Sufficient Scruples

Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.

August 6, 2014

Under the Ooze

by @ 5:38 PM. Filed under Autonomy, BioFlix, General, Personhood

Once you get on a Scarlett Johansson kick, it’s hard to let go. Real, real hard.

Having just done a review of the godawfully dumb but Scarlett-Johansson-containing Lucy, I can’t overlook the impressively self-contained, intriguing, and record-breakingly-spectacularly Scarlett-Johansson-containing¬†Under the Skin. This I liked. Oh, yes.

Under the Skin is a mesmerisingly slow, subtle, Nouvelle Vague-ish sci-fi film that only clearly identifies itself as such in the last few seconds. We know we’re watching something very strange; things are happening to people that can’t be explained, that shouldn’t be possible. But the explanation – fantasy?, horror? some sort of weird allegory? – doesn’t settle into anything understandable until the end. The viewer is left continually puzzled and unfulfilled until all the previous scenes suddenly come crashing together into a comprehensible narrative, all the dangling clauses closing, all the ambiguous scenes collapsing into a particular interpretation that makes it out to be sci-fi of a not-unfamiliar type, but assembled with such lapidary grace and knife-edge balance that its message, when it reveals itself, hits that much harder and more engagingly.

SPOILER ALERT [Spoilers After the Jump]

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August 5, 2014

Soylent Fido

by @ 1:09 PM. Filed under General, Personhood, Theory

Normally, I’m up for a good Devil’s-advocate following-your-principles-off-the-cliff screed as much as anyone. But it’s hard to figure out what triggered John Sutter of CNN to become so overwrought on the subject of eating dogs as food that he devoted an editorial to it and managed to wind up on both sides of the issue. Yes, as he notes, it’s traditional practice, and apparently big business, in some Asian countries, but it’s not much of an issue in the English-speaking world and he seems to be uniquely exercised about it. He both condemns the practice as barbaric and also suggests it is as justifiable as eating other animals (which he does not explicitly condemn), then concludes weakly that “it’s the [question] all of us should further examine”. Thus, it remains puzzling exactly how he feels or what he wants us to do about it.

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August 4, 2014

Scriptwriters Use 10% of Their Brains

by @ 1:12 PM. Filed under BioFlix, Biotechnology, General, General Science, Personhood, Research Issues

No doubt most readers are familiar with the old urban legend about how humans “only use 10% of our brains”. It’s embarrassingly dumb (the most vital organ in the body – and the one responsible for the extraordinarily high rate of death in childbirth, due to its large size, evolved to be 10x larger than it actually needs to be?; and how do we determine just what percentage is being used?), but it persists. (I once attended a lecture in which the speaker seriously insisted that “Albert Einstein used 20% of his brain.”) It returned last week in the form of Lucy, an undisciplined sci-fi action thriller directed by Luc Besson, starring Scarlett Johansson as an ordinary human who is fortuitously accelerated to using larger and larger percentages of her brain until she transcends reality itself.*

In a kind of manic defiance of science-fiction convention, Besson makes no attempt to make the basic factual premise of his movie even sound like it could be true, and fills much of the plot development with shootouts and a truly inspired extended car chase/crash scene. But he is so wedded to the notional groundwork of the film that he includes a numerical readout of the percentage of brain use Johansson achieves at each point in the plot, repeated House-style digital animations of synapses and molecules in action, and an honest-to-god full-length formal lecture from a scientist, complete with slides and a Q&A session. The result is a mess, with unnecessarily pretentious overtones, but still kind of fun.

SPOILER ALERT [Spoilers Below the Jump]

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