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Electric 'Thinking Cap' Controls Learning Speed

timothy posted about 7 months ago | from the worshipping-moist-temples dept.

Biotech 112

An anonymous reader writes "Vanderbilt researchers say they've shown it's possible to selectively manipulate our ability to learn by applying a mild electrical current to the brain. Using an elastic headband that secured two electrodes conducted by saline-soaked sponges to the cheek and the crown of the head, the researchers applied 20 minutes of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to each subject. Depending on the direction of the current, subjects either learned more quickly, slower, or in the case of a sham current, with no change at all. The [paywalled] study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience."

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It looks like people are going to line up (4, Funny)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 7 months ago | (#46557617)

People are going to be lining up around the blockfor the "learn slower" electric charge.. if our society's obsession with alcohol is any indication.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46557723)

I read the article thinking the "learn more slowly" direction caused a euphoric reaction in the test subjects, but there was no reference to that.

Your comment was extremely stupid.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (1)

pla (258480) | about 7 months ago | (#46557837)

Whoosh!

This is still poking sticks at the brain... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46557869)

Trans-cranial stimulation. Really? REALLY? Are we still in the 1950s?
 
So you're throwing DC at the brain in a VERY general area. The complexity of this is like making a potato battery when we really should be working with 32nm FET technology.
 
Let me know when they start having control of which neurons they're messing with. Until then, this is child's play.

Re:This is still poking sticks at the brain... (1)

buybuydandavis (644487) | about 7 months ago | (#46557991)

But even this child's play get results. Lots of low hanging fruit.

But at what cost ?? (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about 7 months ago | (#46561479)

But even this child's play get results. Lots of low hanging fruit

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read TFA (not the paywalled one).

Before we get any understanding of the function of our brain they already are messing it up with currents.

What kind of consequences are we willing to risk ? I mean, no matter how mild the electric current turn out to be, at the cell level (neuron level) that current is still a SHOCK to them.

How much stress must we put the neurons under ? What would happen to the neurons after repeat electric shock treatments ????

Re:But at what cost ?? (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | about 7 months ago | (#46563677)

I don't want to come off sounding like I endorse the practice of randomly fucking up people's brains, but this is how we get an understanding of how the brain really works. We'll try this to see what happens, then we'll think about the brain some more and we'll try something else to see what happens and eventually we'll work out what's actually going on.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46558763)

Whoosh my ass. If you're talking about wireheading, that was in no part of this experiment, and not even hinted at in the article.

You retard.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (1)

pla (258480) | about 7 months ago | (#46559161)

Let me 'splain it to you, Looshy - He meant that as a joke about how, with all the mind-opening intoxicants available on our planet, we almost exclusively stick with one that does nothing but make us slower and dumber. We choose the blue pill over the red pill.

Alternately, he may simply have meant that the very fact that we enjoy intoxicants in the first place suggests we want to dumb ourselves down. Again, same outcome.

And again, whoosh!

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46560465)

And again, he's an idiot, and so are you.

You must have that cap on, so read this next section very slowly.

People don't drink to make themselves dumber. That's a side effect. They drink for the euphoria. This device has nothing to do with inducing euphoria.

THAT'S why his comment was dumb, it was a very off target and poor attempt at wit, and your defense was even dumber.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (1)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 7 months ago | (#46560575)

..says the anonymous coward.

You obviously like alcohol very much. Perhaps you should go drink yourself into another senseless stupor and tell everyone that you're not doing it to forget.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46560647)

Your ad hominem response to my dissection of a *very* stupid post is at least consistent with your low cognitive skills.

I think you're dumb enough to run for Congress. As a Tea party candidate.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (2)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 7 months ago | (#46557947)

A euphoric reaction can easily be created from a slightly different positioning of the electrodes. Think about it: euphoria combined with the inability to learn = instant panty dropper = huge profit for whoever can invent a social situation where everyone puts one on. Look at how much money alcohol makes, and they can't target different experiences.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46558733)

Again, no part of the experiment or article.

You just doubled down on stupid.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 7 months ago | (#46558785)

You just doubled down on stupid.

Is that a threat? Are you threatening to post for a third time??

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46559855)

Your comments are as insightful as those of my 83 year old father in law. And he didn't have a clue when he was young.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (1)

anubi (640541) | about 7 months ago | (#46561283)

I think its the Hawthorne effect [wikipedia.org] .

