Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Jesse
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Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

Post by Jesse »

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02986-y

Much of this is stuff that will give you nightmares, so proceed cautiously if you are easily upset. Honestly, I mostly completely condemn what they are doing, but also see how it could be beneficial if it was undertaken by people with moral values. Which seem to be lacking, or utterly non-existent in researchers these days. A few of the researchers mentioned in the article seem willing to impose restrictions on themselves, and are proceeding cautiously, however I suspect they are in the minority. Most scientists fervently demand their research be done with zero restrictions or ethical guidelines.
But one experiment has drawn more scrutiny than the others. In August 2019, Muotri’s group published a paper in Cell Stem Cell reporting the creation of human brain organoids that produced coordinated waves of activity, resembling those seen in premature babies.
When Muotri suggested that his organoids’ firing patterns were just as complex as those seen in preterm infants, people were unsure what to make of that. Some researchers don’t consider the brain activity in a preterm infant to be complex enough to be classed as conscious.
Muotri sees little difference between working on a human organoid or a lab mouse. “We work with animal models that are conscious and there are no problems,” he says. “We need to move forward and if it turns out they become conscious, to be honest I don’t see it as a big deal.”
The idea of bodiless, self-aware brains was already on the minds of many neuroscientists and bioethicists. Just a few months earlier, a team at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, announced that it had at least partially restored life to the brains of pigs that had been killed hours earlier. By removing the brains from the pigs’ skulls and infusing them with a chemical cocktail, the researchers revived the neurons’ cellular functions and their ability to transmit electrical signals2.

Other experiments, such as efforts to add human neurons to mouse brains, are raising questions, with some scientists and ethicists arguing that these experiments should not be allowed.

The studies have set the stage for a debate between those who want to avoid the creation of consciousness and those who see complex organoids as a means to study devastating human diseases. Muotri and many other neuroscientists think that human brain organoids could be the key to understanding uniquely human conditions such as autism and schizophrenia, which are impossible to study in detail in mouse models. To achieve this goal, Muotri says, he and others might need to deliberately create consciousness.
Muotri wants his organoid systems to be comparable, in at least some ways, with human brains, so that he can study human disorders and find treatments. His motivation is personal: his 14-year-old son has epilepsy and autism.
Members plan to weigh in on questions such as whether to obtain people’s consent to develop their cells into brain organoids, and how to study and dispose of organoids humanely. The International Society for Stem Cell Research is also working on organoid guidelines, but is not addressing consciousness because it doesn’t think the science is there yet.
Either way, I sort of hope more people become aware of this technology, at least as a means of applying social pressure to regulate it. From what the article states; as of right now if your genetic material is taken during routine medical work, as in your regular doctors office, or at the hospital -- the companies they send the material to for testing are allowed to keep your genetic material and use it, or sell it to researchers. So, if you get any type of medical work done, your own brain cells could be grown out in some guys lab, potentially creating a disembodied consciousness - and they can do this without any restrictions, legal repercussions, or even your consent.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

I personally know a research scientist who grew a brain this way, from stem cells. It’s pretty interesting, and it offers an opportunity to test out treatments for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases on actual, living human brain tissue. Previously, scientists had to rely on computer models or brains of living animals (the brains of house flies are actually very good for simulation of human brains!)

This is like the difference between dripping a crude circle of tomato sauce on a piece of cardboard, compared with having a pizza with all the toppings. Millions of people and animals can be helped.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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PadmaVonSamba wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:14 pm I personally know a research scientist who grew a brain this way, from stem cells. It’s pretty interesting, and it offers an opportunity to test out treatments for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases on actual, living human brain tissue. Previously, scientists had to rely on computer models or brains of living animals (the brains of house flies are actually very good for simulation of human brains!)

This is like the difference between dripping a crude circle of tomato sauce on a piece of cardboard, compared with having a pizza with all the toppings. Millions of people and animals can be helped.
Millions have been helped by the research conducted by unethical scientists, and experiments. That's the least we can do to atone for their behavior. Does that justify them engaging in unethical research in the first place? I don't believe so. Research like this requires stringent ethical adherent, rules, laws. They need to be able to justify their experiments, and mitigate all potential suffering caused by them.

As of now, there are zero, zilch, nada in terms of regulation/ethical guidelines, or any laws constraining their research. They aren't just questioning whether these brains are conscious -- many researchers are actively attempting to create sentient disembodied brains to perform their research. The unaware 'donors' of the genetic material being used to create these brain organoids are blissfully unaware that they may have a clone of their brain sitting in a lab -- potentially suffering right now.

