Finally: Networked Monkey Brains

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Neurobiologists have shown that brain signals from multiple animals can be combined to perform certain tasks better than a single brain

Mike Orcutt reports: New research proves that two heads are indeed better than one, at least at performing certain simple computational tasks.

The work demonstrates for the first time that multiple animal brains can be networked and harnessed to perform a specific behavior, says Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurobiology and biomedical engineering at Duke University and an expert in brain-machine interfaces.

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“Even though the monkeys didn’t know they were collaborating, their brains became synchronized very quickly, and over time they got better and better at moving the arm.”

He says this type of “shared brain-machine interface” could potentially be useful for patients with brain damage, in addition to shedding light on how animal brains work together to perform collective behaviors.

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Networked Monkey Brains Could Help Disabled Humans

Nicolelis and his colleagues published two separate studies today, one involving rats and the other involving monkeys, that describe experiments on networks of brains and illustrate how such “brainets” could be used to combine electrical outputs from the neurons of multiple animals to perform tasks. The rat brain networks often performed better than a BRAINS-BLENDsingle brain can, they report, and in the monkey experiment the brains of three individuals “collaborated” to complete a virtual reality-based task too complicated for a single one to perform.

“In the monkey experiment, the researchers combined two or three brains to perform a virtual motor task in three dimensions. After implanting electrodes, they used rewards to train individual monkeys to move a virtual arm to a target on a screen.”

To build a brain network, the researchers first implant microwire electrode arrays that can record signals as well as deliver pulses of electrical stimulation to neurons in the same region in multiple rat brains.

“An individual monkey brain does not have the capacity to move the arm in three dimensions, says Nicolelis, so each monkey learned to manipulate the arm within a certain ‘subspace’ of the virtual 3-D space.”

In the case of the rat experiment, they then physically linked pairs of rat brains via a “brain-to-brain interface” (see “Rats Communicate Through Brain Chips”). Once groups of three or four rats were interconnected, the researchers delivered prescribed electrical pulses to individual rats, portions of the group, or the whole group, and recorded the outputs.

[Read the full text here, at MIT Technology Review]

The researchers tested the ability of rat brain networks to perform basic computing tasks. For example, by delivering electrical pulse patterns derived from a digital image, they recorded the electrical outputs and measured how well the network of neurons processed that image. Read the rest of this entry »


REWIND: Duke Backs Down, Cancels Muslim Call to Prayer from Chapel Tower

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Duke University has abandoned its plan to transform the bell tower on the Methodist school’s neo-gothic cathedral into a minaret where the Muslim call to prayer was to be publicly broadcast.

“Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” university spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said in a statement. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”

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The first adhan, or call to prayer, had been scheduled to be broadcast on Jan. 16. University officials said, the Islamic chant, which includes the words “Allahu Akbar” would have been “moderately amplified” — in both English and Arabic.

“Graham said Muslims have a right to worship in America. He also said there are millions of ‘wonderful people in Islam that want to live their life and raise their children and they want to be free.’ But he also said that Islam is not a peaceful religion.”

However, the decision brought a firestorm of national criticism from a number of high profile leaders including Franklin Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham.

“This is a Methodist school and the money for that chapel was given by Christian people over the years so that the student body would have a place to worship the God of the Bible,” Graham told me in a telephone interview.

“Members of the Muslim community will now gather on the quadrangle outside the Chapel, a site of frequent interfaith programs and activities.”

He had called for university donors to pull their funding – (and I suspect that had something to do with Duke’s decision.)

Instead, the prayers will be moved to outside the chapel.

“Members of the Muslim community will now gather on the quadrangle outside the Chapel, a site of frequent interfaith programs and activities,” Schoenfeld said.

The university did not say whether the Muslim call to prayer would be “moderately amplified” at the new location. Read the rest of this entry »


Michio Kaku: ‘We are Now Entering a Golden Age of Neuroscience’

We have learned more about the thinking brain in the last 10-15 years than in all of previous human history.WOD-Neuroscience

“There may come a day when the Internet might be replaced by a Brain-net, in which emotions, sensations, memories and thoughts are sent over the Internet.”

Michio Kaku writes: More than a billion people were amazed this summer when a 29-year-old paraplegic man from Brazil raised his right leg and kicked a soccer ball to ceremonially begin the World Cup. The sight of a paralyzed person whose brain directly controlled a robotic exoskeleton (designed at Duke University) was thrilling.51lK1s4Ex0L._SL250_

[Check out Michio Kaku’s book “The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind” at Amazon.com]

We are now entering the golden age of neuroscience. We have learned more about the thinking brain in the last 10-15 years than in all of previous human history.

