Physics of Fluid</a> found that bandanas (followed by folded handkerchiefs) were least effective at blocking respiratory droplets. That same study also found, as <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">others have</a>, that masks made from multiple layers of quilter's fabric were especially effective at blocking droplets.</p><p>The researchers hope other institutions will conduct similar experiments so the public can see how well different masks can block the spread of COVID-19.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is a very powerful visual tool to raise awareness that a very simple masks, like these homemade cotton masks, do really well to stop the majority of these respiratory droplets," Fischer told CNN. "Companies and manufacturers can set this up and test their mask designs before producing them, which would also be very useful."</p>
Sharing QAnon disinformation is harming the children devotees purport to help.
- The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
- Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
- Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.
Real ways you can help stop child trafficking<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21fc2dc85391501eec28c4bf46d7db15"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/AXL0q9jNZGU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Williams is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.seenandheard.org/" target="_blank">Seen and Heard</a>, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps foster youth develop character through the performing arts. She's been involved with foster youth for years; I <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/child-sex-trafficking" target="_self">wrote about her work</a> in child trafficking just over a year ago. Tragically, since that time, the situation for these children has only gotten worse, in large part because of QAnon.</p><p>Williams says child trafficking is an easy cause to rally people together. Fear is also a powerful unifying force, one that QAnon believers are already primed for via the news they consume. Almost every parent cares about their children, making them the ideal target to solidify groups. </p><p>The real problem, she says, is that the youth she works with are falling for these conspiracy theories. Trauma is a particularly powerful tool for indoctrination. If you're a teenager that's been abducted or abused, your trust level is already extremely low. Then you read about a global cabal of powerful men (and a few women) secretly abusing children, and the narrative seems ready-made for your personal history.</p><p>When Williams tried to "lovingly and kindly correct" the youth she was working with after learning about the Wayfair conspiracy, the girls' response was, "well, who owns the media?" </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"She goes from this small little thing to a QAnon talking point. I've been thinking about why she would believe such a preposterous idea—and there are others; it's not just one student, and they're in in deep. I think that when something horrific happens to you as a child, it's a lot easier to distance yourself from the immediate reality that it was an uncle or a parent or a sibling that hurt you. By detaching from that immediate person, they project it onto Bill Gates or Chrissy Teigen. Then it's not so personal, it's global." </p>
A man wear a shirt with the words Q Anon as he attends a rally for President Donald Trump at the Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images<p>As Williams mentions, there are over 30,000 kids in foster care in the Los Angeles area alone. It's easy to fall through the cracks. The systems in place aren't perfect; they're certainly underfunded. When you're in a system trying to support you yet isn't capable of doing so, viewing the world as imperfect, and even harmful, becomes the lens through which you see reality. Again, this makes for a perfect indoctrination tool.</p><p>One popular QAnon talking point is that 800,000 children are missing. As Williams says, child trafficking experts "don't buy this for a minute." The number makes for a good meme but a poor representation of the problem. </p><p>To source better data, Williams turns to the <a href="https://www.missingkids.org/" target="_blank">National Center for Missing and Exploited Children</a> (NCMEC) and the <a href="https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ncic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Crime Information Center</a> (NCIC). An important factor when reading data: if a teacher <em>and</em> a caregiver report a missing child to NCIC, that counts as two children, not one, which accounts for some of the fluctuations in numbers. In total, between 25,000 and 29,000 kids go missing every year. Importantly, 94 percent of those children are recovered within four to six weeks. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They're not documenting the recovery rate. It's not like these numbers are perpetually hanging out there. So this 800,000 number is just ludicrous." </p><p>Williams compares what's going on to Black Lives Matter. Blacking out your Instagram profile picture is performative. It signals that you actually care, which is great, but if you're not supporting Black-owned businesses, for example, there are no teeth to your activism. </p><p>Of course, blacking out your profile doesn't cause the real-world harm the QAnon virus does. Sharing misinformation is ultimately harmful to the children in need of help. Williams offers the resources below—ranging from donations to nonprofits to educational trainings to becoming a foster parent—for people that actually want to do something to help victims of sexual and physical abuse. They might not make a great Twitter meme, but in the actual world, this support makes all the difference. </p><p><strong>To report abuse/neglect, call the child abuse hotline: 800.540.4000 (LA county) / 800.422.4453 (National)</strong></p><ul><li>Support anti-trafficking organizations by donating to <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://savinginnocence.org/" target="_blank">Saving Innocence</a>, which runs the continuum of care from rescue to recovery, <a href="http://gozoe.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Zoe</a>, a reputable faith-based organization, and <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="https://withtwowings.org/" target="_blank">Two Wings</a>, which helps to rehabilitate female survivors</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://www.nolabrantleyspeaks.org/" target="_blank">Nola Brantley</a> offers in-person and online trainings to help combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://instagram.com/imrebeccabender" target="_blank">Rebecca Bender</a> is a trafficking survivor that runs "Myth Busters," which combats conspiracy theory disinformation</li><li>The <a href="https://www.instagram.com/missingkids/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Center</a> of Missing and Exploited Children</li><li>Operation <a href="https://www.instagram.com/ourrescue/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Underground Railroad </a></li><li><a href="https://www.instagram.com/defendinnocence/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Defend Innocence</a> offers tips for parents and caregivers to keep kids safe</li></ul><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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.
