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Living In a Virtual World Requires Less Brain Power

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the dumbing-it-down dept.

Science 89

sciencehabit writes "If you were a rat living in a completely virtual world like in the movie The Matrix, could you tell? Maybe not, but scientists studying your brain might be able to. Today, researchers report that certain cells in rat brains work differently when the animals are in virtual reality than when they are in the real world. In the experiment, rats anchored to the top of a ball ran in place as movie-like images around them changed, creating the impression that they were running along a track. Their sense of place relied on visual cues from the projections and their self-motion cues, but they had to do without proximal cues like sound and smell. The rodents used half as many neurons to navigate the virtual world as they did the real one."

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89 comments

Brain dead (0, Flamebait)

Smivs (1197859) | about a year ago | (#43618857)

Perhaps this explains why those who spend too much time playing computer games always seem a few bricks short of a wall.

Re:Brain dead (2, Funny)

al.caughey (1426989) | about a year ago | (#43619647)

Yup - but the fact that only half the neurons are firing is compensated by twice the body odor

Re:Brain dead (2)

davester666 (731373) | about a year ago | (#43621691)

That's the smegma!

So you're saying... (5, Insightful)

filmorris (2466940) | about a year ago | (#43618877)

...that by using half the senses you use half the neurons? Next thing you'll be telling me water is wet and earth is round!

Re:So you're saying... (5, Funny)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#43619005)

So you're saying that by using half the senses you use half the neurons?

No, he's saying that computers make you stupid. That's not news either.

Re:So you're saying... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619277)

No, he's saying that computers make you stupid. That's not news either.

I still don't get it. Can you explain it with a computer user analogy?

Re:So you're saying... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43620041)

button clicky then be stupider

Re:So you're saying... (2)

slew (2918) | about a year ago | (#43622533)

PBKAC

Re:So you're saying... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619013)

earth is round!

No it's not. Off to the reeducation biblecamp with you.

Re:So you're saying... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619103)

The article does not claim that you use half of your neurons to process half of your senses. First of all they are talking about rats which rely on senses differently than we do. It's one experiment that requires further study. This is not a CNN news story.

We do know that if you read 10% of the article, you will know 10% of the content.

Nice article op.

Re:So you're saying... (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about a year ago | (#43620099)

We get that information too, just that we aren't usually very aware of it. And if well having visual and audio input is a mostly solved issue, some others could be more difficult, like smell, touch (not just press, feeling textures matter too), temperature, acceleration, and others, specially when all must be consistent. Getting into a virtual world with just 1 or 2 senses getting new information while all the others keep giving basically the same static input means that we will have a lot of inactive capacity.

Re:So you're saying... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619323)

It's because these scientists only have half-a-brain...

Re:So you're saying... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#43622549)

"...that by using half the senses you use half the neurons? Next thing you'll be telling me water is wet and earth is round! Reply to This Share"

This. You practically took the words out of my mouth.

So much of the rat brain is devoted to sound and smell (far more than humans, in proportion) that it should be no surprise at all that brain activity is lower without sound or smell.

Looks like yet another case of researchers forming the wrong conclusion from good data. I've seen a lot of that lately.

Re:So you're saying... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#43622567)

"Looks like yet another case of researchers forming the wrong conclusion from good data. I've seen a lot of that lately."

I should add that a lot of these instances appear to be caused by invalid assumptions. Competent researchers should know better.

Re:So you're saying... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year ago | (#43622627)

Correction of my earlier posts:

While I stick to my comments about recent research in general, in this case, after reading TFA, it appears I was off the mark.

It wasn't the researcher who came to the wrong conclusion, it was OP.

Its Specialization (3, Interesting)

rtkluttz (244325) | about a year ago | (#43618885)

As the human species evolves and our technology advances, our ability to be a "jack of all trades" decreases. More time must be spent learning especially focused tasks to the point of expertise. I think this is just more example of that. Yes, a digital world probably requires less overall brain power, but also enables a much higher degree of specificity of focus not possible in the real world. Yes. its probably all being used up on porn.

Re:Its Specialization (2)

alexo (9335) | about a year ago | (#43620343)

As the human species evolves and our technology advances, our ability to be a "jack of all trades" decreases.

