Up@dawn 2.0

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Group 3 : Shroom Science

The case McGee provided for us highlighted the question as to whether or not we might see an emergence of hallucinogenic drugs such as Psilocybin - to an extent comparable with that of say Ritalin, due to its reported ability to cure headaches. Our group very quickly descended upon tautology, shrugging our shoulders as if bamboozled not by the question itself, but its tone of urgency or perhaps lack of insight, saying "if it works, then it works!"

The implications of that may be less open to the idea of magic mushrooms as anything more than a recreational drug than they sound, as they don't really -work- like Ritalin does. Perhaps in a society where there was a greater focus on aesthetic beauty and intrigue rather than critical thinking and industriousness, Psilocybin and LSD might be useful, but in today's society they render the user useless for between six and fourteen hours at the minimum effective dose. While it's true that Ritalin is much more addictive than either of these very illegal narcotics, Ritalin accomplishes the specific task of disciplining rambunctious children so that their parents can do whatever they thought was more important than raising their children, and there is a legal market for that which exists because the drug carries with it a lack of foreseeable harm to the user, provided it is used as prescribed. Psilocybin is a naturally occurring poison in mushrooms that naturally grow on fecal matter, and has an element of foreseeable harm to the user.

The article mentions that Psilocybin has been reported to cure some migraines. Some headache medicines have some pretty potent side effects, but if there were any medication that caused its users to experience hallucinations for several hours that may or may not permanently alter their life on an emotional and psychological level, it would not be on the market for very long.

However, there are medications that exist in the word (not in the United States) like Ibogaine, which is a very powerful psychedelic used to cure opiate addictions. The effect is an extremely potent three-day quest of introspection and overwhelming Dadaism that would scare away most recreational users - but to a heroin addict, the tradeoff might be worth a shot at kicking the habit for good. Weighing those kinds of side effects with a more ambitious goal for the active ingredient makes the proposal far more reasonable, and likely to be taken seriously by the medical field.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The G-Quadruplex

[Repost by William Phillips] "Four-stranded G-quadruplex nucleic acid structures are of great interest as their high thermodynamic stability under near-physiological conditions suggests that they could form in cells. Here we report the generation and application of an engineered, structure-specific antibody employed to quantitatively visualize DNA G-quadruplex structures in human cells. We show explicitly that G-quadruplex formation in DNA is modulated during cell-cycle progression and that endogenous G-quadruplex DNA structures can be stabilized by a small-molecule ligand. Together these findings provide substantive evidence for the formation of G-quadruplex structures in the genome of mammalian cells and corroborate the application of stabilizing ligands in a cellular context to target G-quadruplexes and intervene with their function." - Nature.com

The Ethics of Conscious Existence

[by William Phillips] Glenn McGee reveals in his book, "Bioethics for Beginners", that the South Korean government has begun taking precautionary measures to instate ethical boundaries for synthetic life. The question we, in group 4, deliberated on was: At what point do these boundaries become legitimate? The answer primarily depends on the possibility of singularity, which is based upon the evolution of synthetic life, specifically robotic and mechanical,  into conscious being. We came to an agreement that intelligence did not beget anima, or conscious, which then implies a collective belief in the "soul" or "spirit." On the same note, since we had agreed on the implausibility of conscious, we instead questioned the idea of use and integration of synthetic beings, who are used as tools, into our society. This brought up the questions of do they pay taxes, could you marry one of these beings, where do they have citizenship, does the creator's bias in making the individual lead to a bias within the individual, and could that bias lead to problems when adapting said individual to a different set of customs. We also spoke of the usage of drones and robotic infantry within the military, and how that could possibly lead to more civilian attacks due to the enemy being aware of the lack of risks or damage done by destroying machines.

However, we all agreed that these things were far into the future, if not seemingly impossible, and that there were more pertinent issues at the moment than the rights of mechanically engineered tools.

Jan 30, Group 2, Case 2- Evolution and Intelligent Design vs Biosynthetics?

Hey guys, its Cassie. Today we talked about case two which led us to some topics:

The difference between evolution and intelligent design,
Should either, one or both (evolution/intelligent design) be taught in public schools,
Evolution vs. natural selection,
Intelligent design vs. creation,
That the question, of whether or not biosynthesis is morally okay,  should not really be related to whether or not one believes in evolution or intelligent design,
 That both evolution  and  intelligent design are not proven,
and the question of what separates us from other species. 

In some side conversations we talked about:
"Dumb people in our society are the ones that are having children"
We also mentioned  that some of us like the movie "idiocracy", and the books "enders game".


