The Rise and Fall of the Irish Muse

QuestionWhy do so many successful artists come from Ireland?

Gavin Friday:  That's a tough question. We don't have a long of natural resources as a country; we have a very beautiful country. Visually, I mean, everyone goes on about it's green, it's the mountains and the rivers and it's clean and it's not that populated. It is stunningly beautiful, but we've no oil. We've no coal. We've no money. We just have Ireland. But a weird theory I have is we come from a suppressed culture. We're one of the most invaded countries ever. I think the British started it very early, it could be like 800 that decided to come and show us out; and the Danes in the north. We've had a tough time and pretty much a similar culture would be the Jewish culture; they had a pretty hard time. They were being kicked around for a long, long time.

So when that happens, and when people try to take your culture away from you, your essence of your culture becomes stronger. It's like even in Africa. When you see African-Americans, they're stronger because of what they've gone through. It's even subliminal; I think it becomes in their genes. But our language was even taken from us. The Irish Gaelic language was outlawed and the religion was outlawed. Hence the religion later being stronger; stronger to a negative point of view. But our venge was -- I mean if you listen to Irish language, it's very complicated but it's very poetic. To say hello in Ireland is ****, which translated means "Sunshine of God on you." That's a lot nicer than "Hello". Do you know what I mean? And goodbye is ****, which means "It's a wave and may the road rise with you," which is a very well-known phrase. That's a really nice way to say goodbye.

So there was engrained poetry and then when you look back at our history and in the 20th century, the last century, probably the greatest writers of the 20th century were Irish. You go from Beckett to Joyce to **** to Shaw to Oscar Wild; you just go "Jesus, what's going on here?" All these guys and the most famous book in the world could be Ulysses, after the Bible. But that was almost like our revenge on how dare you take our culture from us. So it became our only weapon, was our poetry, our music. And if you listen to Irish music, I think we've -- they say that kilts came from the middle east. So really I'm an Arab. If you listen to the way they -- listen to the way someone like Sinead O'Connor sang. It could be Muslim. You know that angst that sort of ****. That wail. I think it's in our genes. I think certain stuff is in our genes, like nobody can dance like a black guy. It's in their genes. So we don't have oil, but we have poetry.

QuestionHow has the Celtic Tiger economy changed Ireland's art scene?

Gavin Friday:  I am not a huge fan of the Celtic Tiger; I was so glad that you could see people being prosperous, that you didn't see people begging, that the city started looking good, that people had jobs. But it was almost like if you have such a hard time for so long, then you turn around and give a kid a check for a million quid, they're going to go nuts. And we went a bit nuts, we went up our ass. Suddenly every one started sounding very American which freaked me out. The "Oh my God" syndrome kicked in really quick and I got a freight. The bubble has burst. Time tells; time tells everything. We blew it too quickly, but it wasn't totally our fault because the big boys that run those banks they messed up America, they've been up Europe, they've messed up the world. Really it's the start of the 21st century. We've got to re-think things.

Socialism and Communism don't work, but neither does straightforward capitalism. We've got to get a new way of thinking and working. We blew it so there was good and bad about the celtic tiger. But we're tiny. There's four million in the country, do you know what I mean? We're tiny. Four million in a country, how many is in New York? Seven? Ten? But we're strong, so hopefully we pull through. And you never really know until you get perspective a couple of years away. But I really disliked the fact that our culture is what make us and made us and will make us. And when money came in, we rejected it so quickly. Not even rejected, we didn't think. We just got lazy and all the girls started getting fat and that's not good is it?

Recorded on:  October 1, 2009

Sure, the Celtic Tiger has been great for Ireland's economy--but what has it done for Irish culture? Musician Gavin Friday is not optimistic.

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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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