‘Tremendous ethical challenge’: What if lab-grown brains are capable of developing consciousness?

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Image: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

At what point does electro-chemical activity in dissected brain-like tissue become conscious? Yes, I’m talking about the classic sci-fi “brain in a vat” scenario; no, we are absolutely not there.

But [June 27], a Japan-led study in Stem Cell Reports is raising some serious red flags. For the first time, a team carefully characterized the electrical chattering of neurons grown from a brain organoid and found that they spontaneously formed long-distance connections that allowed them to fire in synchrony. 

[I]t’s possible that the brain nuggets have the capability to support higher cognitive functions when they’re more mature.

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To be clear, this does not mean the organoids are conscious, or even that they’re “thinking.”

Yet the issue will no doubt become increasingly thorny as technical improvements allow mini-brains to further develop. If consciousness does spontaneously emerge from complex, recursive wiring in our heads, why wouldn’t it also emerge in sufficiently complex man-grown brains?

[Researcher Hideya] Sakaguchi concedes. “If cerebral organoids with an input and output system develop consciousness requiring moral consideration, the basic and applied research of these cerebral organoids will become a tremendous ethical challenge,” he said.

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Read full, original post: Could Lab-Grown Brains Develop Consciousness?

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