I see this a lot, and it seems like everyone and his brother rapidly makes claims and charts of their snake-oil to show to those who they think they can extract a dollar from.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (1)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 7 months ago | (#46557847)

So does this article come from the same people who made pluripotent cells by bathing them in acid or not?

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (1)

InsertCleverUsername (950130) | about 7 months ago | (#46559037)

People are going to be lining up around the block for the "learn slower" electric charge.. if our society's obsession with alcohol is any indication.

Alcohol? The continued success of America's two political parties seems like better evidence.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46559355)

Alcohol is about banging faster. In light of this, thinking slower is a feature, not a bug.

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 7 months ago | (#46560891)

Piss on an electric fence one time... you will learn quickly, grasshoppah...

Re:It looks like people are going to line up (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46563197)

OK, I did that.
What was I supposed to learn?

Well, This Makes Sense... (5, Funny)

DexterIsADog (2954149) | about 7 months ago | (#46557637)

...cause when we execute people by electrocution, they certainly do learn their lesson!

Re:Well, This Makes Sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46557821)

...cause when we execute people by electrocution, they certainly do learn their lesson!

And we learn: AC is dangerous, so use Edison's DC!

its coming... (0)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 7 months ago | (#46557659)

the day of mind-control brain caps that can enslave people is rapidly approaching...i've been talking about this for years and no one takes me seriously.

what happens when leaders of a country (say north korea) decide to REALLY eliminate all subversive ideas and just shoot signals into people's heads?

don't tell me it's not going to happen...even a cursory look at human history pretty much guarantees it will.

Re:its coming... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46557703)

They'll try.

But whether it'll work ... that's another matter.

The thing about truth is it correlates with reality. If your ideas don't match reality, you are going to have trouble getting stuff done in the real world.

Which makes you uncompetitive against others whose ideas match reality better.

Re:its coming... (0)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 7 months ago | (#46557739)

lol...really?? that's exactly what "experts" said about self-driving cars just 6 or 7 year ago...it was an impossible task.

read "The 2nd Machine Age" and "The Singularity Is Near"...the Technium is growing at a non-linear, exponential rate which mean linear approximations of where technology is taking us is radically off target, even projecting just 6-8 years into the future. using simple math and an x^2 growth rate, in 4 years the Technium will be (16 - 4 ) 12 TIMES further along then what most people can predict.

do you have *any* idea how much money is being pumped into neuroscience these days, and how moore's law is really being implemented?

of course its gonna work sooner or later...lol the brain is being deconstructed eleventeen-hundred different ways.

Re:its coming... (0)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 7 months ago | (#46557871)

The only thing I can picture when you use so much 'lol's in your writing is that you're a long-haired afghan hound with it's tongue lolling around in it's mouth... because clearly it's not attached to much of a brain!

Re:its coming... (0)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 7 months ago | (#46557965)

ahhh...the ad hominem attacks cometh. ...preparing for nazi reference in 5....4....3....

Re:its coming... (0)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 7 months ago | (#46558001)

That's not an attack. It's a comment about how I can't even read what you're saying because of the visual I'm getting. See, the connie provides the dog link to Collies, the lingus for the tongue, the lol the lolling, oh wait, you're right, the lol provides a hint of stupidity as well.

Re:its coming... (0)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 7 months ago | (#46558849)

well...since you seem to have me dead to rights i might as well confess all my sins to you oh keeper of the /. grammer and style.

in 2nd grade i colored outside the lines. i know i know the horror...THE HORROR!!!

thank you, kind sir, for your virtual wrist slaps and absolution from my sins. i feel much better now.

Re:its coming... (1)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 7 months ago | (#46557907)

The Singularity is just another type of slippery slope argument. Some foolish "experts" draw an exponential curve and say it intersects with infinity in ~50 years. Everyone who studies reality knows that as the speed of anything increases so does the resistance. That's why if you drop something out of an airplane it doesn't accelerate to infinite speed, and neither does technological progression.

Re:its coming... (0)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 7 months ago | (#46557985)

i guess Moore's law is too, right? ...and the fact that you currently have an 80's Cray supercomputer sitting in your pocket says nothing about the rate of change.

very very few people in the 80's could have even begun to predict that.

and you must be trolling...to say Ray Kurtzweil [wikipedia.org] is just some "foolish expert" is to be utterly clueless about the history of technology, and shows how little you know about much of anything.

he probably did more before breakfast this morning then you will achieve in your entire life.

