Magnetic fields and mind-control (tinfoil beanie not required)

The Boston Globe published an interesting piece this week about transcranial magnetic stimulation ("TMS"), a scientific technique to stimulate or sedate the electrical the brain's electrical activity by directing a powerful magnetic field inside the skull.

Invented in 1985, modern-day magnetic stimulators charge up to a whopping 3,000 volts and produce peak currents of up to 8,000 amps – powers similar to those of a small nuclear reactor. That pulse of current flowing from a capacitor into a hand-held coil creates a magnetic field outside the patient's head. The field painlessly induces a current inside the brain, affecting the electrical activity that is the basis for all it does.

The promise of TMS as a scientific tool seems similarly powerful. And it has generated a range of intriguing practical effects as well, from improving attention to combating depression, that have been published in reputable, peer-reviewed journals.

"From the point of view of cognitive neuroscience – understanding how brain activity relates to behavior – it is, in a way, a dream come true for all of us, because it provides a way to create our own patients, as it were," said [Dr. Alvaro] Pascual-Leone, director of the Laboratory for Magnetic Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "You can create a very transient disruption of the brain. For a few milliseconds, it is as if those cells were not there. So you are able to ask questions about what role a particular brain part plays in a particular behavior."

Link to Boston Globe story, Link to more background on TMS, Discuss (via strangelove)