Please explain the evolutionary pressure (i.e., natural selection) that, in your opinion, drives this alleged process.

Re:Its Specialization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43620991)

I know the world "evolve" was used here.. but there are more definitions and connotations for that word than just genetics.

When a military group undergoes an evolution, you think there natural selection is involved? I hope not.

Re:Its Specialization (1)

alexo (9335) | about a year ago | (#43623977)

See my response to one of you ACs.
Basically, sloppy phrasing creates misunderstanding.

Re:Its Specialization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43621119)

I doubt GP meant "evolves" in the darwinian sense of the word. It does have other meanings though, and is appropriately used to describe anything that gradually develops over time. As a part of our social evolution, we've become capable of accumulating a vast amount of knowledge. So vast. in fact, that the breadth of disciplines that it is possible to become very knowledgeable about is shrinking. We're surely a long ways off from this, but one could foresee a point in the future where it takes a lifetime just to come up to speed on a discipline and it is impossible for humans, without increasing lifespan or increasing the speed of knowledge acquisition, to make any further discovery or contribution in any field.

Re:Its Specialization (1)

alexo (9335) | about a year ago | (#43623947)

I doubt GP meant "evolves" in the darwinian sense of the word. It does have other meanings though, and is appropriately used to describe anything that gradually develops over time. As a part of our social evolution, we've become capable of accumulating a vast amount of knowledge. So vast. in fact, that the breadth of disciplines that it is possible to become very knowledgeable about is shrinking. We're surely a long ways off from this, but one could foresee a point in the future where it takes a lifetime just to come up to speed on a discipline and it is impossible for humans, without increasing lifespan or increasing the speed of knowledge acquisition, to make any further discovery or contribution in any field.

I do not contest that greater specialization is currently driving societal evolution.
The OP, however, wrote "As the human species evolves" (emphasis mine), which prompted my response.

Re:Its Specialization (1)

Apu de Beaumarchais (2023822) | about a year ago | (#43622483)

As the human species evolves and our technology advances, our ability to be a "jack of all trades" decreases.

Please explain the evolutionary pressure (i.e., natural selection) that, in your opinion, drives this alleged process.

Happy to oblige. By doing what you are most efficient at and trading with those who are doing what they are best at, assuming everyone isn't equally skilled in the same tasks, there is a net gain as opposed to everyone doing everything for themselves. As global trade is made cheaper due to technological advances, and fields become more complex due to greater accumulated knowledge in them, it therefore becomes easier and more useful to tap into those efficiencies.There is an economic term for it known as comparative advantage. I think the link between more production and better chances of survival is obvious. If my explanation does not suffice for you, I suggest you read more on the topic of comparative advantage.

Re:Its Specialization (1)

alexo (9335) | about a year ago | (#43623547)

I think the link between more production and better chances of survival is obvious

Actually, no, it needs to be demonstrated. If you can point me to research that shows a causative relation between specialization in a modern society (you did mention "global trade" and "technological advances") and better chances of survival to procreation, I will consider your explanation. Until then, I have to respectfully disagree.

Re:Its Specialization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43620767)

I think part of that is the reverse. Just a few generations back it wasn't so difficult to find people who spoke multiple languages. Education used to encourage it much more in various countries. Speaking multiple languages well is currently the most difficult thing in the world to do. I can easily master many other things long before I can even come close to mastering a new language. I have a relative that was a language professor (retired), he started out into medicine and found it too easy I guess, went into linguistics. He analyzed historical documents and was a government translator for a number of years too. Speaks seven languages proficiently (read and writes) and thirteen languages in all (fluent in the rest). and everyone always asks him for medical advice whenever they get the chance because this guy knows his stuff. I know many other Arabs and middle easterns that are fluent in multiple languages. They are insanely smart when it comes to anything from science to pretty much anything you can imagine. Certainly much smarter than you slashdotters :). All that stuff is very easy to master when compared to the difficulty of speaking multiple languages well and being able to pretty much understand everything native speakers are saying when they talk to each other normally. Don't believe me, try it. Some people can spend many years learning a second, closely related, language (with the same script) just to get a B.S. degree in that second language.

