So you thought telepathy just came from your mummy or the nasty brain of Darth Vader. Nope! Brain researchers at the University of Washington say that, for the first time ever, one person has remotely triggered another person’s movement, a flicking finger, through a signal sent to him by thought.
I was dubious, too. Having seen all this before from the Amazing Kresgin and Uri Geller, I needed something more concrete. On August 12, 2013, a University of Washington professor of Science and engineering, Rajesh Rao, sent a finger-flicking brain signal to his colleague, Andrea Stocco, in the very first ever demonstration of human-to-human brain control, according to an announcement from the University’s P.R. department, said it was the greatest day ever in the university’s realm of possibility.
“The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,” Stocco, an assistant professor of engineering at the same university said. “We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”
Check out the following video, however, and you’ll find the experiment released on the lab team’s website.
It clearly shows Mr. Rao checking out a cannon-firing video game while he’s wearing what might best be described as an electrical brain-signal reading cap. By repeatedly imagining his right finger flicking during the game, he triggered the actual motion in Mr. Stocco, who sits comfortably in what is called only ‘a distant lab,’ wearing his own cap, one designed to send magnetic stimulation signals to the human brain. In effect, Rao’s thought was transferred across the campus, via the Internet, to trigger the motion in Stocco. The receiver, Stocco described the feeling he got as “something comparable to a twitch.”
Still more than a tad dubious myself, I started up an email relationship of sorts with them both. “The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,” Stocco said, in such an achingly serious way that any notion of irony was definitely beside the point, even for a lay journo like me. Sure, I really couldn’t help of thinking of the Warner Brothers cartoon, Pinky & the Brain, as Dr. Stucco held forth. “We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”
Historically, much of this neo-science is due to work on head wounds, but also prosthetic arms and legs for bombing victims, in the U.S.’s wars in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Advances in the field of brain-computer interfaces – devices which map and read brain signals and typically translate them into motions in robotic prosthetic arms or legs – have happened at warp-speed. Indeed, the best and brightest at Harvard University these days have beaucoup bucks from the NSC (the National Security Council) and are deep into studying the complex brain signals they are able to transmit between rats, and, more recently, rats and humans.
At any rate, some of the publicity generated by the NSC caught on beyond the Washington, D.C. Beltway. Out came the celebrities. Pop singer Linda Ronstadt announced on August 27, 2013, she had lost her voice due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Somehow, at a press conference tracked by gossip kings TMZ, she also made a pitch for an opportunity for doctors and researchers at the University of Washington to use her as a human guinea pig to test out transcranial magnetic stimulation. Thus, in a world where no publicity is bad publicity, outsiders began taking notice.
Now these experiments in the sending of magnetic pulses to the brain means much more is at stake than just dubious exercises in witch-doctoresque ESP. As it seems to offer the chance of relief in the future for neurological ailments such as Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Apraxia (language issues), Dysarthria (speech problems), Tyrettes Syndrome, Amnesia and ALS, the research elites at Ivy League Colleges and major pharmaceutical conglomerates are taking notice. The very idea that sequences of neurological movement can be graphed and visualized creating successful means where a subject brain can be induced to reproduce sequences left behind because of war wounds.
Editorials in the Wall Street Journal and Christian Science Monitor have suggested work being done in less than rigorous conditions remain thus far unpublished. Meanwhile, both researchers wanted to stress to a dubious world that they wear highly specialized equipment and only work under ideal conditions and are not looking to work with celebrity guinea pigs. They had to obtain and follow a stringent set of international human-subject testing rules before beginning to conduct any demonstration. “I think some people will be unnerved by this because they will overestimate the technology,” Dr. Rao said. “There’s no possible way the technology that we have could be used on a person unknowingly or without their willing participation.”
“It’s pretty wild, but it’s real,” says university spokeswoman Michelle Ma, about the human brain-to-brain result and the subsequent circus that has followed. In answer to their critics, the young researchers plan to publish the results soon in a ‘well-known scientific journal’ as soon as humanly possible. First things first, however, and the pair want to establish the priority of their claim in a fast-moving field by making the announcement now. Indeed, with so many ideas being pinched off the Internet by both government and private enterprises in the People’s Republic of China, they needed to act fast.