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Scientist to Implant Electrode in His Own Brain? 239

BartlebyScrivener writes to tell us the MIT Technology Review is reporting that even thought scientists know quite a bit about the brain, one researcher is trying to take it a step further towards understanding consciousness by implanting an electrode in his own brain. From the article: "Bill Newsome, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA, has spent the last twenty years studying how neurons encode information and how they use it to make decisions about the world. In the 1990s, he and collaborators were able to change the way a monkey responded to its environment by sending electric jolts to certain parts of its brain. The findings gave neuroscientists enormous insight into the inner workings of the brain."
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Scientist to Implant Electrode in His Own Brain?

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  • Awesome, (Score:5, Funny)

    by IDontAgreeWithYou ( 829067 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:48AM (#14725163)
    I've been looking for a remote controlled neuroscientist for years!!!
  • Hardcore. (Score:3, Funny)

    by trosenbl ( 191401 ) <trosenbl@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:48AM (#14725167)
    Most hardcore scientist ever. He's going to implant it in his own head with no anesthesia.
    • He doesn't need one, there are no nerves in the brain => no pain Well Ok, maybe for the skin but still, a very light local one will do.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:55AM (#14725242)
        there are no nerves in the brain

        Speak for yourself, buddy...

        (I think you mean there are no sensory nerves...)

        • oups. righty
        • Re:Hardcore. (Score:2, Informative)

          Actually there by definition there is only one nerve in the brain the optic nerve. The optic nerve is a Sensory Nerve because it carries sense information from the eyes to the brain for processing.

          What normally would be called a nerve in the brain is called a Tract. So really (optic nerve aside) there are no nerves in the brain.
          • Actually there by definition there is only one nerve in the brain the optic nerve

            I could of swarn I could hear things too... but that would require an auditory nerve, which I'm now informed doesn't exist. I must have imagined it...

            (Seriously... there are actually a dozen nerves in the brain... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranial_nerves [wikipedia.org])
        • "there are no nerves in the brain"
          "Speak for yourself, buddy... (I think you mean there are no sensory nerves...)"

          I could have sworn that I met someone who the grandparent post applied to just last week, while in line at the grocery store...
        • by Sody ( 940054 )
          We put an electrode in an area of the brain known as MT.

          Well, according to this from the article, the scientist may not expect to find nerves in his brain after all...

          "And then I implanted an electrode in the MT portion of my brain... Hey, what's so funny?"

      • May not cause any real physical pain , but having a hole drilled in your skull and an electrode shoved in it could be fairly traumatic .
    • I've heard he's just going to have Chuck Norris [chucknorrisfacts.com] deliver it to his cortex with a precision roundhouse kick.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    to the "Wire" from Ringworld... where do I sign up?
  • by slavemowgli ( 585321 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:49AM (#14725172) Homepage
    Hmm, I wonder how likely it is that he'll end up with a Darwin award...
  • Monkeys (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:50AM (#14725179)
    n the 1990s, he and collaborators were able to change the way a monkey responded to its environment by sending electric jolts to certain parts of its brain.

    Hey, I can get a monkey to respond differently to its environment by sending electric shocks to any part of its anatomy, why go to the bother of wiring up its brain directly.
  • by Psykechan ( 255694 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:50AM (#14725180)
    That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me.
  • Really (Score:2, Funny)

    This story sounds shocking to the mind.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:51AM (#14725191)
    Taking the brain out was the easy part. The hard part was taking the brain out.
    • That's a lot funnier if you read the whole conversation, and/or listen to the actual dialogue.

      Farnsworth 1: "Hope you won't think it's evil of me to ask how you got that stylish head-wound?"
      Farnsworth A: "Oh, this old thing? I was experimenting to see if I could remove my own brain."
      Farnsworth 1: "Of course! I had the same idea. I flipped a coin to decide if I should proceed. But it came out tails, so I didn't. How'd it go?"
      Farnsworth A: "Well, getting the brain out was the easy part. The hard part w
    • Homer (Score:4, Funny)

      by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @06:16PM (#14728360) Homepage
      I did it, and there was no brain damage-amage-amage-amage-amage.
  • by whiteranger99x ( 235024 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:54AM (#14725220) Journal
    In the 1990s, he and collaborators were able to change the way a monkey responded to its environment by sending electric jolts to certain parts of its brain.

