Two human brains were hooked up for a Q & A study. The results were fascinating if not outright bizarre.
Can we envisage a Q & A game being played out between two people who are disconnected from each other for all purposes. They are not in the same space and neither can they communicate with one other.
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This might seem highly unlikely and strange to boot but it is a fact that got demonstrated recently. One of the participants asks a series of questions and guesses what the other person’s answers will be. And that too with almost 100% accuracy and precision. Is this science fiction or some sort of mystic ability to read the mind? Well, not exactly.
The brains of the participants were connected via electric nodes and they could see what transpired in each other’s cerebral structures on the Internet.
This experiment, detailed on Sep. 23 in PLOS ONE, sort of proved that brains could be linked with one another and thus the two twins of sorts could know what the other one was thinking about. It happens to be the most sophisticated and complex experiment of its kind so far in the history of mankind.
"This is the most complex brain-to-brain experiment, I think, that's been done to date in humans," said lead author Andrea Stocco, an assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.
"It uses conscious experiences through signals that are experienced visually, and it requires two people to collaborate," Stocco said.
The use of felt signals through relay lines between two brains is something out of the ordinary. It shows the ability of mankind to make the impossible possible. The signals from one brain to another are felt on a visual level. The whole planning behind the experiment went like this: The respondent wore a cap in sync with an EEG machine.
He sees a picture of an object on a screen. Then the second participant known as the inquirer sees a list of objects and questions about them on his screen. The inquirer relays a question and the respondent responds accordingly via a “yes” or “no”. This is registered on two flashing light emitting diodes on the monitor.
"They have to interpret something they're seeing with their brains," said co-author Chantel Prat, a faculty member at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences and a UW associate professor of psychology. "It's not something they've ever seen before."
"While the flashing lights are signals that we're putting into the brain, those parts of the brain are doing a million other things at any given time too," Prat said.
The answer is sent via the Internet to the inquirer who feels the impulse of the moment in the form of a magnetic coil placed behind his cranium. However, only a response of “yes” will be strong enough to generate a phenomenon known as a “phosphene” in the inquirer.
This feels like a sudden flashing light or an indistinct mass in the visual arena. Thus the inquirer is able to give the correct answer to the question. This experiment was performed in dark rooms with the participants as far apart as a mile. And yet it worked.
The experiment was made foolproof to a great extent. No cheating of any kind could have taken place. The whole thing occurred on the level of brain signals which is remarkable to say the least.
"Evolution has spent a colossal amount of time to find ways for us and other animals to take information out of our brains and communicate it to other animals in the forms of behavior, speech and so on," Stocco said. "But it requires a translation. We can only communicate part of whatever our brain processes.
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"What we are doing is kind of reversing the process a step at a time by opening up this box and taking signals from the brain and with minimal translation, putting them back in another person's brain," he said.