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Research Finds That Electric Fields Help Neurons Fire

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the brain-and-brain-what-is-brain dept.

Medicine 287

An anonymous reader writes "'[T]he brain is enveloped in countless overlapping electric fields, generated by the neural circuits of scores of communicating neurons. ... New work ... suggests that the fields do much more—and that they may, in fact, represent an additional form of neural communication. "In other words," says Anastassiou, the lead author of a paper about the work appearing in the journal Nature Neuroscience (abstract), "while active neurons give rise to extracellular fields, the same fields feed back to the neurons and alter their behavior," even though the neurons are not physically connected—a phenomenon known as ephaptic (or field) coupling. "So far, neural communication has been thought to occur almost entirely via traffic involving synapses, the junctions where one neuron connects to the next one. Our work suggests an additional means of neural communication through the extracellular space independent of synapses."' If this work is replicated, it could reveal that the brain is even more complicated and sophisticated than we thought — and raise new concerns about whether our cellphones and other electronic gizmos are affecting brain activity and memory. This is truly paradigm-busting work."

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It sounds like (2)

aquila.solo (1231830) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116632)

This might push back the goalposts for the AI researchers. If neurons communicate over some distance, as well as directly with synapses, that would be several orders of magnitude more connections than we had thought.

Re:It sounds like (4, Interesting)

sjwt (161428) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116650)

Or this could all be counted as interference that neurons though out all species have been fighting to over come, and hence make the job of coding AI easier relative to how the brains works.

Re:It sounds like (4, Interesting)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116692)

That seems rather unlikely. I remember reading a story around ten years ago about an experiment in evolutionary program design where the researchers managed to grow a program that performed some task or other that was just a fraction of the size that humans were able to code. However it would only run on a specific kind of chip because the code had evolved to take advantage of a certain kind of self-generated interference in the case of that specific chip.

If natural evolution wasn't able to perform a similar trick with the nervous system given around half a billion years to play with i'd be rather surprised.

Re:It sounds like (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116794)

I think I remember this. I had to FPGA chips where there were adjacent gates enabled but not directly connected. However when the researchers disabled those gates, the chips failed to function correctly.

http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/01/12/29/007258/Evolutionary-Computing-Via-FPGAs

Re:It sounds like (2)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117072)

This was about 2000, A FPGA was used in a non-digital mode to recognize different frequencies, if I remember correctly, One or 2 frequencies.
A evolutionary program at first shotgunning until results appeared, then tuned the FPGA to refine the pseudo-random / directed
programming fed to the gate array, From what I had read, The guidance program had no knowledge of the underlying architecture
If the FPGA returned anything that agreed with the expected results, That programming was used for further iterations.
The OP was correct, even inactive and unconnected elements influenced the output.
It was an amusing and probably dead end experiment. I have heard nothing since these experiments were performed.

Re:It sounds like (1)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117088)

This was from IEEE pub, I think I was stoned when I read it, YMMV

Re:It sounds like (1)

noodler (724788) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117344)

It is only logical that this happens from an evolutionary point of view.
One could even say, with some certainty, that quantum effects will be included in the brains functioning, just because it can make a difference.
Anything that can encode for a difference and can interact with the environment is a potetial evolutionary substrate.

Re:It sounds like (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117400)

Anything that can encode for a difference and can interact with the environment is a potetial evolutionary substrate.

Your intuition is not a data source.

Nature does not produce all possible phenotypes, and she would have no tools to take advantage of these "quantum effects" in any case because biology is built on proteins far too large and hot to have "quantum" behavior. It's not even a given that "quantum" effects would actually be more evolutionarily fit.

Re:It sounds like (2)

Genda (560240) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117706)

Actually that is not even probably true. Quantum effects such as tunneling may indeed have a significant impact on neural activity, and it's not the size of the proteins that would impact such selection, but the distances between synapses and the the possible effect that astrocytes and their proximity to neurons may have on various neural activity.

This entire area of discussion points out to an incredibly interesting aspect of the brain and its relationship to both the space it occupies and the space surrounding it. Large wave fronts of firing neurons may predispose other neurons to fire. Complex holographic interference may exist, that dances with the underlying physical function of neural activity. External effect from electromagnetic fields and their fluctuations may have a far reaching significance. Already external magnetic fields are being used to treat all kinds of brain function including depression. Similarly, large electromagnetic fields caused by the piezo effect during and precursing large earthquakes may be a possible cause for anecdotal reports of animal behavior before large earthquakes.

