Science Wants to Control Your Mind!

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When watching Star Wars, most kids are probably enthralled with the space battles, the dizzying special effects, and the blistering lightsaber duels. But as a child, I was more interested in the Jedi's mind control powers. It was a fascination rooted in the devilish desire to coerce my parents into making every night "Pizza Night" and divert the house payments to my "Lego fund."

Alas, as you might have guessed, my mind control attempts were of no avail. The wrist waving, the finger fluttering, all of it had no effect whatsoever. Talk about false advertising.

Instead of Star Wars, today's devious youngsters are likely taking note of Harry Potter. They wave sticks at their parents and utter, "Imperio," under their breath, all for naught. Mind control, as it turns out, is not as easy as it looks.

That hasn't stopped scientists from studying it, of course. The inherent difficulty has likely made the prospect of mind control all the more tantalizing.

shutterstock_105118091.jpgOne of the earliest and most interesting explorations in mind control was conducted in the 1950's and 60's by Yale physiologist José Delgado. Delgado focused much of his research on the use of electrical signals to evoke responses in the brain. Using a device implanted within the brain that could both monitor brain waves and stimulate them -- called a stimoceiver -- Delgado discovered that he could elicit emotions and even physical actions in test subjects.

In an experiment carried out on voluntary human subjects, Delgado found that he could induce strong feelings of euphoria by stimulating a part of the limbic region of the brain called the septum. Delgado also asked one of the subjects to resist moving while he used the stimoceiver to stimulate the subject's motor cortex. Despite trying to hold still, the subject was unable to resist moving, and promptly said afterwards, "I guess, doctor, that your electricity is stronger than my will."

Fast forward to the present, and we see some fascinating research on using ultrasound technology to exert remote control over brain circuits. In 2008, researchers at Arizona State University found that they could use ultrasound to effectively trigger the release of neurotransmitters from synapses. Since neurotransmitters are key in relaying signals within the brain, the researchers believe that the technology could be used to treat neurological diseases like epilepsy or Parkinson's and psychiatric disorders such as depression or addiction.

Assistant Professor, Dr. William Tyler, the lead investigator, even envisions the technique being used in "the creation of artificial memories along the lines of Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in Total Recall." Though, judging how this played out in the movie (hint: lots of violence, gore, and corruption), it may not be the best idea.

In 2010, Tyler's research caught the eye of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who provided his team with a sizable grant aimed toward engineering neurotechnology for use by our nation's fighting men and women. The team is currently looking to incorporate ultrasonic brain-machine interfaces into combat helmets, with a potential goal of imbuing soldiers with neurological advantages such as pain intervention, anxiety reduction, long-term wakefulness, and behavioral enhancement.

For those prone to alarmism or believing conspiracy theories, the incredible research -- both past and present -- performed on mind control may be somewhat troubling. To the rest of us, it remains purely fascinating, though perhaps slightly dubious from an ethical standpoint.


(Image: Brain Cables via Shutterstock)
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