The world wants you to play it safe. Here's why you shouldn't.

Don't let others define your own path through life, says comedian and raconteur Nick Offerman.

Nick Offerman: Our society has become so clickbait-y and superficial. It’s very seldom in interview situations that you’re asked anything of substance – the thing I get asked the most often is, “So tell us about this movie. Why should we go see it?” To which I always want to answer: Don’t go see it, go fuck yourself. I’m not like – that’s not my job to tell you why you should go see this movie! “Because you want to.” It just goes to show how lazy most media outlets are. 

And so, ignore all of the channels. Ignore all channels of popular culture and focus on what you like and what you and your friends and/or family like. Because the stuff that I grew up that was like my weird bits that I did with my cousin and my sisters and brother, the stuff that I thought was weird of that stood out to me, I focused on that and through my theater training and then through my career it was always the counter culture weirdness that spoke to me. There’s a very specific group of us and we find each other and say oh, now we’re 47. Let’s make a TV show together. 

And so by focusing, if you just consume what’s being fed to you then you never find out if there’s a really stinky cheese that might be your favorite thing to eat. 

One thing that really attracted me to this script, I had worked on the previous film The Hero with Brett and his cowriter Mark Bash. But he makes these really thoughtful movies about humanity. And I loved when I read the script and there’s this element of the father-daughter relationship where they kind of take turns at who’s being the parent and who’s being the kid. And I thought that was really attractive and fun to play and realistic. 

It’s a strange thing to see a kid want to go away and become a doctor and not only that but like we see her studying hard. She’s an erudite student. She’s very serious about where she’s going and yet she has this musical talent that she doesn’t take as seriously. 

And to see the dad sort of saying, “Come on, I really want you to think about throwing away all your responsible dreams and run away and join the circus with me, your dad!” 

In my own life I grew up in a very conservative small town in Illinois in a very conservative family. Every – it’s an amazing family of heroes. There’s about 30 of us now in this extended family and I’m the only one that doesn’t live within an eight mile radius. And every single family member is either farmer, school teacher, librarian, paramedic, nurse—and we have one craft brewer, my brother. He’s the king of the family. 

But I’m the only one, and I always had this idea that I wanted to entertain people but I didn’t have the culture coming in to – I never learned of the channels by which I might achieve that. 

And so when I was a junior in high school—and you had to begin to declare what do you want to do, where do you want to go to college if so. And it was pretty wild that I said, “I think I want to become an actor.” And the whole county was like “No, I don’t believe you can do that from here.” And I said “Well, but those other people must have come from somewhere.” 

And really like all the channels, like the guidance counselor at school had a list of the 36 things you could study. And not only was actor not on there, there were no arts on there! The only one was musician. One guy from my town had gone to music school and he became a band director at a college. And so that was their precedent, and they said, “What do you want to do – go be a band director at a college?” 

I was like no, I want to like make people laugh, or I want to be in movies and stuff. And so it was pretty crazy but here’s where some serendipity happened. I was with my girlfriend who was auditioning for a dance department at the University of Illinois. I met some theater students and I said, “What the hell are you talking about? You’re ‘theater students’?” And they said, “We study theater.” And I said, “Well then what?” They said, “You go to Chicago and you get paid to be in plays.” 

And I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is what I’m talking about!” I went home and I was like “Mom? Dad? I’m going to go do plays, and then I go to Chicago and they pay me to do plays! It’s a thing, people do it.”

And so that’s what I did, and my mom and dad were very supportive. I was somebody who had crazy ideas but I worked really hard. And they said, “You have some real cockamamie schemes but you always do your best. And so we’ll get behind you and support you in this.” 

And it took several years—from age 18 to 26. Those are formative years. That’s a tough, scary time for your parents to say, “Okay, we’re going to trust you.” 

But eventually when they first came to see me in a Shakespeare play in a very small part at a big theater in Chicago that was a big moment for me where I was like “Well, see, this is something! Three lines. There are people in this show with no lines. So just watch me.” And, you know, it’s something that – it’s a very personal thing, and you have to trust your gut. 

The world is always going to want you to do other things that make them feel safe. Parents especially often have their own desires. And so to parents and children alike I would say, trust your gut. 

Again if you’ve lived one of these lives where you are in a household where there’s not, people aren’t using tools or people aren’t that practical. There’s a lot of urban and suburban households where people say yeah god, when I get a flat tire I have to buy a new car because I don’t know what to do. Or if a light bulb goes out I have to throw the lamp away because I couldn’t tell you how that thing works. I don’t think I have the right tools.” To those households (of which there are many) I would say find a place to try making stuff. And there’s so many things you can do and another great thing about the information age or the proliferation of technology is that you can literally learn to do anything now on YouTube. You can become a blacksmith just from YouTube. 

You’re going to learn a lot faster if you find a blacksmith to show you. 

That’s true of anything, if you have a teacher there. But just try stuff. I love influencing the kids in my life, and I just do my best to let them try stuff. And some of them like to paint, some of them like to help in the kitchen, some of them – this one kid likes to just punch trees. He’s troubled, and we’re going to try him out in sports but we’ll see. He might make a great lumberjack.

Nick Offerman doesn't believe in having others define your path for you. Not everyone's path has to be planned out in advance. Because if you look hard enough (and if you work hard enough), you'll find others who can show you the way. Nick's latest book is Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop and you can pre-order his next book The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History, too.

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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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