I wouldn't worry too much about creating non-human intelligence, no matter how complicated consciousness ultimate is. It seems to me that building a sufficiently complex system with many possible feedback channels will provide a rich environment from which sentience may emerge. We do it the way nature did, using genetic algorithms and let evolution do the heavy lifting (of course we may want to ensure that human like traits for altruism and compassion garner a certain amount of preference, just for our long term well being.)

Re:It sounds like (1)

aliquis (678370) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116660)

Also:

and raise new concerns about whether our cellphones and other electronic gizmos are affecting brain activity and memory.

"Totally and just as I've said!! I've been driving around my car while talking in the cellphone and my driving gets notably worse! I told the insurrance company it was thanks to all the electromagnetic waves but they wouldn't listen!"

Re:It sounds like (2)

aliquis (678370) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116674)

... I'm typing this wirelessly over teathered Internet access from my steering-velcrod iP **carrier lost**

Re:It sounds like (2)

WarmNoodles (899413) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116998)

Had me going right up to **carrier lost**

nice

Re:It sounds like (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116672)

It is well understood that neurons use electric fields to operate. Its just that it works over small distances. Advanced EEGs can be used to detect the signals but to understand the information being conveyed we would have to be able to tell the difference between adjacent synapses on individual neurons, do it for all the other neurons too. Thats not so easy.

Re:It sounds like (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116834)

are we looking at a different angle on the "EM emissions are harmful" debate?

Re:It sounds like (2)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116904)

Potentially, yes. It's way too early to even guess how likely it is that any given EM through the head could cause a subtle deficit, but this research does suggest a potential mechanism for harm.

Re:It sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116976)

I think Natalie Wood could design the sensor grids,
and Christopher Walken had some ideas for a multi-track recording system.

But the military grabbed it and took it black, back in 1983.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtwCHfmDQ60 [youtube.com] (Brainstorm trailer)

Re:It sounds like (4, Interesting)

IorDMUX (870522) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116678)

This might push back the goalposts for the AI researchers.

AI != brain simulation. The stock markets run on AI. Cars and airplanes run on AI.

There is something known as the AI Effect [wikipedia.org] which tends to prevent us from recognizing applications of artificial intelligence as actual examples of AI, but, looking closely, you see that AI has little to do with the way the human brain works.

...In fact, that is kind of the "magic" of AI. It is an alien intelligence--at least to our way of thinking. So this discovery may be a major hurdle for those attempting to simulate or emulate a human brain, but the ever-progressing field of Artificial Intelligence cares little for such things.

Re:It sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116690)

the ever-progressing field of Artificial Intelligence cares little for such things.

That's what skynet said.

Re:It sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116724)

Who works on Artificial Brain then? Don't say AI researchers.

Re:It sounds like (1)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117112)

Brain, BRAIN, WHAT IS BRAIN!

Re:It sounds like (5, Informative)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116746)

If you think AI does not include brain simulation, you're as misguided as the person who thinks that's all AI is. Research is proceeding down multiple avenues, using many different approaches. The ever-progressing field of AI cares quite a bit for such things, although specific researchers either may or may not, depending...

Re:It sounds like (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117314)

It is possible the OP meant strong AI, or artificial mind. When anyone who doesn't really understand all AI is and its limits considers it, seems to me they really mean artificial mind, a computer or hw/sw combonation that has consciousness, especially self-awareness and other human-like brain states.

Artificial, computer mind/consciousness is not really possible [wikipedia.org] , but that doesn't stop laymen from believing it is, nor does it matter (nor should it) to true AI researchers and computer and cognitive scientists, nor writers and readers of science fiction.

Re:It sounds like (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117356)

The Chinese room experiment does not demonstrate what you think it does. Serle's argument is (being generous) circular. If the set of rules the man implements is sufficiently nuanced, then the entire *system* is intelligent. There is nothing distinct about a "mind" aside from a set of rules for symbolic information processing.

I particularly liked this reply, from the article:

Churchland's luminous room Consider a dark room containing a man holding a bar magnet or charged object. If the man pumps the magnet up and down, then, according to Maxwell's theory of artificial luminance (AL), it will initiate a spreading circle of electromagnetic waves and will thus be luminous. But as all of us who have toyed with magnets or charged balls well know, their forces (or any other forces for that matter), even when set in motion produce no luminance at all. It is inconceivable that you might constitute real luminance just by moving forces around! The problem is that he would have to wave the magnet up and down something like 450 trillion times per second in order to see anything.

Re:It sounds like (1)

noodler (724788) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117362)

Intelligence is such a broad word.
Artificial Intelligence doubly so.

Re:It sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116686)

The new connections operate at a coarser level though. Basically you group neurons into blocks, compute the total activity of each block, and send that value to nearby blocks of neurons. This looks easy to program and not very computationally demanding.