You don't see it so much today partly because the Internet and globalization has mostly reduced the number of languages spoken and made certain languages (ie: English) more widespread. Now what we have is, say, within English more 'sub'languages (ie: Biology, Engineering, programming, etc...) that didn't exist before. But learning much of that is still way way way easier than learning new languages. I can easily learn new programming languages with little effort. My attempts to learn new actual languages has been a much more worthy challenge of my intellect I suppose.

Re:Its Specialization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43621467)

Even if you look at programming languages and compare older programming languages (ie: Assembly) to newer ones ( C ) to newer ones (C++) to newer ones (visual basic). Older programming languages were generally more difficult than newer ones. They required a lot more attention to all these details of memory allocation, etc... whereas newer ones do not. People think they have it hard now and that they're so smart because they can easily master relatively easy programming languages but the fact is things were much more difficult back in the days where you were a lot more closer to dealing with how the hardware works. Even calculators hve made much of math much easier whereas back in the days you had to learn all these different methods to do stuff (sin, cos, tan estimates) by hand that most people don't know now because the calculator simply does it. People think they have things easy now intellectually but I say often the opposite is often true.

Re:Its Specialization (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#43624463)

I think part of that is the reverse. Just a few generations back it wasn't so difficult to find people who spoke multiple languages. Education used to encourage it much more in various countries. Speaking multiple languages well is currently the most difficult thing in the world to do. I can easily master many other things long before I can even come close to mastering a new language. I have a relative that was a language professor (retired), he started out into medicine and found it too easy I guess, went into linguistics. He analyzed historical documents and was a government translator for a number of years too.

go back 120 years and look at the literacy rates.. just because your uncle was polymath doesn't mean that everyone was. education was shit. people ate horrendously and most definitely they were not jacks of all trades just a century ago. quite the opposite. most people were farm hands, maids etc. very few were artisans. more than that they only worked and acted in a very limited area. it would be interesting to have the rat experiment duplicated but with the rats living in the real world literally living on that same piece of track for their entire lives - and then see how much their brains need to work. it used to also be that people needed only concern themselves with things happening within a 20 kilometer circle from where they lived. all their lives. now even if you don't travel you're likely to learn about a much larger area and things generally are much more complex. even getting a mate is more complex.

in my country nearly everyone over 60 can only speak one language, this is an officially bilingual country mind you. practically everyone(90%) under 30 can get by with at least two languages.

the notion that people nowadays would know how to do less because they're specialized is quite frankly just utter bollocks. take a professor from 1913's. do you think he knew how to even brew a cup of tea? you see, that professor had hired help to do that for him at home. did he know how to do laundry? fuck no, that's what maids are for and the maid didn't need to bother herself with such things as reading. even super specialized people in the west nowadays have to know how to do these things - most of them even know how to cook and where wheat comes from. if you used to be a highly specialized worker/researcher you didn't do anything else than your job, the rest of the time you spent just boozing.

Re:Its Specialization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625043)

"go back 120 years and look at the literacy rates.."

You make some good points, I didn't really think about that. I guess I was comparing the well known intellects of the past with the average person of today and I guess that's not a fair comparison.

I think a point might be that our brains were capable of a lot more a long time ago than what we even need today. Sure, much of that might not be needed by the average person back then but even so there are a lot of difficult things the intellect of the past was capable of and needed that the typical intellect of the present doesn't need. In some poor countries where multiple languages are spoken it is advantageous, business wise, to speak them. In fact both of my parents, as native Arabic speakers, used to be fluent in Italian, my dad was an Arabic to Italian translator at one time. My dad is more proficient than me at both Arabic and English and I'm college educated (and he's only high school educated) and English is my native language (it's not his). My mom even passed a Spanish proficiency test to get a job when she first moved to this country in her twenties and she got her AS from a good community college with Honors while working. Never had to repeat a class. You think we have it tough, no, our ancestors had it tough. They had to speak multiple languages and do all this not for fun but because they had to just to get by. It was what was required of them to make a living and find jobs both in their country of origin and when moving to the U.S. even.

