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Science

Weak Electrical Field Found To Carry Information Around the Brain (eurekalert.org) 123

Zothecula writes: In a development that could lead to improved understanding of memory formation and epilepsy, scientists have discovered a new way information may be traveling throughout the brain. The team has identified slow-moving brainwaves it says could be carried only by the brain's gentle electrical field (abstract), a mechanism previously thought to be incapable of spreading neural signals altogether. "Although the electrical field is of low amplitude, the field excites and activates immediate neighbors, which, in turn, excite and activate immediate neighbors, and so on across the brain at a rate of about 0.1 meter per second."
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Weak Electrical Field Found To Carry Information Around the Brain

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  • 0.1 meter per second.

    What's that in decimeters/second?

    What's the point in having lots of prefixes defined if you're then going to ignore them and use extra 0's and decimal points instead?

    Sorry, pet peeve rant over.

    • by hagnat ( 752654 )

      first thing that came to my mind

      at a 100 mm / second speed

    • 0.1 meter per second.

      What's that in decimeters/second?

      What's the point in having lots of prefixes defined if you're then going to ignore them and use extra 0's and decimal points instead?

      For the Americans, it would be like saying the speed was 396850 feet/fortnight instead of the more reasonable 0.39685 MegaFeet/fortnight. ...Or vice versa... You get the idea.

      • You can't have MegaFeet creeping into those measures ... you need to convert it to the more accepted "furlongs" and "leagues".

        You can't just move around the decimal place.

        You have to express it as 601.286683 furlongs/fortnight.

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      It's MKS (meters - kilogram - second). You got a problem with that?

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It's MKS (meters - kilogram - second). You got a problem with that?

        Yes. Why are you mixing metric (meters, kilogram) with Imperial units (hour)? Shouldn't you be using a base 10 system for keeping time if you're going to be a pompous ass?

        • by stjobe ( 78285 )

          Yes. Why are you mixing metric (meters, kilogram) with Imperial units (hour)? Shouldn't you be using a base 10 system for keeping time if you're going to be a pompous ass?

          The hour isn't an Imperial unit [wikipedia.org].

          It isn't metric either, but it is among the non-SI units mentioned in the SI [wikipedia.org]. The second, along with the other units in the GP, is not only metric [wikipedia.org] but also part of the SI system [wikipedia.org] that most of the world uses these days.

          How's that for pompous? ;)

          • by mikael ( 484 )

            Inches, feet, yards, furlongs, rods, hands and hogsheads are Imperial units of measurement. Everything else is in rebel units of measurement.

    • Well, it works out to just under 2 furlongs per hour. (about 1.78955 furlongs/hour) How's that?
    • Actually, 0.1 metrers per second is different than 1 decimeter per second.

      Between precision-factors, accuracy-factors, and tools used, it can be quite different. An odometer doesn't measure in micrometres, but a micrometer does.

      So I would presume that 0.1 metres per second, is being measured with a device that measures in metres (and perhaps the "tenth" is an interpolation, or a secondary measurement), whereas 1 decimetre per second would be measured with a device that measures in decimetres.

      That said, I h

      • The unit is irrelevant, significant figures are what denote the accuracy of measurement. 100mm, 10cm, and .1m all have the same amount of significant figures, so the original complaint is still valid.
        • You've spoken about scientific precision. I wasn't. Another example:

          A cyclist can travel 30 km/h on his bicycle. That means if I see him at noon, and I see him again at 1pm, he could have travelled 30km. Simple.

          A cyclist at 30 km/h is not a cyclist at 720 km/day. I cyclist simply cannot travel 720 km/day, because food and sleep is required as a part of the cycling. If a cyclist could actually traverse 720 km in a single day, that would be incredible!