Re:It sounds like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116696)

In vivo, this probably matters most where there are ongoing oscillations in local field potentials, e.g. hippocampal theta, cortical gamma, and the delta/alpha/beta rhythms that can be picked up by EEG, which (AFAIK) no large-scale neural network can model at the present time anyway.

Not surprising (4, Interesting)

Weaselmancer (533834) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116884)

I remember reading an article about a guy who was doing genetic algorithms with Xilinx chips, training them to recognize the words "stop" and "go" and set a line low or high accordingly. I can't find the article right now but I'll put in a better search later.

What he'd do is to say the word "stop" or "go" into a microphone and see what the circuit did. The genetic code was the array file input into the Xilinx chips, a string of binary data that his genetic routine would judge for fitness, splice, and retry.

He did several generations and eventually got a good working circuit. A series of ones and zeroes that recognized the words. It worked.

So he loaded the binary files into another board and it didn't work. Why? The genetic algorithm didn't view the circuits as digital. It was utilizing the gates as analog entities, each with it's unique characteristics to get the job done. When you move the code to another board it simply wouldn't work. There was more communication going on than the researcher's original notion imagined. He thought this was a binary exercise. Instead it turned out to be a subtle matter involving the shape of the response curves coming out of unique parts and electromagnetic field interaction. Nature didn't view this circuit as digital, it was more complex than that.

This article reminded me of that.

Re:Not surprising (1)

noodler (724788) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117374)

Actually, the specific working should not be restricted to electromagnetic interactions.
Anything that can make a difference usually will in some way or another.
All effects we know in nature are potentially usable by evolution.

Re:It sounds like (1)

sirlark (1676276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117370)

This was my first though too! I guess we could call this effect a BAN (Biological Area Network) or a NAN (Neurological Area Network) .... I'm rather partial to NAN given the computing connotations :)

Ah we do need Tin Foil Hats (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116694)

So it looks like there may be a rationale for wearing Tin Foil Hats after all. :)

Re:Ah we do need Tin Foil Hats (3, Informative)

RudeIota (1131331) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116770)

Well, if you're aim is to INCREASE this synaptic EM phenomenon in your brain, then yes.

For all helmets [made with foil], we noticed a 30 db amplification at 2.6 Ghz and a 20 db amplification at 1.2 Ghz, regardless of the position of the antenna on the cranium. In addition, all helmets exhibited a marked 20 db attenuation at around 1.5 Ghz, with no significant attenuation beyond 10 db anywhere else.
http://berkeley.intel-research.net/arahimi/helmet

Re:Ah we do need Tin Foil Hats (1)

WarmNoodles (899413) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117012)

How much tinfoil, been wondering if should I be feeling a draft when I walk.

i just took my headphones off (2)

strack (1051390) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116704)

what sort of electric field would having a set of headphones on generate?

Re:i just took my headphones off (2)

Farmer Tim (530755) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116750)

what sort of electric field would having a set of headphones on generate?

According to my observations, the sort that damps neural activity.

Re:i just took my headphones off (1)

Velox_SwiftFox (57902) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116768)

Depends on the efficiency. Ideally all of the energy would be turned into mechanical work.

Re:i just took my headphones off (1)

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116912)

not really. by construction, a speaker contains a moving circuit, and a varying electromagnetic field. thus by construction, the speaker will emit electromagnetic radiation.

Re:i just took my headphones off (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117042)

But very very poorly. Since we are talking about audio frequencies which is at most 20kHz (15km wavelength), the ear pieces are just too small to be a efficient radiator.

I think just the opposite (4, Interesting)

erroneus (253617) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116776)

The brain is a noisy thing. Neural pathways are prone to error and so there are many for any given purpose processing the signals numerous times to ensure accuracy by aggregate measure. Low power devices find it difficult to maintain accurate signals and the brain is no exception. Signal redundancy and repetition would seem to be measures of compensation for the noisy environment that is the brain.

That electrical signals affect one another due to magnetic flux is nothing new. That the brain operates at low power and low signal requirements would seem to be factors that make it all seem possible in spite of all the noise that goes in on the brain.

I doubt seriously that the brain USES this type of signal processing and more likely that this is the type of thing that its redundancy systems are seeking to filter out. It also seems more likely to me that this is a source of hindrance to the brain rather than an enabler of its function. This could, however, serve to explain how seemingly disparate functions, senses and memories can be connected.

Re:I think just the opposite (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117062)

the brain is an inexplicable thing. end of story. we can't analyze something if we don't have something more accurate with which to analyze it.

