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Technological telepathy: brain-to-brain communication between rats achieved

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February 28, 2013

Symbolic image of two rat brains communicating through a net of cortical connections

Symbolic image of two rat brains communicating through a net of cortical connections

Telepathy has long been a subject of controversy in physical and psychological circles, offering the potential for removing the material and sensory walls between individuals, and allowing the direct transmission of information without using any of our known sensory channels or physical interactions. Although true telepathy still appears to be pseudoscience, futurists have long predicted that some form of technologically-based telepathy would eventually emerge ... and, it would appear, it has.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina in the U.S. report in the February 28, 2013 issue of Scientific Reports the successful wiring together of sensory areas in the brains of two rats. The result of the experiment is that one rat will respond to the experiences to which the other is exposed.

Neurobiologist Miguel Nicolelis and his colleagues have been experimenting with direct electrical stimulation of sensory areas in an attempt to extend the reach of our senses. "Our previous studies with brain-machine interfaces had convinced us that the brain was much more plastic than we had thought," said Nicolelis. "In those experiments, the brain was able to adapt easily to accept input from devices outside the body and even learn how to process invisible infrared light detected by an artificial sensor. So, the question we asked was, if the brain could assimilate signals from artificial sensors, could it also assimilate information input from sensors from a different body."

To test this hypothesis, the researchers trained groups of rats to press the correct lever when a LED was turned on immediately above the lever. The reward was a sip of water, which tells you something about research budgets in this day and age.

Next, a pair of identically trained rats were wired together through arrays of 32 submicron microelectrodes inserted into the area of the cortex that processes sensor and motor information. The rats were then separated into two identical environments. One of the rats was designated the encoder, and was the rat that was exposed to a behavioral stimulus – a visual cue that told the encoder which lever to press to receive a sip of water. The cortical signals that were associated with the actions of the encoder rat were then passed on to the corresponding microelectrodes implanted in the sensorimotor cortex of the second, or decoder, rat.

The decoder rat did not receive any visual cues from its environment. As a result, for the decoder to press the proper lever to receive a reward (the same level as was cued and pressed by the encoder rat), it would have to respond to the cortical reaction of the encoder as transmitted via the brain to brain interface.

In trials, the decoder rat responded correctly to the cue seen by the encoder rat about 70 percent of the time, far better than expected for a random choice.

A crucially important learning process was also included in the study. When the encoder rat pressed the proper lever, it received a sip of water. When the decoder rat also pressed the proper lever, the encoder rat received a second sip. As a result, not only did the decoder rat have a stake in correctly interpreting the cortical reaction of the encoder rat, but the encoder rat also had a stake in altering its cortical reaction so that it was easier for the decoder to correctly interpret. Of course, they had no way of telling how to alter their cortical responses – this was a random search with feedback.

The same brain-to-brain interface was also tested by training pairs of rate to distinguish narrow openings from wide openings according to the sensation of their whiskers striking the edges of the hole. If the hole were narrow, both sets of whiskers would strike the opening, while for a wide hole only one set at a time could touch the edges of the hole. The rats were trained to poke a water port on the right side of the chamber if the aperture were wide, and a similar water port on the left if the aperture were narrow. The rats were divided into encoders and decoders as before. In this case, the decoder rats chose the correct water port about 65 percent of the time, again significantly above chance. Attempts to recreate the interface through intercontinental communication facilities also proved successful.

The Duke University group is pushing forward with additional experiments, most notably by trying to interconnect several rats at once. The main question is if emergent properties might come out of such a "brain-net," perhaps leading to mental abilities not possessed by any one rat. Professor Nicolelis even suggests that an "organic computer" capable of solving puzzles in a non-Turing way might emerge from a brain-net, which could avoid many of the limitations of traditional computing systems.

Whatever the future holds, what has already been accomplished is worth a certain amount of wonder. Imagine what it might feel like to be a unit in a multiform brain having many bodies. The benefits and potential dangers of such entities deserves contemplation.

Source: Duke University and Miguel Nicolilis

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer.   All articles by Brian Dodson
12 Comments

Now that is pretty dang cool.

Todd Dunning
28th February, 2013 @ 03:09 pm PST

.......resistance is futile

Robalone
28th February, 2013 @ 07:24 pm PST

So no more phones in 20-30 years?

steelnerves
28th February, 2013 @ 11:43 pm PST

Wait for Nokia 20000 BrainConnect!!! Samsung DirectNerveInput, and a special edition Iphone 4Brainless!!!

Dan Vasii
1st March, 2013 @ 01:53 am PST

just what we need...a BORG collective....

Facebook User
1st March, 2013 @ 08:35 am PST

So how long until I can vicariously learn kung-fu?

Will digital narcotics still be illegal?

Marko Bajic
1st March, 2013 @ 09:46 am PST

I can think of alot of uses for telepathic rats

BP
3rd March, 2013 @ 05:30 pm PST

Maybe not so much 'Borg' as 'Ghost in the Shell'. I for one welcome this development.

The very idea that one could adapt to an external interface and possibly through training learn to convey and accept information from an external interface is exciting.

Our brains are capable of processing vast amounts of information. I'm sure almost everyone has had a dream experience that felt hours long only to realize upon waking that only minutes had passed.

And for a lot of people there can be frustration in trying to convey a concept or relay large amounts of information/experiences, but being limited by how fast they can type or speak, especially when there is a language barrier.

Nairda
5th March, 2013 @ 06:19 am PST

I welcome discoveries like this one as well. It is a little scary, but it beats the Hell out of computers just continuing to evolve independantly from organic life. I'm a believer in the whole 'singularity' thing;once there are systems (mechanical or biological) that are more intelligent than we are, we can no longer make acurate predictions about the future (no more than a chiimpanzee could have seen the space shuttle coming) or do anything that we're not 'permitted' to do. That would leave us at the hopefully-merciful hands (manipulators?) of our mechanical children, who might be benevolent, malicious, or something else entirely that we can't even conceive of. And as the genie is already out of the bottle, much like nuclear weapons or nanotechnology, it's not going to be forced back inside. Not for long at any rate. To me it seems like a much better idea to merge and blend with our technology before it overtakes us, and form a symbiotic relationship rather than a potentially adversarial one. Crazy talk? Maybe, but this is the best outcome that I can see.

Mike Jackson
6th March, 2013 @ 11:50 am PST

Link up with your exo-skeleton or remote control your robot "double" for hazardous search and rescue

Douglas Bowles
6th March, 2013 @ 05:47 pm PST

kool, but scary...

billybob1851
8th March, 2013 @ 06:34 pm PST

"Wait for Nokia 20000 BrainConnect!!! Samsung DirectNerveInput, and a special edition Iphone 4Brainless!!! " - Dan Vasii

And now available via discount carriers for just $3000US a month! What a bargain folks. You need to jump on the band wagon immediately!

VirtualGathis
5th September, 2014 @ 06:55 am PDT
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