There is no way anyone with any moral sense could justify this. If these organoids do become conscious, or are ; that means someone is experiencing a very unfortunate rebirth. A disembodied consciousness cut off from sensory experience, with no idea what's happening to them; alone in a dark void for an indeterminate length of time.

Edit: But yes I agree that many diseases can be helped by this research. I don't advocate banning it, but strictly regulating it. I would love for a cure for brain tumors, or schizophrenia to result from this, as much as anyone else.. but I personally consider doing this without any regard for the created consciousness identical to snatching someone off the street, and turning them into a guinea pig without their permission.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pmThere is no way anyone with any moral sense could justify this. If these organoids do become conscious, or are ; that means someone is experiencing a very unfortunate rebirth.
I think that’s a purely religious opinion.
One could just as easily argue that God put souls into the brains.
One can come up with any religious belief about it.
Are you suggesting then, that consciousness exists within the cells of the body? Within the cells of the brain? Or that there’s a ‘self’ that does?
If the answer is yes, where in the material body is this consciousness located?
What did the Buddha teach about this?
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pm
As of now, there are zero, zilch, nada in terms of regulation/ethical guidelines, or any laws constraining their research.
You are just plain wrong in saying this, Jesse.
There are strong regulations created and overseen by ethicists and, ultimately, legislators in every Western country. Such regulators have been closely involved at every stage of (e.g.) human embryo research and have imposed limits on what can be done to embryos created for research and what should be done with embryos created in fertility clinics but not needed by the client.
Every new research project has to be assessed against ethical guidelines and there is a strong review process - before it starts - if it looks like breaching them.

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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

Post by Jesse »

Kim O'Hara wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 12:11 am
Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pm
As of now, there are zero, zilch, nada in terms of regulation/ethical guidelines, or any laws constraining their research.
You are just plain wrong in saying this, Jesse.
There are strong regulations created and overseen by ethicists and, ultimately, legislators in every Western country. Such regulators have been closely involved at every stage of (e.g.) human embryo research and have imposed limits on what can be done to embryos created for research and what should be done with embryos created in fertility clinics but not needed by the client.
Every new research project has to be assessed against ethical guidelines and there is a strong review process - before it starts - if it looks like breaching them.

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https://www.eurostemcell.org/ethics-brain-organoids

If you could link some applicable laws surrounding this particular technology, I would like to see it. As there seems to be none, and I can find none online. When you say new research is overseen by ethics committees you mean that large multi-billion dollar corporations hire decorative ethicists who hold the job, but if they dare mouth anything that would be counter to company profits they get laid off. No real ethics are happening unfortunately. Which is why we need laws, with criminal consequences.

For example: https://www.theverge.com/2020/12/3/2215 ... i-ethicist

Everything from the original article I linked seems to hold up. Human embryos are old, and they existed in a very different time scientifically than we inhabit now. Advancements are made so quickly now, that 1 month may as well be 10 years by comparison of 2 decades ago.

This is an article about ethics surrounding using DNA from patients, primarily from DNA testing companies. Though very few, if any laws govern the people who buy the genetic material, or sequences.
https://www.axios.com/dna-test-results- ... c0293.html

Here is another one:
https://academic.oup.com/jlb/article/7/ ... 05/5854398
ABSTRACT

Human cerebral organoids (HCOs) are miniature brains cultivated in a dish using pluripotent human cells that, thanks to advanced technologies, tend to reproduce the development path of the brain of an embryo in the mother’s uterus. Recent data from studies carried out in different laboratories have indicated that HCOs show complex electrical activity, are receptive to light stimuli, and can command a muscle connected to them. The presence of the main neuronal structures in them suggests that, despite currently lacking vascularization and sensory exchanges with the outside world, more developed HCOs could exhibit some rudimentary form of consciousness, specifically a minimal sentience with respect to the basic experiences of pain and pleasure. Faced with this possibility, which for many scientists is still a long way off, we have begun to reflect on how we could empirically investigate the presence of consciousness. If we were certain or had a reasonable belief that some types of HCOs are sentient, what kind of entity would we judge them to be? Would they have specific legal protection? Should they be attributed to a moral status? This article tries to give an initial answer to these two questions. On the one side, it seems that no special rights can be claimed for HCOs other than those relating to human biological material. On the other side, instead, a sentient HCO could aspire to having its moral status recognized. If this were the case, the law may have to adapt to this unprecedented situation.
It comes down again to arguments over what consciousness, and sentience is. We don't know how it's 'produced', or 'emerges'. The only thing they have to go on with organoids is brain wave activity, and no one can prove consciousness based on simply the presence of brainwaves. Since we can barely even seem to define it (In western philosophy), creating laws surrounding something as different as lab grown human brains seems a long shot.