    But were they able to finally help monkeys write A Tale of Two Cities without that pesky "It was the best of times, it was the BLURST of times..." typo? Stupid monkey!
  • by amstrad ( 60839 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:54AM (#14725221)
    I mean, what will happen when the implant is turned on and the neuroscientist becomes self-aware?

  • by flickwipe ( 954150 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:54AM (#14725225)
    "In the 1990s, he and collaborators were able to change the way a monkey responded to its environment by sending electric jolts to certain parts of its brain. The findings gave neuroscientists enormous insight into the inner workings of the brain."

    And from this we have come to the conclusion that the monkey really hated it
  • by Gulthek ( 12570 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:56AM (#14725247) Homepage Journal
    It's good to see that "thought scientists know quite a bit about the brain."
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:57AM (#14725259) Homepage Journal
    The article is full of how he wants to do it, but would probably have trouble getting approval and so on. If this is news, alert the media that one day I "want" to fly around in a jetpack while robot slaves do all my work and it rains Kool-Aid.
    • I'm intrigued and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

      In future mailings, could you address the quality and content of the Kool-Aid which will be raining from the sky? I would like to know what flavor(s) and if it will be contaminated by pollutants.
  • by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <{wgrother} {at} {optonline.net}> on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:58AM (#14725273) Journal

    I am Locutous of Borg...

  • Alot of information (Score:5, Interesting)

    by squoozer ( 730327 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @11:59AM (#14725279)

    Can you really gather that much information from a single electrode in a single location? I would have thought this would be of pretty limited benifit. Still I'm not a neuroscientists - maybe it's going to give stacks of data.

    I can't believe we still know so little about how the brain works actually. It feels like all our attempts to understand it (PET, MRI, electrodes, etc), while amazing, as still at the caveman stage of development e.g. hit it with a rock until it does something. I would have thought there would have been far more interest into researching how the brain functions.


    • I can't believe we still know so little about how the brain works actually. It feels like all our attempts to understand it (PET, MRI, electrodes, etc), while amazing, as still at the caveman stage of development e.g. hit it with a rock until it does something. I would have thought there would have been far more interest into researching how the brain functions.


      Well, I don't think you're giving enough credit to what we know, or how complex the brain is. We've identified regions of the brain that're respons
      • by Omestes ( 471991 ) <omestes@gmaiMENCKENl.com minus author> on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @01:29PM (#14726020) Homepage Journal
        We definatly have the visual system hammered.

        But, much of neurology, to agree with the parent, is right now no more than staring at blotches on a computer screen, and loosly associating it with what the subject was asked to do. Thats why there is such a small amount of agreement between neuroscientists, as opposed to older, more established disciplines.

        The brain is truly a complicated beast, even when ignoring the "neuron" level, and paying attention to the "structure" level. All of the hard, cut and dry (as presented in the pop-media) structures are really loose and fuzzy, and interact in many diverse ways on a per-function basis. The flexability also is problematic, since we can say "I see these splotches in the 'perfect brain', under x circumstance", but damaged, or structurally different brains still will display the same empheria in most cases.

        In my brief stint in neurology (for psych) a glaring problem was the lack of transition between perceived, subjective, experience, and the empirical brain data. I can tell you what areas light up when you look at an apple (as opposed to a straight line), but as of yet know one (that I know of) has a plausable theory of how this translates into perception. Yes, we can say the process is the translation/perception, but this too is slightly problematic. Granted I'm not a neurologist, so I wouldn't mind be proven wrong.

        The brain is sort of like genetics. At first everyone thought, given sufficient technology, that it would be rather easy to crack (height gene, complexion gene, eye color gene, ADD gene, schizophrenia gene, etc..) But it turns into a rather few simple structure performing more jobs, and interacting in odd ways. I over simplify, since the brain has always had a complex mystique, but you get the point.

        Yes, we have many practical effects of modern neuroscience, but very little actual understanding. This will change as time goes on, I'm sure.

        (though, at times, philosophically, I wonder how much about the mind can be expressed in reductionalist neuroscience... But that is neither here nor there)

      • I agree with your post but would change one thing. We do not 'know that the brain operates on a neural network'. Neural networks are models, usually constructed by comp sci students, that bear little direct resemblance to actual functioning of neurons. Basically at best they are intended to be a plausible reconstruction of how clusters of neurons *might* work--but it is not the case that they have been conclusively shown to be an accurate representation of how clusters of neurons actually *do* work.