Re:Its Specialization (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43622571)

So you not only didn't read the article, you didn't even read the summary, did you?

Re:Learn from Sleeping? (1)

BlindMaster (2262842) | about a year ago | (#43622803)

Does that mean we can learn from sleeping?
Maybe it is a good way to force a kid to do homework in their dream. They can't run off and skip classes, just show them math exercise in power point format.
Hope they sleep well :S

Re:Learn from Sleeping? (1)

suprslackr420 (462216) | about a year ago | (#43622943)

Forcing your kids to view PP presentations is child abuse.

Poor virtual worlds (5, Insightful)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#43618889)

This just shows that living in a poor virtual world, with less sensory input, requires less brain power. That may be an interesting result, but it's hardly what the headline says.

Re:Poor virtual worlds (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619075)

It's not a very intesting result either.

Re:Poor virtual worlds (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619125)

This just shows that living in a poor virtual world, with less sensory input, requires less brain power.

Seems like this phenomena goes to an extreme in sensory deprivation experiments. The brain becomes so starved for input that it turns up the noise just to have something to process.

Re:Poor virtual worlds (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#43620097)

We have feedback loops on our sensory inputs that allow them to adjust the "gain" of signals. Just like auto-level on an audio recorder, silence causes the gain adjustment to firewall, to the point where noise is the signal.

Missing something? (4, Insightful)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about a year ago | (#43618895)

Am I missing something? "Less input, less activity" seems incredibly obvious. There is value in confirming even the obvious but this seems a bit too far. Plus, the summary is way off since the tested 'virtual world' was nothing of the sort. The Matrix was a full sensory experience, not just a movie.

Re:Missing something? (4, Interesting)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about a year ago | (#43618907)

Yes I was missing something, study was a good bit more interesting than the summary really conveys. from TFA:

On a real track, the rat's version of that neuron would fire when it had taken two steps away from the start, and then again when the animal reached the same spot on its return trip. But in virtual reality, something odd happened. Rather than firing a second time when the rat reached the same place on its return trip, the cells fired when the rat was two steps away from the opposite end of the track

See there is value in testing the obvious.

Re:Missing something? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619521)

Seems that in the "virtual reality" experiment, the rat views the return trip as a 2nd one-way trip, instead of a return trip. This could be explained by the lack of some sense due to the limited inputs (no acceleration, for example) and the rat brain does not really think it has moved.

Re:Missing something? (2)

mt42 (1906902) | about a year ago | (#43620707)

Seems that in the "virtual reality" experiment, the rat views the return trip as a 2nd one-way trip, instead of a return trip. This could be explained by the lack of some sense due to the limited inputs (no acceleration, for example) and the rat brain does not really think it has moved.

This is one of the most interesting findings of the study. In the real-world the rats turn themselves round 180 degrees when they reach the end of the tracks. In the virtual world, the environment is turned 180 degrees while the rats remain pointed in the same direction. This suggests that the visual cues provided by the rotation of the virtual environment around the rat are not sufficient to persuade the rat that it is now running in the opposite direction. This gets us a little closer to understanding what sensory inputs the rat is using to determine its location. This study strongly suggests that the rat's perceived direction of motion is what makes the place cells behave differently in the real and virtual worlds.

However, we still don't know whether the rat is using primarily visual cues or primarily self-motion cues. In the visual case, the difference in place cell behaviour between real and virtual worlds might be explained by the rat transforming the visual cues from the side walls to account for its reversed direction of travel in the real world (making the location visually similar from both directions). In the virtual world, the rat might think it is going in the same direction and therefore not transform the visual cues (making the location visually different from each direction). In the self-motion case, the rat could be keeping a "dead reckoning" estimate of position travelled from the ends of the track. In the real world, the rat might increment its position when travelling from left to right and decrement its position when travelling from right to left. In the virtual world the rat might be incrementing its position from the ends in both directions, as its perceived direction of travel might be unchanged. However, this would probably require the rat to reset its perceived position to the "start" of the track when it reaches the "end" of the track in the virtual world, but not in the real world. This may not be plausible.

