Lab-grown brain bits offer medical opportunity — and ethical dilemmas for folks who watch old movies

❝ Xuyu Qian yanked open an incubator door at the University of Pennsylvania to reveal rows of cylindrical tubes swirling, like shaken-up snow globes, with a strange and exotic flurry. The pale, peppercorn-sized spheres were lab-grown globules of human brain tissue, or, as Qian occasionally refers to them, “minibrains.”

“Minibrain” is a controversial nickname, loathed by some scientists who fear it conjures alarmist images of fully functioning brains trapped in vats, while the reality today is balls of cells that can’t think or feel…

❝ …As the technology, which scientists refer to in journal articles as “cerebral organoids,” improves, the more the “minibrain” title fits…“People are more worried about if they reach a certain level — if it’s really like a human brain. We’re not there; we’re very far from there,” said Hongjun Song, who leads the laboratory at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine, where Qian works. “But the question people ask is, ‘Do they have consciousness?’ The biggest problem I have so far is I think, as a field, we don’t know…”

RTFA. Don’t worry about full-time ethicists. That job title is always ready to take on any topic regardless of knowledge – or ignorance.

My experience with scientists as a profession assures me of relevant and timely reflection. If not overdone conservatism. But, as someone who reads science as the predominant endeavor in building a better life for all – it’s always worth adding useful philosophy to material achievements.

This F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on 9/11

❝ Late in the morning of the Tuesday that changed everything, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney was on a runway at Andrews Air Force Base and ready to fly. She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16 and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.

The one thing she didn’t have as she roared into the crystalline sky was live ammunition. Or missiles. Or anything at all to throw at a hostile aircraft.

Except her own plane. So that was the plan.

❝ For years, Penney, one of the first generation of female combat pilots in the country, gave no interviews about her experiences on Sept. 11…But 10 years later [and since], she is reflecting on one of the lesser-told tales of that endlessly examined morning: how the first counterpunch the U.S. military prepared to throw at the attackers was effectively a suicide mission.

I know the feeling. On the ground, though, and not in the US military. In my experience, one of an all-encompassing fatalistic calm. If you made the decision, you left it at that. You have already run past all the alternatives, results, challenges. Instantly. All that is left is the responsibility you have assumed.