What's dead may never die, it seems<p>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 Brain<em>Ex</em>. Brain<em>Ex </em>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.</p><p>Brain<em>Ex</em> 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.</p><p>The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if Brain<em>Ex</em> 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.</p><p>As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.</p><p>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.</p><p>"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 <em><a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/pig-brains-partially-revived-what-it-means-for-medicine-death-ethics/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>.</em></p>
An ethical gray matter<p>Before anyone gets an <em>Island of Dr. Moreau</em> vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.</p><p>The Brain<em>Ex</em> 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. </p><p>Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death. </p><p>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?</p><p>"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/science/brain-dead-pigs.html" target="_blank">the <em>New York Times</em></a>. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."</p><p>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.</p><p>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, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01216-4#ref-CR2" target="_blank">told <em>Nature</em></a> that if Brain<em>Ex</em> were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.</p><p>"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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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? <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/after-death-youre-aware-that-youve-died-scientists-claim" target="_blank">The distress of a partially alive brain</a>? </p><p>The dilemma is unprecedented.</p>
Setting new boundaries<p>Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, <em>Frankenstein</em>. As Farahany told <em>National Geographic</em>: "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 <em>Frankenstein</em>, 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."</p><p>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.</p>
A 71% wet Mars would have two major land masses and one giant 'Medimartian Sea.'
- Sci-fi visions of Mars have changed over time, in step with humanity's own obsessions.
- Once the source of alien invaders, the Red Planet is now deemed ripe for terraforming.
- Here's an extreme example: Mars with exactly as much surface water as Earth.
Misogynists in space<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1ODkzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDEzMzY4OX0.XEEPJJnp75idUXzutmJ5ZGo35WYKxmVEyIiSwDpMeE4/img.jpg?width=980" id="6c715" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2210c6d8590f7886eb6e4a89bcd6a50e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bMars \u2013 and Martians \u2013 were a staple of 1930s pulp science fiction." />
Mars – and Martians – were a staple of 1930s pulp science fiction.
Image: ScienceBlogs.de - CC BY-SA 2.0<p><em>"Oh, my God, it's a woman," he said in a tone of devastating disgust. </em></p><p><em></em>"Stowaway to Mars" hasn't aged well. First serialised in 1936 as "Planet Plane" and set in the then distant future of 1981, the fourth novel by sci-fi legend John Wyndham (writing as John Benyon) could have been remembered mainly for its charming retro-futurism, if it weren't so blatantly, offhandedly misogynistic. </p><p>Fortunately, each era's sci-fi says more about itself than about the future. That also goes for how we see Mars. 'Classic' Martians, like the ones in H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," are creatures from a dying planet, using their superior firepower to invade Earth and escape their doom. That trope reflected 19th- and 20th-century fears about mechanized total warfare, which hung like a sword of Damocles over otherwise increasingly placid lifestyles. </p><p>Closer inspection of the Red Planet has revealed the absence of green men; and now <em>we're </em>the dying planet – pardon my Swedish. So the focus has shifted from interplanetary war to terraforming the fourth rock from the Sun, creating something all those protest signs say we don't have: a Planet B. <span></span></p>
How to keep Mars from killing us<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1ODkzNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzOTgyNTcwNX0.V7I3VFPch0oV8YDx95ZLLZFY7zEcyqSiG5uCAiMu2hg/img.jpg?width=980" id="f092e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5ca3b60a81a5f003a3e1ef467cf95f1a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of the surface of the planet Mars, showing the ice caps at the poles." />
Mars today: red and dusty, dead and deadly.
Image: NASA - public domain.<p>Cue Elon Musk, who doesn't just build Teslas but also heads SpaceX, a program to make humanity an interplanetary species by landing the first humans on Mars by 2024 as the pioneers of a permanent, self-sufficient and growing colony.</p><p><span></span>Such a colony would benefit from an environment that doesn't try to kill you if you take off your space helmet. Martian temperatures average at around -55°C (-70°F), and its atmosphere has just 1 percent the volume of Earth's, in a mix that contains far less oxygen. Changing all that to an ecosystem that's more like our own, would be a herculean task. </p>
From Red Mars to Green Mars<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1ODk0NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTE0NjA5N30.iloUVThQOBjnkP7HuLefzPlOeIDE8wOlfcXMQ7ZYDMw/img.jpg?width=980" id="f9ad2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="05032082590ebcf98a6830576ae3815e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bBefore and after images of a terraformed Mars" />
Before and after images of a terraformed Mars in the lobby of SpaceX offices in Hawthorne, California.
