A world of possibilities opened up in 2008 for neuroscientists when brain organoids were developed from human stem cells which organize itself in a brainlike structure with neurons that are electrically active. Though smaller than a pea, these small organoids have played a big part in helping scientists better understand the workings of the brain.

However, it comes with an ethical dilemma. As much as scientists want it to be more human, in doing so, it could violate the ethical issue of using living humans.

So, the question of whether brain organoids could be sentient and how scientists could tell if it poses consciousness remains unanswered in the field of neuroscience.

The Beginnings of Sentient Organoids

In August 2019, Alysson Muotri, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and her colleagues published a paper in Cell Stem Cell that detailed the creation of human brain organoids that produced coordinated waves of activity that looks like the ones seen in babies.

It continued for months until the project was stopped. Nature reported that this type of brain waves is one of the properties of a conscious brain. Ethicists and scientists have raised moral and philosophical questions about whether organoids should be allowed to reach this level.

Moreover, they also questioned whether conscious organoids might be treated with special rights not given to any clumps of cells. The discovery of Moutri and her colleagues could mean that consciousness could be created from scratch.

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Bodiless, Self-Aware Brains

Neuroscientists have already thought of bodiless, self-aware brains in the past. A few months earlier, scientists from Yale University announced that they had partially restored the life of the brains of pigs that have been killed hours earlier.

They did it by removing the brains from the skulls and infused them with a cocktail of chemicals. They successfully revived the cellular functions of the brain neurons and its ability to transmit signals.

Meanwhile, other experiments involved adding human neurons to mouse brains which also raised a lot of questions from other scientists and ethicists, who argued that this type of experiment should not be allowed.

These studies have opened the stage for debate between those who want to see complex organoids as a means of studying devastating human disease and those who want to avoid the creation of consciousness.

Moutri and many scientists believe that brain organoids can be used in understanding autism, schizophrenia, and other unique human conditions that are impossible to study using mouse models. To do this, Moutri said that the creation of consciousness would be necessary.

 Moreover, Popular Mechanics said that the real ethical standard for developing sentient organoids would likely include several criteria that scientists can turn into a compound metric. For other scientists who have been using lab animals in testing, the difference may be small, but that is why ethicists exist to ask questions and push scientists to answer them.

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