Ps- sorry if I miss-spelled something

Walking the Line

Group 1 discussed Case 1: the dangers of creating life in the lab. Craig Venter has paved the way for bio synthetics and when he finally steps down (will he?) someone else will take the reigns on the advancement of synthetic biology. We discussed everything from the possible origins of life and the physical world to where the line is drawn between the similarities of an orangutan (or a chimpanzee?), man's closest living relative, and a human being.
Is engaging in synthetic biology really dabbling in intelligent design (playing God)? The general consensus in our group was NO. Unless you design a way to store genetic information that does not utilize nucleic acids or build a living, replicating organism with something other than amino acids, then you are not even in the same sandbox.
But the most interesting debate took place along the lines of what separates Homo sapiens from Pongo pygmaeus. A soul? An energy field? A razor?
-Komron MacLean

Origin of life - group 1

Apparently there was a mix up on who was suppose to post. So I will so our group gets credit.
Our group had a full on argument on the origin of life. Most were in opposition to each others beliefs or theories, however we all agreed each other theories were in some light a possibility.
I for one was scared to voice my opinion honestly. I felt like I was I the middle of a war and was getting hit from all directions, it got heated. Everyone had really intelligent ideas and relevant material to back up their opinions,
IN MY OPINION, everyone's theories are possible on the origin of life until EVIDENCE PROVES one of these theories. Until then, I guess we will just keep modifying our theories while listening to others and deciding what you think is true.
Shirt but this was pretty much the general idea of our group.

Some questions were:

Is it okay to play god?
is there even a good or do you choose to believe scientific theories for creation?

Hopefully our group will answer these question with each of their thoughts because I can't regurgitate  the whole argument.

Venter's Epic Voyage

to redefine the origin of species.
Picture this: You are standing at the edge of a lagoon on a South Pacific island. The nearest village is 20 miles away, reachable only by boat. The water is as clear as air. Overhead, white fairy terns hover and peep among the coconut trees. Perhaps 100 yards away, you see a man strolling in the shallows. He is bald, bearded, and buck naked. He stoops every once in a while to pick up a shell or examine something in the sand...
A lot of people wonder what happened to J. Craig Venter, the maverick biologist who a few years ago raced the US government to sequence the human genetic code. Well, you've found him. His pate is sunburned, and the beard is new since he graced the covers of Time and BusinessWeek. It makes him look younger and more relaxed - not that I ever saw him looking very tense, even when the genome race got ugly and his enemies were closing in. This afternoon, the only adversary he has to contend with is the occasional no-see-um nipping at some tender body part. "Nobody out here has ever heard of the human genome," he told me a week ago, when I first joined him in French Polynesia. "It's great."
Venter is here not just to enjoy himself, though he has been doing plenty of that. What separates him from your average 58-year-old nude beachcomber is that he's in the midst of a scientific enterprise as ambitious as anything he's ever done. Leaving colleagues and rivals to comb through the finished human code in search of individual genes, he has decided to sequence the genome of Mother Earth...
Wired 12.08: Craig Venter's Epic Voyage to Redefine the Origin of the Species

Also of note:

That Daily Shower Can Be a Killer

The secret to longer life may be to pay more attention to hazards that carry a low risk but are encountered frequently than to worry about catastrophic events like plane crashes. nyt

Biotech Firms, Billions at Risk, Lobby States to Limit Generics

The industry’s lobbying effort could blunt new competition to its products and reduce the savings anticipated in the federal health care overhaul.

Doctor: How A Preventable Medical Error Killed My Mother

Medical errors in hospitals kill more Americans every year than AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.
But Dr. Jonathan Welch never thought his mother would be one of those statistics. After all, he’s an emergency physician in Boston.
But when his mother took a turn for the worse during cancer treatment in Wisconsin, he went from confident doctor to helpless and lost son, afraid of questioning the care she was getting, for fear it would become worse.
In other words, he became just like most of us.
Welch told Here & Now’s Robin Young, “One of the surprising things after having this story out, is how many individuals have reached out to me with very similar stories. This is not a story told in isolation.”


And one more thing: sorry about the Downton spoiler! I'll be more careful...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Attempt #2, Group 3 disscussion "Names"

Apparently I completely forgot how to use this website and my (attempted) post Monday did not work at all, My apologizes. But I think I got all the bugs Ironed out, so lets try this one more time.

Our random topic of discussion of choice was Names, and everything about them. While we did not have quite enough time to thouroghly explore any one way of thought concerning names we did cover a bit of many many ways of seeing names and problems they bare.