In the mean time, there is really no laws managing scientists from performing these experiments, it's completely up to their own ethics boards, and as the articles suggest some have decent ethics boards, and others completely lack any.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

Post by Kim O'Hara »

Here you are - go for it.

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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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I throw the carcasses of dead sentient beings on my BBQ every weekend. They had more consciousness than those organoids.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pm that means someone is experiencing a very unfortunate rebirth. A disembodied consciousness cut off from sensory experience, with no idea what's happening to them; alone in a dark void for an indeterminate length of time.
Well, this not different than a formless realm being. However, it is unlikely such tissue will be conscious, since this kind of tissue will have never had any sense organs, and will be completely unaware, lacking any self-awareness. Also, there is no conception involved here.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pm that means someone is experiencing a very unfortunate rebirth. A disembodied consciousness cut off from sensory experience, with no idea what's happening to them; alone in a dark void for an indeterminate length of time.
My brain has no idea what is happening to it, or that it has forever been locked inside of a dark, little, round box.
Yet, I am quite happy.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Kim O'Hara wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 4:04 am Here you are - go for it.
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I have been reading these, a majority of the articles seem to be neuroscientists, and ethicists pushing for regulation. Here is a quote from: https://blogs.bmj.com/medical-ethics/20 ... processes/
“Although Australia’s regulator has decided existing laws cover the artificial embryos, the law may need to be rewritten to fully address them, experts said. International guidelines are already being worked on. Strict new prohibitions banning taking artificial embryos full-term will be needed.” (Liam Mannix, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald)

The philosophical absurdity of calling these embryos is easily seen. The only plausible way an iBlastoid could be considered an embryo is:

iBlastoids are embryos because if a membrane (zona pellucida) were added, these could implant possibly forming a live born baby.

But then skin cells would also be embryos because:

Skin cells can produce an iBlastoid if they are reprogrammed, and iBlastoids are embryos.

Nevertheless, even if one were to believe this is not an embryo, it is very close to an embryo, a cloned embryo. (Indeed, cloning is a word conspicuously absent from the discussion of these.) If it were able to develop neural structures, those might resemble previously described “brain organoids.”
Indeed, it would be an opportune moment to give up trying to form laws in this and other rapidly advancing areas. Gene editing is another example where old laws strain or burst under new technological advances. A better regulatory model might be a responsible body that could engage in public consultation, and consider new developments against legal and ethical principles, in the context of specific technologies. When it comes to radical new technologies, what matters is the spirit, not the letter of the law.
One from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6010307/
Currently, if research on human tissue occurs outside a living person, only the processes of obtaining, storing, sharing and identifying the tissue fall under the regulations and guidelines that limit what interventions can be conducted on people. As brain surrogates become larger and more sophisticated, the possibility of them having capabilities akin to human sentience might become less remote. Such capacities could include being able to feel (to some degree) pleasure, pain or distress; being able to store and retrieve memories; or perhaps even having some perception of agency or awareness of self.

Could studies involving brain tissue that has been removed from a living person or corpse provide information about the person’s memories, say? Could organisms that aren’t ‘biologically human’ ever warrant some degree of quasi-human or human moral status?

In the light of such possibilities, here we lay out some of the issues that we think civil society, researchers, ethicists, funders and reviewers ought now to be considering.
Something I neglected to mention before, this technology; as with most these days, is not limited to labs and organizations with ethics committees.
Anyone can grow these organoids and do whatever research they want. Sure most regular people do not have the education to pull off anything crazy. That does not go for PHD students, the highly intelligent hobbyist, or for researchers who can't get approval to do work in the lab, and decide to just do it at home.

