I read the abstract of a new paper (see citation below) about brain-to-brain communication. I had been thinking while I read the title that we already do brain-to-brain communication – it’s called language. And sure enough the first sentence of the abstract said, “Human sensory and motor systems provide the natural means for the exchange of information between individuals, and, hence, the basis for human civilization.” What Grau and others were aiming for and succeeded in doing was to bypass language, motor output or peripheral sensory input without invading the skulls – from conscious thought-to-conscious thought via computer based hardware. “The main differences of this work relative to previous brain-to brain research are a) the use of human emitter and receiver subjects, b) the use of fully non-invasive technology and c) the conscious nature of the communicated content. Indeed, we may use the term mind-to-mind transmission here as opposed to brain-to-brain, because both the origin and the destination of the communication involved the conscious activity of the subjects.”Their abstract is below.
But lets look at how we do mind-to-mind now. We have to share a language, and to a large extent that means we also have to share a good deal of a culture. For normal human communication, it takes a fairly rich language and culture. It the case of the paper’s experiment, the language was patterns of ls and 0s. The sender and his equipment output the pattern and the receiver with his equipment input it. And to understand that the patterns were meaningful required a cultural agreement on their meaning.
It is the language/culture part that is important to the communication. It is as if I utter a phrase which has meaning to me, you hear the phrase, and with it I seem to reach into your brain to pick out that meaning and put it into your stream of consciousness. Without the shared language and culture this trick would not be possible. If anyone thinks that his thoughts can be loaded into a computer and delivered to someone else’s brain by some means that avoids a shared language/culture of some type – he will be disappointed.
Human sensory and motor systems provide the natural means for the exchange of information between individuals, and, hence, the basis for human civilization. The recent development of brain-computer interfaces (BCI) has provided an important element for the creation of brain-to-brain communication systems, and precise brain stimulation techniques are now available for the realization of non-invasive computer-brain interfaces (CBI). These technologies, BCI and CBI, can be combined to realize the vision of non-invasive, computer-mediated brain-to-brain (B2B) communication between subjects (hyperinteraction). Here we demonstrate the conscious transmission of information between human brains through the intact scalp and without intervention of motor or peripheral sensory systems. Pseudo-random binary streams encoding words were transmitted between the minds of emitter and receiver subjects separated by great distances, representing the realization of the first human brain-to-brain interface. In a series of experiments, we established internet-mediated B2B communication by combining a BCI based on voluntary motor imagery-controlled electroencephalographic (EEG) changes with a CBI inducing the conscious perception of phosphenes (light flashes) through neuronavigated, robotized transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), with special care taken to block sensory (tactile, visual or auditory) cues. Our results provide a critical proof-of-principle demonstration for the development of conscious B2B communication technologies. More fully developed, related implementations will open new research venues in cognitive, social and clinical neuroscience and the scientific study of consciousness. We envision that hyperinteraction technologies will eventually have a profound impact on the social structure of our civilization and raise important ethical issues.
Note: Some in the press have been calling this transfer telepathy. It is not telepathy!!
Grau C, Ginhoux R, Riera A, Nguyen TL, Chauvat H, Berg M, Amengual JL, Pascual-Leone A, & Ruffini G (2014). Conscious Brain-to-Brain Communication in Humans Using Non-Invasive Technologies. PloS one, 9 (8) PMID: 25137064