Re:I think just the opposite (2)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117244)

The brain is an inexplicable thing

Bullshit. The brain is a computer. Sure, it's a strange architecture: it's made of billions of impressively energy-efficient [nih.gov] gates each operating at the order of tens of hertz. Fan-out is huge --- a gate on a microprocessor might be connected to 50 others, but a neuron can have tens of thousands of connections. A CPU has one fast, global clock, while the brain has overlapping and distributed clock signals [scholarpedia.org] for synchronizing neuron firing. The short term memory system uses the equivalent of old-fashioned delay lines [wikipedia.org] , while long-term storage is implemented with redundant, distributed rewiring. It's content-addressable and has a storage capacity in the terabyte range, though it has really lousy indexing. Input [wikipedia.org] and output [wikipedia.org] are essentially memory-mapped, with lots of special purpose [wikipedia.org] hardware acceleration [wikipedia.org] .

There are a lot of similarities too: both our computers and our brains run software, with only a few basic features baked into the hardware. Both parse raw environmental input and parse it into abstractions [wikipedia.org] that can be manipulated symbolically according to software-defined rules. Both can evaluate the lambda calculus and run a universal Turing machine. Neither can solve the halting problem in all cases. Both have large data stores. Both have networked inputs. Both crash [wikipedia.org] . Both employ algorithms and data structures to process information. Both eventually fall apart.

Our brains are not magical devices somehow above scientific inquiry. They are ordinary, pedestrian objects in that obey the same laws of physics that govern baseballs and light switches. That we don't completely understand all the brain's mechanisms is no reason to believe it's qualitatively different from any other computer. Have you read every line of code in the web browser you're staring at?

Re:I think just the opposite (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117366)

To assume that brains use currently understood physics is a bit shortsighted since physics is a poorly understood science.
I assume that many complex physical processes cannot be described using existing science and may use methods that we do not yet understand.
My assumption is not driven by metaphysical bullshit, but without proof, you cannot make such sweeping statements,
even with a bunch of impressive references
Can you, or anyone, produce a schematic of a working brain? Even a mouse would be satisfactory. I once was a determinist, until I saw that science was the discovery of the unknown, Not a rule book for reality.

Re:I think just the opposite (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117484)

As a general rule, one should use the simplest possible explanation that fits the data. Current physics is certainly sufficient to describe the operation of the brain, and there is no reason to postulate a more complex mechanism absent without evidence. Gaps in our understanding of the brain do not in themselves count as evidence. We don't fully understand turbulence either, but have no reason to believe it's caused by evil fluid gremlins.

Re:I think just the opposite (2)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117376)

>>both our computers and our brains run software, with only a few basic features baked into the hardware.

No. A great deal of the mechanisms in the brain are hard wired, such as the V1 cortex, which is used for vision, or the hippocampus, or any number of other parts of the brain. Only the neocortex is general purpose, and even then it's much closer to a FPGA than a general purpose computer running software.

Re:I think just the opposite (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117514)

Consider a typical PC. On one level, a great deal of functionality is built into the hardware, including DRAM refreshes, PCI-bus DMA, clock-signal generation, hard drive head seeking, instruction decoding, and in-process arithmetic. At a higher level, however, the entire machine can be directed along lines provided by a dynamic series of instructions, and is completely general purpose.

Why would we be any different? At low levels of abstraction, behavior is autonomous, but together these facilities provide a platform for truly general-purpose information processing, as evidenced by the great variety and creativity in our thoughts, speech, and actions. Sure, the neocortex exhibits FPGA-like plasticity (a very neat feature for people with head injuries), but that's not the substrate for consciousness --- that's all "software".

Re:I think just the opposite (1)

martas (1439879) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117464)

Are you one of those people who think C isn't a turing-complete programming language just because its grammar is context-free? Think about your argument again, and try to pose it in a less hand-wavy way. You may find it to be impossible pretty quickly.

Re:I think just the opposite (4, Interesting)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117398)

>>I doubt seriously that the brain USES this type of signal processing and more likely that this is the type of thing that its redundancy systems are seeking to filter out.

Don't make that claim unless you have evidence for it - you might be surprised.

In the neural circuits of crayfish, they actually work better with a certain amount of noise in the environment. It's a phenomenon known as stochastic resonance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stochastic_resonance) which comes up in a lot of signal processing situations. I wouldn't be surprised if something similar was happening in our brains.

Re:I think just the opposite (2)

Genda (560240) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117730)

In fact it does. There is a device you can put in a person's shoe that emits a vibration. If this person has had a stroke or other neurological damage and because of that injury suffers from weakness or palsy, the introduction of this device returns a significant amount of the ability to walk normally. It would seem that Stochastic Resonance is a very important aspect of human neurological function.

