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Science Technology

Living In a Virtual World Requires Less Brain Power 89

Posted by samzenpus
from the dumbing-it-down dept.
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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Living In a Virtual World Requires Less Brain Power

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  • by filmorris (2466940) on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:14AM (#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!
    • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:37AM (#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: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      earth is round!

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

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.

      • by gmuslera (3436)
        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 capac
    • "...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.

      • "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.

    • 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 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rtkluttz (244325) on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:15AM (#43618885) Homepage

    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.

    • by alexo (9335)

      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.

    • 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

  • by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:16AM (#43618889) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        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? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:17AM (#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.
    • by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:20AM (#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.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        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.

        • by mt42 (1906902)

          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 wha

    • by pla (258480) on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:58AM (#43619117) Journal

      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.

      • by gl4ss (559668)

        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.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      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.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

  • by removing vision as well.
  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:39AM (#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?

    • 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.

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      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.

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

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Friday May 03, 2013 @08:46AM (#43619035)

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

  • 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 :(
  • 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.

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

  • 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 t

  • ...is that rats play more immersive video games than we do. When do we get to see affordable omnidirectional virtual walking environments?
  • by ledow (319597) on Friday May 03, 2013 @09:42AM (#43619401) Homepage

    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)?

  • by Rashkae (59673) on Friday May 03, 2013 @09:43AM (#43619417) Homepage

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

  • 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 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

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Friday May 03, 2013 @09:47AM (#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.

  • 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.

  • 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
  • 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.

    • 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 pr
      • by gl4ss (559668)

        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).

  • Is this why I feel stupid well playing Minecraft?

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