The fact that over twice the number of place cells are active in the real-world compared to the virtual world is also interesting. The idea is that place cells combine a range of inputs to fire consistently in one spatial location, letting the rat know where it is on an internal "map" of the environment. The fact that so many fewer place cells fire in the absence of cues from certain senses (e.g. vestibular, whisker, smell) could suggest that that the importance of these inputs varies significantly across place cells. Alternatively, it might be possible that multiple place cells encode unique properties of a location as perceived by different senses. I am somewhat familiar with the literature on place cells, but I am not sure whether we know if each location is uniquely coded for by a single place cell. My understanding is that each experiment can only record from a small number of place cells at once, so it would be unlikely for studies to simultaneously record from different place cells that code for the same spatial location (assuming they exist).

IANANBIWWS (I Am Not A Neurocientist But I Work With Some)

Re:Missing something? (3, Interesting)

pla (258480) | about a year ago | (#43619117)

The Matrix was a full sensory experience, not just a movie.

Right, but how would we know which senses our reality lacks vs the "real" reality, if inside something like the matrix?

I mean, as a trivial example, obviously our world left out any input to our hard-to-reproduce sense of squorple. Hell, most people's brains have probably atrophied as a result, and wouldn't even know it if The Programmers did add squorp to the simulation.

If you had never smelled anything, would you know you had never smelled anything? Hell, deaf people actually form communities around not considering it a disability, and (disgustingly, IMO) consider cochlear implants for their kids a "betrayal" of that ethos.

Re:Missing something? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#43619155)

the in virtual reality observable virtual brain would still be going full blast.

however, if deja vu is an indication of the matrix, then slashdot with all its reposts is an indication that we are living in the matrix.

Re:Missing something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619215)

> The Matrix was a full sensory experience, not just a movie.

But it *was* just a movie!

Re:Missing something? (1)

tmosley (996283) | about a year ago | (#43619385)

It *was* a trilogy, but we don't talk about that.

Re:Missing something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619337)

Actually, The Matrix *was* a movie...

Re:Missing something? (2)

tehcyder (746570) | about a year ago | (#43619683)

Actually, The Matrix *was* a movie...

I think we know which colour pill you took.

Re:Missing something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619391)

It's not an obvious result, and I don't think it would be repeated in humans. Sensory deprivation chambers should eliminate all brain activity by your reasoning. That's not the case at all, though.

Re:Missing something? (1)

tehcyder (746570) | about a year ago | (#43619667)

Am I missing something? "Less input, less activity" seems incredibly obvious. There is value in confirming even the obvious but this seems a bit too far. Plus, the summary is way off since the tested 'virtual world' was nothing of the sort. The Matrix was a full sensory experience, not just a movie.

What I never understood about the virtual world in the Matrix is why no one noticed that everything was coloured fucking green.

Re:Missing something? (2)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about a year ago | (#43619901)

Because they were all wearing sunglasses.

Re:Missing something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619977)

What I never understood about the virtual world in the Matrix is why no one noticed that everything was coloured fucking green.

Several people noticed but none of them got screen time.

Some people have noticed that in this reality our visible range lacks the infrared part but none of those who claim that this is because this is a simulation gets screen time.

Re:Missing something? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#43620113)

So, not a fan of Noir either?

Non Sequitur (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43618899)

Running on a ball with a panoramic screen around you is not the same thing as having full virtual sensory input.

In other news, scientists prove once and for all that apples really aren't oranges. More mind-numbing Slashdot articles at 11.

We are in the Matrix (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43618947)

So what conclusions can we draw if those same scientists also say that we use a small fraction of our total brain power?

Re:We are in the Matrix (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#43618977)

That we spend a lot of time on Slashdot.

headline (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43618979)

HEADLINE: Scientists Fail to Make Realistic Virtual World! News at 11...

They could save even more power... (1)

Alejux (2800513) | about a year ago | (#43619003)

by removing vision as well.

Nonsense (2)

TWiTfan (2887093) | about a year ago | (#43619009)

Virtual worlds teach us LOTS of valuable stuff. How else would you learn that life is a series of staged enemy encounters and occasional boss fights?

Re: Nonsense (1)

peragrin (659227) | about a year ago | (#43619431)

Take a look at the corporate world and replaces the guns in games with words.

