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Using Magnets To Turn Off the Brain's Speech Center 269

Posted by Soulskill
from the bzzt-ow-bzzt-ow-bzzzzzzzt-owwwwwww dept.
An editor for the Telegraph, Roger Highfield, recently volunteered to allow a UK researcher to shut off the speech center of his brain with a high-powered magnetic pulse. Regular speech is controlled by a section of the brain called Broca's area. Once the precise location is determined in the subject, a magnetic pulse can temporarily disrupt speech without impairing other cognitive functions. The link contains a video in which you can watch Highfield stutter and twitch while attempting to recite a nursery rhyme. A later test shows that he's able to sing the rhyme without difficulty, since singing is controlled in a different part of the brain (as you may remember from Scott Adams' speech disorder). Researchers believe that the ability to stimulate or quell activity in specific areas of the brain may help in treating conditions like epilepsy and migraine headaches.
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Using Magnets To Turn Off the Brain's Speech Center

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  • I wonder... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Bringer (653232) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @10:36AM (#23452974)
    I wonder what would happen if the magnetic pulses were applied to more important sections of the brain, such as the area that controls autonomous bodily functions, like the heart. I suppose, if it is capable of knocking out the area of the brain that controls speech, it should be capable of knocking out the section of the brain that controls other, critical bodily functions. Is it only me, or do you see a potential weapons application for this in the future?
  • Brain Hacking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zarf (5735) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @11:13AM (#23453268) Journal
    This is very exciting as it could point to a future where you can literally hack your own brain. So far it looks like he can only temporarily disrupt parts of a person's brain... what about enhancement? What about non-invasive brain I/O?

    What I think could also be very interesting is what kinds of background effects do things like the Aurora have on people's brains? I lived in far-north Alaska for many years and I remember that anecdotally everyone talked about strange dreams when the Aurora was active. It could have been merely a sub-conscious suggestion that active Aurora leads to altered dream states or ... now I think after seeing this video ... perhaps it had a grain of truth? Hopefully someone will conduct some experiments.
  • Re:I wonder... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by zwei2stein (782480) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @11:30AM (#23453388) Homepage
    "Natural death" is quite usefull if you want to kill someone popular but undesirable ... No blades, no blame.

    But even worse is ... you dont have to kill him at all! Death of mind is good enough and someone with dead mind can be reused ... especially if he is popular with undesirable kind of people.

    Just imagine how much can specialist at ministry of do with this kind of stuff. Selectivelly disable parts of someone mind ... with memory and/or inteligence gone, you have obedient tabula rasa person.
  • by NeverVotedBush (1041088) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @01:04PM (#23454010)
    Bush and Cheney's "free speech zones" are going to have big black boxes around the edges.

    Be sure to listen for the clicking noise as the limousines drive past.

    Hmmm, maybe they could sing?...
  • Re:seen the video... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @01:58PM (#23454424) Journal
    But I bet that TMS has a similar effect on computers...

    It's funny that you mention that. I do TMS research on visual areas and often have participants staring at a CRT screen while we apply TMS. One of the things we have to keep in mind is to time the TMS pulse while the vertical refresh is at the top of the screen, otherwise we get annoying screen artifacts (which look like a horizontal line) caused by the TMS pulse deflecting the beam from the electron gun inside the CRT.
  • Re:I wonder... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @02:06PM (#23454496) Journal
    I wonder what would happen if the magnetic pulses were applied to more important sections of the brain, such as the area that controls autonomous bodily functions, like the heart. I suppose, if it is capable of knocking out the area of the brain that controls speech, it should be capable of knocking out the section of the brain that controls other, critical bodily functions. Is it only me, or do you see a potential weapons application for this in the future?

    One thing to know about TMS is that 90-95% of the labs doing research with it use coils which are only capable of stimulating ~1-2cm deep, which is really only useful for hitting cortical areas (or cerebellum). Autonomic functions are controlled by subcortical brain regions, farther away from the scalp. There are a few labs however working with developing things like Deep TMS [medgadget.com] which should hypothetically be able to hit deeper regions, but I've never worked with those systems, so I don't know what sorts of safety measures they take.
  • Re:Mmm torture (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @02:15PM (#23454564) Homepage Journal
    If we could use brain stimulation for interrogation purposes (such as disabling parts of the brain which are used to forge lies, or to inhibit actions), it would eliminate the need for torture as well as its pitfalls.

    I don't think we know enough about the brain to do that. Most likely, it would be used to scare detainees. "Tell us where Bin Laden is or we will scramble your brain. Here's a sample, try to talk now...".

    I wonder if Geneva conventions cover such? (Although the current administration didn't seem to care either way.)

         
  • Another cool video (Score:4, Interesting)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @02:24PM (#23454632) Journal
    There's actually another neat video [wwnorton.com] (from an intro psych textbook website from a couple years ago) showing the effects of TMS on Broca's area. The guy counts numbers upwards, and as they stimulate Broca's on the left side he experiences a disruptive effect (afterwards saying, "That was cool" ;). They also stimulated on the analogous region on the right side, showing that this participant had no observable effect.
  • Re:Brain Hacking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FleaPlus (6935) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @02:33PM (#23454700) Journal
    This is very exciting as it could point to a future where you can literally hack your own brain. So far it looks like he can only temporarily disrupt parts of a person's brain... what about enhancement?

