Pigs' brains kept "alive" without their bodies

Pigs brains kept “alive” without their bodies

Having just read the above article, I was struck by the complexities that arise from this from a Buddhist point of view in terms of ethics, kamma, rebirth, conciousness and well just about every other major theme within Buddhism to be honest.

Their aim is to develop a way of studying intact human brains in the lab for medical research. Although there is no evidence that the animals were aware, there is concern that some degree of consciousness might have remained.

Where does a Buddhist stand on this? Is it ethical to do something like this? Does consciousness, indeed, remain if they find it to be possible with humans? What are the implications for rebirth?

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i have read reports on this research also, and share interest in the metaphysical and other concerns.

i suggest current thread title is misleading; the research in question is cultivating human brain tissue from stem cells in lab and implanting and continued cultivation as nodules on living mouses’ brains (the mice brains each are carried by individual mouses; making that explicit is why i am avoiding the usual grammatically preferable form of the plural mice). Recently scientists in that on going research reported specific aspects of vascular and other integration in the brain tissue, of the mouse and cultivated human tissue nodules.

As a Buddhist, to me some of the questions which occur are: was there a being in the human brain tissue? (I cautiously say, i don’t think so; it was detached from a source, triggered from stem cells, cultivated: it is analogous of a detached finger perhaps without suffering that might intail to previous finger owner.)

is there a being in the mouse whose body is being used? { imo, yes; sucks to be them, maybe. May all beings liberate.) By the way, they are alive, at least some of them, conscious, moving around, breathing eating pooping as volitionally as any mouse. They have also transparent domes over the brain(s).

could there be changes in mouses’ awareness and lives? (imo and reports support, could be in as much as brains are used by consciousnesses and or mind. Whether this affects beings’ kama is probably a thought path to insanity; kamma is a tricky object of thought unless an arahant who, i think, might not have interest except as it encourages liberation.) However, change is a constant, normal for any human or sentient, kamma effective only with human volition which is why any human birth is fortunate; am i off on any of that? Pls point it out.

Is there a being in the humans involved in this research? (imo, yes; sucks to be them, maybe. May all beings liberate.)

I suggest title be revised, and one consider carefully use of terms such as “intact” in the complicated situation, in reference to physical or metaphysical “objects” as we converse about this research. :slight_smile:

i am thinking about some of your other questions, thank you for them.

edited quickly for some additional thoughts and typos. And, i might be inaccurate re: current tissue sources, you mention pig; human tissue might be just hypothetical or planned; is that correct? :slight_smile:

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Hi Rose,

Thank you for your reflections. Indeed, it is such a complex issue that for a layman such as me, I can only grapple with the simplistic terminology although, of course, the topic warrants a meticulous investigation as this becomes a potential reality.

I only used the wording from the article hence the title & use of the word “intact”, which to a simple mind like mine, conveys the concept of what they are doing but I would be grateful for your more experienced suggestions, if you like?

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@ERose raises some good points. I found the idea that they worried more about any remaining consciousness in decapitated heads than the decapitation itself (in the experiment).

The issue isn’t too complex, as long as we stop thinking there is a self in our brains or our bodies. Our atoms get replaced constantly, yet we don’t get upset about it because we cant readily see it happening. We are ok if an organ gets replaced. Howevever is it any more different if the whole body gets replaced? It turns out most if not all of the body does get replaced, by the food and water we consume and the air we breathe.

Why do we hold consciousness in higher regard that say when the laptop is aware when the command is given to perform a function? I don’t mean about the ethics of stopping such a consciousness but rather the causal nature of awareness stops it from being deified, and makes it something ‘normal’.

‘Nama rupa paccaya vinnanam’

with metta


@PaulB i was unable to read the article you had attached at the time; i am a bit under the weather, and my attention was called away so i posted on your very interesting OP; so i did not recognize “intact” as being from it. :smiley: It is somewhat embarrassing, but i assure you it was not intended rudeness, to you, or to our fellow D&D participants. By the way I too am lay, and NOT a scientist, but science is not just for scientists/researchers :slight_smile: in my opinion imo. I will try to compose title suggestion, if i may, shall i offer by PM or in this thread?

