It can be unsettling to contemplate the unlikely nature of your own existence, to work backward causally and discover the chain of blind luck that landed you in front of your computer screen, or your mobile, or wherever it is that you are reading these words. For you to exist at all, your parents had to meet, and that alone involved quite a lot of chance and coincidence. If your mother hadn’t decided to take that calculus class, or if her parents had decided to live in another town, then perhaps your parents never would have encountered one another. But that is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Even if your parents made a deliberate decision to have a child, the odds of your particular sperm finding your particular egg are one in several billion. The same goes for both your parents, who had to exist in order for you to exist, and so already, after just two generations, we are up to one chance in 1027. Carrying on in this way, your chance of existing, given the general state of the universe even a few centuries ago, was almost infinitesimally small. You and I and every other human being are the products of chance, and came into existence against very long odds.
Excerpt from an article writen by Tim Maudlin at Aeon. Continue THERE
In 1968, a letter to The British Medical Journal titled “Not Allowed to Die” described the ordeal of a retired 68-year-old doctor admitted to “an overseas hospital” (almost certainly in America) with metastatic stomach cancer. After much of his stomach was surgically removed and a blood clot cleared from his lung, he asked that “no further steps be taken to prolong his life, for the pain of his cancer was now more than he would needlessly continue to endure.” Two weeks later the unfortunate doctor had a heart attack in the hospital. His heart was shocked and restarted five times in a single night; morning found him in a persistent vegetative state. His body remained alive for another three weeks.
That hellish situation, rare in the rest of the world, is all too common in this country. Although most of us claim no desire to die with a tube down our throat and on a ventilator, the fact is, as Katy Butler reminds us in “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” a fifth of American deaths now take place in intensive care, where 10 days of futile flailing can cost as much as $323,000, as it did for one California man.
Butler’s introduction to the surreal world of health “care” at the end of life was precipitated by the sudden illness of her father, a native of South Africa. Jeffrey Butler lost his arm while serving in World War II. He married, earned a Ph.D. from Oxford and settled into academic life in the United States. He was a charismatic father, the sort who would “stand in our bedroom doorways and say good night to my two brothers and me quoting Horatio’s farewell to the dying Hamlet: ‘May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!’ ” At 79 he was active and enjoying retirement when he suffered a stroke. Soon after hospitalization a “discharge planner” told the family that Jeffrey had to be immediately transferred to a neurological rehabilitation facility. “Only later would I understand the rush,” Butler writes. “The hospital was losing money on him with every passing day. Out of $20,228 in services performed and billed, Medicare would reimburse Middlesex Memorial only $6,559, a lump sum based on the severity of my father’s stroke diagnosis.”
Excerpt from an article written by ABRAHAM VERGHESE at the NYT. Continue THERE
Crafting Life is a symposium accompanying the opening of the exhibition Transformism at the John Hansard Gallery, enabling an exploration of some of the ideas suggested by the artists’ works and exploring how crafted life forms create an interplay between art, design, science and technology.
The cultivation and crafting of biological life has existed for centuries, both for aesthetic and practical purposes. Today, with the advancement of bioscientific tools, techniques and materials, these new forms are now not only produced by farms and individuals, but in laboratories and factories, with ‘crafting’ taking place on the molecular level.
In this symposium, we will begin to examine, from different disciplinary perspectives, some of the implications of applying new scientific and technological tools to the manipulation of living forms and systems, what this means for our relationship with non-human life, and the new realm of aesthetic and forms it opens up.
Text and Images via Crafting Life: Materiality, Science and Technology symposium.
“Something is keeping us alive, and we do not know what it is. Now, a real Methuselah of the mammals is beginning to hint at what it takes to make a century. The African naked mole rat, whose name describes its charming appearance, has a pair of fearsome front teeth. It lives in burrows in which one aggressive female prevents all the others from mating and forces them to look after her own offspring. The animal is about the same size as a mouse, but it lives eight times as long, with plenty getting to 30 or so.
Once past our own teenage years, we age faster and faster. The average chance of death in a particular period doubles every eight years. The figures are more favorable in the prime of life and are at their best at the age of 10. If that schoolboy rate of mortality were to persist throughout life, most children born in 2000 would survive until the year 3300, which gives an uncomfortable insight into the power of bodily decay.”
