Can Severed Heads Live On?

Decapitated Head Speaks 

Gwoeii | Shutterstock.com

                                                Gwoeii | Shutterstock.com

Centuries-old tales have described severed heads that seemed to live on for a few seconds — blinking, changing expressions, even attempting to speak.

During the French Revolution, an executioner reportedly held the severed head of Charlotte Corday (who assassinated politician Jean-Paul Marat) aloft and smacked its cheek. Witnesses claimed Corday’s eyes looked at the executioner, and an unmistakable expression of disgust came over her face.

More recently, in 1989, an Army veteran told of seeing a friend decapitated in a car crash. According to the story, the severed head showed emotions of shock, followed by terror and grief, its eyes glancing back at its separated body.

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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.

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