Modern life is a bunch of staged mook fights with the occasional boss fight.

Some lives are like grand theft auto were you steal cars and slap a whore.

Some are like nfl madden extreme

Some are like mine craft where you build stuff(both mundane and awesome)

But most are run through the maze. Deal with the problems that arise. Occasionally fight a boss. If your lucky you can level up quickly but most descend into the grind.

Re:Nonsense (1)

tehcyder (746570) | about a year ago | (#43619699)

Virtual worlds teach us LOTS of valuable stuff. How else would you learn that life is a series of staged enemy encounters and occasional boss fights?

Plus, you can always re-spawn. That's a pretty damn useful thing to know how to do IRL.

Re:Nonsense (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43641039)

Virtual worlds teach us LOTS of valuable stuff. How else would you learn that life is a series of staged enemy encounters and occasional boss fights?

Plus, you can always re-spawn. That's a pretty damn useful thing to know how to do IRL.

I do that every morning!

Sensory Deprivation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619017)

The things you don't notice... Gravitational forces, balance, centripetal forces, air flow and pressure, sound differences, reduced visual detail, changes in smell, and who knows what else they/we experience in the real world that doesn't translate to a movie and a treadmill.

Up next, getting shot in a FPS is less painful than getting shot in the real world.

Duhhhhhhhhh

Resolution (1)

cybernanga (921667) | about a year ago | (#43619021)

It's could also due to a low-rez environment, increase the resolution to 4K or more, and see what happens! (Just Kidding)

I see now (2)

Hentes (2461350) | about a year ago | (#43619035)

That explains how some folks here on the Internet are capable to exist.

a mixed blessing (1)

nimbius (983462) | about a year ago | (#43619037)

bad news: in the future google glass will make clandestine recordings of people.
good news: google glass owners will have devolved to ass-scratching mouth-breathing imbeciles incapable of understanding what the recording, connectivity, battery life, or funny headgear actually means at all.
bad news: most of my friends will have become too stupid to understand my VAX jokes :(

Poor Rats (0)

earthwormgaz (2623209) | about a year ago | (#43619061)

Well, the world is surely a better place now we know that and a load of rats suffered to tell us. Unbelievable.

Dubious research (1)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about a year ago | (#43619109)

I'm not against animal experiments in general, they may certainly be acceptable if they help us defeat cancer, Alzheimer or malaria. But this time I pass. This does not seem like the kind of research for which expensive rats for laboratories ought to be used.

Cerebellum (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about a year ago | (#43619169)

Certainly it seems that the cerebellum would atrophy in such a virtual world since you would not move your appendages much (if at all).

Re:Cerebellum (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#43619291)

Unless the system was providing your cerebellum with the same inputs from your virtual limbs as it would get from your real ones.

Re:Cerebellum (1)

gatkinso (15975) | about a year ago | (#43747381)

But the cerebellum would still not be putting anything out.

Re:Cerebellum (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#43749281)

Why not? It doesn't know that the limbs attached to it are virtual, or that it is virtual.

Some parts develop less - others may develop more (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619195)

If some parts of the brain under-develop due to virtual reality, perhaps other parts of the brain could develop more. Perhaps people with this new brain composition could do some things more easily than those with old brains!

At this moment, I just can't think of anything that the new brains could do better...

Skills Amplification (1)

foxalopex (522681) | about a year ago | (#43619379)

While it makes sense that at least initially you would probably use less brain power due to the lack of some stimulus in VR, I think they're also missing another interesting fact. In humans, when we lose one sense, it tends to amplify the abilities we have left. Take a blind person for example. Some folks who are blind develop the ability to echo locate (sonar) so accurately that they can walk around blind and identify objects entirely from the sound bouncing off of them. The brain also rewires itself to handle sound processing more than visual.

Also when I was younger, I use to play on the text based social MUD VR like systems. Despite being text-based however, they used your imagination to fill in the gaps and if you got into it, it could almost be real. I compared it to reading a very good book with yourself as the main character. I know that before that point in my life, my reading and writing skills were no where near what they are now. What eventually amazed me even more was the ability to pick up on real-life traits based on the things people wrote in their VR character profiles. While I can't claim to be perfectly accurate, I was a little surprised myself when I outright guessed a few details about some folks online before I asked them about it to double-check.

