TED Conversations

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 19 2013: The main problem with this question is the assumption that the mind is part of the body.
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      Apr 19 2013: Hi Pat,
      The brain is part of the body, is it not? I guess it's still debatable for some folks, regarding what "mind" actually is?

      I go wih the dictionary definition:
      "the element or complex of elements in an individual that feels, perceives, thinks, wills, and esp. reasons; the conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism..."

      The statements...."In an individual", and "of an organism" suggests to me that it is part of the body systems.
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        Apr 19 2013: Coleen

        You told us of a time you had an out of body experience at one time as have I. At that time were you able to perform the functions of a mind?
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          Apr 19 2013: Yes Pat, in a much more expanded version. Although the connections in the brain that allow me to feel, think, perceive and communicate on a human level were compromised, I could perceive these elements on an expanded level.

          For example, I was still able to observe, feel, hear and assimilate information on other levels, even though, according to the medical model, I was clinically unconscious. I knew what people around me were thinking and feeling....like ESP if you will.

          My perception of "mind" is that in keeping with our accepted definition, it is very complex....perhaps more complex than we can imagine with the information we have at this time as humans.

          I believe that the "mind" function...."complex of elements....that feels, perceives, thinks...reasons, conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism" is fueled by energy. The body, including the brain, is a carrier of energy. The energy is a carrier of information.

          The definition, as we know it, says..."conscious and unconscious adaptive mental activity of an organism". So, even though I was clinically "unconscious", there was still adaptive mental activity of the organism that is my body/mind.

          As you probably know, it is very difficult to make sense sometimes of concepts that are seemingly beyond the information we have at this time.
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        Apr 19 2013: "For example, I was still able to observe, feel, hear and assimilate information on other levels, even though, according to the medical model, I was clinically unconscious. I knew what people around me were thinking and feeling....like ESP if you will."

        That is crazy talk, but then isn't crazy indicative of a mind? Interesting you had super normal abilities when clinically your brain was unconscious?

        My take is simple. I was outside of my body and yet I was sentient. I conclude that our minds are not part of our body.

        There was a conversation a while back where a guy talked about a situation where he lost his friend in the Himalayan mountains and searched for days without sucess. They then asked a Buddhist monk if he had heard from anyone where his friend might be, keeping in mind that the monk did not physically go to the missing friend or hear about his location. The Buddhist monk then told him where to look. They went to the location some miles away and found him.

        By the way that is very simliar to my experience.


        Anyway the synapse thing doesn't remotely explain this.
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          Apr 19 2013: My dear Pat,

          You say...."crazy talk"? OK.....whatever:>)

          I do not perceive the ability I had as "super normal".....it felt very "normal" to me. Simply because the medical profession did not understand it 23 years ago, doesn't mean it is "super normal".....it simply means they didn't understand it:>)

          It appears that the technology we are now creating and using is beginning to better educate us regarding this topic.

          Medical professionals did not think I would live. When I tricked them on that, they did not believe, based on the severity of the injury that I would ever function "normally" again. I tricked them on that one as well!!!

          23 years ago, it was thought that once various parts of the brain were damaged, people would lose certain functions, and according to the medical model and text books, I was not supposed to ever function again.

          I believed that I could rebuild and reconnect, the neural pathways, even though that was not the medical model at the time. Nice to know science is FINALLY catching up to me!!! LOL:>)

          I respect your "conslusion", and I do not agree:>)

          I saw that conversation:>)

          I have not even begun to address the "synapse", which may, or may not explain anything:>)

          I'm going on a bike ride now...first of the season....skies are put away....on to the next event......ttyl:>)
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        Apr 19 2013: Cool I get the last word.

        I will agree to disagree
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          Apr 19 2013: C'mon Pat, you experienced something as well as Colleen yet both look to be on two different levels of experience. John moonstroller experienced an NDE completely different to Colleens and yours looks to be a waking moment, a drag moment, you're in your body yet elsewhere at the sametime? it's almost like you punched through the distance but you wouldn't percieve it as movement rather, operating in two places at once? Time can have no meaning for us within our minds. I'm trying to remember what your farsensing or translocation experience was.
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          Apr 20 2013: Pat,
          It is amusing that you ask me questions, which I answer with respect, then you accuse me of always trying to get the last word! That behavior doesn't seem to make much sense. The last word is all yours my friend:>)

          I think you know that there are thousands of recorded cases of NDE/OBEs throughout history. Of the hundreds of cases I reviewed, and the cases I am aware of from speaking with people who experienced it, there are many similarities, and there certainly are differences as well.
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        Apr 19 2013: My experience was similar to the Buddhists in that I was looking for someone and found mind self outside of my body and located them about 2 miles away and then walked directly to where they were.

        Sorry folks but there is no way in hell that was caused by the way the synapses were firing.

        Now I predict that Colleen will try to get in the last word, pure esp, or is it what she always does.
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        Apr 20 2013: That proves it I'm psycho, I mean psychic
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          Apr 21 2013: Because you guys are consistent and make no balls about it and i've been around the odd individual that though their personal lives are messed up (I'm not saying you guys are like this) they carry something that usually comes out at the strangest of times. The only true, honest to god experience i've had, if you break it down past the exaggeration is pure silence when a car almost wiped me out. It was beautiful. There was another time but that scared the living crap out of me. All i can say about that one was a bubble of silence...it was weird and no i'm not going deaf if that springs to mind lol.
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        Apr 20 2013: Colleen, Just answering here about your comment about "Thousands of NDE's" Wouldn't there be millions? Anyway, I'm reluctant to deep search a phenomena these days, rather i trust in those i know personally or a part of me does, another part doesn't but it doesn't mean i don't believe you guys. The many facets of self.

        Mitch ( though i can't understand him 90% of the time) is probably the closest to understanding the physical complexity of our brains and working on his thesis about "Selves" pointed out a very important part to our physical selves. Our chemical side. So, how come there are people like you and pat and john that say that a part of themselves detached? I don't think the young here would understand.
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          Apr 20 2013: Hi Ken,
          I don't really know how many. I researched it, to discover more about what I had experienced, because it certainly was not anything that was part of my belief system at the time. What I discovered, is that it is pretty common, and there has been ongoing research for quite awhile.

          Perhaps the "young" would understand it better, because sometimes they may be a little more open to new information?

          I wouldn't say that I felt "detached" with the experience. Because of the experience, I perceive everything and everyone as much more connected, than I previously suspected:>)
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          Apr 21 2013: Ken

          How could you possibly believe this unless you have experienced it? I suppose it really does not matter save the psychobabble is in the wrong direction it is inward. The truth is outward.

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