Re:I think just the opposite (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117734)

I think he meant use as in active information transfer. Which I also doubt the brain does; this is a noisy, largely stationary background signal that isn't really able to carry any detailed meaning. Just as for crayfish (good example), our networks have evolved to work best in its presence, but that doesn't mean we actively make use of it in any positive way.

Local Field Potentials (1)

dlinear (1053422) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116778)

This sounds like local field potentials (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_field_potential). Forgive me, but I fail to see how the summary concludes that other radio waves and "electronics" can impact this.

Nurse Suspended After StatementsAbout Mind Control (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116780)

" nurse was suspended [kirotv.com] by the state nursing commission and the state Department of Health after she made statements about mind-control and the CIA that ..."

Gold Plated Commentary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116784)

"while active neurons give rise to extracellular fields, the same fields feed back to the neurons and alter their behavior,"

Such circularity would be ideal for some philosophical enquiries

Waiting for the human botnet (1)

mentil (1748130) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116790)

In the anime 'a certain scientific railgun' something akin to electromagnetic waves emitted by human brains are manipulated to create a networked supercomputing cluster. Now it seems not so totally sci-fi.
This probably also helps explain why powerful electromagnetic wave-emitting devices attached to the skull can disable specific parts of the brain in experiments used to e.g. treat/temporarily induce autism.

Re:Waiting for the human botnet (1)

portalcake625 (1488239) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117000)

Makes me think, maybe I could be Accelerator by having over 9000 Sisters become my own personal Beowulf cluster! /derp

This is incredible. (5, Interesting)

mju.cat (1073588) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116802)

If I read it right, it seems to imply a mechanism for the brain to counter external fields - i.e. either the same information is processed through multiple paths and then consolidated to ensure minimal interference, or, even cooler, individual neurons could have an "image" of the fields they expect around them (so they can respond to external interference).

Telepathy? (2, Interesting)

pastyM (1580389) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116814)

Could this mean that telepathy in some form may exist?

Re:Telepathy? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116846)

How do you think some people do have it? Telepathy does exist. It's just you're not told about it on the TV.

Re:Telepathy? (1)

chichilalescu (1647065) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116926)

yes. by the way, I find that a very scary idea.
anyway, as an additional comment, I think this avenue of research is much better than puttin people in different rooms and asking them to send thoughts to each other.

Re:Telepathy? (1)

WarmNoodles (899413) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117016)

Your about to write "Could this mean that telepathy in some form may exist?"

Re:Telepathy? (2)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117046)

No. The effect is far to short range (ie need to intermingle your brain cells.). Both from measurement and from theory.

Re:Telepathy? (2)

tendays (890391) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117302)

I thought of exactly that! It reminded me of that very nice novel by Dan Simmons [wikipedia.org] where he explores that exact theme. In his story, the brain evolved to block "brain waves" emitted by other people, but for some rare few, that doesn't work, and they could hear what other people were thinking. Maybe a bit far-fetched/not very realistic as the actual waves are probably far too faint and noisy, but a nice read all the same.

"Gizmos"? (4, Interesting)

Sitnalta (1051230) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116840)

"...and raise new concerns about whether our cellphones and other electronic gizmos are affecting brain activity and memory."

Bullshit. What concerns where? That conclusion was not in the article. They didn't even talk about region-specific areas like memory.

I swear, people are so dedicated to perpetuating this stupid myth that consumer electronic devices interfere with our brains. Its been so thoroughly debunked that it's almost in the same realm as anti-vaccination/autism beliefs (except it doesn't get people killed.)

Re:"Gizmos"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116870)

Well, I don't have a lot of knowledge about the brain but I do know it works with electric signals. And there's something else I know: electric fields create electric current within circuits.

So, you can't say you are 100% sure that electronic devices don't interfere with the brain. Maybe the interaction is too small to have an effect on one's health, but nobody proved that yet.

Re:"Gizmos"? (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117064)

Maybe the interaction is too small to have an effect on one's health, but nobody proved that yet.

So all the studies done to date all have shown no detectable effect. How can that mean anything other than the effect must *at worst* be very very small.

People have and do work in very high EM environments for a large part of their lives. They don't have a higher rate of anything outside expected norms. What does that show?

Re:"Gizmos"? (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117134)

So, you can't say you are 100% sure...Maybe the interaction is too small to have an effect on one's health, but nobody proved that yet.

SCIENCE DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY.

