Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cogitas Ergo Sum

The power of suggestion can be quite effective.  Tell people not to think about a pink elephant, and the light reddish pachyderm will dominate their thoughts.  Now, a group of scientists has published results of experiments in the Nature journal Scientific Reports that, apparently, linked the brains of two distinct rats:
Animals assigned to the encoder group were implanted with recording arrays of 32 microelectrodes in the primary motor cortex and after recovery resumed the initial training scheme.  Animals assigned to the decoder group were implanted with arrays of 4 to 6 microstimulation electrodes in the primary motor cortex and were further trained to associate the presence of electrical microstimulation pulses with the correct lever press.
Miguel Pais Veira and colleagues observed something remarkable:  the apparent transfer between individuals of neural impulses correlated with a specific behavior.  The researchers concluded that
The present study demonstrates for the first time that tactile and motor information, extracted in real time from simultaneously recorded populations of cortical neurons from a rat's brain, can be transmitted directly into another subject's cortex through the utilization of a real-time BTBI.  Operation of a BTBI by an encoder-decoder rat dyad allowed decoders to rely exclusively on neural patterns donated by encoders in order to reproduce the encoder's behavioral choice.  ICMS patterns reflecting the number of action potentials recorded from either the encoder rat's M1 or S1 during a single trial were sufficient for decoder rats to repeatedly perform two different tasks, significantly above chance levels, in real-time.
Mister Spock might not be surprised or impressed, but we mere humans ought to be.

Might of the results of these experiments herald the direct transfer of thoughts - even complex ones - from individual to individual?  Perhaps thoughts could be stored electronically, and then delivered when needed.  Maybe people could adopt the thoughts of other people.  Such a possibility might confuse René Descartes, transforming "cogito ergo sum" into "cogitas ergo sum."