Re:its coming... (1)

gwolf (26339) | about 7 months ago | (#46558139)

(...)to say Ray Kurtzweil [wikipedia.org] is just some "foolish expert" is to be utterly clueless (...) he probably did more before breakfast this morning then you will achieve in your entire life.

You mean, like having some nice morning sex? Given the Slashdot famed population statistics, you might be just right.

Re:its coming... (2)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 7 months ago | (#46558191)

Wow, connie, it seems like all you're really saying is that you believe in the singularity, which, unfortunately, we all already knew. Yes, Moore's law is no more a law than Occam's razor. Moore's law is just a principal that works until it doesn't.

I see a car outside my window right now driving on the highway at 65mph. So I'm coining the term "Ablaze's law" right now that says that that car will just keep driving at 65mph forever. Ablaze's law will probably work for quite a while, certainly long enough for me to confirm it's validity. Does that mean it will continue to work as soon as conditions change in such a way as to make it absurd? Absolutely not.

If the road ends a mile up and I predict that the car will just keep going, well.. what it doesn't prove is that the nature of the car is going to change to fit my law. What it does prove is that my law doesn't apply to that situation.

In other words: The singularity is proof that the model doesn't accurately predict reality at some point in the future. It is not proof that reality is going to reconfigure itself to fit the model, no matter how much you happen to like the guy who came up with it.

Re:its coming... (1)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 7 months ago | (#46558713)

i never said I believe in The Singularity and obviously know that Moore's Law is a misnomer...it's more like a prediction that has so far been quite accurate.

i did say, however, that I believe Ray Kurtzweil is a genius, and knows more about engineering and technology then probably the entire userbase of slashdot combined. a quick look at his long list of serious technical achievements proves this beyond a reasonable doubt, altho i'm sure there are people here who are fantastical engineers. this is fact.

i also said that the rate of change in the Technium is non-linear, which makes it very very easy to underestimate where technology is going. this is fact.

i believe that brain skullcap manipulation is an engineering problem that will one day be solved...not in the name of enslaving humanity but to benefit it, and that an unfortunate unintended consequence will be that someone somewhere in future time and place will use the technology for nefarious purposes...this is conjecture based upon my reading of history.

Re:its coming... (2)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about 7 months ago | (#46558325)

to say Ray Kurtzweil is just some "foolish expert" is to be utterly clueless about the history of technology

Ray Kurtzweil is a very smart man. He is also a very sad man who thinks would be a good and practical idea to have a computer imitate his dead father. He's actually quite a pathetic -- in the sense of moving one to pity -- figure, unable to come to terms with basic truths about existence.

We're already soaking in the Vingean singularity: anyone with a smartphone and a data connection has effective Intelligence Amplification. That doesn't revoke the laws of physics or take us to utopia any more that the previous singularities that humanity has experienced (the development of speech and of writing).

Re:its coming... (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 7 months ago | (#46558589)

The laws of physics are statistical. Why can't we learn to exploit the statistics?

Re:its coming... (1)

lolococo (574827) | about 7 months ago | (#46558743)

anyone with a smartphone and a data connection has effective Intelligence Amplification

Woah, rein your horses my man! Having a smartphone doesn't make anyone more intelligent, quite the contrary indeed, if I'm to believe what I see everyday in the street, public transports, restaurants, social events etc. The ability to find more information faster may provide Knowledge Amplification, but it has nothing to do with the Intelligence of the person that carries the smartphone. I'd say the smartphone is more intelligent, if anything is to be.

Re:its coming... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46561195)

You guys are all idiots.

None of you picked up the typo and keep referring to Ray Kurtzweil (who is not a person, at least not someone famous), his name is Ray Kurzweil.

Re:its coming... (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 7 months ago | (#46558123)

I don't think the Singularity [wikipedia.org] means what you think it means. It isn't intersecting with infinity, but with human intelligence. It is not claimed that human intelligence is infinite.

If as the speed of anything increases, so does the resistance, why are galaxies speeding away from each other at an ever-increasing rate?

Re:its coming... (1)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 7 months ago | (#46558255)

If as the speed of anything increases, so does the resistance, why are galaxies speeding away from each other at an ever-increasing rate?

