Artificial Human Embryos Are Coming, and No One Knows How to Handle Them - MIT Technology Review

Yue Shao had never seen anything quite like it.

Two years ago, Shao, a mechanical engineer with a flair for biology, was working with embryonic stem cells, the kind derived from human embryos able to form any cell type. As he experimented with ways of getting cells to form more organized three-dimensional structures by growing them in scaffolds of soft gel, he was looking for signs of primitive neural tissue.

What drew his attention was that the cells seemed to change much faster than expected—they arranged themselves rapidly over a few days into a lopsided circle.

What was it? Shao startled Googling to see if he could identify the structure. That’s when he landed on a website called The Virtual Human Embryo and found some microscope photos of ten-day old human embryos shortly after implantation, fused to the uterine wall. There was the beginning of the amniotic sac and, inside it, the embryonic disc, or future body. They matched what he was seeing.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608173/prospect-of-synthetic-embryos-sparks-new-bioethics-debate

Consciousness Goes Deeper Than You Think - Scientific American Blog Network

[...] The problem is that, somewhat alarmingly, the word “consciousness” is often used in the literature as if it entailed or implied more than just the qualities of experience. Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, for instance, insistedthat “it is very important to realize that attention is the key to distinguish between unconscious thought and conscious thought. Conscious thought is thought with attention.” This implies that if a thought escapes attention, then it is unconscious. But is the mere lack of attention enough to assert that a mental process lacks the qualities of experience? Couldn’t a process that escapes the focus of attention still feel like something?

Consider your breathing right now: the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils, the movements of your diaphragm, etcetera. Were you not experiencing these sensations a moment ago, before I directed your attention to them? Or were you just unaware that you were experiencing them all along? By directing your attention to these sensations, did I make them conscious or did I simply cause you to experience the extra quality of knowing that the sensations were conscious?

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/consciousness-goes-deeper-than-you-think

The Nature of Consciousness: Sam Harris

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Thomas Metzinger about the scientific and experiential understanding of consciousness. They also talk about the significance of WWII for the history of ideas, the role of intuition in science, the ethics of building conscious AI, the self as an hallucination, how we identify with our thoughts, attention as the root of the feeling of self, the place of Eastern philosophy in Western science, and the limitations of secular humanism.

https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/the-nature-of-consciousness

Do-not-resuscitate requests rarely tracked in Canada - Health - CBC News

Shahnaz Azarbehi wants to die on her own terms, but she says her wishes aren't being taken seriously.

The 67-year-old Toronto resident is in good health. But if she is ever in a serious accident or gets really sick, she wants everyone to know she does not, under any circumstances, want to be resuscitated. 

She knows that seriously injured people can receive CPR and go on to live a normal life, but she fears a scenario where she doesn't fully recover.

"I see elderly, just skin and bones, lying there for months and years and years," she says. "I don't want to be one of those."

http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/do-not-resuscitate-ontario-canada-1.4288481

The rise of AI is sparking an international arms race - Vox

"Artificial intelligence is the future not only of Russia but of all of mankind ... Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world."

Russian President Vladimir Putin made this statement to a group of students two weeks ago. Shortly thereafter, Tesla’s Elon Musk, who has worried publicly about the hazards of artificial intelligence (AI) for years now, posted an ominous tweet in response to Putin’s remarks.

“China, Russia, soon all countries w/ strong computer science,” he wrote. “Competition for AI superiority at national level most likely cause of WW3 in my opinion.”

https://www.vox.com/world/2017/9/13/16287892/elon-musk-putin-artificial-intelligence-war

The Hardening of Consciousness | by Riccardo Manzotti | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books

How much of our current worldview, our social organization, our collective psychology, or simply our attitude to life, depends on how we understand consciousness? The dominant view, which assumes that all our conscious experience is an internal, largely concocted representation of an unknowable outside world, underwrites a number of assumptions: perhaps most importantly, that the human subject is radically split from the object, hence quite autonomous; and again that, unable to perceive the world “as it is,” we need science to give us any solid facts we may have.

http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/09/11/the-hardening-of-consciousness/

Time to give up on identity politics: It’s dragging the progressive agenda down - Salon.com

I didn’t come around to disliking identity politics recently. Long before the 2016 election, 15 years ago in fact, I predicted the kind of white identitarian politics that eventually came to fruition in the last election. It had seemed to me inevitable, from the beginning, that white nationalism would arise as a necessary outgrowth if liberals kept up with their identity politics obsession, and that is precisely where we find ourselves.

http://www.salon.com/2017/09/02/time-to-give-up-on-identity-politics-its-dragging-the-progressive-agenda-down/