Any demand to be "100% sure" that an effect does not exist is unreasonable nonsense. Nobody can do that. All we can do is make observations, derive mathematical patterns from them (we call these "theories") and make predictions based on these generalizations with the aim of finding conflicts between the theory and the observation. If we find any, the theory is wrong and we begin again. If we don't find any contradictions, we provisionally accept the theory. As the theory continues to accurately predict reality, our confidence in it increases. With respect to a long-established theory like that of gravity or evolution, it's overwhelmingly likely that any discrepancy between the theory and observation is due to an error in the latter, and one would need extraordinary evidence to overturn such a theory, e.g. the famous hypothetical "fossil rabbit in the precambrian".

Now, with respect to electromagnetic fields, we have very specific and accurate theories [wikipedia.org] to describe their behavior, effects, and interactions, and these theories have lasted over a century. The neurons that make up our brains and that form our consciousness are not special, and like all matter, they are also subject to these same theories. Neurons create electrical voltages by changing the concentration of ions inside themselves relative to their environment, and this mechanism is well-understood: the mysteries of the brain are in the emergent phenomena. The chemistry is pedestrian.

Now, when we plug the numbers for consumer electronics and neurons into electromagnetic theory, we see that there is simply no effect. The radiation is too weak to disrupt the bonds that join molecule in DNA and proteins, and at the intensity used in mobile phones, the heating effect is weaker than that of a pillow at night. The theory predicts that nothing should happen.

Now, just to be sure, various researchers have looked for an effect anyway, and have overwhelmingly failed to find a link between normal levels of mobile radiation and cancer. The few spurious positive results can be attributed to bad experimental design (e.g., uncontrolled and self-selected survey responses) or simple publication bias (if you perform a hundred studies at a 95% confidence interval, five of them will show spuriously positive [wired.com] results!).

Combined, the robustness of electromagnetic theory, our understanding of the chemistry of the cell, and the failure to find conclusive causal evidence paint as certain a picture as one can paint using the canvas of science. The theory says that mobile phones shouldn't cause cancer. When we look for cancer, we find nothing. We have no plausible explanation for how they could cause cancer. The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that absent further and significant evidence, cell phones do not cause cancer.

No, it's not 100% certain. It's also not 100% certain that there's no luminfiferous aether [wikipedia.org] , and we can't be 100% sure that rotting fruit doesn't turn into insects by itself [wikipedia.org] . If you want to believe in a cancer risk anyway, you're no better than someone who believes in hexes, astrology, or homeopathy.

Re:"Gizmos"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117286)

Your understanding of what he said is too narrow.
He didn't talk about cancer in particular but about interactions with the brain in general.

Electromagnetic fields have an effect on the brain [wikimedia.org] , especially for people living close to BTS.

Re:"Gizmos"? (1)

QuoteMstr (55051) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117328)

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection published a document containing all the information one could possibly want. [icnirp.de] . Read the conclusions section if nothing else.

electronic gizmos and brain interference.... (2)

mevets (322601) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117036)

Have you ever seen the lineups for the launch of one of these gizmos? Lining up like peasants for bread, but instead of life sustaining nutrition, it was to get an iphone-iv before anybody else. How can you say nothing has interfered with these peoples brains?

Re:"Gizmos"? (1)

cdp0 (1979036) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117070)

I swear, people are so dedicated to perpetuating this stupid myth that consumer electronic devices interfere with our brains. Its been so thoroughly debunked that it's almost in the same realm as anti-vaccination/autism beliefs (except it doesn't get people killed.)

Care to give some references ?

There seem to be some studies suggesting otherwise. See Mobile phone radiation and health [wikipedia.org] . There are references to many studies in the Wikipedia article. I think you are too dedicated to perpetuating this stupid myth that consumer electronic devices do not interfere with our brains.

Re:"Gizmos"? (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117130)

Certainly, you have removed all of the electrical wires running through every wall in your home then, right?

Re:"Gizmos"? (1)

cdp0 (1979036) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117252)

Certainly, you have removed all of the electrical wires running through every wall in your home then, right?

I can't see the relevance of your comment. I merely shown that it's stupid to make such definitive statements as the OP did, while the debate is still on, with results pointing both ways. And yes, I try to avoid exposure to stronger fields as much as I can (for instance I do use a headset (not even bluetooth) to keep the phone farther from my head, I try to avoid living near basestations - I own a spectrum analyzer, I mostly use wired network instead of wireless). Until this debate is over, I'd rather be on the safe side.

It's not like something similar didn't happen before, with tobacco industry (not as safe as doctors thought [tobaccocampaign.com] .

Debunking "Gizmos"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117408)

I swear, people are so dedicated to perpetuating this stupid myth that consumer electronic devices interfere with our brains. Its been so thoroughly debunked that it's almost in the same realm as anti-vaccination/autism beliefs (except it doesn't get people killed.)