          The words used next to numbers matter. Most speeds

          • That's actually a bad example because:
            1) 30 and 720 have different numbers of significant figures
            2) A good cyclist can maintain an average of 30kph for a day. And if you want to quibble over only the best of the best cyclists, I'll point out that that single significant figure leaves a lot of leeway to fudge the distance, especially when multiplied out over 24 hours.
            3) As you pointed out, seconds are the usual unit of time. You're not only using the wrong time unit, but also changing the time unit ins
            • All I wanted to say is that in order to measure 30 km per hour, you must be measuring both 30km and 1 hour. You can't measure 30km/h in 1 second -- it'll actually take you a whole hour to measure 30 km per hour. That is all. Everything else was merely conversationally part of the examples.

              • You can't measure 30km/h in 1 second -- it'll actually take you a whole hour to measure 30 km per hour. That is all.

                Car speedometers around the world beg to differ with that assertion.

                • ...and that would be the incorrect part. That's my point. They aren't measuring anything per hour. They could. My GPS does -- says distance covered in the last hour. But the speedometer doesn't. I don't know what the measurement frequency is for a typical speedometer. I do know that it can't drop from 200kph to 10kph in less than a second, so the physical needle is, in and of itself, an average due to a physical lag. I would presume that, like a bicycle, the speedometer measures axel revolutions, mul

                  • And now you're just getting pedantic for the sake of prolonging a discussion. The bottom line is that significant figures are for expressing accuracy, and units should be picked to a standard (e.g. MKS, IPS, etc.) and/or in order to minimize the amount of extraneous zeros (e.g. don't use mm to express distances several km long).
                    • units should not be picked to a standard. Units should be picked to the actual unit measured -- not the accuracy. Accuracy should be in significant digits. Units should be in what was actually measured. If you measured around the world one mm at a time, then yeah, use mm, because that's what you used. There's nothing wrong with more numbers. There is something wrong with expressing something that you didn't do. That's why my GPS doesn't know my speed when I'm on a steep hill, it's totally wrong.

                      Stand

                    • Instantaneous is always a mathematical construct. It does not exist in the real world. So you can call it an average, or a determination, or an expectation, depending on what you've actually done in order to calculate it. But since you didn't measure it over an instant, there's no difference between measuring ten times per second and describing the middle, or measuring three times a year and describing august. You don't know what the velocity was at that instant, because that's not actually measurable.

                    • And none of that has anything to do with using significant figures to express accuracy of a measurement and picking units for readability.
              • Instantaneous velocity

    • Nah just go full out crazy and put it in light years per fortnight. Has the added benefit of scientific notation to boot.
  • Does this mean the scifi trope of using a machine to put knowledge in your head and getting years of education in matter of moments might actually be feasible?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Does this mean the scifi trope of using a machine to put knowledge in your head and getting years of education in matter of moments might actually be feasible?

      Yes, that is the sole and immediate outcome of this discovery.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think you meant putting commercials in your head and getting years of brand loyalty in a matter of moments, right?

      • Lightspeed briefs! For the discriminating crotch.

    • knowledge and education is one thing, ability to act on knowledge and wisdom is another .
      sort of distinction that people who write 'scifi tropes' (and those expect their realization) usually fails to make.

    • Does this mean the scifi trope of using a machine to put knowledge in your head and getting years of education in matter of moments might actually be feasible?

      At 0.1 m/s it would take over a second to get from one end or your brain to the other, so even if it could be used for a man-machine interface it would definitely not be a high-speed interface.

    • Re:New technologies? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @12:02PM (#51322369) Journal

      I was wondering if it maybe actually lends credence to people who claim they have allergies to various types of EM.

      • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

        Except these people are usually allergic to whatever is the current latest technology whether it be cellphones, wifi or whatever. Oddly none of them seem to be allergic to domestic electrical power cables which emit frequencies far closer to brainwaves than VHF and UHF devices.

        • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

          Except a quick a Google shows A LOT of people seems to be worried about living near or under power lines, and are utterly convinced electric blankets cause migraines.

          I don't buy it myself, I think a lot more people would have a lot more problems if it were really a thing. Maybe though in some extreem situations there could be some validity to it.

          • Just fucking don't go there. My wife is one of those nutters. She opens the kitchen windows if I've been using the microwave.