Truth Doesn’t Depend on “Power” | Areo Magazine

In one debate after another on any issue with regards to religion, race, gender, or fairness, there is one maxim of faith you’ll hear repeated over and over again with an evangelist’s zeal: objective truth doesn’t really exist. And what we hear to be the truth is merely based on power – power invested in the state, the media, the church, or the academy, just to name a few of the many nodes from which it emanates.

https://areomagazine.com/2017/07/24/truth-doesnt-depend-on-power/

The Unwitting Role of Canadian Media in Marketing Hatred · The Walrus

On july 21, the far-right provocateur and former Rebel Media personality Lauren Southern announced that Patreon, the crowdfunding platform, had deleted her account. Over the past couple of years, Southern—a self-styled millennial version of Ann Coulter—has built a social media following with a toolkit favoured by the alt-right: titillating trolls, mocking feminists and trans-rights activists, stoking fears about immigrants (especially Muslims), and lionizing Donald Trump as a political saviour. Yet Southern’s support for Defend Europe, the anti-immigrant campaign devoted to disrupting migrant rescue operations, was, for Patreon, a bridge too far. In an email to Southern, the company noted her activities were “likely to cause loss of life.”

In her response, a seven-and-a-half minute YouTube video that has now been viewed nearly a half-million times, Southern painted herself as an heroic advocate of free speech. “I’m being banned, censored, and attacked everywhere I go,” she protested. “The entire establishment—corporations, government, media—is against me.” Within hours of Patreon’s decision, Southern’s new crowdfunding page was up and running. Within days, she had added several thousand followers on Twitter and Youtube. It became clear that Patreon had burnished, not tarnished, Southern’s brand.

https://thewalrus.ca/the-unwitting-role-of-canadian-media-in-marketing-hatred/

How America Went Haywire - The Atlantic

When did america become untethered from reality?

I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/how-america-lost-its-mind/534231/

Psychedelics work by violating our models of self and the world | Aeon Essays

Psychedelic drugs are making a psychiatric comeback. After a lull of half a century, researchers are once again investigating the therapeutic benefits of psilocybin (‘magic mushrooms’) and LSD. It turns out that the hippies were on to something. There’s mounting evidence that psychedelic experiences can be genuinely transformative, especially for people suffering from intractable anxiety, depression and addiction. ‘It is simply unprecedented in psychiatry that a single dose of a medicine produces these kinds of dramatic and enduring results,’ Stephen Ross, the clinical director of the NYU Langone Center of Excellence on Addiction, told Scientific American in 2016.

https://aeon.co/essays/psychedelics-work-by-violating-our-models-of-self-and-the-world

What are the ethical consequences of immortality technology? | Aeon Ideas

Immortality has gone secular. Unhooked from the realm of gods and angels, it’s now the subject of serious investment – both intellectual and financial – by philosophers, scientists and the Silicon Valley set. Several hundred people have already chosen to be ‘cryopreserved’ in preference to simply dying, as they wait for science to catch up and give them a second shot at life. But if we treat death as a problem, what are the ethical implications of the highly speculative ‘solutions’ being mooted?

15 Years Later, Why Do We Still Believe in the Blank Slate? | Areo Magazine

On Twitter, I once saw a cultural anthropologist refer to Steven Pinker’s toenails as “magical” when accosting an evolutionary psychologist who had angered him. Some time later, on another scroll session, I saw a sociologist and gender/ masculinity/ post-colonial theorist very politely say to another professor: “Hi Diana, I remember discussing my view that Evolutionary Psychology was more of a cult than a serious field of study. I was too generous then.”

Finding the exchanges quite funny, I began to ponder why many disciplines have such a disregard and contempt for the new sciences and its practitioners. Is it concern about the mainlining of racism and sexism from the academy into our culture, noble goals to be sure, or something else? It just so happened that I was halfway into Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate when I encountered these Twitter battles. Needless to say for those who’ve read the book, the exchanges reflected familiar patterns.

https://areomagazine.com/2017/08/02/15-years-later-why-do-we-still-believe-in-the-blank-slate/

'Zero Suicide': A Bold Mental-Health Initiative - The Atlantic

[...] Edward’s suicide was one of 6,188 recorded in the U.K. in 2015, an average of almost 17 a day, or two every three hours. In the U.K., suicide is the leading cause of death among women under 35 and men under 50. The World Health Organization estimates that 788,000 people died by suicide globally in 2015. Somewhere in the world, someone takes their life every 40 seconds. And despite advances in science and a growing political and popular focus on mental health, recorded suicides in the U.K. have declined only slightly over the past few decades, from 14.7 per 100,000 people 36 years ago to 10.9 in 2015.