I would bet that in that situation my brain activity probably would start out low but due to our intelligence (or imagination) that we have over rats, it could potentially amplify with time.

The bigger conclusion... (1)

kiehlster (844523) | about a year ago | (#43619393)

...is that rats play more immersive video games than we do. When do we get to see affordable omnidirectional virtual walking environments?

Sigh. (2)

ledow (319597) | about a year ago | (#43619401)

Define "virtual world".

If we could replicate all the elements necessary to provide a convincing analog of reality (like in The Matrix, hinted at in the article), then surely there is nothing different for the brain to process.

I hereby posit a theory that asnosmic animals also don't activate the parts of their brain related to smell, nor those in a smell-free environment.

However, if we could create a virtual analog of smell that stimulated the smell's senses, chances are the brain patterns would be strikingly similar to "real" smell.

Like "virtual" servers - we don't have a 100% perfect analog, but we get closer all the time. However, the article summary appears to draw the conclusion that this means we'll never have The Matrix (or similar) because we'd always be able to tell we were in a virtual environment because there's no smell (for instance).

What we're basically saying is "a rat in a box but with fake images whizzing past it's eyes can smell that it's not in the 'real' world". Which is a bit obvious, and quite misleading to then extrapolate to large things. I imagine any amount of other senses will also give it away too (not least proprioception, temperature sensing, air pressure sensing, etc.).

What are we supposed to draw from the article? That virtual worlds won't be perfect until we do that? Or that we can't ever have a virtual world that's perfect (which seems nonsense even if it's not possible yet)? Or that scientists conduct experiments where the conclusion is a sure-gone conclusion before you even start and don't bother to compensate (e.g. introducing smells in synchronicity with the virtual world)?

Rats are the worst subject (3, Interesting)

Rashkae (59673) | about a year ago | (#43619417)

Rats have poor eyesight and navigate by smell and tactile (whiskers.). the real story here is that they used any brain power at all.

Matrix was never about only visuals. (2)

Vasudev Sharma (2914083) | about a year ago | (#43619425)

In matrix you could least feel, taste, smell and die. If there is a true "feature complete" virtual world, I doubt your brain would require any less processing power.

The Matrix was a Distributed Computer (1)

bussdriver (620565) | about a year ago | (#43623923)

The film makers said they wanted the unused brains to be part of the computer and that humans were being used for their excess brainpower. That was decided to be too complex for (American?) audiences so they went with the battery explanation which is so stupid some people would just think of it as a metaphor.

The brain interprets it's senses; you don't get input like a computer, you interpret the input you have. They could provide you less input for life and you'd not know the difference and would learn to interpret with what you had. During your development, I think it is possible that the input could be tuned down slowly so that you interpret the same thing using less of your senses. People who have laser damage to their eyes don't see a blank spot in their vision, the brain fills in the gap and they don't notice - only until the damage is too great do they start to notice blurry spots in their vision and it's still not black spots reflecting the reality of it (but then light does glow hitting cells in a way CCDs do not) - it takes even more severe damage before blackness sets in. Audio can be severely limited and still be fully functional - as long as the person never knew any better-- just a double pitches of clicking would still allow a language and a form of music to develop...

One might find out that the mice born into this become smarter in other ways as they have free brain power to develop to other tasks.

Lets not leap to conclusions here... (3, Insightful)

Karmashock (2415832) | about a year ago | (#43619453)

The virtual world that rat was placed in was not a true representation and doubtless lacked all sorts of things the rat's senses expected.

The conclusion here could rather be that the simulation wasn't very good... not that the rat needs less brain power in ANY simulation.

Misleading title (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619581)

This is a poor title to this article.

The findings really say that a virtual stimulus of visual cues only doesn't get the same 'place cell' reaction as the real world. A higher level way of interpreting it -- if we want our virtual reality to feel more realistic, we need to engage more senses than simply visual flow.

