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Emily Alspector's picture

Where is your line?

I found this week's topic to be particularly interesting, but I constantly found myself unable to express my feelings, most likely because they are pretty contradictory. I am not vegetarian nor do usually even think about the animal as an animal when I am eating, and when I worked with mice last semester I found myself doing the same: disconnecting the being from its purpose. I found this to be necessary in order for me to continue my research, and whether or not that's right or wrong, well, I may never know. What I do know is that I eat meat to stay healthy, I am willing to do research involving animals because at this point in time it's all science can give us, yet I find fur coats and leather boots disgusting. Using animals for sheer fashionable purposes is where I draw the line, and I'm sure this line is drawn differently for everyone. And as corrupt and self-centered it may be to rely on the IACUC and IRB boards, there needs to be an agreed upon line that satisfies the most people. We can justify it until our faces turn blue (the animals wouldnt survive, they may not perfectly relate to humans but it's the best we have, etc), but the bottom line is this is the current trend of research, and it generally does a good job, at the very least, of aiding in understanding less complex but related brain functioning.

I thought Emily had a good point in class about the Blue Brain project--if we are basing the computer and building it according to what we know, then what can it teach us? It seems a supercomputer is "smarter" than a person, but if we've built it, how is its output going to be any different from the input we tell it. Our class guest professor made a similar point about calculators--any function of a calculator is that which has been first figured out by a human, and then translated into lay-men's terms. But this doesn't mean the calculator can teach us things we don't already know.

Also, the idea of a computer having consciousness is difficult for me to wrap my head around. Our synaptic plasticity allows for learning and memory storage, but I can't see how this computer, if it is ever completed, can be self-aware. This is an interesting addition to the dualism debate--those who don't believe Descartes should agree that this is one day possible. If we are only made up of communicating neurons (ie, there is no "soul", "mind", whatever youw ant to call it) then this conscious computer shouldn't seem so off base. So I am wondering, of those class members reading this post who don't believe in dualism, how do you feel about this computer project?

Lastly, I thought the topic of lab animals vs educational animals was an interesting one. In high school biology we dissected fetal pigs and frogs, and as far as I can remember I was so focused on not passing out that I didn't really learn a whole lot. Most of my classmates just thought it was cool, but it was probably not necessary for us to use actual animals. I never understood why we couldn't just make plastic models with removable parts so we could learn the anatomy rather than essentially waste these animals on a bunch of high schoolers who don't know the difference?

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