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Lab Rats Given "Sixth Sense" 78

puddingebola writes "Researchers have given lab rats the ability to sense infrared light through a brain implant. From the article, 'They taught the rats to choose the active light source by poking their noses into a port to receive a sip of water as a reward. They then implanted the microelectrodes, each about a tenth the diameter of a human hair, into the animals' brains. These electrodes were attached to the infrared detectors. The scientists then returned the animals to the test chamber. At first, the rats scratched at their faces, indicating that they were interpreting the lights as touch. But after a month, the animals learned to associate the signal in their brains with the infrared source.'"
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Lab Rats Given "Sixth Sense"

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    to all sorts of nightmarish brain interfaces

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You mean like the Necomimi wearable brain watching cat-ears?
      But they are so cool! They perk up when you are interested in something! They twitch when you are thinking hard!
      You can learn how to control them(I mean control yourself!)

    • by Lotana ( 842533 ) on Friday February 15, 2013 @01:33AM (#42906617)

      Only if you choose to see it this way.

      I see brain-computer interface as a monumental step to improving our lives. We can construct sensors for virtually every stimuli there is, but could never reach the level of comfort and impressiveness that our natural senses give us. But with this, imagine what we can do for those people that lose their limbs, eyes or suffer horrific burns to their skin. We may even be able to restore movement to people with paralysis!

      Imagine being able to interact with your desktop without risk of Repetitive Stress Injuries. Imagine having the ability to directly jack in to robots in hostile environments. Imagine what kind of augmentations we can add. This could even be first steps towards having a choice of immortality!

      Biotech is such a quickly developing area. It is a very exciting time to be alive! You just need to avoid focusing on only negatives. Every scientific development has both good and bad sides: Nuclear fission did bring us terrifying weapons, but also a source of energy.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Brother Cavil in the series Battlestar Galactica put it quite succinctly:

        I don't want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to - I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can't even express these things properly because I have to - I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me! I'm a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I'm trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!

        Now, I'm not saying we should become machines ourselves, but it does not take a genius to imagine what experiences might be possible in our lives if we were to integrate technology into our bodies much more than we are now.

        Imagine scouring the web with a mere thought, absorbing information directly without the inconvenience of reading text from a screen. Imagine playing a game that feels real without a clunky VR headset or a cave, and

      • Unless the bad side is catastrophic. Nuclear technology hasn't improved life all that much, but even if it provided something amazing like free power, it obviously wouldn't be worth it if also resulted in extinction.
  • by roboticon ( 2715841 ) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @10:18PM (#42905161)
    Interestingly the electrodes were implanted in the "tactile information" processor, so the infrared light is interpreted as touch. That would seem to mean that in "tracking" the source of the signal, the rats meander until the infrared light hits their eyes, and then head toward it as the strength of the touch signal increases.

    TFA says "a new sensory input can be interpreted by a region of the brain that normally does something else," but isn't the input just being "converted" into the sense of touch by activating that region of the brain?
    • by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @10:58PM (#42905495) Journal

      You see with your brain too. If someone draws a simple picture on your palm or back, you can still "see" it in your mind.

      See also: []
      The brain is able to learn to see whether the picture is generated by touch or sound.

      And even with sound there are different ways for seeing,
      echolocation: []
      and some software that converts images to pitch and left-right volume: []

      Maybe what they could try is implant a sensory array to baby/young rats and see if they can add a extra video input to rats.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @11:18PM (#42905617)
      If you receive conflicting information, your brain will file it conveniently. "Touch" brain activated by light can be re-wired to be forwarded to vision. That was part of the result. They initially acted at first like it was "felt" as a touch. Later, they acted as if it was "seen".
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "Figure 2A: Learning curve for IR-only trials. Graph shows percentage of correct trials as a function of session number (130 sessions in four rats). Black circles/lines indicate mean/s.e.m. for blocks of three sessions."

      And there are 15 datapoints if you look at the chart. So there should be 4*3*15=180 sessions, yet there are only 130 total. That makes it seem like they failed to collect data on 27% of trials for some reason. What is the explanation for this? I mean stuff happens so its fine to be missing s

  • It is not 6 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @10:25PM (#42905219)

    Why is that stupid term "Sixth Sense" still used?

    1) Sight
    2) Hearing
    3) Touch
    4) Taste
    5) Smell
    6) Balance
    7) Temperature
    and there are several others. So it is not a "Sixth Sense"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      There are many, many senses. And we're discovering more all the time.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 14, 2013 @10:35PM (#42905317)

      You forgot 8) Humor

    • Re:It is not 6 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @10:37PM (#42905329)

      Why is that stupid term "Sixth Sense" still used?

      About 3000 years or so of cultural heritage, combined with general apathy on the subject from the public at large. The alliteration doesn't hurt, either.

      Have fun tilting at those windmills.

      • About 3000 years or so of cultural heritage, combined with general apathy on the subject from the public at large. The alliteration doesn't hurt, either.

