The Pursuit of Discipline

Question: What is your practice regiment?

Pierre Laurent Aimard: Work, work, and work. If you want to realize something, to realize it really in any discipline, you have to work enormously. Not just for competition, but for yourself, for achieving something. That's the only way. But of course, only if work makes sense. If you work on something you believe to and with the concentration and nourishing always your work with yourself and your creativity and your soul as one would say in Slavic countries.

It changed a lot because of course your relation with work is different when you have more experience. You can have a better icodemy of your work. It changes a lot also in terms of the performing arts because the performance takes a lot in itself, of time, of travels, all the parts of the activity that interferes with the discipline itself; travels, concerts, interviews, etc. So, you have to – if you intend to keep quality with what you do, you have to fight strongly for preserving the work on the discipline itself and not just on the frames. In other words, not to be a victim of your success, what one could see everyday so much with very famous, or not so famous, people. This is for me, the saddest part of mankind when somebody becomes disappointing in compare with the talents he or she had at the start. So, what can protect you, hopefully against this disease, the mirror somewhere, to try everyday to decide, this was not good enough. This is not myself enough. I'm not risky enough, or I'm too much risky. I'm not prepared enough, etc., etc. So the mirrors are from all kinds. It can be your own years, recordings, etc., can be your friends, but the true friends, the friends who say the hard truth, you know, your judges somewhere. And all the professional that can really help you to become better, or to try to become better.

Question: Do you ever doubt your talent?

Pierre Laurent Aimard: Oh, constantly. But also there is the belief. It's a mix, it's a balance. You can do nothing -- you have go the talent, you know, it's a presence. Well, it's a gift of God, would say people who believe in God, or it's in your chemical structure you would say if you are the sum or the neurologist what I am. The only thing you can do is to work on the best way possible with this talent, or to honor this talent, I could say. So, this is what I try to do, sometimes I have the feeling that I succeed, often that I don't.

As I think that life is a permanent challenge to try to develop yourself the best way you can, very often I think that's the challenges I have chosen, for me, are too high maybe, or are not the right challenges. And then I don't. But then I think I have a lot of obstination. So I go on and on and ahead, and sometimes it works. But of course, it's a permanent fight with yourself.

Question: Would you ever advise a musician to quit playing?

Pierre Laurent Aimard: I presume that the person that would ask that, there aren't many of them, I guess, are even able to decide on their own. I can't tell you the admiration that I had for the great Master, Mr. Alfred Brendle. Not only for having done the music he has done in his life and inspired us to highly, but also for having decided to stop at a given moment. I regretted that, I missed him as an artist on stage. But my God, I respect him so much. A big courage. A big mastery and self-control.

There is nothing more tragic in a life, believes the classical pianist, than not meeting the potential of one’s talents. To stave off this tragedy, he explains, one must learn to fight for quality in everything they do.

Elizabeth Warren's plan to forgive student loan debt could lead to an economic boom

A plan to forgive almost a trillion dollars in debt would solve the student loan debt crisis, but can it work?

Photo credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • 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.
Keep reading Show less

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.

Supreme Court to hear 3 cases on LGBT workplace discrimination

In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.

(Photo by Andres Pantoja/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
  • The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
  • Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.
Keep reading Show less