        Now,
    • I would have thought there would have been far more interest into researching how the brain functions.

      There is plenty of interest... but remember, this isn't a car engine... you can't really just take pieces out, see how they work and put them back in... or better yet, rip parts out and see what stops running. Scientists have to use non-invasive procedures, or find people that had interesting accidents (Google for Phineas Gauge)
    • It is kinda amusing, as your descriptions reminds me of a movie (in MST3K, I think) where some guy's brain is exposed and the neuroscientist keeps touching it in a spot that forces a reflex of him slapping himself in the face. Luckily it seems like we are leaps and bounds beyond that kind of caveman experimentation.
    • Not sure what you're asking for. It would be hard to get more specific than microelectrodes (not EEG electrodes), which allow you to isolate the activity in single neurons of the brain. There are other developing techniques like 2-photon imaging of calcium dyes, but they currently have severe limitations.

      If he can move the electrodes around (and they will move if he hits his head hard enough) he could conceivably record from hundreds of neurons over the life of the implant. If you already know what are

    • by SlayerDave ( 555409 ) <elddm1 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @01:03PM (#14725814) Homepage
      I can't believe we still know so little about how the brain works actually

      I'm a PhD student in neuroscience, so let me comment. The human brain has around 100,000,000,000 neurons and 1,000,000,000,000,000 individual synapses (rough estimates, no one knows for sure). That makes the brain by far the most complicated structure in the known universe. Furthermore, techniques for studying the brain have only existed for around 80 years. So the apparent lack of real progress in neuroscience is understandable, given the complexity of the problem. Also, we do know more than you might think, but we still have a very incomplete picture of how the brain works, partially due to the lack of robust experimental techniques, as you point out.

      I would have thought there would have been far more interest into researching how the brain functions.

      Well, I was at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington DC in November, and there were around 28,000 neuroscientists in attendance. Judging by the number of people from my department who did not attend, I'd say that represents 5-10% of the total neuroscience research community in this country. I'd challenge you to find another research field with that much active research.

      • Ok so there's a bit more interest than I thought there was :o). I realize that the brain is incredibly complex and it must be a truely daunting task to try and figure out how it works. I think what I was trying to get across is that we are still, AFAIK, a very long way from being able to point to a bit of the brain that contains a given piece of information.

        For example if I look at an image and remember it, AFAIK, we can say in what area that memory is recorded in but not how it is recorded (encoded) or w

      • by cosmic_gravy ( 902874 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @02:38PM (#14726472)
        A professor of mine once said, "If the human brain was simple enough for us to understand it, we would be too simple to understand the human brain."
        • OK, but what about if we are *exactly* smart enough to understand the brain?

          That might seem snarky, but let me make a serious point. What you have said makes it seem like intelligence is a linear scale -- say, humans have a 'brain ability' of 50, but it takes a score of, say, 100 to understand a human brain. So anything understandable has some kind of ranking, so understanding dogs is lower on the scale than understanding people.

          But what about qualitative intelligence, where instead of a numeric scale, t
  • by Noel Coward ( 16378 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @12:02PM (#14725303) Homepage
    Isaac Newton poked a bodkin through his eyelid and prodded the outside of his eyeball to convince himself that sensations of light originated in the eye.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @12:03PM (#14725313)
    Isn't this how most comic book supervillians get created? Scientist tries new procedure on themselves to produce extraordinary results. I'm thinking we should take names for what his supervillian name should be and who his archnemesis is.
  • Great Idea! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jump ( 135604 )
    And since he will then be no longer in a position to make an objective observation, the monkeys will start making experiments with him.

    But seriously, experiments like this will ultimately lead to a more inhuman society. Think of cops with satellite aided
    vision or marines with remote controlled wapons. There should be an international law/treaty against it, like we have for certain biological wapons or nukes.
    • Re:Great Idea! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SlayerDave ( 555409 )
      But seriously, experiments like this will ultimately lead to a more inhuman society... There should be an international law/treaty against it, like we have for certain biological weapons or nukes.

      Why?