Excerpt from a article written by Steve Jones, Telegraph. Continue HERE
Today if you are not often wired, you do not exist. Like radio and television in other times, the internet has become not only an indispensable tool but also a vital component of our life. It has become so useful, significant, and meaningful for variety of administrative, cultural, and political reasons that a life without it seems unimaginable in the twenty-first century. But the ownership of this interactive life is troubled: when you start seeing interesting advertising on your Gmail banner, personalised ads aimed just at you, your existence has begun to belong to others.
At last count, there are now 2,267,233,742 users of the internet, that is, 32.7 per cent of the world population. While these numbers refer primarily to North America, Asia, and Europe, in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East its use is growing rapidly. However, there is a big difference between being online and being wired. This is not a simple semantic difference, but rather an existential distinction that determines our roles, tasks, and possibilities in the world today. Without suggesting a return to twentieth century existentialism (which arose as a reaction against scientific systems threatening humans beings uniqueness) philosophy must stress the vital danger that being wired can pose for our lives.
Excerpt of an article written by Santiago Zabala, New Statesman. Continue HERE
“This house wants to defeat aging entirely” (Part 1 – Main debate)
Dr. Aubrey de Grey (proposing) and Professor Colin Blakemore (opposing)
A public debate organized by Oxford University Science Society, held in the Sheldonian Theater in Oxford on April 25th, 2012.
(Part 2 – Audience Q&A)
Dr. Aubrey de Grey: De Grey’s research focuses on whether regenerative medicine can thwart the aging process. He works on the development of what he calls “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence” (SENS), a tissue-repair strategy intended to rejuvenate the human body and allow an indefinite lifespan. To this end, he has identified seven types of molecular and cellular damage caused by essential metabolic processes. SENS is a proposed panel of therapies designed to repair this damage. Text via Wiki
Professor Colin Blakemore: Professor Colin Blakemore, Ph.D., FRS, FMedSci, HonFSB, HonFRCP, is a British neurobiologist who is Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Oxford and University of Warwick specialising in vision and the development of the brain. He was formerly Chief Executive of the British Medical Research Council (MRC). He is best known to the public as a communicator of science but also as the target of a long-running animal-rights campaign. According to The Observer, he has been both “one of the most powerful scientists in the [UK]” and “a hate figure for the animal rights movement”. Text via Wiki
Curiosity rover: Will it know life if it finds it? Courtesy NASA
Carl Zimmer: In November 2011, NASA launched its biggest, most ambitious mission to Mars. The $2.5 billion Mars Science Lab spacecraft will arrive in orbit around the Red Planet this August, releasing a lander that will use rockets to control a slow descent into the atmosphere. Equipped with a “sky crane,” the lander will gently lower the one-ton Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. Curiosity, which weighs five times more than any previous Martian rover, will perform an unprecedented battery of tests for three months as it scoops up soil from the floor of the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater. Its mission, NASA says, will be to “assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.”
For all the spectacular engineering that’s gone into Curiosity, however, its goal is actually quite modest. When NASA says it wants to find out if Mars was ever suitable for life, they use a very circumscribed version of the word. They are looking for signs of liquid water, which all living things on Earth need. They are looking for organic carbon, which life on Earth produces and, in some cases, can feed on to survive. In other words, they’re looking on Mars for the sorts of conditions that support life on Earth. Continue HERE
Humanity has long dreamed of perfection, striving to be faster, stronger and brighter, pushing nature to the limit. Four centuries before people were conceived in a petri dish, Swiss alchemist Paracelsus claimed flawless little beings could be grown in pumpkins filled with urine and horse dung, but there is no record he produced a crop.
With the birth of Louise Brown in 1978, the test tube finally succeeded where the pumpkin had failed, and the year she turned 11, scientists moved beyond making life in a lab: They found a way to peer into an embryo’s genes and predict what that life might be like.
That ability is now morphing into a whole new approach to baby-making, one that gives people an unprecedented power to preview, and pick, the genetic traits of their prospective children.
Just as Paracelsus wrote that his recipe worked best if done in secret, modern science is quietly handing humanity something the quirky Renaissance scholar could only imagine: the capacity to harness our own evolution. We now have the potential to banish the genes that kill us, that make us susceptible to cancer, heart disease, depression, addictions and obesity, and to select those that may make us healthier, stronger, more intelligent.
The question is, should we?
Written by Carolyn Abraham for Globe and Mail. Continue HERE