Was it debunked before or after this study?

Re:"Gizmos"? (1)

Prune (557140) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117450)

And how does this jive with your 'debunked' claims? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-388051/Scientists-fear-MMR-link-autism.html [dailymail.co.uk] note they're referring to not Wakefield but Walker, independent researchers.

Re:"Gizmos"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117566)

Please go and read http://www.badscience.net/2006/06/mmr-is-back/ and http://www.badscience.net/2010/01/the-wakefield-mmr-verdict/ - the fact you managed to post on /. indicates you're literate enough to do so, and I can't be bothered to explain once again something Goldacre as covered way better than I could.

Just as a note of advice though:

1) repeat with me: "the Daily Mail is not a reliable source of information of any kind"
2) an independent poorly done study with faulty methodology does not add any reliability to a previously poorly done (and probable intentionally so due to vested interests) one.

Let's talk about this again if these guys http://www.cochrane.org/ change their minds.

Re:"Gizmos"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117570)

The Daily Mail blames everything for cancer, asylum derides for everything (bad), and frequently prints front-page conspiracy theories about Princess Diana.

Your argument (evidence) is invalid.

Tin-foil hats? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116854)

Who's laughing now?

My brain is located around my crotch (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116882)

If this work is replicated, it could reveal that the brain is even more complicated and sophisticated than we thought

At least, that's what my girlfriend says.

Re:My brain is located around my crotch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117288)

Does she also say that she likes you for your brains?

Thank you (1)

definate (876684) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116910)

Thank you, Mr. Electricity Company, for helping my neuron's fire!

I read this on Slashdot more than 5 years ago (2)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116916)

I read this on Slashdot more than 5 years ago.

No, not exactly this, but a similar phenomenon.

Someone had used a programmable curcuit board and let it evolve using some simple evolutionary algorithm. After thousands or perhaps millions of iteration where only the best design solution(s) were allowed to survive they examined the final results. Strangely, one of the finalist could not be understood by the circuit board analysis program. So, they took to analyses the device manually. What they eventually found was that it had designed a little radio telescope of sorts which had sent its signal across an unconnected, empty area without wiring! I have tried several times to find the article again. If someone else remembers it, please, reply and gives us a link.

Anyhow, my friends and I speculated back then - cool what if this would happen in nature! And, wow, it looks like it has!

Re:I read this on Slashdot more than 5 years ago (1)

Ozoner (1406169) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116960)

"it had designed a little radio telescope"

Utter crap.

It used capacitive coupling, rather than a direct connection.

You and your friends must get excited easily.

We do get excited easily! (2)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 3 years ago | (#35116994)

We do get excited easily! But, then none of us are electrical engineers, and none of us are familiar with "capacitive coupling", which from the tone of your message is well known.

Anyhow, thanks for that information!.

Re:I read this on Slashdot more than 5 years ago (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117004)

You are thinking of the work of Adrian Thompson where he evolved unclocked FPGAs to perform simple tasks:

http://www.cogs.susx.ac.uk/users/adrianth/ade.html

"It seems that evolution had not merely selected the best code for the task, it had also advocated those programs which took advantage of the electromagnetic quirks of that specific microchip environment. The five separate logic cells were clearly crucial to the chip’s operation, but they were interacting with the main circuitry through some unorthodox method– most likely via the subtle magnetic fields that are created when electrons flow through circuitry, an effect known as magnetic flux. There was also evidence that the circuit was not relying solely on the transistors’ absolute ON and OFF positions like a typical chip; it was capitalizing upon analogue shades of gray along with the digital black and white."

Re:I read this on Slashdot more than 5 years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117224)

The point about that experiment with using a kind of evolution to develop a working circuit on an FPGA was that the result was a lot more complicated than they were looking for.

It was expected that the repeated testing and selection of the designs produced would end up with a logical solution to the problem. If it were that simple the final logic design could have been taken from one FPGA chip to another one, of similar type, and it would still work the same.

When they tried that it did not work.

The closer inspection revealed that the solution that had been evolved was dependent on analogue properties of the device. For example the capacitive coupling between disconnected components. These effects are not accounted for in the purely logical set up and description of the device.

Also these analogue properties are very variable form chip to chip. Perhaps one chip has a large capacitance between two adjacent conductors than another, just due to production variations.

Turns out the evolved design was optimized for that one particular chip in use at the time.

laughing labias leap loudly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35116918)

more importantly,

wtf happened to GLP?

Concern != science (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117018)

Electrical field effects on the brain with respect to learning and memory has been a well studied area. If something groundbreaking is discovered now in that regard it would need to explain how repeated studies have shown no impact before it is considered anything but trivial. Concern is often unjustified and encouraged by those seeking to sensationalize.

