Scientists are Growing Bodiless Human Brains
Why these tiny, almost-conscious brain "organoids" are a sign of the end times
Today, in laboratories all over the world, scientists are using human stem cells to grow miniature human brains. Does that shock you? It should. Nature magazine first reported on this a few months ago:
In Alysson Muotri’s laboratory, hundreds of miniature human brains, the size of sesame seeds, float in Petri dishes, sparking with electrical activity.
These tiny structures, known as brain organoids, are grown from human stem cells and have become a familiar fixture in many labs that study the properties of the brain. Muotri, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), has found some unusual ways to deploy his. He has connected organoids to walking robots, modified their genomes with Neanderthal genes, launched them into orbit aboard the International Space Station, and used them as models to develop more human-like artificial-intelligence systems. Like many scientists, Muotri has temporarily pivoted to studying COVID-19, using brain organoids to test how drugs perform against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Despite the broad applications of Muotri’s experiments, one particular finding has attracted much more attention than the others. In August 2019, the UCSD research team published a paper reporting that human brain organoids they had created had begun producing “coordinated waves of activity resembling those seen in premature babies.”
The coordinated waves continued for several months before the group shut down the experiment.
You read that right. These bodiless brains were starting to develop consciousness. They were becoming self-aware. More from the article:
This type of brain-wide, coordinated electrical activity is one of the properties of a conscious brain. The team’s finding led ethicists and scientists to raise a host of moral and philosophical questions about whether organoids should be allowed to reach this level of advanced development, whether ‘conscious’ organoids might be entitled to special treatment and rights not afforded to other clumps of cells and the possibility that consciousness could be created from scratch.
Transforming medicine or transforming humanity?
That’s not the only experimentation scientists have been doing on bodiless brains.
A team at Yale University took the brains of pigs that had been killed and “restored life” to them by removing the brains from the pigs’ skulls and dousing the brain tissue with a cocktail of chemicals. This revived the ability of brain neurons to transmit electric signals.
Scientists have grown neurons from human stem cells and grafted them onto the brains of live mice to help them learn about brain conditions like autism.
Supporters of this experimentation say that these stem-cell organoids and neuron-grafting experiments have the potential to revolutionize medicine. They will help doctors and scientists better understand how complex organs like the brain respond to diseases like epilepsy and schizophrenia.
“This will be an important boost for the field. We’ve shown that these organoids can mature and replicate many aspects of normal human development — making them a good model for studying human disease in a dish,” a UCLA professor said.
Human brain organoids are created using induced pluripotent stem cells, also known as iPS cells, which are derived from skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back to an embryonic stem cell-like state allowing scientists to create any cell type.
These iPS cells are then exposed to a specialized mix of chemicals that influences them to create the cell of a certain region of the brain. With time and the right conditions, the cells self-organize to create 3D structures that faithfully replicate several aspects of human brain development.
But ethicists aren’t so sure about this process, or the results. There may be useful therapeutic applications for this research, but how do you treat these “mini brains”? Are they human? Are the brain organoids in Muotri’s research beginning to show perception or forms of consciousness?
A paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics asked some of these questions:
Scientists have created so-called mini-brains as developed as a few-months-old fetus, albeit smaller and with many structural and functional differences. However, cerebral organoids exhibit neural connections and electrical activity, raising the question whether they are or (which is more likely) will one day be somewhat sentient.
If they are sentient, or likely to become sentient, what does it mean when we begin to transplant these brain organoids into humans or animals?
“No concern at all”
Here’s how Sarah Chan, a bio-ethicist at the University of Edinburgh, described the ethical considerations of this research:
In practice we are light years away from that “brain in a dish” research. What we’re talking about here are small agglomerations of cells, that are helped to organize themselves in a way that superficially resembles parts of the brain. This means that they are able to respond physiologically and molecularly to drugs or to signals in a similar way to parts of the brain, but they are not brains. They are not capable of the sophisticated higher level sensing, feeling and thinking that we associate with the brain. So I would say that at the stage we’re at, there’s no concern about that at all.
Dr. Chan then discusses the ethics of animal testing and using these organoids in the context of animal-human hybrids:
Once we consider the prospect that we might make animals smarter, give them new capacities, give them more interests, we have to start taking more seriously the moral obligations we have towards them as a result of those interests. For example, if you make an animal more capable of experiencing psychological suffering, you have to start taking into account what we owe to that animal with respect to its increased capacities. Now some people have said that this is a reason not to create human-animal chimeras – that the fact that we would make them more capable and then treat them badly is a reason not to create them. I think that’s an argument to treat them better when we do create them. And in fact, human-animal chimeras could prompt us to reconsider our moral attitudes towards other non-human beings.
She’s worried about our moral treatment of potential human-animal hybrids, not about whether we should create them at all. It reminds me of the novel and film franchise Jurassic Park. In one scene from the movie, the mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum in the original film) criticizes the scientists who have used biomedical technology and genetic engineering to recreate dinosaurs—which then go on a murderous rampage: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Taking the place of God
If you have read my end times book, Tipping Point, you know that I am troubled by the entire field of genetic engineering—especially human genetic engineering. As our technology rapidly increases, scientists like those mentioned above are directly manipulating human cells and even the human genome.
Today we are using stem cells to create miniature brains in a dish, and watching those brains achieve a kind of consciousness. How long until parents are choosing the gender, height, hair color and skin color of their children before they are even conceived or born? How long until adults who have decided they want a child first schedule a meeting with a geneticist and “order” their child, to their specifications, out of a catalogue of characteristics?
And now that animal cloning is becoming more and more common, how long until humans are being cloned?
Now that human seed is being introduced into animals, how long until the first living human-animal hybrids are thrust onto the world just like the first animal clone, Dolly the sheep, was in 1996?
From cloning to brains-in-a-dish, all these experiments serve as examples of humans acting in the place of God. We talk about “understanding diseases,” but is the real goal to achieve immortality? To “improve” humanity? To succeed in creating a super race? To take major steps toward transhumanism?
As I’ve written in the past, transhumanism is dangerous: It seeks to be God-like without being godly, and it is susceptible to totalitarian control.
We cannot know what the future results will be of this experimentation. Human seed is sacred. We have no right to try to improve upon or manipulate what God has created—and He has created us in His image. Any human attempt to improve or immortalize ourselves apart from God represents an antichrist spirit.
That we are celebrating these efforts rather than challenging them shows us that we are reaching a technological tipping point. There has never been a moment like this in the history of humanity. The end is here.