But how could measure the real brain power? (1)

kbg (241421) | about a year ago | (#43619601)

But how do the scientist know that they and the subject are not in a virtual world? Even if they would find out that you use less brain power since you are living in a virtual world they would have no way of comparing it with the real world since they themselves are in the virtual world and hence their measurement of normal brain power would equal that of the virtual world.

Re:But how could measure the real brain power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43625479)

Easy, they'd use Keanu Reeves as a control. By the way, you can tell real Keanu Reeves from a virtual Keanu Reeves in that real Keanu Reeves tastes like KFC chicken.

Idiots... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43619665)

Stupidest article summary ever!

If you were living in The Matrix, the scientists "studying your brain" would be pretty well tipped off by the MASS OF WIRES attached all through your brain and the giant interface port connected to them.

Re:Idiots... (1)

burning-toast (925667) | about a year ago | (#43626357)

And then you realize that, within the matrix, none of those obvious tip-offs like wires and ports exist. This was either a reading comprehension failure or a failure of the summary to adequately explain the intended concept, but it seems obvious to me which implication they meant (scientists studying your brain within or from without).

- Toast

Fap to internet porn with the sound on. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43620085)

It stimulates the senses!

Quantum consciousness and nerve activation (1)

steam_cannon (1881500) | about a year ago | (#43620739)

This also might be due to quantum effects. If the brain uses quantum effects in processing and nerve activation is affected by quantum probabilities, there are less possible outcomes in a simulation then in real life. So that might cause less nerve activation when processing for a simulation... There is the idea that the consciousness may be a quantum effect in the brain, basically in neurons there are molecule pockets that act like switches but may be in a quantum both "on and off" state until their state collapses. These Schrödinger's cat like molecular formations may act like data switches that are in an unresolved quantum state which collapses when they reach a threshold, with clusters eventually resulting in decisions possibly resulting in the process of consciousness. Consciousness or not, anesthetic gases target these molecule formations in such a way that they are likely forcing a collapse of their quantum state. So based on features of structures used for processing it's likely that the brain uses quantum effects for some parts of processing... In quantum physics the real world might be considered to be a negotiation of quantum possibilities, what ifs that may or may not happen. There is also the more far fetched idea that these Schrödinger's cat like quantum states in neurons could be weighted by quantum what if possibilities in the world around us. Maybe this could result in partial nerve activations for what ifs that only have a probability of happening. If so, the real world is very complex and filled with true randomness and quantum butterfly effects... If the brain uses quantum processing and if it is effected by quantum probabilities, then reduced nerve activation in simulations might be expected. So if there are Schrödinger like interactions with the real world by neurons that affect activation weighting and thus processing, then these partial activations would happen much less when interacting with a nonrandom virtual world. Less quantum possibilities affecting conscious processing might result in less nerves being active, no matter how detailed the graphics or sensory input in the simulation... I've been reading Stuart Hameroff lately, he has some good lectures reprinted by the MIT press. This isn't something he's said regarding simulations, but I'm reading between the lines and taking some liberties with my own interpretation here.

WE live in a virtual world (1)

postagoras (129170) | about a year ago | (#43621313)

Funny- most life forms have filters to *ignore* vast amounts of sense data. That's what most of the neurons are doing. The virtual worlds we implement are just way more parsimonious... that's why these rats (and marketing people) can get away with using so few neurons.

Re:WE live in a virtual world (1)

steam_cannon (1881500) | about a year ago | (#43621695)

Sure if they are using a low resolution wire frame simulation with very little detail then we can assume it is the lack of detail. But cameras can take pictures and display them at higher resolutions then we can see let alone a rat, so that should be testable. And then if it's not a resolution issue then it would have to be some other element of the simulation environment or how the rats brain processes simulations. It would be very interesting if this same effect is seen in humans and if humans solving problems in simulated environments process things differently then say solving a problem with pen and paper.

Re:WE live in a virtual world (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#43624505)

rats don't see very well..

and you need more brains to interpret a wireframe simulation than a proper one, because it's not proper(you have to use your brain in a wireframe world to know where the walls are really, guessing from where the lines are).

Interesting (1)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | about a year ago | (#43621693)

Is this why I feel stupid well playing Minecraft?

F THAT! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43622337)

I don't need someone hacking my soul.

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