Technically they aren't. Technically they are getting further apart without moving away from each other at all (if you average momentum). But I expect you just threw that in there as a red herring, since even if galaxies were moving away from each other it does nothing to refute my claim that at some point in the future they would encounter a resistive force and stop accelerating at such a rate.

Re:its coming... (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 7 months ago | (#46558595)

So that's all you're doing, making unsubstantiated claims.

Re:its coming... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46560497)

...even if galaxies were moving away from each other it does nothing to refute my claim that at some point in the future they would encounter a resistive force and stop accelerating at such a rate.

Why in the world would you claim such a thing? Do you even know anything about cosmology? Are you an astrophysicist? A mathematician? Can you balance a checkbook?

It's ever more disturbing to see how any asshole with an opinion will claim it as fact. You might as well give up your nobler aspirations and try to get a job at Fox News.

Re:its coming... (1)

Megol (3135005) | about 7 months ago | (#46558329)

Singularity is a religion and nothing you say will ever convince the true believers.

Exponential progress is simply put an idiotic theory that fails at so many levels _even_ for the tour de force of technology: that of computers in general and silicon based microchips in particular. Waving ones hand and uttering the "SINGULARITY" mantra doesn't change scientific fact sadly.

Re:its coming... (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 7 months ago | (#46557945)

I think you mean social, not physical reality. Aristarchus of Samos's heliocentric theory was more "real" than the epicyclists; yet he had trouble getting anyone to accept it, because the social reality of the time was so fixated on geocentrism.

In the same way, Mendel's ideas correlated with reality, but the social reality of his time prevented him from getting stuff done.

Wegener is another example.

I think you're guilty of naive realism [wikipedia.org] , which fails when it comes to quantum physics, for example.

Re:its coming... (1)

ThatAblaze (1723456) | about 7 months ago | (#46559361)

Your argument can apply equally well to both sides of this debate. By pushing equally hard in both directions it has a net zero effect, and thus can be completely ignored.

Re:its coming... (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 7 months ago | (#46561409)

The point is, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. And plausibility relies on social reality, not what's really going on.

Re:its coming... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 7 months ago | (#46557729)

Not that this is even remotely related to what you're talking about. I don't if I'd even describe what you're suggesting as "rapidly approaching" We barely understand the very rudimentary aspects of the brain, much less how "Thought" gets made. But I do concede that should we survive long enough as as a society then yes, something like this will come along and someone bad will use it for bad things. So what do you propose we do? Make it illegal? That wont stop North Korea from doing anything. Ban research? That might delay it but again, the bad people always find a way. Best we learn as much about it and use it for good so that when it gets used for bad we can recognize and understand whats happening quicker and possible had a fix developed already.

Re:its coming... (2)

DexterIsADog (2954149) | about 7 months ago | (#46557733)

There was no indication that this device can determine *what* was learned, much less that false information can be implanted. It just helps or hinders people in the speed with which they learn. Your comment is just tinfoil hat ranting, which I don't recommend you wear when they strap you in and put one of these things on your head. Do you have a source for anything that even potentially matches your dire warning?

Re:its coming... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46557767)

...i've been talking about this for years and no one takes me seriously.

If you want to be taken seriously, you should support your theory with either evidence, or an explanation of a plausible mechanism. Since you provide neither of these, it is unsurprising that you are dismissed as yet another tin foil hat nutcase.

Re:its coming... (1)

blue trane (110704) | about 7 months ago | (#46558231)

The Greeks must have said about the same to Aristarchus of Samos in the third century BC. There was no evidence of parallax motion of the stars, therefore the earth didn't move around the sun. But their instruments just weren't sensitive enough to detect the parallax.

And of course it was wildly implausible that the earth was not the center of the universe. So even though Aristarchus was right, he was dismissed and science was set back some two millenia. That's the risk you run by being so dismissive. Instead, the Greeks could have spent energy trying to develop more sensitive instruments, than in refining their fundamentally incorrect epicyclic model.

Re:its coming... (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 7 months ago | (#46557769)

It might be kind of hard to get everybody to actually wear skullcaps.

But just imagine the dangers if they can somehow transmit these signals over the air and somehow get them to be transmitted directly to the brain through the visual system.

It could paralyze a whole nation into giving up their civil liberties!!

Re:its coming... (2)

sirlark (1676276) | about 7 months ago | (#46557795)

Crap, my tinfoil hat is still conductive! What am I going to do now?

Re:its coming... (1)

Connie_Lingus (317691) | about 7 months ago | (#46557897)

i dunno...3d print it with polymers?

