Frankenstein lives on

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Science  12 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6372, pp. 137
DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9167

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  • Frankenstein and the secularization of biology
    • Antonio Lazcano, Professor, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and Colegio Nacional

    Together with the pioneering proposals on biological evolution by Lamarck and Buffon, the secular description of living phenomena is one of the most remarkable scientific achievements of the Enlightenment. It represents a major intellectual watershed echoed in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which can be read as an extraordinary literary testimony of the accelerated development of a materialistic perspective of life. While the clay-based Golem is animated by the religious invocations of the rabbi Judah Loew, Frankenstein’s creature is rendered alive by electricity, a purely physical force.

    As underlined in a recent issue in Science, Mary Shelley was a talented, precocious woman that lived in a refined atmosphere in which science, art and social and philosophical issues were constantly addressed (1). Galvanism had gained many adherents in these circles, as shown by James Graham’s electrical medicine, the development of electrochemistry by Humpry Davis, and the experiments on nervous impulses that Alexander von Humboldt performed upon himself. The reputed life-giving properties of electrical currents prompted Lamarck to include them as part of the “subtle fluids” that had animated the first living beings, while Erasmus Darwin, Benjamin Franklin and William Lawrence, who was Percy Shelley’s physician (2), promoted electricity as a secular therapeutic agent.

    Not all adopted this radical perspective. The Swedish scientist Jön Jacob Berzelius was convinced that the...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
    • sergio canavero, neurosurgeon, HEAVEN GEMINI GLOBAL INITIATIVE
    • Other Contributors:
      • Xiaoping Ren, Microsurgeon (Orthopedic), HEAVEN GEMINI GLOBAL INITIATIVE


    FRANKENSTEIN does not represent an existential risk, and cannot be conflated with gene editing, AI, nuclear proliferation or other end-of-life-as-we-know-it cataclysms. It is this kind of cavalier treatment that brought disgrace upon the Head Anastomosis Venture (HEAVEN) (1). Dr Frankenstein’s assembling a chimera out of body parts from different dead individuals and then breathing life back into these dead tissues has to do with immortality, and immortality only, not eliminating “women’s role in reproduction”. And no one can argue against mankind’s longing for more life.
    As we announced the completion of the first full human rehearsal of a cephalosomatic anastomosis (neither a head or a body transplant) in November 2017 (2) and provided final proof that one does not have to reconnect “all the nerves within the spinal cord” to restore motor and sensory function (3-4), the first true step towards life extension has been taken, which is likely more interesting than “George Church’s ambitious plan to resurrect Neandertal man”. Harnessing heterochronic parabiosis, the possibility to rejuvenate an aging brain by reattaching it to a younger body is no longer science fiction. There is nothing cataclysmic here: one day, when human cloning gains acceptance, the possibility for all of us to receive a new young “us” without the toxicity that comes from immune suppression will open up the gates to a new world (this is where genetic engineering will b...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Determining the nature of Frankenstein is beyond our control

    Henk van den Belt wrote an article entitled "Frankenstein lives on" (1). Scientists do not know all possible applications of his/her inventions. Besides, nobody can stop the advancement of science. Nature of Frankenstein is determined not by scientists but by the users of the invented technology. We know that the nature of human (users) is determined by ethics and/or moral. A new discovery or technology is based on scientific building blocks where each block refers to past discoveries or legacy technologies. Based on deductive reasoning, if we cannot manage someone's ethics or moral, then determining the nature of Frankenstein is beyond our control.

    1. Henk van den Belt, "Frankenstein lives on," Science, 12 Jan 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6372, pp. 137

    Competing Interests: None declared.

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