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Stanford researchers develop a way to literally read minds

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 10th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A study by scientists at Stanford University  has yielded new knowledge about the brain that could eventually be used to read thoughts. The study revealed that precise centers of the brain were activated when patients were asked to think particular thoughts of perform calculations.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Hooking up seizure patients to brain monitoring equipment and putting them through tests has yielded hard data which reveals that high-specialized clusters of cells in the brain are employed to perform calculations and other functions. By mapping the brain and knowing what clusters are activated for various tasks, researchers come a step closer to actually reading thoughts.

"We're now able to eavesdrop on the brain in real life," said Josef Parvizi, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology and neurological sciences and director of Stanford's Human Intracranial Cognitive Electrophysiology Program. As the lead author of the study, which was published in the journal, Nature Communications, Parvizi's work reveals that "mind reading" applications could be developed based on the work.

For the doctors, the mind reading they contemplate consists of creating prosthetic devices that could be precisely controlled by thought. However, they acknowledged that the technology could be developed that would permit people to read minds.

According to The Almagest, "Henry Greely, JD, the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and steering committee chair of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, who played no role in the study but is familiar with its contents and described himself as 'very impressed" by the findings. It demonstrates, first, that we can see when someone's dealing with numbers and, second, that we may conceivably someday be able to manipulate the brain to affect how someone deals with numbers. this is exciting, and a little scary.'"

What's especially different this time is the technique the study used to obtain their results. Previous studies used magnetic resonance imaging, which is limited in its ability to obtain detailed results. In the current study, doctors actually removed a portion of the skull in patients heads and hooked them to electrodes for one week. The patients were all being evaluated for seizures and consented to the study.

During their week of monitoring, patients were asked to complete tasks which required them to either do nothing or to complete simple calculations and answer true and false questions.

Researchers found that very specific areas of the brain were activated when subjects did calculations. In fact, when the calculation indicated a value such as "more" or "greater than" the same spot was activated.

Knowing where specific thoughts and ideas reside in the brain can allow researchers to develop tools to actually read thoughts. As particular clusters of cells activate, they indicate specific types of thoughts. While researchers may not be able to discern specific words and phrases yet, the ability to tell generally what a person is thinking could be valuable.

Of course, it could also be abused, use for interrogation, or even to implant thoughts in another person's mind.

Parvizi said he agreed with this fear in his interview with The Almagest. "We're still in early days with this," he explained. "If this is a baseball game, we're not even in the first inning. We just got a ticket to enter the stadium."

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