We had a discussed at length and never reached a consensus over which is more prominent: do YOU make the name, or does the NAME make you, or even somewhere in between.  Two of the floaters took two distinct sides.  When Josh arrived at our group he immediately took the side of a name being a mold that changes who you are even going so far as to call Josh his "slave" name.  This was rebutled by another Floater (Caleb I believe, sorry if I'm wrong) who, regardless of being pushed to change his name, plans to keep it and and give meaning to his name.

We had an interesting discussion within our group as several of us spoke of how we either did not like our given names, or were apathetic to them, and how we would change them.  Some of us were ok/apathetic and didn't want to change, others did not like our names and would change them in a heartbeat if given a chance, and One person said she strongly disliked her name yet would not change it.  Most of us did agree, or at least find it an interesting idea, to give all people one free name change after they reach a certain age, likely 21.  So that If they desire, they can choose their own name instead of taking their given one.

Overall I believe it was a very good introductory discussion and let us get to know each other and our personalities a bit better. 

Since our discussion was sparked by someone's interest in my name, I'll end with the quote that helped me find it.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others" -Secularized quote from Marianne Williamson

~The Shining Radiance

Monday, January 28, 2013

Quantum Physics and Transhumanism

Hey all, William here. I couldn't exactly find the Transhumanist video I was looking for, which features a man actually undergoing a surgical operation, specifically a memory chip in the brain; however, these will do. There's also another video of a man physically pushing his body to the limit, without medical or biological enhancements, and still claiming it to be "Transhumanism." In a broad spectrum, we should all view ourselves as transhumanist. If you believe in evolution, which can be attributed to mans use of tools, then you should see the usage of our latest tools, technology, no different than iron or bronze. The physics lecture is by Robert Anton Wilson, a science fiction writer whom breaks Quantum Mechanics down in a very understandable manner, and I believe the Quantum Mechanical view of the universe and life is essential to objectively deliberating bioethics.

Anyway, here are the videos...

Jan 28 Group 2 Discussion

On the first day of discussion group two made introductions and decided on the designated posters. Since the topic of Ray Kurzweil was fresh in mind we decided to begin with a brief discussion of who wants to become immortal (through science). There was also a mention of whether it would be ethical to kill Bigfoot. The consensus is that if he tries to steal your beef jerky then it is fine.

The next period of time was spent talking with people from other groups. These discussions brought us to the topic of correlation vs causation. Some group members speculated that the shallow warnings made by the news scare people into believing that there is a relationship between a certain brand of food stuffs and autism. Josh, from one group, began a discussion about how the scientist mimics God when he studies or alters the human body.

Towards the end of class, the discussion as a whole moved to ethical ideas about life and death. One example of this is the case of Terry Schiavo. If a person has no cognitive abilities, should they still be cared for. Personally I find that this is a subject  that is difficult to make a decision on. Some people wake from comas and others never will. Possibly, when the science is more advanced and we can accurately predict if someone will recover, then it will be easier to make a decision.

Technology and existential risk

Huw Price, Jaan Tallinn, and Martin Rees are now working to establish in Cambridge the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (C.S.E.R.),
catastrophic risks to our species that are “our fault,” in the sense that they arise from human technologies. These are not the only catastrophic risks we humans face, of course: asteroid impacts and extreme volcanic events could wipe us out, for example. But in comparison with possible technological risks, these natural risks are comparatively well studied and, arguably, comparatively minor (the major source of uncertainty being on the technological side). So the greatest need, in our view, is to pay a lot more attention to these technological risks. That’s why we chose to make them the explicit focus of our center...
we humans are nearing one of the most significant moments in our entire history: the point at which intelligence escapes the constraints of biology. And I see no compelling grounds for confidence that if that does happen, we will survive the transition in reasonable shape. Without such grounds, I think we have cause for concern... 
I’m inclined to give a pragmatist’s answer: Don’t think about what intelligence is, think about what it does. Putting it rather crudely, the distinctive thing about our peak in the present biological landscape is that we tend to be much better at controlling our environment than any other species. In these terms, the question is then whether machines might at some point do an even better job (perhaps a vastly better job)...  
My Route to Existential Risk - NYTimes.com

And just to punctuate Price's concerns, the Times Magazine yesterday ran Ray Kurzweil's latest public and very sanguine testimonial to his prophesied Singularity. I used to describe Kurzweil as the genius crackpot who pioneered voice recognition software. Now I have to describe him as the genius crackpot pioneer who is now Google's director of engineering.

Concerned yet?

