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Researchers Grow a Brain In a Dish 235

Posted by samzenpus
from the please-kill-me dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney writes that a team of biomedical engineers at the University of Pittsburgh led by Henry Zeringue have managed to grow an active brain in a dish, complete with memories by culturing brain cells capable of forming networks, complete with biological signals. To produce the models, the Pitt team stamped adhesive proteins onto silicon discs. Once the proteins were cultured and dried, cultured hippocampus cells from embryonic rats were fused to the proteins and then given time to grow and connect to form a natural network. The researchers disabled the cells' inhibitory response and excited the neurons with an electrical pulse which were then able to sustain the resulting burst of network activity for up to what in neuronal time is 12 long seconds compared to the natural duration of .25 seconds. The ability of the brain to hold information 'online' long after an initiating stimulus is a hallmark of brain areas such as the prefrontal cortex. The team will next work to understand the underlying factors that govern network communication and stimulation, such as the various electrical pathways between cells and the genetic makeup of individual cells. 'This is amazing,' writes Toney. 'I wonder what the "memory" could be — could be a good subject for a science fiction story.'"
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Researchers Grow a Brain In a Dish

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  • It's an old story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 26, 2011 @12:00PM (#36251694)

    Goethe, wrote the Faust story most of us are familiar with. He also wrote a second part. In part 2 there is a homunculus, which is basically a mind that floats around in a test tube. He spends a lot of time wondering why he exists and if, indeed, he should exist.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faust:_The_Second_Part_of_the_Tragedy [wikipedia.org]

    I am guessing that, if we do create conscious minds in a test tube, those minds will suffer a lot of angst. Maybe even the majority of our thinking processes are moderated by our physical limitations and by our hormones. Could we live in a test tube without going insane?

  • Re:It's an old story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rogue Haggis Landing (1230830) on Thursday May 26, 2011 @01:44PM (#36253346)

    I am guessing that, if we do create conscious minds in a test tube, those minds will suffer a lot of angst. Maybe even the majority of our thinking processes are moderated by our physical limitations and by our hormones. Could we live in a test tube without going insane?

    If we could precisely replicate a human brain and grow it in a jar and didn't somehow give it an artificial world to inhabit -- a robotic body, the Matrix, anything -- it would be profoundly non-functional. Angst wouldn't come into it, insanity wouldn't come into it. It wouldn't become nearly clever enough to go insane. Consider what happens with a so-called "feral" child, usually a kid raised in profound isolation, like being locked in a closet or something. That child at least has sensory inputs, has some control of a body, has experienced eating and breathing, and on and on. And yet even when given good care later in life they very rarely learn to walk correctly, become toilet trained, understand basic human expressions, and so on. They barely function as humans. Now imagine a brain with no sensory inputs at all, maybe at most nervous sensations of whatever growth fluid it is suspended in, along with the occasional jolts of electricity sent by the researchers. Would it even be able to think in a way we'd remotely call human? It would have no purchase on anything with which to build a concept of the world, of anything, even of how to go about the process of thinking. It would be a hunk of meat with a few interesting capabilities.

Those who can, do; those who can't, simulate.

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