How millennials can become a successful generation
Millennials, engage! It's the reason you keep losing to baby boomers.
MICHAEL HOBBES: I think there's this tendency to think that technology is going to save us or that technology is going to be uncomplicated when it saves us. And if you look at every technological innovation, they've all been really complicated. And so we can't wait for automation to save us; we can't wait for technology to solve climate change. These are political problems; the reduction and the quality of work is a political problem that requires a political solution. There's no app for forming a union in your workplace. There's no app for raising the minimum wage where you live or raising taxes on rich people. These are the things we need to work toward, and we can't wait for or hope for or expect that technology is going to offer us any solution when it never has before.
If you're a millennial, one of the things that will probably make you really mad is that when our parents were protesting the Vietnam War, Americans under 45 outnumbered Americans older than 45 by two to one. So, when they were electing JFK and when they were protesting the Vietnam War, they could elect politicians to put them in power, whereas now, as the population has gotten older – it's now almost 50-50; half the population is under 45 and half the population is over 45. And what that means is there's never been an American generation that has held onto power as it aged the way that the boomers have. The boomers are still in power; they still out-vote us. They don't outnumber us anymore, but because they vote at greater rates they still do outnumber us in power. The median member of Congress is 59. That is bad. If you're a millennial you've spent your entire life being told by everybody from teachers to MTV that you should vote; you've also experienced voting getting harder. The lines are getting longer, especially in poorer areas. This is being done deliberately. Voter ID laws are coming up everywhere. It's getting harder to vote. So, yes, it's important for us to vote, but it's also really important that when we get into power we need to make it easier to vote.
I live in a state where you receive your ballot in the mail, there's no waiting in line. You get it, you have two weeks, the postage is paid and you send it back. We have way higher turnouts, especially in primaries, than a lot of other states do. If you're working two jobs it makes perfect sense for you not to vote. Of course you're not going to stand in line for three hours. So I think what needs to be our generational project is finding all of these procedures and making them easier. It's not just a matter of voting, we need to vote and then we need to make it easier for the next generation to vote.
- Millennials keep waiting for technology to fix their problems, but they can improve their quality of life now through voting and civic engagement.
- Baby boomers participate in politics and turn up to vote at much higher rates, so their priorities dominate the political system. (The median member of Congress is 59 years old. That's bad.)
- Removing roadblocks to voting will help millennials realize their political power so they can vote for issues that affect them most, like climate change policy, raising wages for workers, and closing the wealth gap.
- Prejudice is typically perpetrated against 'the other', i.e. a group outside our own.
- But ageism is prejudice against ourselves — at least, the people we will (hopefully!) become.
- Different generations needs to cooperate now more than ever to solve global problems.
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.
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.
The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
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