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Question Your World: Can We Control Other People’s Brains?

brain control

Magic show hypnotists and neurologists have at least one thing in common. Both spend a lot of time trying to learn more about how to control the brain. For hypnotists, this difficult task involves medallions and soft spoken commands, but neurologists require some pretty mind blowing technology. A recent study demonstrated how cutting edge technology has been used to begin to answer that age old question; can we control other people’s brains? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

Throughout recorded history, the ability to control others minds has been documented as a part of religion or culture at large. Some of the earliest examples include procedures for reforming prisoners, the use of propaganda on the public, and sometimes even by means of torture. Once the widespread use of scientific thinking in the medical world began we quickly saw a myriad of technological leaps which eventually lead to things like the use of X-rays, MRI scans, and more recently using bacteria to alter brain chemistry. As humanity’s use of technology progresses we continue to see newer and newer ideas being put on the table and this most recent one is especially mind blowing.

Using an optofluidic implant scientists have been able to administer pulsed stimulations and injections of drugs into the brain by means of a remote control signal from about three feet away from the subject. This creation is pretty impressive despite its tiny size, only about a tenth the diameter of a human hair. This is largely possible due to the many disciplines that had to work in tandem to allow for all the elements to exist together. Years of work on nanotechnology, chemistry, neurology, engineering, materials science, and many more sciences occasionally culminate to do something this impressive.

So, what did they do with this optofluidic implant? For testing purposes these implants were tried out on several mice. During these tests science were able to impact the mice’s sensitivity to light and administer drugs which impacted the reward centers of the brain. This allowed them to better understand their brain circuitry and briefly gave them control over the subject's decision making and brain function.

These tests, as invasive as they sound, are to better understand which part of the brain serves which function. As of now, the human brain still remains a very large mystery. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and beyond are all rooted in our brain's circuitry somewhere. A better understanding of the neuronal paths could open the doors to many remedies and treatments.

With every breakthrough in science comes another generation’s worth of questions. While the applications here in the medical world could yield fantastic opportunities for individuals suffering from neurodegenerative diseases, there is an ethical balance that must be approached as well. The ability to impact one's decision making clearly has its downsides also. A better understanding of the purpose and process is vital to keeping the dialogue open while allowing for appropriate progress to be made. Stay up to date on all things related to this project, by keeping up with these scientists and their work at their website.

While this groundbreaking discovery is still a pretty far cry from mystical hypnosis, it does mark an impressive milestone in the ongoing story of mice and men. And their brains.