            There's an old joke about people who complained about a radio mast that they said was causing all kinds of problems from eczema to sour milk. The owner apologised, and hoped that it wouldn't get worse when the time came to switch it on.

          • by mikael ( 484 )

            Heat from an electric blanket would raise body temperature. Body temperature raises heart pressure to provide extra cooling. Extra blood pressure = migraine.
            The extra heat might also have some effect on the digestive system, heating up dissolved gases like CO2, CH4 and putting them through the blood stream.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Except a quick a Google shows A LOT of people seems to be worried about living near or under power lines, and are utterly convinced electric blankets cause migraines.

            I don't buy it myself, I think a lot more people would have a lot more problems if it were really a thing. Maybe though in some extreem situations there could be some validity to it.

            I believe the stories about illness from living under high-tension power lines, but I don't think it's from the electric fields.
            I think it occurs in places where they clear the right-of-way by truck-spraying herbicides which used to be things like 2,4,5-T contaminated with dioxins.
            Also, I suspect some places got rid of their PCB based transformer oil by dumping it along the high tension line right-of-ways.
            The illnesses that I read about when people first started believing the wires made them sick sounded to

      • No. Completely different frequencies, and 99% of the EM allergy people are purely psychosomatic. The very few who actually do show a difference between a device that's transmitting and a device with a blinking red light and some fake antennas seem to be keying to some element other than EM, such as high frequency switching noise from a poorly designed transformer.
      • Not likely, since provocation studies failed to show that electro sensitive people are sensitive to electromagnetic fields.

      • I was wondering if it maybe actually lends credence to people who claim they have allergies to various types of EM.

        I was wondering the same thing. Last year I was involved in the construction of a large (4 meter cube) copper-screened Faraday cage for 100Kv partial discharge testing. When we buttoned it up, I went inside and closed the door. It was oddly quiet - even though it was simply screen. At the time, I wondered if there was something to the idea that our brain was susceptible to RF energy. It was strangely peaceful and enjoyable.

        • by chihowa ( 366380 )

          It was oddly quiet - even though it was simply screen.

          It may have also been actually quieter or simply different in ambient sound. Screen will disrupt the propagation of sound to an extent that varies depending on the frequency of the sound. You could test this by changing the overall shielding effectiveness of the cage or bringing some RF sources into the cage with you.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        EM sensitive people are crazy because ... (regurgitates current scientific knowledge). There never seems to be any acknowledgement here that our knowledge of how the world works has changed throughout history, and will continue to change in the future.

        The correct answer is "we don't know for sure", not "ha ha EM sensitive people are crazy, lulz".

        Were you really born in the first period of human history when there were no significant scientific discoveries left to make? The brain is at best very poorly under

        • If they are not crazy, then they should be able to tell whether the field-generating equipment is turned on or not.
          They can't.
      • I was wondering if it maybe actually lends credence to people who claim they have allergies to various types of EM.

        When they can reliably detect the presence of active EM radiation, rather than only reacting to the presence of blinking LED on non-functional devices, then credence will be lent.

        Pass the double-blind, or GTFO.

    • Create a device that reads these signals and transports these signals (altered and unaltered to remote sections of the brain) at the speed of light rather than at the speed of these signal propagations and then reintroduce them into the brain. Super fast, enhanced brains, with perfect recall, and tie in to a supercomputer, and all the world knowledge. Might actually be a way to make it so that the human can keep pace with super intellegent machines for a hundred years or so.
    • by mikael ( 484 )

      To keep all your cortical units and neural units in sync, it was known that "slow waves" traveled through the brain tissue. That's particularly important for vision and audio processing given that over 30% of brain mass is dedicated to these inputs. The presence or absence of an electric field is known to speed up and slow down cell activity.

      Various types of knowledge are also known to be stored in specific. Route-planning and map based knowledge are stored in the hypothalamus. I don't think this could inst

  • Telepathy? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @11:43AM (#51322233)

    I have to wonder if this isn't a path to telepathy, either natural or mediated by technology.

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      If so, it will be interesting, I think, to see what effect this would have on wiretapping laws.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'm hoping they announce that the EM field can actually be blocked by wearing a tinfoil hat!

