In a move that will excite science fiction enthusiasts and send sufferers of musophobia screaming for the hills, researchers at Duke University have taken the first steps toward bringing brain-to-brain communication into reality by electronically connecting rats’ brains.
Here’s what happened: two rats had their brains wired up with electrodes. One of them was shown a signal to push a particular lever to receive a reward. Then, the brain waves from this rat were transmitted to the second rat in a separate cage, and even without the original signal the second rat immediately knew the correct lever to push to get the reward. The “receiver” rat got this test right a monstrous 85% of the time, and it didn’t matter if it was in the same lab or thousands of miles away! For more of the specific details, I recommend reading the article in Popular Mechanics.
The implications of this are mind-blowing, and the stuff of much exploration by sci-fi writers like Arthur C. Clarke and others over the years. It’s little wonder, since humans have understood for some time the electrical similarities between brains and computers…so why not introduce computers to help amplify and transmit brain signals? In Clarke’s book Childhood’s End, a generation of telepathic children think and act as one all-knowing organism. If that concept isn’t strange enough for you, imagine these scenarios:
- Memories are recorded and sold as consumer products, like in the movie Strange Days
- Humanity becomes universally empathic because we’re constantly seeing the world from other people’s perspectives
- Police officers interrogate criminals from inside their own minds
- Instant learning, a la The Matrix
In some sense this computer/brain linkup technology is nothing new, merely a continuation of man’s long history of improving its methods of communication. From the invention of language, to writing, to the printing press and the internet, each revolution in communication has ushered in a paradigm shift and a period of upheaval. The internet we have today is already a similar expression to that of our telepathic rats — humans are electronically connected to each other at all times, the only difference being that information is transmitted much more slowly due to the cumbersome input method of fingertips on keyboards. Even the electronic encoding and transmission of thought is old hat by now, as we’ve already taught monkeys to control a computer mouse with their minds and enabled the handicapped to feed themselves using a mind-controlled robotic arm.
The most important thing to take away here isn’t that telepathy is possible, or that hordes of mind-melded rats are coming for your cheese. The thing to take away is the fact that this won’t stop. It won’t stop with rats, because we’ll be doing human trials of this before you know it. And it won’t stop with basic concepts and skills, we’ll soon be transmitting abstract thought, sensory input, and emotions. Driven by the forces of progress and curiosity (and hopefully tempered by ethics and compassion), we’ll continue to push the boundaries and explore the human mind.
Congratulations everyone, we made it, we live in the future.