    There's actually an Australian researcher, Allan Snyder [centreforthemind.com], who uses TMS to try to invoke savant-like symptoms [nytimes.com] in people. The basic idea is that autistic savants are able to do Rainman-like feats like instantaneous counting of scattered matchsticks and photorealistic drawing because their higher-level processing regions are impaired, so that they operate based on lower-level, unfiltered representations. The idea is to see what happens when you try to impair these regions in other people. I should add the caveat though that I'm not aware of other labs which have replicated (or tried to replicate) his results yet, so they should be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. From the article:

    The Medtronic was originally developed as a tool for brain surgery: by stimulating or slowing down specific regions of the brain, it allowed doctors to monitor the effects of surgery in real time. But it also produced, they noted, strange and unexpected effects on patients' mental functions: one minute they would lose the ability to speak, another minute they would speak easily but would make odd linguistic errors and so on. A number of researchers started to look into the possibilities, but one in particular intrigued Snyder: that people undergoing transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, could suddenly exhibit savant intelligence -- those isolated pockets of geniuslike mental ability that most often appear in autistic people. ...

    A series of electromagnetic pulses were being directed into my frontal lobes, but I felt nothing. Snyder instructed me to draw something. ''What would you like to draw?'' he said merrily. ''A cat? You like drawing cats? Cats it is.''

    I've seen a million cats in my life, so when I close my eyes, I have no trouble picturing them. But what does a cat really look like, and how do you put it down on paper? I gave it a try but came up with some sort of stick figure, perhaps an insect. ....

    While I drew, Snyder continued his lecture. ''You could call this a creativity-amplifying machine. It's a way of altering our states of mind without taking drugs like mescaline. You can make people see the raw data of the world as it is. As it is actually represented in the unconscious mind of all of us.''

    Two minutes after I started the first drawing, I was instructed to try again. After another two minutes, I tried a third cat, and then in due course a fourth. Then the experiment was over, and the electrodes were removed. I looked down at my work. The first felines were boxy and stiffly unconvincing. But after I had been subjected to about 10 minutes of transcranial magnetic stimulation, their tails had grown more vibrant, more nervous; their faces were personable and convincing. They were even beginning to wear clever expressions.

    I could hardly recognize them as my own drawings, though I had watched myself render each one, in all its loving detail. Somehow over the course of a very few minutes, and with no additional instruction, I had gone from an incompetent draftsman to a very impressive artist of the feline form. ...

    As remarkable as the cat-drawing lesson was, it was just a hint of Snyder's work and its implications for the study of cognition. He has used TMS dozens of times on university students, measuring its effect on their ability to draw, to proofread and to perform difficult mathematical functions like identifying prime numbers by sight. Hooked up to the machine, 40 percent of test subjects exhibited extraordinary, and newfound, mental skills. That Snyder was able to induce these remarkable feats in a controlled, repeatable experim

  • Re:I wonder... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CrazedWalrus (901897) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @04:12PM (#23455404) Journal
    Well, I don't watch CSI, but I've seen it a few times on CourtTV^W TrueTV. Maybe they do give the impression that it's more infallible than it really is, I don't know.

    Either way, if they can do it at all, that's still more than they can track an EM pulse, or even identify that one was used. At least a bullet, when used, is fairly obvious.
  • OLD NEWS..... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IHC Navistar (967161) on Sunday May 18, 2008 @09:55PM (#23457676)
    Using magnets to turn off parts of the brain has been around for DECADES.

    We just watched a video about this VERY SAME THING in psych class a month and a half ago - A magnetic pulse was used to turn off the speech center of a subjects brain while they counted from one to ten and recited a series of words.

    NOTHING NEW.
  • Sexual orientation (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 18, 2008 @09:57PM (#23457702)

    Sadly, sexual orientation is not, to the best of my knowledge, something one can alter at will.
    Gay or straight doesn't matter: everyone is bisexual until they start lying to themselves. Once that happens it's almost impossible to stop.
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Monday May 19, 2008 @03:18AM (#23459352)
    The manipulation of the nervous system through the application of electromagnetic fields has been done before, though it rarely seems to be the primary subject of a story, but rather is only mentioned as a secondary point of fact.


    Take this story, [scotsman.com] for example. . .

    [...]In tests, the blind have been able to distinguish basic shapes of objects they cannot see, as well as their orientation and direction of motion. On other occasions a blind person has reported experiencing a "feeling" that an object is present, while not being able to see it.

    A number of theories have been proposed to explain "blindsight". Generally, it is suggested that other parts of the brain besides the primary visual cortex respond to nerve messages from the eyes at an unconscious level.

    Scientists from the University of Houston in Texas, temporarily blinded a group of 12 volunteers by using an electromagnetic field to shut down the primary visual cortex. Images were then flashed in front of them on a screen[...]

    It is for these reasons, among others, that I find the whole mass adoption of cell phones and the resulting soup of EM broadcast transmissions in our cities and homes troublesome, and why I find myself sighing at those who insist on repeating the telecommunications corporate propaganda: that non-ionizing radiation is harmless, (which I suppose might be true if one considers mass manipulation of human awareness 'harmless'), that the sun puts out more EM than any man-made device which therefore means that there is nothing to be concerned about, (a silly argument since life IS affected by the white noise from space, but has adapted to deal with it in some interesting ways, as opposed to deliberate coherent signals which affect cells in a variety of reliable and repeatable ways), and that studies on rats don't mean anything because rats != humans, and other such nonsense arguments.

    This is just more fodder for the fire. Ignore at your own risk. (And with EM, the more you ignore, the faster and easier it becomes to ignore. Zombie nation.)


    -FL

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