        • by mark-t ( 151149 )
          I was thinking more of a situation where in what is otherwise a two-party consent jurisdiction, you simply record the thoughts of one consenting party. Since their thoughts will necessarily include what is being heard by that person, you can effectively record what the otherwise unrecorded person is saying simply by recording the mental activity of the person hearing what they are saying.
    • Why on Earth is that something you think could be related in any way, shape or form?
  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @11:48AM (#51322285) Journal

    The idea that cell phones 'heat up your brain' or cause direct brain damage is pretty ridiculous, given the energies involved.

    This would seem to suggest that while actual BRAIN damage is still impossible, it's perhaps not impossible that such EMF may interfere with these just-discovered slow-moving signals and whatever they do.

    Interesting data on the variety and strength of EMF we encounter daily is here;
    http://www.who.int/peh-emf/abo... [who.int]

    Hopefully someone with a better understanding of how these compare to the "2.5â"5 mV/mm" quoted in the abstract can comment.

    • Your linked article lists field strengths in V/m, which is conveniently identical to mV/mm. The field strengths in the abstract (2 to 6 mV/mm) are lower than most of the strengths in the WHO table.

      Then again, your cell phone accurately detects and decodes signals thousands of times weaker than these, if I understand the numbers correctly. Your cell phone works fine even when there are refrigerators or toasters or TVs nearby, because its tuner blocks signals outside the frequency of interest. Perhaps the sam

      • Great points - thanks for the explanation. Obviously, while these signals crawl around our brains, EITHER:
        a) they're of trivial importance, if any, to brain function, or
        b) we've evolved ways of filtering the natural EMF we regularly encounter.

        The abstract seems to suggest to me that the signals are by-products of other processes anyway, and thus have me leaning toward a), above.

      • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        I have seen my cat get so spooked from a thunder clap she literally got stuck frozen in the middle of the room. She did not respond to my verbalizing at all. I had to get up a shake her after a short while. After that she was fine.

        • That doesn't necessarily mean that some ambient electrical field temporarily froze her brain. More likely is an evolutionary fight-or-flight response was triggered but since the threat (thunder clap) couldn't be seen or its direction sufficiently ascertained, the response was to freeze in place until the threat passed (or until further information came in as to where it was coming from/what was making it).

          • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

            I realize, my guess is she was reacting to the sound if anything. I was a near by strike, knocked a picture off the wall even. Loud as hell. Certainly scared me plenty. I think she was possibly in a kind of shock.

            I have no doubt she would recovered on her own in time. It was however long enough for me to be come concerned about enough to try talking to her and then to get up and walk across the room to give her a little shake.

        • Cats are social creatures (though not so much as dogs or humans), so a solitary cat (which I will designate CAT-1) is much more sensitive to interference than a group or clowder [wikipedia.org] of them, which I will designate CAT-5. So, a simple upgrade should solve your problem. :)
    • by tomxor ( 2379126 )

      The idea that cell phones 'heat up your brain' or cause direct brain damage is pretty ridiculous, given the energies involved

      No, don't worry, it doesn't open up this question again:

      Nobody smart was ever denying that EMF could interact with the brain... However an overwhelming number of studies have disproven that everyday EMF has a harmful (or even any measurable) effect on the brain. The correlation between perception/placebo and effect is ridiculously strong - so much so that you can invert the on LED in a wireless router and an ES will claim to be affected when it's off every time.

      You don't need to try to explain the mechanism

  • by Anonymous Coward

    People laugh when they see me wearing my colander but it helps me focus and the aliens cannot read my mind. -Fact.
  • by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @12:06PM (#51322405)
    Almost the exact same thing was demonstrated with evolovable hardware [wikipedia.org] in the 90s:
    http://www.damninteresting.com... [damninteresting.com]

    Programmable circuits were trained through an evolutionary process to perform certain tasks. At the end of the process they performed the tasks perfectly, but the actual circuits that were produced were not understandable or functional under the normal rules of circuit design, using roundabout methods for the components to effect each other that were dependent on the exact design of the model of programmable circuit they were using. Try to implement the same circuit design using other hardware and it would just fail to do anything at all.