Re:its coming... (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 7 months ago | (#46557903)

Faraday cage exo-skeleton of course. You don't really believe the japs when they say all that research is to take care of their aging pop. right?

Re:its coming... (0)

nurb432 (527695) | about 7 months ago | (#46557883)

Of course they are coming, but i doubt they will be simple "caps", as for real control i see no real way around internal electrodes.

Re:its coming... (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 7 months ago | (#46558091)

When somebody can attach a headband on you against your will, you are already enslaved.

Re:its coming... (1)

Spamalope (91802) | about 7 months ago | (#46559043)

When somebody can attach a headband on you against your will, you are already enslaved.

Paying for it is a problem too. That's why we had design the Occulus -- so nerds would pay us to put that headband on.

Re:its coming... (1)

spiritplumber (1944222) | about 7 months ago | (#46558137)

The best part is that a tinfoil hat would work against this sort of stimulation (if you manage to keep the hat).

Re:its coming... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46559299)

the day of mind-control brain caps that can enslave people is rapidly approaching...i've been talking about this for years and no one takes me seriously.

what happens when leaders of a country (say north korea) decide to REALLY eliminate all subversive ideas and just shoot signals into people's heads?

Then they would be caught up to the rest of the modern world that is exposed to the bullshit that is marketing.

Get a grip. If you don't think you're being brainwashed every single day by various marketing ploys, then there's only one conclusion that makes sense.

It's working.

Who pays for this research? (5, Insightful)

StripedCow (776465) | about 7 months ago | (#46557675)

Sigh. We need people to become more eager to _buy_ stuff, not to learn faster!

Re:Who pays for this research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46559957)

Imagine you can get a bachelor's degree in two years, instead of three or four.

Then you go to work that much earlier, with that much less debt, and your ascent into the ranks of "people who buy their own homes and lattes" is greatly accelerated.

It's in everyone's interests for that to happen, including those cynical companies you're alluding to.

Re:Who pays for this research? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46561217)

Hardly. Why would all those universities and their employees want to take a 50% paycut just so you can complete your degree in half the time?

If you found a way to double the number of educated people in every field, I'm sure it would have economic advantages, but it would also depress the wages in every field as there would be twice the supply of workers and definitely not twice the demand.

Re:Who pays for this research? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46563823)

Its a plan to stimulate the electrode industry :)

Treatment (1, Offtopic)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 7 months ago | (#46557697)

I wonder if this could be used to treat conditions like chronic fatigue. Those of us suffering from it are just about ready to attach electrodes and a 1.5V battery to our heads.

Re:Treatment (0)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 7 months ago | (#46557777)

Learning how to use your body properly does wonders for chronic fatigue.

Look up tensegrities and study physics.

Re:Treatment (1)

turning in circles (2882659) | about 7 months ago | (#46558245)

Your comment about how to shed chronic fatigue by using the body "properly" is arrogant and misguided at best. Chronic fatigue can be caused by a chemical imbalance, or other medical condition, and all the yoga and body alignment and core work will not cure it. Not that I'm advocating a jolt of electric current through the brain will.

There is much we don't know, but I don't think we have to start wearing our Aluminum foil hats 24/7 just yet.

Re:Treatment (0)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 7 months ago | (#46558355)

Your comment is arrogant and misguided at best.

There is much medical science doesn't know.

It worked wonders for me and the people who would listen. Also got rid of the constant pain. I remember being confused as a child when doctors would poke and prod me and asked 'does that hurt?'

Re:Treatment (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 7 months ago | (#46560069)

To whoever modded me off-topic, I ask because certain drugs that are used to enhance learning are known to be helpful for people with chronic fatigue.

Hardly Surprising (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46557705)

The electric current sets up a radio wave which is absorbed by the axon hillock. The radio wave is generated by the constant flux in the pathway of the electric current between the electrodes. Thus, we go from DC, to very weak irregular AC. The absorption at the Axon hillock alters the chemical reaction which is thermally controlled by the ions (voltage) across the membrane which can be thought of as a thermodynamic shock-absorber. This result is junk output from the neuron which when scaled to a process like learning introduces significant noise, thus slowing the rate at which learning occurs. The noticed increase in learning may be from insufficient data, acceleration of ions in a beneficial manner, or something more complex related to the waveform.