A blizzard of the new technologies using advanced physics—resulting in scans and tests we know as fMRI, EEG, PET, DBS, CAT, TCM and TES—have allowed scientists to observe thoughts as they ricochet like a pong ball inside the living brain, and then begin the process of deciphering these thoughts using powerful computers. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Mind-Controlled Robotic Exoskeleton Gears up for World Cup Debut

YouTube.


Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience

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Why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?

Note: I go to Whole Foods all the time. Besides the wu-wu health food products (easy to ignore, just walk past the hemp socks, alpaca mittens, re-washable sanitary napkins, and organic teas) they also happen to have the most fabulous meat section, loaded with pork, lamb, beef, sausage, bacon…and their pastries, confections, the mountains of desserts, Whole Foods doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a 21st century high-carb hog heaven.  It’s not a health-food store, it’s an Apocalyptic Temple of Carnivore Decadence.

Also Whole Foods’ founder, John Mackey, isn’t your garden-variety Establishment Liberal Democrat, he’s a firebrand, a government-regulation resisting whacko Libertarian. It’s fair to say Whole Foods‘ contradictions represent American diversity, wishful thinking, and self-delusion as accurately as any corporate consumer experience you can find.

For The Daily BeastMichael Schulson writes:

 If you want to write about spiritually-motivated pseudoscience in America, you head to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It’s like a Law of Journalism. The museum has inspired hundreds of book chapters and articles (some of them, admittedly, mine) since it opened up in 2007. The place is like media magnet. And our nation’s liberal, coastal journalists are so many piles of iron fillings.

“…a significant portion of what Whole Foods sells is based on simple pseudoscience. And sometimes that can spill over into outright anti-science…”

But you don’t have to schlep all the way to Kentucky in order to visit America’s greatest shrine to pseudoscience. In fact, that shrine is a 15-minute trip away from most American urbanites.

I’m talking, of course, about Whole Foods Market. From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares. And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there’s really no better place to go. Because anti-science isn’t just a religious, conservative phenomenon—and the way in which it crosses cultural lines can tell us a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don’t.

Read the rest of this entry »


ObamaCare: It’s unsustainable; better to scrap it and start anew

Confirming the disconnect between the empty-promise pretenses on which ObamaCare was sold and its real-world effects in practice is a new report from Medicare actuaries that says health spending in ObamaCare’s first 10 years will be about $621 billion higher than it would be without that train wreck of a law.

That’s $7,450 more in health spending per family of four through 2022, according to Duke University health-policy expert Chris Conover, writing for The Apothecary, a Forbes blog. And that figure’s contrast with candidate Barack Obama’s 2008 promise that he’d lower such families’ premiums “by up to $2,500” — during his first term! — is both grim and stark.

The Medicare actuaries’ report is consistent with their prior reports showing ObamaCare would increase, not decrease, health spending. It’s the latest evidence that Mr. Obama made America the “absurd promise” that Mr. Conover says it is. Read the rest of this entry »


Researcher controls colleague’s motions in first human brain-to-brain interface

University of Washington researcher Rajesh Rao, left, plays a computer game with his mind. Across campus, researcher Andrea Stocco, right, wears a magnetic stimulation coil over the left motor cortex region of his brain. Stocco’s right index finger moved involuntarily to hit the “fire” button as part of the first human brain-to-brain interface demonstration. Images: Univ. of Washington

University of Washington researcher Rajesh Rao, left, plays a computer game with his mind. Across campus, researcher Andrea Stocco, right, wears a magnetic stimulation coil over the left motor cortex region of his brain. Stocco’s right index finger moved involuntarily to hit the “fire” button as part of the first human brain-to-brain interface demonstration. Images: Univ. of Washington

University of Washington researcher Rajesh Rao, left, plays a computer game with his mind. Across campus, researcher Andrea Stocco, right, wears a magnetic stimulation coil over the left motor cortex region of his brain. Stocco’s right index finger moved involuntarily to hit the “fire” button as part of the first human brain-to-brain interface demonstration. Images: Univ. of WashingtonUsing electrical brain recordings and a form of magnetic stimulation, Rajesh Rao sent a brain signal to Andrea Stocco on the other side of the UW campus, causing Stocco’s finger to move on a keyboard.

While researchers at Duke Univ. have demonstrated brain-to-brain communication between two rats, and Harvard researchers have demonstrated it between a human and a rat, Rao and Stocco believe this is the first demonstration of human-to-human brain interfacing.

“The Internet was a way to connect computers, and now it can be a way to connect brains,” Stocco said. “We want to take the knowledge of a brain and transmit it directly from brain to brain.”

The researchers captured the full demonstration on video recorded in both labs. The following version has been edited for length.

Read the rest of this entry »