The rise of telepathic rats

Gee Brain, whadda ya wanna
do tonight?

Same thing we do every night, Pinky…try to take over the world!

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.

I, for one, welcome our new rodent overlords.

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

A note for the nerdier
among you:

While this rat stuff satisfies the dictionary definition of telepathy (“the communication of thoughts or ideas by means other than the known senses”), it may remind you less of Professor X and more of “deckers” from cyberpunk fantasy novels.

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.

  • Jeff Davis

    We must proceed with caution. I am not sure most humans could with stand the emotional ramifications of seeing the world through everyone perspective and also the ability to “data dump” knowledge into their brains.

    • EricKrasnauskas

      Agreed. The pace of technological innovation we have now far outstrips our cultural capacity to understand and integrate it in to society. The more we talk about it, the better we can understand what it all means and how we might use it wisely.

      • John Crapper

        Just imagine being able to really know what other people are thinking about you! Not a pretty picture. Not to worry. Rather than technology being the tool that saves us it will be the tool of our ultimate dimise.

        • EricKrasnauskas

          I don’t know about salvation or demise…I think we can deal with anything so long as it gets talked about and the capabilities and impacts are made real to us. The problem now is that technological advancement is outpacing cultural advancement, and we’re plagued with other problems that seem more important, more immediate.