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Lauren Bayer

Student, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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Will mind-reading eventually become a reality and what are the implications for humanity?

This week in my bioelectricity class, we learned about using electrical stimulation to mimic the electrical signals of the body. The nervous system uses electrical signals as it performs its tasks of communicating, processing information, storing memories, etc. As we learn more about the language of the nervous system, we can use advanced technology to “speak” to the body and get it to perform tasks that the body's nervous system might not be able to do. Neural prosthetics, for instance, provide electrical stimulation to the nerves that are connected to muscles, allowing those muscles which were paralyzed to move again.
As we learn more information about the “language” of the nervous system, science has begun to correlate certain actions or stimuli with specific frequencies and behavioral patterns of electrical activity in the brain. For example, many scientists studying the visual system look at firing rate patterns in the visual cortex of the brain and use the data to predict the images that are being seen.
Ultimately this reverse correlation process might be able to be applied to all parts of the brain, including memory.
This led me to wonder, do you think that there will ever be a time where we will literally be able to read people's brains? If we can one day understand how the brain processes every bit of information – then theoretically we should be able to measure the electrical activity from the deep layers of the brain and be able to predict what the person is thinking. And also in the reverse direction – what would happen if we could ever be able to use electrical stimulation to “insert” memories into people's brains?
Do you think this technology could be useful for treating patients with dementia who have lost their memories – in which patients could create a “back-up” file of their own memories in case they ever start to lose it? What implications would such technology have on humanity? And do you see ways in which it could be detrimental/beneficial?

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    Apr 17 2013: I think most people do this to some extent now.

    How often do you know who is calling before you answer the phone or look at the caller ID of course?

    How often do you know the intention of the guy next to you on the fwy?

    Foot ball players who play at a high level talk about this when they get into the zone.

    I think this is third eye stuff, most people might be a bit myopic but they certainly are not blind. I don't think this has much to do with synapses and such.
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      Apr 18 2013: Thanks Pat for your comment!
      I'd beg to differ with you and say that everything that humans are involved in has to do with synapses. Even if we don't completely understand the biological mechanism that occur in our brains as of yet - I believe that every thought we have in our brain is a result of some type electrical activity or at least a biochemical mechanism. When we sense who's calling at the phone, I don't think we're reading other people's minds but are rather using our own reasoning and thinking to come to our own prediction of who we think is calling. When we can figure out the intention of someone - it's based on our previous knowledge and experiences that allow us to make a prediction of what he will do. All of this reasoning, thinking, learning and predicting originates from deep layers in the brain where most scientists assume electrical activity and other biological mechanisms are taking place. We still don't know what they are or how they happen, but we know that something scientific is going on down there.
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        Apr 18 2013: I knew you were going to say that, for what ever reason.

        Yes that is what they say, I will agree to disagree.

        I have observed that this stuff transcends science, not that I'm against science.
      • Apr 18 2013: This is also a great example of bias. You get a call, make a prediction, if you are correct you will remember your correct guess and and if you are wrong you will forget it. Therefore you will naturally think you have psychic powers. Humans tend to believe they are magical, their consciousness is essentially perfect., and that their behaviors are rational. The human brain will occasionally misfire and label a current experience as a memory leading a deja vu. Because we believe in our magically superior consciousness we instead decide that we can predict the future!
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          Apr 18 2013: and so the story goes, we either believe in non sense which is what you are saying, or we are being myopic what I'm saying.

          The thing is I don't sit around saying who is this calling, I just know. I don't try and guess what every car intends to do (that would be nuts) I just know. It is nonsense to me that you think that you cannot do this. And further obfuscate that we need the medical office of Dowe Cheatem and How to tell us all about how are synapses are not firing correctly. Because if you believers are any example of this discipline deal me out.

          Oh that is right I heard this story before when I was a kid and took the prescribed medicine that the school told me to take which created some not so mild side effects. Once again deal me out been there done that I would highly recommend that no one take the advise of someone who espouses what yous is espousing.
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          Apr 19 2013: Bravo, Pat

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