CORNBREAD AND BUTTERMILK: Hey you: Get out of my mind
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty antsy over the progress being made in mind-to-mind communication.
Scientists have found ways for one person to get into another person’s head and control what he does. For example, Rakesh Rao, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, sat in front of a computer screen and imagined himself playing a computer game. The game involved shooting objects with a cannon, so Rao’s brain sent out a command: “Fire cannon!”
Across the campus, Andrea Stocco sat in front of a similar computer screen. When Rao’s brain sent the signal to fire the cannon, Stocco’s finger went to the space bar, which was the trigger that fired the cannon.
Both men were wearing special headgear. Rao’s cap picked up the signal from his brain and transmitted it to Stocco’s cap, which relayed it to Stocco’s brain.
That doesn’t sound too dramatic when you consider what goes on between my wife and me, regardless of what we’re wearing on our heads. She can be in another state, but when I’m winding up activities in the bathroom I can hear her say, “Hang up the towel and put down the seat.” And I automatically comply.
Or say we’re walking down a sidewalk and a cute young lass wiggles by, wearing an outfit that is skimpy at the neckline and the hemline. I pick up her instant signal, “Eyes straight ahead,” and my eyes remain locked in the “forward” position. I should note, though, that I haven’t found a way to send messages the other way. I can think, “Put down that iPad and come on to bed,” but she continues her game of “Words with Friends” until she runs out of letters or until the last NCIS rerun has come to an end.
Speechless communication can be a godsend for two people who are hard of hearing. We have learned to read each other’s thoughts, and that saves wear and tear on hearing aids. We don’t need closed captions to understand each other.
So far, I haven’t been able to horn in on her computer games. There seems to be a rational explanation for this. Rao says the system works only on simple brain signals, not on thoughts, and cannot be used on anyone unknowingly.
A woman’s brain patterns are anything but simple, and in my case, Miss Peggy knows what I’m thinking before I do, so any thought I might try to sneak into her brain gets zapped before it leaves my head.
But rats are different. The nerds at Duke University were able to capture the thoughts of a rat in Brazil and transmit them over the Internet to a rat in the United States. The rat in the U.S. mimicked the actions of the rat in Brazil. That’s all we need: computer-literate rats.
I’ve tried to transmit messages to the rats in Washington, instructing them to raise the debt ceiling before it affects my Social Security benefits. The message was obscured by static.
On the other hand, a monkey at Duke, in Durham, N.C., sent a brain wave to a robot in Japan and was able to control the robot’s arm movement. That suggests that we need to send the U.S. Congress to Japan and install robots in its place. Even if the robots respond only to the brain waves of a monkey, they should do a better job than the present crop of legislators. (Ancillary question: Did the monkey think in Japanese, or did the robot understand English?)
I can see where voiceless communication can get us into trouble.
Let’s say a young man in Florida is following another young man who is wearing a hoodie and walking home from a convenience store. The young man fires a pistol and kills the young man in the hoodie. Hauled into court, he pleads, “Wayne LaPierre got into my brain and made me do it.” In turn, the NRA gets into the jury’s mind and instructs: “Find him not guilty; it was self-defense.”
Or suppose some thug catches Donald Trump strolling down a dark street and mugs him for a million dollars. Hauled into court, the thug pleads, “President Obama got into my brain and made me take the money to be spread around among the homeless.”
How would a jury know whom to believe?
Suppose, again, that the Tea Party representatives in the House vote to go all the way with Obamacare and remove the debt ceiling entirely. I can hear them explaining to their outraged constituencies: “Nancy Pelosi hijacked my brain and made me vote her way.”
Not everybody believes the Duke researchers have achieved a breakthrough in mind-to-mind communication, despite convincing evidence that ordinary housewives have had the technique nailed for years.
They note that the men haven’t published the results of their experiments in a reputable scientific publication.
A spokesman for Duke explained that the researchers are in a race against researchers in other places, so they didn’t have time to stop to write an article.
I’ll make them an offer: For a portion of the Nobel Prize they’ll win for this breakthrough, I’ll sit here at my desk and use my thoughts to dictate an article for the scientific publication of their choice.
Of course, they could just as easily spread the word by transmitting their own brain waves to some scientific journal. They’d have to keep it simple, but then that has always been the key to good writing.
Readers may e-mail Gene Owens at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more of Gene’s writing, go to www.wadesdixieo.com)
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.