A neuroscientist's take on synthetic telepathy, electrified ESP, and mind control

Telepathy. ESP. The ability to communicate thoughts, feelings, or experiences without using our known sensory channels is a timeless superpower. Soon, advances in neuroscience, molecular biology, and computer science will make some kinds of synthetic telepathy possible. Meanwhile though, methods to treat brain disorders through magnetic stimulation of brain circuits could enable crude (or eventually not-so-crude) mind control. National Institutes of Health neuroscientist R. Douglas Fields -- author of Electric Brain: How the New Science of Brainwaves Reads Minds, Tells Us How We Learn, and Helps Us Change for the Better -- wrote a brief essay for Scientific American surveying the present, past, and possible future of this strange field. From Scientific American:

Neuroscientist Marcel Just and colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University are using fMRI brain imaging to decipher what a person is thinking. By using machine learning to analyze complex patterns of activity in a person’s brain when they think of a specific number or object, read a sentence, experience a particular emotion or learn a new type of information, the researchers can read minds and know the person’s specific thoughts and emotions. “Nothing is more private than a thought,” Just says, but that privacy is no longer sacrosanct....

...The prospect of “mind control” frightens many, and brain stimulation to modify behavior and treat mental illness has a sordid history. In the 1970s neuropsychologist Robert Heath at Tulane University inserted electrodes into a homosexual man’s brain to “cure” him of his homosexual nature by stimulating his brain’s pleasure center. Spanish neuroscientist José Delgado used brain stimulation in monkeys, people and even a charging bull to understand how, at a neural circuit level, specific behaviors and functions are controlled—and to control them at will by pushing buttons on his radio-controlled device energizing electrodes implanted in the brain. Controlling movements, altering thoughts, evoking memories, rage and passion were all at Delgado’s fingertips. Delgado’s goal was to relieve the world of deviant behavior through brain stimulation and produce a “psychocivilized” society.

Electric Brain: How the New Science of Brainwaves Reads Minds, Tells Us How We Learn, and Helps Us Change for the Better (Amazon)

image: illustration by Rob Beschizza/Boing Boing