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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 18 2013: Hi Carolyn,
      thanks for your insightful comment! I think you bring up a good point that humans tend to be driven towards similar behavior as other people around them. I don't necessarily agree that that conveys a type of "mind reading" phenomena but it could indicate that human's have similar "circuitry" in the deep layers of their brain and could all be driven toward similar behavior based on our biology. For instance, most humans tend to despise loneliness and seek comfort in a common group. Humans might also have a natural desire for some higher being or "other-wordly" type of experiences, which could explain why man is driven towards religion. I don't think it's everyone necessarily thinking the same, but more that humans tend to like to behave similarly to everyone else.
      • Apr 18 2013: I think it might not necessarily be that humans like to act alike, but that everyone just naturally influences each other, just as I influence you right now by repöying in the qay I do. Someone completely different than I would definetly reply differently and hence have you react and become different. Hence the similarity of a group/town/nation ... damn internet is scary right now!^^
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          Apr 18 2013: Carolyn -
          what I meant earlier is that I don't think that many people dressing the same or man tending to follow religion are examples of mind reading. I do agree with you however, that perhaps telepathy is doable. I think nature does have the ability to form connective systems that intercommunicate - we see that all the time. Perhaps one day man will be able to use the nature around him to communicate - perhaps through the mind of other people. I just thought that the initial examples you gave were more descriptive of human behavioral patterns and tendencies rather than examples of mind reading - but who knows..
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          Apr 19 2013: You must understand this. There is more to life than the physical universe. What do you think activates you? What do you think life is? Where do you think peace and love and joy come from? We can be as connected as we will allow and it has nothing to do with any physical phenomena.

          You are love. You have a mind and you have a body but you are much greater than they.

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