https://www.stemcell.com/stemdiff-cereb ... d-kit.html

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So fundamentally what you say is true - there are some rules and regulations, but in general they fail to actually regulate people who are intent on performing cutting edge research. They tend to only cover thing's which were regulated several years ago. Thing's are simply advancing too quickly to continually keep regulating every new discovery, which happens at a blinding speed these days. This doesn't even begin to address the crazy that is 'democratizing' genomics, and other advanced technology. Anyone at home can order Crispr kits and modify the genome of anything they feel like. Aside from being inherently dangerous to everyone, it also allows researchers to outright bypass any existing laws and regulations by simply doing banned/unethical research at home.
Malcolm wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 3:22 pm
Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pm that means someone is experiencing a very unfortunate rebirth. A disembodied consciousness cut off from sensory experience, with no idea what's happening to them; alone in a dark void for an indeterminate length of time.
Well, this not different than a formless realm being. However, it is unlikely such tissue will be conscious, since this kind of tissue will have never had any sense organs, and will be completely unaware, lacking any self-awareness. Also, there is no conception involved here.
I'm not entirely sure if these would have an experience similar to formless beings, but from several of the articles I read that Kim linked, they appear to now being hooking these brain cell clusters up to sensory cells. They are fairly basic right now, but they also mention in time these sensory organs can become far more complex, and one of the ways of achieving that is growing these organoids inside of other living animals. Such as rats, or apes.

In the article I read they grew a brain organoid, and then grew a small cluster of eye cells(cones/rods), and then connected them together. The brain cells responded to a light stimulus being shined on the eye cells. I don't think they are going to stop this type of research.

The original reason I posted this was actually hoping people would offer prayers for these creations -- I just kind of got drawn into a debate on it. It's hard to resist. :P
Brain organoids have limitations. They lack certain cell types, such as micro-glia and cells that form blood vessels. Today, the largest organoids are about 4 millimetres in diameter and contain only about 2 million to 3 million cells. An adult human brain measures roughly 1,350 cubic centimetres, and is made up of 86 billion neurons and a similar number of non-neuronal cells. Moreover, so far, brain organoids have received sensory input only in primitive form, and connections from other brain regions are limited.

Given such constraints, the possibility of organoids becoming conscious to some degree, or of acquiring other higher-order properties, such as the ability to feel distress, seems highly remote. But organoids are becoming increasingly complex. Indeed, one of us (P.A.) recorded neural activity from an organoid after shining light on a region where cells of the retina had formed together with cells of the brain. This illustrated that an external stimulus can result in an organoid response.
This was also from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6010307/

Either way, even if these do not currently constitute anything more complex than simple animals, sometimes less complex than ones we currently eat -- they eventually will. There seems to be no reason that with enough development/time that we couldn't outright artificially grow an entire human brain, or a entire living human. When it becomes this complex, are we going to regulate their use? Or will anything go? These sort of conversations obviously need to start before we reach that point.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Jesse wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 5:32 pm
I'm not entirely sure if these would have an experience similar to formless beings,
Formless realms beings have no sensory input. They are sustained solely on the concept that direct their rebirth, infinite consciousness, etc.

In the article I read they grew a brain organoid, and then grew a small cluster of eye cells(cones/rods), and then connected them together. The brain cells responded to a light stimulus being shined on the eye cells. I don't think they are going to stop this type of research.
Probably not.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Malcolm wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 5:37 pm
Formless realms beings have no sensory input. They are sustained solely on the concept that direct their rebirth, infinite consciousness, etc.
Malcolm, could such creations be considered sentient either now or with future advancements?
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Jesse wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 5:32 pm ...
Either way, even if these do not currently constitute anything more complex than simple animals, sometimes less complex than ones we currently eat -- they eventually will. There seems to be no reason that with enough development/time that we couldn't outright artificially grow an entire human brain, or a entire living human. When it becomes this complex, are we going to regulate their use? Or will anything go? These sort of conversations obviously need to start before we reach that point.
These sorts of conversations began more than a century ago, with Frankenstein.
And I'm quite serious in saying that. The moral issues were raised long before the technology was ready, and they have been simmering away ever since.

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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

Post by Malcolm »

Dorje Shedrub wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 6:59 pm
Malcolm wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 5:37 pm
Formless realms beings have no sensory input. They are sustained solely on the concept that direct their rebirth, infinite consciousness, etc.
Malcolm, could such creations be considered sentient either now or with future advancements?
Unlikely. Machines are machines.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Honestly, I mostly completely condemn what they are doing, but also see how it could be beneficial if it was undertaken by people with moral values. Which seem to be lacking, or utterly non-existent in researchers these days.
I'm not fond of animal testing, for instance. It's a very harmful practice. And I agree that there are many technologies being developed that are potentially quite dangerous in the wrong hands. But not all researchers carry out these sorts of things. The word "researchers" encompasses a lot of people in the world, many of whom have moral values and don't engage in harmful practices. (And as I'm always saying, it's easier to point the finger at some other people than to look at the atrocious behavior we can see in our own "Buddhist" communities. We should take care that we follow the morality we're preaching.)
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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avatamsaka3 wrote: Wed Jun 23, 2021 2:55 pm We should take care that we follow the morality we're preaching.)
Pratimokṣa vows are not "morality" in the western sense of the term. They are principles one follows in one's own life in for the purpose of of one's own (prati) liberation (mokṣa). The same is true of bodhisattva vows, and also secret mantra vows.
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pm
PadmaVonSamba wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:14 pm I personally know a research scientist who grew a brain this way, from stem cells. It’s pretty interesting, and it offers an opportunity to test out treatments for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases on actual, living human brain tissue. Previously, scientists had to rely on computer models or brains of living animals (the brains of house flies are actually very good for simulation of human brains!)