    Evolution will "make use" of anything it can, even and perhaps especially factors that no intelligent designer would ever consider.
    • Evolution will "make use" of anything it can, even and perhaps especially factors that no intelligent designer would ever consider.

      Related: What intelligent designer would situate a pleasure/reproduction area through a waste disposal zone?

      If there was an intelligent designer, he either had a weird sense of humor or didn't feel like putting in too much effort into his job.... Oh dear lord, God is Wally!

      • Evolution will "make use" of anything it can, even and perhaps especially factors that no intelligent designer would ever consider.

        Related: What intelligent designer would situate a pleasure/reproduction area through a waste disposal zone?

        If there was an intelligent designer, he either had a weird sense of humor or didn't feel like putting in too much effort into his job.... Oh dear lord, God is Wally!

        Do you need to speak with someone about the birds and bees? You seem to be a bit confused. Waste would be solid waste whereas urine mostly sterile if no infection is present.

        The genital area in humans would be in the front for both sexes. Waste is handled in the back.

  • "Although the electrical field is of low amplitude, the field excites and activates immediate neighbors, which, in turn, excite and activate immediate neighbors, and so on across the brain at a rate of about 0.1 meter per second."

    Ahhhh, body thetans. At last we have found you!

  • may have some meaning. The slower brain signals must be the more thought out brain signals. How much bandwidth does each signal send? Are they coherent thoughts or just random pulses?

    • by plopez ( 54068 )

      I think those are topics for further research. Good groundbreaking research often opens the door to exploring new lines of inquiry.

    • Another option is that they carry "emotion" or more accurately to say, they ARE emotions.

      I suggest this because I think emotions are a global process rather than a local one, and a simple network of neurons without a global influence would need to be extremely well arranged to mimic a global process.
  • If we can (to some rudimentary extent) approximate the previously understood behavior of neurons and synapses as electro-mechanical processes on a silicon chip, how do we approximate this new (slow) method of data distribution within a computational system?

    If this does prove to be a mechanism used by organic nervous systems to move information around the neural network (something akin to bias in an old-style electronic circuit?), we will need to create and understand a similar mechanism for silicon-based computing platforms as a necessary step towards creating true machine intelligence.

    • how do we approximate this new (slow) method of data distribution within a computational system?

      Raise and lower activation thresholds (or the bias nodes that you are using to mimic a dynamic threshold.)

  • Does this have any implications for electromagnetic fields produced by power lines? Just a thought.

  • by invid ( 163714 ) on Monday January 18, 2016 @12:51PM (#51322711)
    This may lend support to electromagnetic theories of consciousness. [wikipedia.org]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Meh, this doesn't seem like it's news yet.

    Headline: "Weak Electrical Field Found To Carry Information Around the Brain"

    Link: "The only explanation left is an electrical field effect."

    They haven't actually measured or proven it yet, and it seems to conflict with existing evidence that electromagnetism doesn't influence thought.

  • Although the electrical field is of low amplitude, the field excites and activates immediate neighbors, which, in turn, excite and activate immediate neighbors, and so on across the brain. The Field is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.

    If the explanation includes midichlorians, I'm outa here.

  • I'm surprised that no one has mentioned that Brain Waves (eg Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta) were discovered at the beginning of the 20th century.
    Different brain wave frequencies have long been associated with different mental states.

    Building Brain Wave Detectors was all the rage amongst hobbyists many years ago.
    Brain Waves are normally detected using electrodes on the scalp, but they also generate very weak fields which can be picked up by non-contact methods in a screened room.

    Surely this is simply an extensio

  • I always thought Transcranial magnetic stimulation was something of a quacky gimmick. I've been to a clinic where they offer this kind of treatment, for unrelated reasons. It makes the clinic much less credible in my opinion, but maybe there is something to it after all.

If God is perfect, why did He create discontinuous functions?

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