For the last hundred years or so, people have talked out their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual problems to resolve them and get some relief from anxiety and other health conditions.
Sigmund Freud, the “father of modern psychology”, developed the new science of psychoanalysis. Clinical conversational sessions between patient and therapist aim to find the cause of “aberrant” or upsetting thoughts and behavior. Yet sometimes years of expensive treatment produce little progress and inconclusive results.
American historian Arthur M. Schlesinger (1917-2007) said:
“Science and technology revolutionize our lives but memory, tradition, and myth frame our response.”
Researchers at the University of California Berkeley lab of Hillel Adesnik are knocking down the barriers, both perceived and real, between technology and memory. They claim to have built devices that can delete painful memories, add pleasant memories, and edit any memory.
What could possibly go wrong here? We leave that to people who know the plot of “Total Recall.”
How did they do it? A “holographic image was projected into a thin layer of brain tissue at the surface of the cortex, about a tenth of a millimeter thick, though a clear window into the brain,” that’s how.
Holography is “a method of bending and focusing light to form a three-dimensional spatial pattern. The effect is as if a 3D image were floating in space.”
The Berkeley News further explained the recent high-tech triumph:
“UC Berkeley neuroscientists are building the equipment to do just that [copy/edit/delete memories], using holographic projection into the brain to activate or suppress dozens and ultimately thousands of neurons at once, hundreds of times each second, copying real patterns of brain activity to fool the brain into thinking it has felt, seen or sensed something.”
In a paper published online April 30, 2018, in the journal Nature Neuroscience, co-authors Alan Mardinly (assistant professor of molecular and cell biology), Laura Waller (associate professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences), Ian Oldenburg (postdoctorate student), Stephen Brohawn (assistant professor of molecular and cell biology), Nicolas Pégard (laboratory assistant), Evan Lyall (graduate student), and Kirill Chesnov (undergraduate student) described how they had built a “holographic brain modulator, which can activate up to 50 neurons at once in a three-dimensional chunk of brain containing several thousand neurons, and repeat that up to 300 times a second with different sets of 50 neurons.”
Why would anyone want to do that, you ask? To create a neural prosthetic. Instead of an artificial leg, this device implants an artificial memory. This is no joke.
By reading neural activity constantly, the holographic system uses neural activity to decide which sets of neurons “to activate to simulate the pattern and rhythm of an actual brain response, so as to replace lost sensations after peripheral nerve damage, for example, or control a prosthetic limb.”
Mardinly indicated that this new biopsychological technology “has great potential for neural prostheses since it has the precision needed for the brain to interpret the pattern of activation. If you can read and write the language of the brain, you can speak to it in its own language and it can interpret the message much better.”
Pégard added that “the area of the brain covered – now a slice one-half millimeter square and one-tenth of a millimeter thick – can be scaled up to read from and write to more neurons in the brain’s outer layer, or cortex.” He anticipates that the laser holography equipment could eventually be reduced in size to fit in a backpack for portability.
The UC Berkeley neuroscientists are heading their project toward developing a full-fledged virtual brain implant “with additional senses or enhanced senses,” according to Mardinly.
Will holographic memory editors allow the blind to see and the dumb to talk? This research team hopes so.
It’s also possible that the ability to add, delete, copy/paste, or edit the neural components that make our memories could provide quick relief and save psychotherapy patients years of time, not to mention money.
At its foundation, projecting holograms into the brain to create experiences – or the memory of experiences – is the sort of cutting-edge technology that some critics say could be weaponized with ease.
What better means of government control than to beam thoughts into our minds? We can’t help but draw a comparison here to the 1988 movie “They Live”, where the unnamed drifter dons a pair of sunglasses to see ordinary billboards and commercial signs turn into mind control slogans: “OBEY, CONSUME, MARRY AND REPRODUCE, NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT, CONFORM, STAY ASLEEP, SUBMIT, WATCH TV, BUY, DO NOT QUESTION AUTHORITY, NO IMAGINATION.”
In the story, the sunglasses also let the wearer see past the human appearance the alien overlords use to hide their true identity.
Science fiction, to be sure, but this new brain-changing technology would make it possible for a controller to insert any thought, image, sound, emotion, sensation, or memory into someone’s head – as long as they had an implant.
Could the day come when people could be forced to accept a brain implant due to criminal behavior or a mental health evaluation?
For now, let’s keep an eye on this mind-altering breakthrough. It certainly is food for thought.