The Conservative / Liberal Case for Embryonic Stem Cell Research

I Think I Get It Now,” by John Podhoretz, The Corner, 6 August 2005,

I support stem cell research using embryos left over from fertilization…,” by Sophia, Clean Cut Kid, 8 August 2005,

Liberal CCK commentator Sophia abrasively defends embryonic stem cell research from an overbearing “culture of life”

Those embryos and blastocysts are just little gobs of cells for Pete’s sake! They don’t think, talk, plan, experience. They are just little blobs of cells, and those little blobs of cells could make dramatic changes for millions and billions of suffering people.

We don’t have proof that those stem cells will vastly improve quality of life – because we haven’t had the opportunity to do the research. We don’t have proof that they won’t make those wonderful changes either.

Yup, they could be misused. As George Will said in today’s column, we live our lives on a slippery slope of one kind or another.

This “sanctity of life” thing has gone way overboard. When there is a death, even of a real, living, breathing, existing child, there is something to mourn. At a funeral for a five month old, the pastor related the family’s story of how this little boy liked to ride in his stroller, how his hair was growing, etc. What is there to say about an embryo, a blastocyst?

But, but, but it might become. . . Yeah, it might become anything. Or nothing.

Conservative NRO commentator John says almost the exact same thing, echoing the ancient Talmud

But as I’ve been trying to argue, the morality here isn’t as clear-cut as you would like it to be. Perhaps it is for a practicing Catholic, for example, because the doctrine of the church is that all embryo creation outside the womb is a sinful act to begin with. But for a practicing Jew like me, for instance, the moral framework has a different baseline.

The Talmud says any embryo-fetus under the age of 40 days is to be deemed “like water.” That sounds harsh, though I believe its initial intention was to limit the emotional involvement of parents in the very early stages of pregnancy, when something like 25 percent of all fetuses naturally abort.

In any case, the code of ethics outlined in the Old Testament and the Talmud is based in the admonition in Leviticus to “choose life.” In the case of embryonic stem-cell research, an argument can be made that such research does just that.

John concludes his thoughts by criticizing the increasingly empty arguments of the anti-researchers, and sees himself drifting to support federal funding of such research. Increasingly, I agree with John

Now here’s the thing. I am not even ARGUING in favor of embryonic stem-cell research. I find myself in some sympathy with the argument that any such research represents a journey down a potentially treacherous and immoral road. But I have to tell you, if brilliant polemicists like you can’t make better arguments than the ones you’ve been making, you’re helping to lead me toward that slippery slope….And here endeth my disquisitions on this subject. (For now.)


Learning More to Know Less (But How to Horizontally Apply This to Human Struggle?)

Quantum information can be negative,” by Jonathan Oppenheim, downloaded 8 August 2005, (from Slashdot).

It’s your stock of entangled particles,” by iabervon, Slashdot, 8 August 2005,

Amid blogtalk of 5GW and conspiracies, Jonathan Oppenheim outlines quantum disinformation

In most situations we have prior information. For example, if Alice wants to tell Bob her phone number (which is ten digits long), and Bob knows three of the numbers in her phone number (he might sometimes know the area code if he knows where she lives), then Alice only has to send Bob seven of the numbers. So we can divide the information
as follows:
Total information: 10 numbers
Prior information: 3 numbers
Partial information: 7 numbers

Notice that the total information is equal to the prior information plus the partial information.

Another way of understanding negative information, is that in quantum mechanics, you can know too much. Remember the telephone number example? Well, in that case, the total information (the phone number), was ten letters and Bob’s prior information was three letters. Alice needed to send him seven letters for him to get the total information. It turns out that in quantum mechanics, Bob could know more than the total amount of information. So he might know fifteen letters of information even though the total amount of information is only ten. So Alice can tell him the quantum phone number by sending him negative five quantum letters of information, which basically means that Alice and Bob can perform some tricks on their quantum letters so that Bob will learn the quantum phone number, and also, Alice will be able to send him more quantum letters in the future. Essentially, they will be able to convert part of their quantum letters into a resource which can be used to teleport quantum information between them.

A commentator on Slashdot expounds

The trick is that you can use quantum entanglement to have excess unspecified knowledge, which can be converted into specific knowledge. It’s like being on a quiz show where you are given a certain number of times you can look up an answer. These bonuses have to count in your total knowledge (I know 100 facts, plus I can look up things twice). If someone tells you something, you get positive information. If you look something up, you get zero information (you trade a bonus lookup for a fact). If you look something up, and you already knew the answer, you get negative information.

Now think about it as if someone else controlled the book. They can tell you things over the phone, and they can cause answers to pop out of the book. If they waste the book on something you actually already knew, your total information goes down, so the information in the transaction is negative.

Any comment from Motl? Matt?