In honor of Wired playing catch-up with the last three months of "Too Hard For Science?" with a similar feature as their August cover story, I'm highlighting seven noteworthy entries from this series that have proven either popular or controversial or both. Enjoy!
Robert Stickgold: The Sense of Meaning in Dreams
Dreams often feel profoundly meaningful, bizarre experiences often interpreted over the centuries as messages from the gods or as windows into the unconscious. However, maybe our brains are just randomly stringing experiences together during sleep and investing the result with a feeling of profundity.
Vladimir Mironov: Making Astronauts with Printers
One project Mironov does think is doable is creating simple "bio-robots" using bio-printing — for instance, fish-shaped bundles of eye, nerve and muscle cells. "You can shine a light on the eye cells, which send a signal over the nerve cells to the muscle, so you can make it swim left or right," he explains. "I do not see any technical problems with the idea, but of course, people look at me like I am crazy when I suggest this."
E. O. Wilson: A Vertical Map of Life on Earth
One would first start by recording instances of life forms "from the ground up through the atmosphere and beyond, well into space," he notes. "We could deploy orbiting nets made very finely porous or solid surfaces that would catch microorganisms — I predict these will be found to exist. The nets could be immense in size, deployed upon arrival in orbit from a small volume of space in the vehicle and withdrawn to it before departing orbit."
David Brin: Raising Animals to Human Levels of Intelligence
If we lack extraterrestrials to contact, humans might look closer to home, Brin suggests. "If we want others to talk to, hey, let's make them," he speculates.
Luis Bettencourt: Simulating the Human Brain
The ability to simulate a human brain also raises many of the moral and ethical questions that surround artificial intelligence. "There's the issue you have of creating artificial life or consciousness, or of creating a simulation of a human brain that is designed to serve you," Bettencourt says. "There's also the fact that you might conceivably make it go faster and more powerful than our brains, for the usual sci-fi scenario of them taking over."
Steven Pinker: Experimenting on Children Like Lab Rats
"There's no end to the ethical horrors that could be raised by this exercise," Pinker says. "In the sex-difference experiment, could we emasculate the boys at different ages, including in utero, and do sham operations on the girls as a control?" Pinker asks. "In the language experiment, could we 'sacrifice' the children at various ages, to use the common euphemism in animal research, and dissect their brains?"
Freeman Dyson: ESP
"Recently Rupert Sheldrake did some interesting experiments on ESP in dogs. Dogs are much better than humans for such experiments."