Re:Concern != science (1)

orphiuchus (1146483) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117078)

In a related story, I heard on the subway that vaccines cause autism!

Re:Concern != science (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117550)

In a related story, I heard on the subway that vaccines cause autism!

Just yesterday on slashdot, I read that vaccines killed Bill Gates!

Everyone is connected? (1)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117192)

Maybe everyone and everything is connected with some sort of quantum mechanical process.
Maybe your intelligence isn't yours, but a shared intelligence with your peer group.
Maybe I'm selling futures in LENR.

Mind link with machines? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117222)

So it is possible to create a non-intrusive way to interface with computer/machine with thought alone. An application that is still years away due to a lack of sensitive equipment but may ultimately be similar to Star Trek BORG behavior.

My cell phone makes me feel funny (not...) (2)

roachdabug (1198259) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117232)

I am hardly a scientist and absolutely not a doctor but if EM fields like the ones emitted from a cell phone had a drastic effect on brain function, wouldn't we notice? I can tell when i'm tired or drunk or otherwise unable to concentrate, and I don't get that feeling when my moms calls to see how I'm doing...

Re:My cell phone makes me feel funny (not...) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117280)

I can tell when i'm tired or drunk or otherwise unable to concentrate

You can only tell because it's different from how you normally feel. How would you tell what "normal" is in respect to no EM interference when you are bathed in various types of fields all day? You'd have to travel back to 1500 or so to see whether there is something to notice or not.

Re:My cell phone makes me feel funny (not...) (1)

SQL Error (16383) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117348)

Yes, we'd notice. If the EM field from a cell phone (which is pretty weak) had any significant effect on brain function, then the much more powerful fields from radar, MRI and such would cause full-blown seizures.

They don't - they don't do much of anything - so that addendum to the post is completely wrong. And for the same reason, the research is very likely wrong too.

It's time to dust off my tin foil hat (1)

moxsam (917470) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117248)

I believe I'm going to need it for real this time.

Shameless self publicity by the guest author (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117350)

"This is truly paradigm-busting work." In fact, probably not. I haven't read the background articles in detail, but the observed effect is either expected or completely unoriginal. It's not completely uninteresting, but to describe it as paradigm-busting is seriously overstating the article's significance.

In a little more detail. Using local extracellular current injections (not airy-fairy distant fields) to stimulate neurons is a technique going back more than a hundred years (Galvani...). It has also been known for decades that neurons themselves produce such currents. The only question is a quantitative one: are they big enough to matter for other neurons? The neuron-induced effect in this article is shown to be small but probably noticeable. I'm not sure however that even that is original (it's so paradigm-busting that I haven't yet taken the time to search out the older literature).

The paper is also amusing in that the author presumably pushing all of this publicity (Henry Markram) has only one listed contribution - helping to write the manuscript. Guidelines for responsible scientific communication at
http://www.sfn.org/index.aspx?pagename=responsibleConduct_authorsOfResearchManuscripts
indicate that mere writing is an insufficient contribution for authorship (note the "and"):

"1.6.1. SfN subscribes to the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ definition of authorship as being based on “1) substantial contributions to conception and design, acquisition of data, or analysis and interpretation of data; 2) drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content; and 3) final approval of the version to be published. Authors should meet conditions 1, 2, and 3..."

In other words, he did not contribute significantly to this work and is a guest author. Nature Neuroscience should have removed his name.

Knowing slashdot.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117500)

I would have expected the headline to be "Telepathy is real!"

err, no seen this before with different mechanism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#35117638)

Called 'volumetric transmission', using IIRC nitric oxide, as a gas.

Sample abstract: "In this paper, we show how the diffusion of the Nitric Oxide retrograde neuromessenger (NO) in the neural tissue produces Diffusive Hybrid Neuromodulation (DHN), as well as positively inuencing the learning process in the artificial and biological neural networks."
(and btw I still can't read most replies unless I enable jscript - which I won't - thanks for the new improved webbery).
(turns out I have to have js running to post a comment too - FFS!)

50 years of ephaptic transmission (2)

juggledean (792527) | more than 3 years ago | (#35117672)

Ephaptic transmission was a buzzword in the 1950-60's, just google it. Yes it can be demonstrated to exist but it is way out of the mainstream.

In pre-digital telephones there was a phenomenon called crosstalk where you could here faintly and sporadically someone else's conversation. Imagine if you were studying the phone system to try and discover how the city or country "thinks". Would you spend a lot of time analyzing the crosstalk?

Oh, and notice that this research was done in brain slices, Perhaps the effects are even less prominent in intact brains.

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