Interesting, but very old. The US military use a similar process on students on students and academics in foreign countries to retard their development. They have a nice big satellite setup that does away with the need for electrodes.

Re:Hardly Surprising (1)

DexterIsADog (2954149) | about 7 months ago | (#46557737)

Mod parent up! Hilarious! And crazy!

Is there an app for this? (1)

dogsbreath (730413) | about 7 months ago | (#46557713)

... will it work with my Lightning connector? ... will it drain my battery?

Re:Is there an app for this? (0)

dogsbreath (730413) | about 7 months ago | (#46557719)

oh, and sorry I forgot to be polite:

FUCK BETA, and the Mobile edition while you are at it.

Pretty cool... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46557747)

...but everyone knows that thinking caps run on lemons.

The brain is a delicate organ (3, Insightful)

jgotts (2785) | about 7 months ago | (#46557811)

This seems analogous to grabbing a smartphone, connecting a wire to some metal part, plugging that wire directly into a 120 V AC source, and hoping that the smartphone works better afterwards. Yes, smartphones have electricity running through them, too, but what you're doing isn't like to be productive.

We're only going to be able to safely operate on the brain when we can stably reprogram individual neural networks. That's the model we're going to have to have of the brain. Something on the order of sophistication of microchip and circuit designers with a cadre of millions of neuroprogrammers. Brain programming might one day be the growth field. We can't have opinions of how the brain might work. We need to have facts about how the brain does work, in minute detail.

risk aversion (4, Insightful)

nten (709128) | about 7 months ago | (#46557893)

I disagree. The inventors of the trebuchet had no idea about the Higgs, the inventors of the windmill didn't understand Bernoulli's work, and the first people to take Valerian root had no concept of biochemistry. We can use observed patterns to serve our needs without understanding the reasons for those patterns. Yes a lot of people died eating random plants, but there are a lot of us, and we learn quickly. My favorite part about engineering is using techniques to solve problems that no one understands yet. Its like magic. The best is when a true subject matter expert tells me "that shouldn't work!" and yet it does. Science always catches up and we are the better for it, but that is no reason to proceed with caution when we have so many people, and so much to learn. I would qualify this by saying test subjects should be informed and consenting.

Re:risk aversion (2)

jgotts (2785) | about 7 months ago | (#46558203)

My objections are evidenced throughout this thread: For example, someone wants to go to Radio Shack and spend $15 to build his very own brain stimulator. Hopefully nothing goes wrong but the cost to society of people with damaged or malfunctioning brains in a lot more than $15. People with damaged or malfunctioning brains can commit murder or become a ward of the state. That's liable to cost society more like in the millions.

You don't go to Radio Shack and build a kidney dialysis machine for $15, and I don't need to say how much more complex the brain is than a kidney. [But if you ask scientists how a kidney works, even, there are still mysteries and unknown mechanisms.]

Re:risk aversion (1)

non0score (890022) | about 7 months ago | (#46558513)

Can and will are two very different things. Just like you can go out and masturbate in front of the city hall in daylight, you (most likely) will not. Just like someone can fry their moral parts of his brain, doesn't mean he will (most likely fry some other portion, or a big portion altogether...if he manages to fry it in the first place). If everything happens with the merest possibilities, we'd either have a big black hole where the earth is right now, or you would've won the jackpot many times over.

Re:risk aversion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46561305)

Actually the brain is significantly less complex than the kidney.

Re:risk aversion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46563855)

That depends on how you measure complexity

Shorter version of your point. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46564301)

OH MY GOD!

<clutches pearls, monocle flies out into drink>

THINK OF THE INNOCENTS!!!!!

<MORAL PANIC>

We must not inform people, the benighted peasantry will do themselves harm. Quick, to the censorship machine, batman!

Re:risk aversion (1)

SimonInOz (579741) | about 7 months ago | (#46559615)

>> refactor the law, its bloated, confusing and unmaintainable ... what? ...

Or did you mean

refactor the law, it's bloated, confusing and unmaintainable.

Or possible

Refactor the law, it's bloated, confusing and unmaintainable.

Dammit, you're supposed to be a geek. Learn the grammar.

And you are right, I haven't had my coffee yet.

Re:risk aversion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46561657)

You mean like trepanation and lobotomies were good ideas? Other than the fact that we learned "the brain is a delicate organ", what exactly did we learn from those ground breaking ideas?
No matter the results, some ideas are really stupid.
What about long term effects? Have they tried to see if people who undergo this "procedure" are at higher risk of cancer or Alzheimer's or something just as deadly? Human guinea pigs have fewer rights than animal one do. Except rats, but that's because everyone hates rats.

