TED Conversations

Lauren Bayer

Student, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

This conversation is closed.

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?

Share:

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Apr 19 2013: HI Lauran, that is quite an option, to read, and have proof of what you're thinking..

    Personally I say no way Hosay :) We need our freedom to be human and one of our human abilities is to pretend. This ability we also use in order to grow mentally.

    I believe our mind is in the spiritual realm and our brain is the 'receiver' of the brain in the physical world.

    Is it not so that science says a change of mind alters the brain? Of course they also say that the mind is the 'outcome' or result of the brain..

    In my opinion, NDE's are proof of the existence of the spiritual world. We have all heard of the first book on the subject "Life After Life" by Raymond Moody. The most convincing aspect of these experiences is their process- consistency in the millions of cases.

    If you'd like to read about it, this is a book about the human mind
    http://webhome.idirect.com/~abraam/documents/TheHumanMind.pdf
    And this is a book about the spiritual world the mind is in.
    http://webhome.idirect.com/~abraam/documents/TheSpiritualWorld.pdf

    It always seems to me as if science is talking about the car and ignoring the driver :)
    • thumb
      Apr 21 2013: Hi Adriaan,
      thanks for your contribution to the conversation.
      I think you bring up an important point about the mind vs brain. Because science today still doesn't completely understand what our mind is and how we think, there are many different theories about it actually is. Perhaps the mind, is like as you say, connected to the "spiritual realm" and links the spiritual realm to the physical world. But perhaps there is something scientific about the brain. I believe that this is one of these topics where the concept of accepting the scientific method as a mode of discovering truth about our world really applies. If you don't accept science, then you're not bound to think that the mind is something scientific, and can give spiritual and other worldly explanations. Me personally, however, do accept the scientific method, and am not willing to say that the mind is part of the spiritual realm. In my humble opinion, as a scientist, I think that there is a biochemical process occurring inside our brains, but our human minds just don't understand how it works yet. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.