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Medical The limits of neuroplasticity

  1. Oct 1, 2009 #1
    Here's an idea I've been toying with. What would happen if you fed an electrical signal, say a certain radio frequency, directly into the brain? Obviously, the signal's power would be adapted so as not to cause damage. Would the brain develop a sensitivity for that particular type of signal? Something like a new sense, probably based on the amplitude of the signal in question, so the closer you get to the source, the more powerful the sensation. An external sensory apparatus, such as an antenna, would most likely be required. It'd probably look quite silly, too.

    Does anyone know of any experiments of this sort having been done? The brain-machine interfaces I've read about focus either on controlling artificial limbs, or restoring sight or hearing.

    Another question, roughly in the same area. How much could someone's perception of time, in the sense of frames per second, be enhanced(i.e., brought closer to that of an insect, or a bird) just by modifying visual stimuli accordingly(i.e. incrementally increasing the speed with which an image is changed)? Is there a hardware limit, something related to the size of the brain and the distance a signal has to travel?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 1, 2009 #2


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    Check out Wilder Penfield and Benjamin Libet, both did electro-stimulation of conscious patients during surgery for epilepsy. There work has also been recently repeated by a number of groups. Then there is Delgado and his mind control work for CIA.

    As to time perception, there are hardware limits in the sense that the brain has to spend about half a second to become really focused on something. So you can learn to pick out one very fast event, but then whatever is around it becomes blurry.

    Measuring mental processing speeds was in fact how psychology got started - in the psychophysics labs of guys like Wundt, Helmholtz and Donders.
  4. Oct 2, 2009 #3
    I think I saw that electro-stimulation procedure in a medical serial once. Couldn't find anything on Delgado and CIA mind control, though. I wonder why...

    Anyway, I'm talking about continuous stimulation of a single area. The electrode-antenna system would essentially act as a sensory receptor and that particular area would become the site of the new sense. I imagine it'd have to be an otherwise unimportant or unused area of the brain, if there is such a thing.

    The best way to tell if this works would be with a human subject, preferably a very introspective one, but I think it should work on animals as well. Just condition the release of food to using the newly acquired sense. So, anyone know a good resource on rodent neurosurgery?
  5. Oct 2, 2009 #4


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    The truth is out there agent Mulder.....


    Well, all parts of the brain are in use. However it is feasible that if you delivered some patterned stimulation to the brain, and perhaps did some stem cell trickery to induce neural plasticity in an area, you could get something to happen.

    Google neuro-chips, cochlea implants, cognitive prosthetics and stuff like that. There would be 100s of researchers who have at least scoped out this area. Kevin Warwick at Reading writes books about it.
  6. Oct 3, 2009 #5
    Very interesting. That stimoceiver idea is pretty close to what I was thinking of, albeit more sinister in purpose. I just want to see gamma rays and hear x-rays. Maybe smell dark matter.

    Hmm...I wonder if this experiment was first done in vitro, with cultured neural networks being taught how to recognise certain signals, could it then be grafted on a live subject? Again, most articles Google gives deal with restoration, rather than enhancement. The stem cell trickery seems to resume to using foetal(wow, now that's spell checking) neurons.

    I've read about most of the stuff you mentioned on Wikipedia and people are either too focused on healing, or aren't neurologists. I guess the really crazy doctors don't get a lot of research grants. Or they get them from the military.
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2009
  7. Oct 5, 2009 #6


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    Lets watch the overly-speculative stuff folks. Remember that this is the PF.
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