      First, I'm not sure how implanted sensory or neural augmentation differs in any significant way from contact lenses, pacemakers, hearing aids, prosthetic limbs, or for that matter, airplanes, space ships, submarines, vaccines, or virtually any other technology. Technology, by definition, allows humans to ove

    • Re:Great Idea! (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Feanturi ( 99866 )
      Are you certain that borgification is not our natural path? Look at it this way, we as a species have been married to technology for a really really long time. We keep getting closer and closer to it, using it to ensure comfort, safety, and entertainment. Always trying to find better and more reliable ways to integrate tech into our lives so that our biological needs can be better served. Maybe it's actually inhuman to avoid technology?
  • he will exchange the neural information between this chicken, and this rabbit. Hey, where's the rabbit? NO, DON'T PULL THAT *BZZZZT*
  • Ten years later the scientist woke up from the coma and said "Ta-daaaaaaaaaa!!!"

  • So what happens when he finds the one that's already there!?
  • by Tiger4 ( 840741 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @12:10PM (#14725358)
    How many times do we have to say it? "Don't Experiment on Yourself!" That is what Igor and the unsuspecting villagers are for.

    Doesn't this guy READ the Journal of Mad Scientists and Eccentric Inventors?

  • His goal was not to progress on human-machine interfaces, but to investigate on what consciousness is, and on the impact of sending electrical signals to the brain.

    A waste of time, and dangerous if you ask me.
    • His goal was not to progress on human-machine interfaces, but to investigate on what consciousness is, and on the impact of sending electrical signals to the brain.

      It might be useful for understanding human though process and developing Strong AI. If we can understand how consciousness on the neural level, we might be able to recreate it via simulation (or other means).

      And I applaud him for his bravery.

      As someone would say in the dying last words of Otto Lilienthal [wikipedia.org] (after his fatal experiement in flight): "
  • ... NOT to give the wife the remote...
  • If the headline has a question mark, it's not news, it's speculation about the future.

    Get back to us when something happens.
  • "Bill Newsome, a neuroscientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA...

    If this works, he should be calling himself Bill Awesome from now on.
  • I've read through the article, but I still don't understand how this really qualifies as science. It doesn't sound like he has a well defined question he's trying to answer beyond "the connection between brain and consciousness", which leaves a lot to be desired. How is he going to judge the effects if electrical stimulation? In what part of the brain is he going to implant the electrode? In short, how is going to prevent fooling himself?

    The whole thing just sounds a bit obsessesive rather than scientif
  • Aim for the pleasure center!
  • Dr. Peter Venkman: Egon, this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head. Remember that?
    Dr. Egon Spengler: That would have worked if you hadn't stopped me.
  • Recent Findings? (Score:2, Informative)

    "The findings gave neuroscientists enormous insight into the inner workings of the brain"
    Funny this is the exact way that the functions of the brain where mapped out. When cancer patients went in for surgery local anesthetic was given (the brain has no pain receptors, only the skin, skull, and the membranes around the brain). The doctors after surgery would stimulate different areas of the brain with extremely low voltages and observe the response in the patient. Sometimes the patient would smell a rose,
  • by abes ( 82351 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @12:38PM (#14725616) Homepage
    I should point out that Newsome is a fairly well known name in the Neuroscience field. And however crazy this idea is (which, IMHO, is really high up there), he wouldn't be the first neuroscientist to do an experiment on himself. I can't remember his name, but another person vivesected his own arm to understand how sensory nerves worked. Not to mention, researchers put themselves in TMS machines, that essentially shuts down parts of the brain by means of large magnetic fields.
    • There's also a guy who paralyzed himself while awake (and ventilated by a machine respirator) to study the effect of intended (but not actually completed) eye movements on visual perception.

      But, aside from the significant risk of brain infection, this doesn't quite rise to the level of the bacteriologists who drank infectious cultures (of cholera?) to prove a scientific point.

  • Will he get fired? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Coppit ( 2441 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @12:46PM (#14725694) Homepage
    The guy who gave himself a heart catheter got fired for it. From A History of Cardiac Catheterization [gru.net]:

    In 1929, a German surgical trainee, Werner Forssmann, experimented on a human cadaver and realized how easy it was to guide a urological catheter from an arm vein into the right atrium. He went so far as to dissect the veins of his own forearm and guide a urological catheter into his right atrium using fluoroscopic control and a mirror. With the catheter in place, he walked to the x-ray room with no ill effects to have his chest x-rayed. This made Forssmann the first to document right heart catheterization in humans using radiographic techniques. In return, he was fired from his position at the hospital and won the Nobel Prize in 1956.
    Yikes! I wonder if during his Nobel acceptance he gave the hospital the finger. ;)
  • Better not let that get infected. And avoid accidentally bumping your head in a way that might cause the fixed-position electrodes to slice through your brain.
  • Isn't this how "Doc Oc" started?
  • Not to worry, Gromit - just a bit of harmless brain alteration. [familyreserve.com]
  • by mrpeebles ( 853978 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @01:26PM (#14725997)
    Can we even scientifically study consciousness? A large component of what most of us mean by consciousness is probably metaphysical. Certainly it is inherently subjective. While I think that neurobiology and neuropsychology are worthy enterprises, it seems like they should invent a new term for what they mean by consciousness.

    This is a huge undertaking though. It took physics a long time (what, ~170 years after Newton) to be able to understand how microscopic physics related to the behavior of a simple macroscopic gas. They really even didn't really get it right until after Planck. The brain is, of course, much more complicated than a simple gas, and the chemistry controlling the action of individual neurons is much more complicated than Newton's physics. Maybe the standards for "understanding" are lower, but all the same, this is going to be extremely difficult, I imagine, if it is even possible. (As I understand it, there are certain philosophers who think it is not, but I am not in a position to have an opinion.
  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @01:28PM (#14726012) Homepage

    This somehow reminds me of Tom Tucker's apology on a season 2 [amazon.com] episode of Family Guy. I wonder what this guy did to seek an apology?

    Now in an act of contrition, I will insert this electrode into my brain... Oh God, oh God, it's burning out my eyelids from the inside!

  • At least he's a scientist with proper equipment and connections to skilled people who could make this a reality. Unlike the trepanning freaks who use Black and Decker drills and coat hangers in their living rooms. Those people are also looking to expand their consciousness using this age old technique, but if you ask me, they're insane. Hell, after reading half the treppaning stories online, I think I'd prefer surgery by Dr. Frankenstein over some of the wild eyed extreme types doing this stuff at home.
  • Overlord (Score:2, Funny)

    by BigZaphod ( 12942 )
    I, for one, welcome our new implanted-electrode-wielding scientist overlords!
  • *beep beep*

    Security guard: Sir, could you step over here for a moment. You've set off the metal detector.

    Dr. Newsome: Oh, you must be referring to my cleverly implanted electrode that I put in my brain. Here's my doctor's note explaining the whole thing.

    Security guard: Right, you put an electrode in your own brain?

    Dr. Newsome: Just read the note, it'll explain everything.

    Security guard: Sir, this note is signed by yourself. You can't write your own doctor's note. Do you have any other documentation
  • Paradox Farnsworth: Oh, the easy part was getting the brain out, but the hard part was getting the brain out. /insane laugh
  • A sweet romance is not for me
    I need electricity
    If you wanna make me flip
    Hit me with a micro chip

    [Chorus]
    I'll be a diode, cathode, electrode
    Overload, generator, oscillator
    Make a circuit with me

    Just plug in and go-go-go
    I'll be your human dynamo
    Signals in my power cord
    Impulse on my circuit board

  • Hot Holodeck Action? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Drunkulus ( 920976 ) on Wednesday February 15, 2006 @02:32PM (#14726433)
    "When he went deeper into the brain, into the temporal cortex, he could elicit complex perceptions. A patient would say things like, 'I'm sitting on the back porch of my mother's house and she's calling me to dinner.'"

    Could this be developed further? How realistic was the perception? I guess that's exactly the question Newsome would like to answer. The mind reels.
    • Of course, the other question it seems to me is whether this was an actual perception, or just the experience of perception. For example, would the patient actually remember, if asked, the exact words his mother had used? Or did he simply have the experience that he knew. There are pretty weird studies of, eg, people are blind but don't know it, and who swear they are blind but have reflex actions based on sight.


  • And I thought that I was a die hard House [wikipedia.org] fan!

    To those who didn't see it, this is a reference to last nights episode, in which he shoots himself up with a drug that causes migranes to prove that an arch-enemy ex-colleauge of his is claiming a drug effictively treats migranes, when it does not. After taking the drug, and proving it doesn't stop the migrane, he drops LSD to overcome the migrane and lots of anti-depressants to overcome the hallucinatory properties of the LSD, so he can get back to saving

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