This is like the difference between dripping a crude circle of tomato sauce on a piece of cardboard, compared with having a pizza with all the toppings. Millions of people and animals can be helped.
Millions have been helped by the research conducted by unethical scientists, and experiments. That's the least we can do to atone for their behavior. Does that justify them engaging in unethical research in the first place? I don't believe so. Research like this requires stringent ethical adherent, rules, laws. They need to be able to justify their experiments, and mitigate all potential suffering caused by them.

As of now, there are zero, zilch, nada in terms of regulation/ethical guidelines, or any laws constraining their research. They aren't just questioning whether these brains are conscious -- many researchers are actively attempting to create sentient disembodied brains to perform their research. The unaware 'donors' of the genetic material being used to create these brain organoids are blissfully unaware that they may have a clone of their brain sitting in a lab -- potentially suffering right now.

There is no way anyone with any moral sense could justify this. If these organoids do become conscious, or are ; that means someone is experiencing a very unfortunate rebirth. A disembodied consciousness cut off from sensory experience, with no idea what's happening to them; alone in a dark void for an indeterminate length of time.
What is "Mind?" What's "consciousness?" This topic brings me back to a point that Lama Dawa Chodak made in a teaching of his:
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Malcolm wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 3:22 pm
Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pm that means someone is experiencing a very unfortunate rebirth. A disembodied consciousness cut off from sensory experience, with no idea what's happening to them; alone in a dark void for an indeterminate length of time.
Well, this not different than a formless realm being. However, it is unlikely such tissue will be conscious, since this kind of tissue will have never had any sense organs, and will be completely unaware, lacking any self-awareness. Also, there is no conception involved here.
What would be a Buddhist explanation for animals that become two "selves?" For example, if I were to cut a worm in half, both parts grow into individual worms. Would rebirth take place in the new part, would it be an "emanation" of that original's self, or what? Likewise, since certain jellyfish can make themselves younger to the point that they go back to the polyp stages and develop new "versions" of themselves, would those new jellyfish be other beings reincarnated as them, another extensive division of the "self" into emanations, children of the jellyfish, or what?
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Re: Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Answer: We don't care

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Tenma wrote: Thu Jun 24, 2021 12:31 am
Malcolm wrote: Mon Jun 21, 2021 3:22 pm
Jesse wrote: Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:31 pm that means someone is experiencing a very unfortunate rebirth. A disembodied consciousness cut off from sensory experience, with no idea what's happening to them; alone in a dark void for an indeterminate length of time.
Well, this not different than a formless realm being. However, it is unlikely such tissue will be conscious, since this kind of tissue will have never had any sense organs, and will be completely unaware, lacking any self-awareness. Also, there is no conception involved here.
What would be a Buddhist explanation for animals that become two "selves?" For example, if I were to cut a worm in half, both parts grow into individual worms. Would rebirth take place in the new part, would it be an "emanation" of that original's self, or what? Likewise, since certain jellyfish can make themselves younger to the point that they go back to the polyp stages and develop new "versions" of themselves, would those new jellyfish be other beings reincarnated as them, another extensive division of the "self" into emanations, children of the jellyfish, or what?
Good questions!

Most of them can be resolved if we remember anatta. Selves don't exist in quite the way we usually think they do, and are not reborn as the 'same' individual in the way that many people think rebirth works. (There was some discussion of that in the 'common misconceptions' thread https://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.php?f=39&t=36857.)

With that logic, whatever happens at death to one worm would happen at death to both of the worms created by cutting one in half. (By that point each of them is really a whole worm, right?)
And the jellyfish that reversed its ageing and started over wouldn't have died, so its new version would begin with all the karma it had accumulated in the body of its old version.
But somehow I don't think these kinds of creatures accumulate much karma or have much 'self' to carry over into whatever happens after death. Karma is tied to intentional action - choices - and simple organisms don't have many choices to make.

:namaste:
Kim
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