The Future of Medicine

In his New Organon, Francis Bacon writes: "...it is utterly obvious that in any major work that the human hand undertakes, the strength of individuals cannot be increased nor the forces of all united without the aid of tools and machines."

I'm reading Bacon for my now-ongoing qualifying exams, and he is simply delightful. Many say his optimism is unwarranted but I think the historical record of scientific and technological accomplishments shows he largely had the right idea. If he did not anticipate the problems that would arise in a technological society with science established as a powerful institution, he nevertheless foresaw the power of the systematic, controlled observation of nature.

One case in point is found here in an article aptly titled "Biotechnology Builds a New Heart". As many of you know, I follow a lot of tech news so I read stuff like this all the time. However, I've paid special attention to a few areas, particularly in medicine.

The growth or regeneration of human organs (without the use of clones as walking organ banks as stupidly portrayed in popular films and books) is one such example. This development with the heart (in this case, it's a pig heart) is nothing new; individuals have actually been walking around with artificially generated bladders for several years now (see, e.g., here). We are already in the age of artificial organs, perhaps within a decade of growing any part of the body on demand.

(This includes nervous tissue; recent advances in neuromedicine such as this, not to mention the research involving neuron-computer interfacing, indicate that my prediction that paralysis will be cured within a decade is by no means far-fetched. The one exception, of course, would be growing a whole brain, although parts of one could probably be replaced. And who knows what may yet happen?)

Perhaps it's not all roses and lollipops, but I'd much rather live now than in the primitive times of Bacon (or Aquinas or Aristotle, etc.). Wouldn't you?

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