An unnecessary exaggeration

Science 2.0 has a posting (here) on what is called brain to brain interfaces which they and other cannot resist calling telepathy; neither could the original press release writers.

I really think this ‘telepathy’ label is unnecessary. Telepathy implies communication directly on a mental (in the dualistic sense) rather than physical level. In other words telepathy is not natural but supernatural. What is being discussed now is a very physical communication involving a number of machines. No dualistic mental stage enters into it.

No doubt this technology, when it is perfected, will be useful in a number of ways. But as communication between most humans for most purposes, it will not beat language. In essence it is much like language: one brain has a thought and translates it into a form that can be transmitted, it is transmitted, and the receiver translates it back into a thought. That way of communicating sounds a lot like language to me. Just because it uses the internet to carry the message and non-intrusive machines to get information out of one brain and into another, does not mean it is different from language in principle. Language translates thoughts into words that are broadcast by the motor system, carried by sound through the air, received by the sensory system and made into words which can be translated into thoughts. It works well. If this new BBI stuff is telepathy then so is language (and semaphore for that matter).

Language also has some mind-control aspects. If I yell “STOP” it is very likely that another person will freeze before they can figure out why I yelled or why it may be a good idea to stop. It is as if I reached into their brain and pulled the halt cord. If you say “dog” I am going to look at the dog or search for one if there is no obvious dog. You have reached into my brain and pushed my attention from wherever it was focused onto a dog. If someone says “2 and 2 equals”, people will think “4” just like that. Someone has reached in and set the memory recall to find what completes that equation. People can also point metaphorically to shared concepts and so on. This amounts to people influencing one another’s brains.

With writing we have even managed to have time and distance gaps between speakers and listeners.

Language has other advantages but the greatest is that almost everyone has the mechanism already in a very advanced form. We are built to learn language as children and once learned it is handy, cheap and resilient.

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