What is most likely, a zombie invasion or an aline one? So far, I have found myself several times involved in this debate, with peers from within the academic environment (as researchers, we took it very seriously, of course 🙂 ). Well, I have to admit that I was wrong (I was in the camp that supported the alien invasion as most likely): science proved me wrong. On 22nd of February this year, a news announced the creation of “zombie cells” at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque and the University of New Mexico, cells that continue to work after they have died.
Apart from being a sensational news, given all topic-related Hollywood movies, it comes in the context of several medical “breakthroughs” which involve a re-configuration of the notion of what a natural, human body is. The first bionic eye transplant was performed in Australia last summer, and it seems that less than a month ago a patient had 75% of his skull replaced with a 3D-Printed skull (the fact that no major newspaper talked about this news made me suspect it might be false, but until proven so I include it here).
I have written in previous posts about the objectification of the human body as part of the medical practice (or as part of scientific/artistic projects which take this model of the human body, understood in mechanical, anatomical terms), and about the implications of displaying its inner composition. The newly opened exhibition in Bucharest, “The Human Body”, is yet another great opportunity of starting a debate on how the contemporary society understands/views the relationship between the inner self of an individual and the inner dimension which can be viewed in the museum’s rooms. The trend in Biology, Psychology and sciences related is to explain (and equate) the human individual, his/her feelings, emotions, actions with physiological/biological, material processes, which can be pin pointed, touched, measured. Just like the plastinated dissected bodies on display. In other words, our most complex inner being can not just be represented in material terms, but it is also reduced to its material composition. However, beyond this topic, I reckon that the fresh medical news add a new dimension to the issue: even the definition of the material human body will be challenged. As a child, I have often wondered when do you stop being a human? If one looses an eye, nobody will deny him/her this quality. One can also loose one arm/both, legs etc., and undeniably you are still a human being (there also seems to be a rank among the human body parts when it comes to those which are vital in ascribing this status, and those which are not, the head occupying the top). But, for the sake of the argument, let’s imagine that science will evolve so much that RoboCop becomes a reality: will you consider them as being a human or a robot? Why?
Of course I do not deny the importance of such medical innovations for those in suffering, in need. But I think there should be a more wider and deeper debate on which are the consequences of such actions, and where such steps will take us. Knowingly or not, our vision of what a human body is, and consequently the definition of an individual, is shaped by such projects. The world we live in changes quite fast and it is important to understand what is the direction we are aiming for.
In the meantime, I suggest you watch Zombieland: it is never a bad idea to be prepared if something wrong happens in the labs 🙂