A simple belief drives Mallen: that Edward should still be alive, that his death was preventable—at several stages during the rapid onset of his depression. Moreover, Mallen and a growing number of mental health experts believe that this applies to all deaths by suicide. They argue that with a well-funded, better-coordinated strategy that would reform attitudes and approaches in almost every function of society—from schools and hospitals to police stations and the family home—it might be possible to prevent every suicide, or at least to aspire to.

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/08/zero-suicide-strategy/535587

What is a black professor in America allowed to say? | World news | The Guardian

One Thursday morning in May, Tommy J Curry walked through the offices of the philosophy department at Texas A&M University with a police officer at his side and violence on his mind. The threats had started a few days earlier. “Since you said white people need to be killed I’m in fear of my life,” one person had written via email. “The next time I see you on campus I might just have to pre-emptively defend myself you dumb fat nigger. You are done.” Curry didn’t know if that person was lurking on the university grounds. But Texas is a gun-friendly state, and Texas A&M is a gun-friendly campus, and he took the threat seriously.

Curry supports the right to bear arms. It was part of how he ended up in this situation. In 2012 he had appeared on a satellite radio show and delivered a five-minute talk on how uneasy white people are with the idea of black people talking about owning guns and using them to combat racist forces. When a recording of the talk resurfaced in May, people thought the tenured professor was telling black people to kill white people. This idea swept through conservative media and into the fever swamps of Reddit forums and racist message boards. The threats followed.

Anonymous bigots weren’t the only ones making Curry feel unwanted. Michael K Young, the president of Texas A&M, had called the professor’s comments “disturbing” and contrary to the values of the university. Curry was taken aback. His remarks on the radio were not a regrettable slip of the tongue. They were part of why the university had hired him.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/03/what-is-a-black-professor-in-america-allowed-to-say-tommy-j-curry

 

Why Philosophers Fail to Influence Public Debate—and How They Can Do Better

We all know that philosophers are expert thinkers but most philosophers, and especially moral philosophers, want to change the world as well. As Plato noted, once one has ascended to the pinnacle of wisdom, or at least successfully defended a PhD thesis, it is hard to resist the temptation to come back down again and help to spread the light to others.

However, for most of us, the idea of actually succeeding at this is little more than a dream. Attempts to get heard often end up backfiring or simply proving a waste of time and energy. Even philosophers whose work is in areas of real public interest, such as applied ethics, can struggle to get a hearing above the noise of pundits, preachers and politicians whose views, though ill-considered and even inconsistent, are far easier on the ear and offer people a sense of certainty in a baffling world.

http://quillette.com/2017/08/02/philosophers-fail-influence-public-debate-can-better/

If I teleport from Mars, does the original me get destroyed? | Aeon Ideas

I am stranded on Mars. The fuel tanks on my return vessel ruptured, and no rescue team can possibly reach me before I run out of food. (And, unlike Matt Damon, I have no potatoes.) Luckily, my ship features a teleporter. It is an advanced bit of gadgetry, to be sure, but the underlying idea is simplicity itself: the machine scans my body and produces an amazingly detailed blueprint, a clear picture of each cell and neuron. That blueprint file is then beamed back to Earth, where a ‘new me’ is constructed using raw materials available at the destination site. All I have to do is step in, close my eyes, and press the red button…

But there’s a complication: a toggle switch allows me to decide whether the ‘old me’ on Mars is preserved or destroyed after I teleport back home. It’s this decision that is causing me to hesitate.

https://aeon.co/ideas/if-i-teleport-from-mars-does-the-original-me-get-destroyed

First Human Embryos Edited in U.S. - MIT Technology Review

The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon, Technology Review has learned.

The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR, according to people familiar with the scientific results.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608350/first-human-embryos-edited-in-us/

Could hep-C-infected livers solve New York's organ-donor shortage?

There was reason for Fisher to be circumspect. Until then he had been behind about 30 New Yorkers waiting for a liver, giving him just a 50-50 chance of surviving long enough to get a transplant. But five weeks earlier, doctors at Montefiore had made an offer that dramatically expanded his options: He could get a liver faster if he agreed to accept one with a potentially fatal disease. He said yes.

On March 24 Fisher became the first patient in New York City to be willingly infected with hepatitis C in order to obtain a liver that might otherwise have gone to waste. For Fisher that meant taking a leap of faith that the Montefiore doctors could cure him of hep C, a blood-borne virus that could itself cause cancer and liver failure.

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20170723/HEALTH_CARE/170729957