So, I was listening to The Brain Science Podcast on the way home from work today. She interviewed Dr. Miguel Nicolelis about his work with the machine/brain interface. Basically he got all these monkeys to walk on treadmills, then fed the signals from their brains via the internet to a robot located in Japan. The robot in Japan would respond to the brain activity of the monkeys, and the robots actions were filmed and the images sent back to the monkeys and played on a screen in front of them so they could see the robot move in real time. Eventually the monkeys learned to control the robot without actually walking themselves.
Just thinking about it did the trick.
Here’s the doctor himself:
“The moment you are able to get the electrical signals
from the brain and use them to control the movements of an artificial tool; let’s say, a robotic arm that is located on the other side of the planet; or for that matter, on another planet, on the surface of Mars—
the moment you are able to send your brain activity to make that object move according to your voluntary will, and you are capable of receiving feedback—
sensory information—from that device back to your brain, and feel what that device is doing, that is the brain going beyond the physical limits imposed by our biological body. But what I’m talking about now is even more far-reaching, because you now can do that in real time. With this technology, in the next few decades we will be able to operate our voluntary motor will and to receive, to interpret signals that come from devices that are far removed from our bodies—and, quite frankly, could work in any kind of environment—from a nano environment to the surface of a different planet.
In that sense, we actually established this brain-machine interface, and made a robot walk. So, that was when we realized that, not only we could scale space—meaning we could get these signals out of the brain, and make an artificial body across the planet move; a body that was much bigger, and capable of producing much bigger forces than this little monkey’s body—but we could also scale time. We could enact this behavior faster than the biological machinery could do.
At the same time as we recorded the brain activity of these monkeys as they were doing these tasks we noticed that brain cells in different areas of these animals’ were changing their firing patterns to actually assimilate the robotic components that the brain was starting to control. So, the allegiance of these neurons could very quickly be shifted from only firing in relation to the monkey’s own body’s movement, to the movements of a robotic arm or a robotic leg.
And that’s when we realized that we were dealing with a completely different view of the brain.
But in the case of what I am proposing for the future, it is to use principles like what we learned from the experiment we just did, to basically allow brains to really broaden dramatically the perceptual experiences they can have directly with the external world; because now you’re talking about creating new sensory senses—new pathways directly to the brain—to interpret things that we normally do not perceive. And that has, in my opinion, a far-reaching future; because we are not talking only about rehabilitation (of course, that’s where things are going to come first), but in the future, you could be talking about augmenting normal human perceptual capabilities.”
So, you get this picture of the marvelous brain being not only incredibly plastic and dynamic in reacting to the world around it, but also not being limited by the biology it happens to find itself embodied in.
Think about that for a second.
Granted, the interface between our bodies and our brains is so intimate and so complex that any other setup is likely to be only a poor approximation of what it feels like to us to be embodied, but it’s beginning to seem undeniable that our consciousness might be considered ejectable.
And the guy says it right in his little statement: it can work on any scale. Nano-technology, extra-planetary, etc.
The brain liberated itself initially by speech. The ability to cast itself out of the bony vault and into another person’s mind. Print expanded this exponentially and also allowed the brain to transcend the temporal limitations of its own limited life span. Now this doctor is doing experiments that are laying the foundation for the brain to become embodied in non-human environments that could potentially remove all physical and temporal limitations, or at least drastically expand the current reach.
Consciousness, if not already part of every subatomic structure of the universe, is on its way there. And not just any consciousness, but a kind of human consciousness. Our consciousness.
Of course, I think its parochial to consider consciousness to be anything like belonging to us. We have the gift of it, but it is not ours. Not anymore than sunlight is ours.
Fuckin’ eggs, bacon.