Aristotle famously pointed out that humans stand out from other living beings because humans are rational. To live a flourishing human life is to live in accordance with the dictates of reason. Much of the philosophical thought about the essence of man going forward was heavily influenced by what Aristotle had to say on this point. It is hard to deny the importance of rationality for the survival of the human species. Because we can reason, we can use language, make plans, satisfy obligations, know things about the world, and, importantly, we can change the world as we see fit to meet our needs. It would be an understatement to say that we took full advantage of that last part. It is important that we ask ourselves: Are there any constraints on how far we should take our ability to modify the world around us? Continue reading “Rethinking Modification of the Natural World”
Minibrains sound like science fiction, but they have already led to new discoveries in the medical sciences. NPR recently reported on the efforts of scientists who are growing small and “extremely rudimentary versions of an actual human brain” by transforming human skin cells into neural stem cells and letting them grow into structures like those found in the human brain. These tissues are called cerebral organoids but are more popularly known as “minibrains.”
Elon Musk recently claimed that the colonization of Mars needs to be prioritized, lest a catastrophe such as World War III wipe out humanity on this planet before we make it to another. And yet, colonization runs headlong into another scientific goal for our exploration of Mars: the search for indigenous Martian life. The problem, in simple terms, is that human colonists will undoubtedly bring bacteria and other microscopic life forms from the planet Earth. If these life forms of terrestrial origin take root in the Martian landscape, scientific research may lose the ability tell indigenous from non-indigenous life forms. Scientists worry that these terrestrial lifeforms may even kill off the Martian ones (if they exist). And wouldn’t that be tragic? Continue reading “Environmental Ethics for the Red Planet”
In a new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, behavioral ecologist Erik Frank at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and his colleagues discuss their findings that a species of sub-Saharan ants bring their wounded hive-mates back to the colony after a termite hunt. This practice of not leaving wounded ants behind is noteworthy on its own, but Frank and fellow behavioral ecologists note that the Matabele ants (Megaponera analis) engage in triage judgments to determine which injured ants are worth or possible to save–not all living wounded are brought back to the nest for treatment.
As our understanding of the human genome improves, pathways leading in the direction of new and powerful technologies are cleared. In recent years, scientists have developed a new technique called CRISPR, which allows them to edit the genome—adding, subtracting, or deleting pieces of genetic code. This process has the potential to bring about significant changes in human health. CRISPR could prevent children from being born with a wide range of painful or life-threatening conditions. So far, scientists have used this process in attempts to prevent blood disorders, allergies, heart disease, and to mutate the genome in such a way that the resulting person is less likely to get HIV. Continue reading “CRISPR, Moral Obligations and Editing the Human Genome”
This past week, scientists have shared that they have created the most successful artificial womb yet. Lambs have been born healthily after spending up to half of their gestation in a simulated uterus.
For now, this technology is proving to be intriguingly successful in lambs. To keep hormones, temperature, oxygen, and other life-sustaining factors stable for humans will be quite a hurdle, but scientists and spectators are already hypothesizing about what this could mean farther down the line (specialists estimate testing this technology on humans would be about three years in the future). Artificial wombs could be of help not just with premature births on the cusp of viability, but perhaps even earlier. Perhaps, artificial wombs can be of use soon after conception, or are the next stage of development for so-called test tube babies. In that case, we could develop children without the need of a woman’s uterus altogether!
Cryogenics, also known as cryonics, is a form of preservation involving the storing and preservation of a body at very low temperatures in hopes of one day reviving and repairing the body. Although to date no humans have been revived after freezing, some scientists think they are coming closer to making revivement though cryogenics a real possibility. Recent reports of a terminally ill British teen being frozen upon her death have brought cryogenics and the ethical debates surrounding the topic back into the news.
Many are familiar with the placebo effect in medicine, but placebos surround us in many other walks of life: in some cases, actual crosswalks. We are given a false sense of control and order through a multitude of details of modern life.