Telepathy over the Internet

A amazing paper in PLOS One demonstrating a kind of telepathy over the internet:

…two participants had to carry out a specific task in the form of a series of consecutive trials of a computer game. The game was designed so that the two participants had to play cooperatively, and the required cooperation could only be achieved through direct brain-to-brain communication. The goal of the game was to mind melddefend a city from enemy rockets fired by a pirate ship… One participant was able to see the game on a computer screen, but was not provided with any input device to control the cannon. The second participant could use his/her right hand to press a touchpad, but could not see the game. The two participants were located in separate buildings on the University of Washington’s campus. Specifically, the Sender side was stationed in the Computer Science & Engineering building while the Receiver side was stationed in the Psychology building. The two buildings were located approximately 1 mile apart. The two participants could only communicate with each other through a brain-to-brain communication channel.

During rocket trials, the sender conveyed the intent to fire the cannon by engaging in right hand motor imagery. Electrical brain activity from the Sender was recorded using EEG, and the resultant signal was used to control the vertical movement of a cursor – this allowed the subject to get continuous feedback about imagery performance. When the cursor hit the “Fire” target (a large blue circle) located at the top of the screen, the Sender’s computer transmitted a signal over the Internet to the Receiver’s computer. The two computers communicated using the standard hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP).

The Receiver’s computer was connected through a custom-made serial cable to a TMS machine. Whenever the Receiver’s computer received a fire command, a TMS pulse was delivered to a pre-selected region of the Receiver’s brain. The stimulation caused a quick upward jerk of the Receiver’s right hand, which was positioned above the touchpad. This up-down movement of the hand typically resulted in enough force to trigger a “click” event on the touchpad, causing the cannon in the computer game to be fired as requested by the Sender.

The players were able to perform significantly better than chance at firing the cannon and saving the city.

The content of the communication is obviously low–basically 1 bit–but the author’s offer some intriguing speculation. Language is a significant limit on communication. In Polanyi’s terms we know more than we can say; a lot of knowledge is tacit. But can we say what we know with telepathy?

…current methods for communicating are still limited by the words and symbols available to the sender and understood by the receiver….A great deal of the information that is available to our brain is not introspectively available to our consciousness, and thus cannot be voluntarily put in linguistic form. For instance, knowledge about one’s own fine motor control is completely opaque to the subject, and thus cannot be verbalized. As a consequence, a trained surgeon or a skilled violinist cannot simply “tell” a novice how to exactly position and move the fingers during the execution of critical hand movements….Can information that is available in the brain be transferred directly in the form of the neural code, bypassing language altogether? We explore this idea in the rest of this article….

We have a long way to go on that score. The authors haven’t transferred thought or the pattern of thought but rather have used a kind of intermediary language, namely the computer interpretation of the brain signal. Still, credit the authors with vision.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough to blow your mind, another group has demonstrated human to animal telepathy.


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