Image: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr - CC BY 2.0<p>So how would Musk go about it? In August 2019, he launched a t-shirt with the two-word answer: 'Nuke Mars'. The idea would be to heat up and release the carbon dioxide frozen at Mars's poles, creating a much warmer and wetter planet – as Mars may have been about 4 billion years ago – though still not with a breathable atmosphere.</p><p>Alternatives to nuclear explosions: photosynthetic organisms on the ground or giant mirrors in space, either of which could also melt the Martian poles. However, many scientists question the logistics of these plans, and even whether there is enough readily accessible CO2 on Mars to fuel the climate change that Musk (and others) envision. </p><p>Ah, but why stop at the objections of the current scientific consensus? Sometimes, you have to dream ahead to see the place that can't be built yet. In the lobby of SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California, Red Mars and Green Mars are shown side by side. The terraformed version on the right looks green and cloudy and blue – Earth-like, or at least habitable-looking.<span></span></p>
Or how about a Blue Mars?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1ODk1MS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTkwNjU4OX0.sdccROyaHpYcw9C8E-4iICzMA_GNXsZXzL1XGcqDink/img.png?width=980" id="1ba6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b3325bff53cb4b13cf77bff877961338" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="wet Mars map" />
A map of Mr Bhattarai's wet Mars, in the Robinson projection.
Image: A.R. Bhattarai, reproduced with kind permission; modified with MaptoGlobe<p>But why stop there? This map looks forward to a Mars that doesn't just have some surface water, but exactly as much as Earth – which means quite a lot. No less than 71 percent of our planet's surface is covered by oceans, seas, and lakes. The dry bits are our continents and islands. </p><p><span></span>In the case of Mars, a 71 percent wet planet leaves the planet's northern hemisphere mainly ocean, with most of the dry land located in the southern half. </p><p><span></span>Most of the dry land is connected via the south pole but is articulated in two distinct land masses. Both semi-continents are separated by a wide bay that corresponds to Argyre Planitia. </p><p><span></span>The one in the west is centered on Tharsis, a vast volcanic tableland. To the north, attached to the main land mass, is Alba Mons, the largest volcano on Mars in terms of area (with a span comparable to that of the continental United States). </p><p><span></span>It's about 6.8 km (22,000 ft) high, which is about one-third of Olympus Mons, a volcano now located on its own island off the northwest coast of Tharsis. At a height of over 21 km (72,000 ft), Olympus Mons is the highest volcano on Mars and the tallest planetary mountain (1) currently known on the solar system. Olympus rises about 20 km (66,000 ft) above the sea level as shown on this map.</p>
A new civilization<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU1ODk1Ni9vcmlnaW4uZ2lmIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDEwNzQ0Nn0.vKa0nNqKdMTfWYG6behUPPg9giToq3Lx6CsWQ70eqCE/img.gif?width=980" id="7f62c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bcffffaf301663a42758cf4cb8e11a76" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="\u200bSpinning globe view of Mr Bhattarai's wet Mars." />
Spinning globe view of Mr Bhattarai's wet Mars.
Image: A.R. Bhattarai, reproduced with kind permission; modified with MaptoGlobe<p>Mars's eastern continent is centered not on a plateau, but on a depression that on today's 'dry' Mars is called Hellas Planitia, one of the largest impact craters in the Solar system. On the 'wet' Mars of this map, the crater is the central and largest part of a sea that is surrounded by land, a Martian version of the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps one day this Medimartian Sea will be the Mare Nostrum of a new civilization. </p><p>To the northeast of the circular semi-continent is a large island that on 'our' Mars is Elysium Mons, a volcano that is the planet's third-tallest mountain (14.1 km, 46,000 ft).</p><p>The map is the work of Aaditya Raj Bhattarai, a civil engineering student at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu (Nepal). Talking to <a href="https://www.inverse.com/innovation/mars-with-water-map" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Inverse</a>, he said he hoped his map could help further the Martian plans of Elon Musk and SpaceX: "This is part of my side project where I calculate the volume of water required to make life on Mars sustainable and the sources required for those water volumes from comets that will come nearby Mars in the next 100 years."<br></p><p><br></p><p><strong></strong><em>Images by Mr Bhattarai reproduced with kind permission. Check out <a href="https://aadityabhattarai.com.np/" target="_blank">his website</a>. </em><em>Planetary projection and spinning globe created via <a href="https://www.maptoglobe.com/" target="_blank">MaptoGlobe</a>.</em></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1043</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em></p><p>________<br>(1) The tallest mountain in the Solar system, planetary or otherwise, we know of today, is a peak which rises 22.5 km (14 mi) from the center of the Rheasilvia crater on Vesta, a giant asteroid which makes up 9 percent of the entire mass of the asteroid belt. <br></p>