TED Conversations

Frank Palumbo

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How would you record digital signals from the brain as it tells muscles to act?

The brain signals that instruct muscles to move are digital signals..how would those signals be recorded and saved as a means of "playing" those same signals in the brains of other individuals to achieve the same original results...?

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    Feb 18 2014: Frank-

    Take a good look at this article on the octopus. Because they have only 500 million neurons compared to about 86 billion neurons in our brain (using newest data, not data in this article that sez 100 billion), their brains would be much easier to study and possibly record signals from. Problem: they may have as many as 10 brains!

    Don't know if this article mentions this (I'm busy), but Japanese fishermen have made videos of severed octopus legs crawling across a deck, climbing the rail and dropping back into the sea... Capisce?

    • Feb 18 2014: Brendan,

      Very interesting article, thank you for posting it.
      I think it would be interesting, in the case of say people with isolated paralysis, to adopt a concept of separating the function of limbs from only a centralized command. Suppose you could bypass the broken nerves and connect a digital signal player to the good part of the nerve and 'play' commands from the brain... sort of like the brain thinks the command, it is relayed to the signal receiver attached to the functioning portion of the nerve and that in turn would 'play' those signals autonomously from other commands to other parts of the body.. To my understanding paralysis occurs when the pathway from the brain to the part of the body you are commanding is broken or interrupted. It isnt that the brain cant produce the command, its that the signal pathway is broken or severed, thereby unable to receive the signal..Suppose we could jump that broken pathway by sending the signals wirelessley to a receiver/player? Slightly different from an octopus' autonomous limbs but inspired by the notion of independent action/ability of each limb.
  • Feb 16 2014: If I understand your question correctly, it's asking about the field of motor learning and control. As to the signals being able to be recorded, that is a very intriguing idea. There are several theories regarding how motor skills are performed. One theory is that our brain has 'programs' that we initiate to perform each individual task, and another theory suggests that there are a certain amount of programs and our brain applies them to different situations. If we could somehow record the brain signals of one persons movement, we could use that recording to play in someone else's body. This could be a whole new approach to rehabilitation, motor learning for the disabled, the possibilities are endless. This would be a wonderful topic for research.
    • Feb 18 2014: Tanner,
      The interesting thing goes beyond rehabilitation and motor learning. While these and other avenues in medical fields are the most obvious and redeeming uses, other ideas are what caused me to think about this concept..
      I was watching golf and Tiger Woods and my friend commented how he wished he could play like that for one day..so i started thinking, Tiger and other athletes have trained all of their lives to become as good as they are and. in essence, have trained their muscles to work in specific, specialized ways that go beyond the basic patterns required to perform a specific skill. Their muscles have 'memory' of these movements, fine tuned to perfection way beyond the level of regular people and they work in tandem with the brain, which sends the signals to the muscle to act. A 'program', if you will, is created.
      So i thought what if we could record those signals and capture that specialized 'memory'/'program' and transfer them, or 'play' them in someones else brain so that their muscles would receive those specific 'memories' and act accordingly?
      To take it a step further, a guitarist has to train their hands and muscles to 'remember' how to act when prompted by the brain to play their instrument. I remember it taking me about a month of constantly trying to play chords and scales until one day everything clicked and the 'memories'/'programs' were set in my brain and hands and corresponding muscles...What if i could go further and become Eddie Van Halen! Who wouldnt want to have the ability to not only listen to their favorite musician but also now have the ability to play just like them or to play golf like Tiger ..in this direction there now evolves a market for this digital product and when there is money to be made, things start to happen and the possibilities become endless..as well as the impetus for abuse of the technology for monetary gain. Hence, the entrance of ethics into the conversation, which i havent addressed yet as well ..
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    Feb 15 2014: Hi, Frank-

    Could you furnish a link to a scholarly, yet readable, article about such digital brain signals so I/we might have something to work with here?

    • Feb 17 2014: Brendan, i dont have any links to any articles as this is from my own mind. I thought id start a discussion here and go from there... do you have any thoughts on the concept?
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        Feb 17 2014: Frank-

        I know that prosthetic limbs for amputees have already been invented that are operated by brain signals, but as far as recording brain signals that could be transferred to someone else, I haven't a clue.

        Sounds like the basis for a Sci-Fi movie or book... a "Manchurian Candidate" kind of thing where humans could be programmed to kill someone against their will. Hmmm... the CIA is probably already working on it...

        Good Luck!