Take two aspirin and repeat after Jaron Lanier and me: I am not a gadget...
LINKS/tweets OF NOTE: A new TED Talk on minimally invasive surgery:
Laparoscopic surgery uses minimally invasive incisions -- which means less pain and shorter recovery times for patients. But Steven Schwaitzberg has run into two problems teaching these techniques to surgeons around the world -- language and distance. He shares how a new technology, which combines video conferencing and a real-time universal translator, could help. (Filmed at TEDxBeaconStreet.)
Dr. Steven Schwaitzberg is on a mission to teach surgeons around the world to perform minimally invasive surgery. But first, he's had to find the right technology to allow communication across the language barrier...
On the other hand, robotic surgery?
  1. “Posterity is for the philosopher what the next world is for the man of religion"-Diderot Check your philosophical health here: 
  2. Carl Sagan continues to inspire. Here are artistic interpretations of some of the best words ever written. 
  3. My new book, The Future: 6 Drivers of Global Change, out on 1/29. Preview:   

    Revolution Hits the Universities  “There is a new world unfolding, and everyone will have to adapt.”

    Talk: Ray Kurzweil Says We’re Going to Live Forever 
    : David Foster Wallace on the meaning of life" Those who chose to LIVE are more credible re: MoL.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Transhumanist Utopias at Vandy

Melinda Hall, "Transhumanist Utopias: Rethinking Enhancement and Disability"
Thursday January 24th at 4:00pm

Will take place in Calhoun room 109.

All are invited. Reception WITH VEGGIE TACO BAR AND BEER to follow.
It's an EXTRA CREDIT opportunity if you're interested in traveling to Nashville and reporting back to our class on what you hear.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Finally we meet! Classes at our school began last Thursday, too late in the week for our MW course in Bioethics. Then, Monday was a holiday. But now our first class is nearly upon us. Let's introduce ourselves, Spring 2013 Bioethics collaborators. I'll start.

I'm Dr. Oliver, aka James P., aka Phil. I live in Nashville with my wife, two daughters, two dogs, and a cat named Zeus. My office is in James Union Building 307-B. Office hours are MW 4-5 and TTh 11-12 (or by appointment). On nice days, office hours will be outdoors (my door will direct you). 

I've been at MTSU for over a decade, teaching philosophy courses on diverse subjects including atheism, childhood, happiness, the environment, the future, and bioethics.

My birthday is Feb.14, we'll observe it on the 13th: bring cake and candy to class that day. Also a cure for aging if you've got it.

My Ph.D. is from Vanderbilt. I'm originally from Missouri, near St. Louis. I'm a Cardinals fan. My undergrad degree is from Mizzou, in Columbia MO. (I wish my schools weren't in the SEC-I don't approve of major collegiate sports culture or of violence in football, but don't get me started.)

My philosophical expertise, such as it is, centers on the American philosophical tradition of William James. Last semester a student asked me to respond to a questionnaire. I did, and have continued to reflect on its excellent questions. "It was an honor..."

I post my thoughts regularly to my blogs Up@dawn and Delight Springs, among others, and toTwitter. Follow me if you want to. But of course, as Brian Cohen said, you don't have to follow anyone. (Extra credit if you get that reference... and real extra credit if you realize that my "extra credit" is usually rhetorical.)

Enough about me. Who are you? (Where are you from, where have you been, what do you like, who do you want to become,...?) Why are you here? (On Earth, in Tennessee, at MTSU, in philosophy class)? More specifically: as a bioethics student and a living being, what ethical obligations towards your fellow living beings and the systems that support them do you acknowledge? Do you think our form of life has a future? 

(Hit "comments" below and post your introduction, then read your classmates'... and bear in mind that this is an open site. The world can read it. (The world's probably busy with other stuff, of course.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Good questions for MLK Day

Are we still evolving? Will future generations of (post?) humans be really different? A different species, even? Will we move forward? Go, boldly?

What should you watch next? This, maybe? Or this. Better yet: read and think deeply about Jaron Lanier's insistent alternative view: you are not a gadget, you are a free organic life-form. Dare to make a difference, to make your life significant.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Personal biotech for all

it has the potential to replace fossil fuels, revolutionize medicine, touch every aspect of our lives... and you can do it yourself.

"The press had a tendency to consistently overestimate [biohackers'] capabilities and underestimate our ethics.” Ellen Jorgensen

Monday, January 7, 2013

Robot ethics

"what we really need is a sound way to teach our machines to be ethical. The trouble is that we have almost no idea how to do that. Many discussions start with three famous laws from Isaac Asimov: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the first law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first or second laws. The trouble with these seemingly sound laws is threefold. The first is technical: at least for now, we couldn’t program a machine with Asimov’s laws if we tried..."

Google’s Driver-less Car and Morality : The New Yorker

Here and Now 1.7.13