Re:risk aversion (1)

twocows (1216842) | about 7 months ago | (#46562653)

Listen, I'm all for advancing technology and taking risks, but this particular application has the potential to do very real harm to the test subjects. It's one thing if the researchers put themselves at risk, but putting others at risk because of our own ignorance is unacceptable. I would suggest we do such experiments on animal brains until we have a more thorough understanding of whether or not they'll have serious consequences for human brains.

Re:The brain is a delicate organ (3, Insightful)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about 7 months ago | (#46557909)

We can't have opinions of how the brain might work. We need to have facts about how the brain does work, in minute detail.

Isn't that precisely what this research result is all about? It's not like they're hawking a product. We knew learning was affected by electrical currents already. Slashdot covered that story. One presumes this result fines that down in terms of what parts of the brain are involved. Or possibly it broadens the study group. I don't know since I can't read the article, but it's going to be something like that. It's research. Experimental research, rather than empty hypothesizing. These researchers are learning how the brain works, and whether or not it's a "delicate organ" as you claim. You only have a hypothesis. They're finding out.

Re:The brain is a delicate organ (2)

bluegutang (2814641) | about 7 months ago | (#46559105)

Perhaps it's like putting an overclocked CPU in the fridge and observing that it works better there. You don't have to understand something fully in order to manipulate it in certain ways.

Harrison Bergeron (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46557825)

Anyone make the connection to the Harrison Bergeron film yet?http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron_(film) Based on a Kurt Vonnegut story. Looks like we can all be forced down to average after all

How it works. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46558055)

If you think of you brain as tangle mess of lines of dominoes of varying weights then a good analogy for how what this device does in your head emerges. This device lowers or raises the "firing" threshold of targeted neurons (depending on the direction of the current). In our domino analogy you can think of a thought as the entire wave of motion that is created by pushing one domino down. Applying tdcs is like lowering or raising the weight of a bunch of those dominoes so they are easier or harder to push over. Applying tdcs doesn't push dominoes over but it does make it so that waves of motion travel further through the entire structure when a domino is pushed. My personal unscientific hypothesis is that this creates more associations to information in your brain making it so you have multiple ways to access that information. Because you are not "firing" particular neurons the "targeting" can be very broad and still have a beneficial effect.

To use a programming analogy, we are applying sugar to associations to a particular piece of info.

Also you can build one of these devices for as little as 11 dollars with parts from radio shack. All it is is a constant current circuit that limits the amps to between .5 and 2.5 mA. and an optional capacitor between the electrodes to ramp said current up when you first turn the device on.

Re:How it works. (1)

Ultracrepidarian (576183) | about 7 months ago | (#46560343)

Give special attention to the electrodes. A pair of quarters was not a good idea.

What issue is this in? (1)

drainbramage (588291) | about 7 months ago | (#46558107)

So, the Electric 'Thinking Cap' "study appears in the current issue".
I am shocked.

Asperger syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46558163)

This one goes to 11 !

For certain values of learning (2)

Hentes (2461350) | about 7 months ago | (#46558171)

The task in the study that the subjects had to learn is one specifically tailored to make use of the brain area stimulated. Whether this can help in, for example, memorizing the contents of a book remains to be seen.

He's alive! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46558393)

Dr. Frankenstein

Lets hear it for Bruce Lee (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46558905)

Lets hear it for Bruce Lee!!!
  A true pioneer in electro-shocking oneself to improve performance!!!

Long Term Consequences (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46560903)

Anyone think that you might be burning or damaging tiny portions of the brains wiring patterns?

what about the ones form battlefield earth (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 7 months ago | (#46560937)

Now that is a good idea.

Now wifi? (1)

manu0601 (2221348) | about 7 months ago | (#46560997)

It would be nice to try out with an alternative 2.4 GHz electric field.

tradeoffs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46561801)

Is there a tradeoff at work here? For instance, maybe they learn it faster, but less well. Drawing a comparison to training a neural net, you can tweak the parameters of the learning algorithm to make it converge faster, but that can hamper its ability to settle into the right configuration. Or perhaps, for this particular task, our default is too slow, and so it has room to be boosted, but that won't be true for other problems.

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