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Organoids Are Not Brains. How Are They Making Brain Waves? (nytimes.com)
33 points by benwen 48 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments

If we are okay doing it to mice and chimps, we should be fine doing it to organoids. These are not going to be much smarter and self-aware than either of those and yet we have no issues. Further these are brains in vats not linked to any sensors and what not. Their existence appears and disappears like that without any input from their environment. Our brains don't feel pain.

Nobody has any idea what their inner experience is. People who've been blind since birth still exhibit visual activity during REM sleep and dreaming, as do fetuses (Schöpf et al. (2014). Some people born without limbs still feel pain in phantom limbs. Most people born with congenitally missing limbs do not experience phantom limbs, but a small subset do (body maps exist in the brain inherently). Pain can absolutely be perceived without any form of 'input'.

Be that as it all may, it is impossible to tell whether something is experiencing qualia. The best we have to go on are brain waves and the existence of neurotransmitters which serve qualia--both of which organoids begin to produce.

For anyone who read this comment and was wondering what "qualia" actually is, I found an old episode of VSause about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evQsOFQju08 .

Our brains certainly experience pain, even if burning a bit off doesn't trigger it. Also, we are not all entirely fine with what is done to mice and chimps.

Or maybe this is the other way around. If we have mixed feelings about doing this to organoids, why is it okay to do it to mice and chimps?

this made me realize, the brain in a vat metaphor is certainly going to become a lot more visceral

Consciousness is almost certainly hierarchical. Humans have specific abilities, through language, to build uniquely massive hierarchies. (See Chomsky's latest paper [1] conceiving "language" as the ability to merge two elements into a single element, in a hierarchy) But given that we start from a single cell, it is unclear that any event switches on consciousness. It may well be there in a single cell, however less developed than an adult human brain. And it may well be there in hierarchies of humans, as well.

As for these organoids -- neurons are oscillators. When powered oscillators are coupled, in any medium, they synchronize. So, not at all surprising that they make brain waves.

[1] Friederici, A. D., Chomsky, N., Berwick, R. C., Moro, A., & Bolhuis, J. J. (2017). Language, mind and brain. Nature Human Behaviour, 1(10), 713.

It’s not surprising there are brain waves. Phase synchronization in coupled oscillators is well studied. I guess someone had to show it but otherwise the finding is boring.

Remove brain from mouse and stick in organoid. Understaning how networks learn and finding both continuities and discontinuities between single cell plasticity and network level plasticity is (in my humble opinion) more interesting.

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