Exciting news this morning about scientists who claim they have been able to communicate with patients who are in a “Persistent Vegetative State” (PVS). They have found that not only are different parts of the brain stimulated by different activities – e.g. motor/spatial as opposed to motion – but the same parts also show stimulation when a person thinks of performing those sorts of activities. The different types of stimulus can be detected and distinguished by a “functional magnetic resonance scanner” (fMRI). Furthermore, they have found that PVS patients were aware enough of their environment to be able to answer Yes/No type questions – by thinking of one type of activity to denote yes, and a different one to denote no.
The most immediate implication for this research is in regards to patient care itself, including issues of analgesia and ultimately even euthanasia. Henceforth it will no longer be good enough to guess what is in the patient’s best interest, because there is now increased evidence to suggest that the patient may be asked directly.
However there is a far more “way-out” application I can conceive for this research, and that is in the field of scientifically investigating Telepathy, and TCUIs (Thought Controlled User Interfaces). Remember that this is only basic Yes / No communication in response to leading questions – extremely rudimentary. However, it is only one step away from the Telepathic equivalent of the invention of Morse code. We thus have the technology available now to send simple messages purely by thought – if we trouble ourselves to research this avenue.
It should be noted that the fMRI only detected types of brain activity, not the content of individual thoughts. Therefore in order to develop a more sophisticated form of artificial-telepathy, it would be necessary for the telepath to learn to think a whole new language – ironically though by not using traditional language learning skills (which after all are only one type of brain activity). Although this being done it would then be possible for a telepath to say, for example, activate a number of different tasks just by concentrating on different brain states.
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