@Mat :slight_smile: appreciating your posts points also; i wasn’t sure that that particular article raised the decapitation issue, but it is certainly one of interest. There are people who seek immortality for “selves” at any cost… to maintain a living human brain it has been proposed that success depends on continuity from living condition; such speedy decapitation would be fatal if unsuccessful; if done to a dying person, it would interrupt a rather significant process! Imagining this, i almost feel pity; such an act of greed for existence of self which does not even exist…

Yes, in many ways, from a Buddhist perspective issues are not too complex; as a thought experiment, it might be quite beneficial, if death is fearful, or “self” or “soul” are thought to exist, or if brain is thought to be a “who”, or if a “who” is not understood as 5 aggregates which are not biological,… (for all the double negatives, i apologize to multilingual readers; best i can do at this time, confusing possibly, ask if confusion occurs.)

i could quibble about laptop + “aware” but i think i get your point… Input often by mechanical action --> electronic action + accessing coding + observable effect… The laptop does what it was told to do.

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Thank you. I see what you mean but does the presence of consciousness in a decapitated brain not suggest that a living being is still ‘alive’ there? We talk about a ‘rebirth consciousness’ for instance, so in this case, is the presence of consciousness purely mechanical or can the brain be considered a sentient being?

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No problem at all. Sorry to hear you are feeling unwell.

Feel free to share your ideas regarding title in the thread. Agreed on your point science isn’t just for scientists! :blush: Thank you.

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Oh my. :slight_smile: Your title is exactly on target for the article you attached @PaulB. I mistook THAT experiment for another and I’ll post a scientific article on what i was thinking of

Link might be difficult but as I doubt many of us subscribe to the publication online I offer a newspaper link which should allow access to full article plus supplements etc.

Journalistic article added in edit: Why two brains are better than one | Science | The Guardian

If it WERE to become possible to keep the brain i am using alive via transplant on to the living brain of another being, i would not want that. Extinguishment or rebirth for this life, please. No uploading either. :slight_smile:

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In my opinion, a brain is not a being, a liver is not a being, an eyeball is not a being, and self is not a being because there is IMO no self.

May all beings liberate. =D May all beings be happy, and peaceful, until “then”.


wow, thank you for the links. I will need some time to digest them but much appreciated.

Now that is a reflection I can get to grips with :blush:

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If consciousness continues to arise in a body only as long as the body is alive, it means the body is a causative factor for consciousness, no?

If consciousness was a ‘being’ then it would be existing by itself. No such arrangement is seen to exist.

With metta

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Thank you

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Well I think the kind of research described in the article is quite disturbing, in a way apart from the usual problem with animal research: that they apparently killed a healthy animal to carry it out.

The article is coy about the extent of human knowledge about the causal conditions for consciousness. But we already know much about the way in which conscious experiences depend on brain activity. We know conscious experience can be transformed or destroyed by damage to regions of the brain, and we know it can be caused by stimulation of regions of the brain. So we already know enough to conclude that it is not only possible, but probable that keeping a brain alive in a way that allows its neurons to continue functioning and firing will support conscious experience.

And the researchers want to do this with human brains too, they say.

I’m not saying that the body, or the brain is the sole cause of consciousness. Kamma, bhava, attachment, craving and mental phenomena (nama) all play a part according to the DO. This might explain some out of body, near death experiences.
With metta

I don’t think there is any reason to doubt, given our present state of knowledge, that craving, attachment and other forms of mental activity are all causally dependent on brain activity.

While I don’t think we’re going to find any brainless animals, including humans, running around doing conscious things, some neural networks may have forms of mental activity and it is possible that just in the way that octopi can experience pain without c-fibers, and so pain is multiply realizable, consciousness and mental activity may be multiply realizable in different substrates, whether biological nervous systems, neural network computers, or on other weird substrates we don’t know about.


Interesting links on otapi (whom i do not think should be eaten… )

SA: The Mind of an Octapus

NG: Does an Octapus Have a Soul?

SA: Octapuses Gain Consciousness

:slight_smile: may all have happiness, peace, and liberation

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