        Have fun tilting at those windmills.

        Well, if he's lacking Sense#8 (balance), he sure is going to tilt.
        [for those lacking Sense#37 (puns), yes I do know the alternate meanings of "tilt"]

    • by nxcho ( 754392 ) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @10:38PM (#42905345)
      Actually Nr.6 is reserved for future use. 1) Sight 2) Hearing 3) Touch 4) Taste 5) Smell 6) 7) Temperature 8) Balance 9) Autokinectic etc
    • by craznar ( 710808 )

      I sense a pedant in the wings.

    • If the rats are forced to perform this trick, "to receive a sip of water as a reward", I believe the rats will also develop a strong sense of anger. Poor critters, starved of water by evil scientists.

      Thirsty rats will probably get quite onery . . . they might be tempted to take a drink from one of those big "bags of mostly water" in the white coats.

    • Well, you beat me to this. But I can answer the question.

      Because in kindergarten -- or elementary school if your school system sucks -- very young children are taught 5. They are taught 5 because they are very young, and teaching 20 would be difficult.

      Unfortunately, you live in a world where adults forget that what was taught in school isn't anywhere near complete. So they think there are 5 senses, atoms are round, primary colours are red, yellow, blue, and tarrot cards mean something.

      What we need to do

    • temperature and sight are both electro-magnetic energy sensations. taste and smell are both chemical sensations.hearing is mechanical vibrations. touch is a mechanical sensation. balance is a force sensation. All the scientist have done is train the mice to detect levels of electro-magnetic energy that is outside their normal range.
      • by tbird81 ( 946205 )

        I'm not sure that temperature sensation in humans is actually directed detecting EM energy. But I couldn't actually find out much about how thermoreceptors work.

        Apparently there are six different heat sensitive channels (Trp) in the membranes of the thermoreceptor, which at certain temperatures let ions into the cell, triggering an action potential. Some of these are activated by capsaican, which is why chili feels hot.

    • ...and just to mess things up a bit, in addition to hunger (which no one got), touch is actually four or five different mechanosensory phenomena—vibration, pressure (both fine and coarse), skin stretching. Pain is also completely separate, and (to the surprise of many) actually one of our slower senses.
    • by tbird81 ( 946205 )

      I don't know. I'd understand it for a newspaper article, but this is the type of thing that nearly every Slashdotter knows. The story submitters and editors seem to be a different population than the commenters.

      It seems we get the idiots to chose and edit the story, and get the slightly smarter idiots to make the comments.

    • by dywolf ( 2673597 )

      did you understand the concept being conveyed?
      then the phrasing did its job.

  • by johnnyb ( 4816 ) <> on Thursday February 14, 2013 @10:27PM (#42905255) Homepage

    The ability to sense when my children are misbehaving? That would be more helpful than infrared, I think.

  • rats give YOU a "sixth sense"!!!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Does the ratty sense tingle?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    as gluing geiger muller tubes to the heads of cats and controlling their fear center via electrodes so they fear radiation... This was done in the 1960s.
  • Or could it wind up mapping to something completely different, as the brain learns to interpret the signals?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      From an evolutionary perspective, sounds legit. The first sense a multicellular organism would have would be Taste/smell (really the same chemical receptor sense). eventually, as a nervous system would develop, getting a dedicated Taste/smell system setup would be important. To understand environment, touch would then come about. To detect prey and avoid predators, chromatophores would start to become light sensetive, and in an evolutionary arms race, lens and dedicated retinas and eyeballs for fast tra

  • God I hope one of them is named Nicodemus and becomes...intelligent.
  • by Brad1138 ( 590148 ) <> on Thursday February 14, 2013 @11:34PM (#42905769)
    See dead people?
  • by jimmydevice ( 699057 ) on Thursday February 14, 2013 @11:47PM (#42905869)
    Why is this tagged entertainment? Have the DICE corporate sociopaths and marketdroids finally twisted the knife?
  • I'd like infravision, I could go live in the underdark. All bow to Lolth!.
  • to have a fashion sense. Slashdotters are blind to that.
  • They taught the rats to choose the active light source by poking their noses into a port to receive a sip of water as a reward

    Great tool for positive reinforcement in our congress critters. Still, science fiction teaches us it is always better to stimulate the pain receptors!
    • Great tool for positive reinforcement in our congress critters. Still, science fiction teaches us it is always better to stimulate the pain receptors!

      (a) you don't read a wide-enough variety of SciFi .
      (b) Congresscritters are quite good enough at handling positive reinforcement -- in the form of $$. But so far as I can tell, they disdain water in favor of alcohol at all times.

  • Detecting light? That would be one of the normal five senses, actually.
  • having lots of "maybe useful, but not entirely necessary" inputs will only take up valuable brain matter, that's why these haven't evolved in the first place(even though we might need some of these more in our modern society than 10 thousand years ago, I don't think it's very significant).

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.