Is brain-reading possible?

Mind-Reading is something many of us think is impossible, but new developments in science could soon be making you change your mind.

A new method has been created which reconstructs words and this is possible by studying the brain waves of patients who are thinking the sounds of the words. Electrical signals were gathered from the patient’s brains and the computer model reconstructs the sounds of the words.

In the future this could be highly beneficial to helping patients who suffer with Lock-in Syndrome or patients who are in a coma, it would allow them to communicate easier or have some communication with their families and the doctors. Coma patients can communicate through their brain patterns. An example to show this is a twenty-nine year old Belgian, who for five years has been in a coma and showed no signs of awareness or consciousness. He was successfully able to answer ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions by stimulating different parts of his brain when being scanned by an MRI machine.

“The development of direct neuro-control over virtual or physical devices would… improve quality of life immensely for those who suffer from impaired communication skills” Mindy McCumber – Florida Hospital.

Brian Pasley focused on an area of the brain called the superior temporal gyrus, which is a higher order brain region. This means that it helps us make sense of the sounds we hear. His team monitored the brain waves of 15 patients who were undergoing surgery for epilepsy or tumours, while playing speakers reciting words and sentences. With the help of a computer model the team were able to guess which words the participants had chosen.


However, these new advances in science may cause ethical issues to arise as people may argue that there are some things science shouldn’t test, e.g. a persons thoughts. What a person is thinking and feeling can often be picked up on just by observing facial expression, posture and their words. Our ability to understand each other is the basis of being a human. The research discussed investigates into acts of communication and not reading a person’s thoughts.

References

Palmer, J. (2012). Science decodes ‘internal voices’. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16811042

Brown, M. (2010). Can coma patients communicate with brain patterns? Retrieved from http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-02/08/can-coma-patients-communicate-with-brain-patterns

Noe, A. (2012) Seeing what you mean. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2012/02/03/146332808/seeing-what-you-mean

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Posted on February 5, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I definitely agree with you, if reading thoughts was possible through use of a machine it would probably be used for unethical purposes. However, it seems that the patient has to be able to be consciously aware of what you’re asking and could refuse to answer the questions if they wished. In the majority of the population, if they want to convey to you what their brain is thinking then they will voluntarily give up the information. However, your argument that you could read brain patterns to understand the communicative thoughts of those unable to use visual/ auditory methods of communication is very interesting. I think the methodological problems of the study on the Belgian study are worth a mention. The Belgian only got 5 out of six questions right and he had a 50% chance of getting every question correct anyway. Also, there was very low replicability of this finding and only 5 out of 54 patients could follow instructions while in the vegetative state. It becomes a very dangerous matter when it relies on the Doctor’s subjectivity to say when someone is giving the yes or the no answer while in a comatose state. This finding would mean that technically you could ask a patient whether they wanted the Hospital to turn off the life-support machine or not. So the question I’m asking is was the study reliable enough that you could risk terminating their life based on the answers they give? I’d say probably not.

    A related study worth a read is by Wolpaw, Birbaumer, McFarland, Pfurtscheller and Vaughan (2002) who Talk about advances in technology that have lead to the beginning of research on the Brain being enabled as a basic control device for computers. This would allow people who couldn’t communicate in the ordinary fashion to still be able to tell people what they are saying by controlling the computers.

    Wolpaw, J.R., Birbaumer, N., McFarland, D.J., Pfurtscheller, G.,& Vaughan, T.M.(2002)Brain–computer interfaces for communication and control. Clinical Neurophysiology,
    113(6), 767-791. doi: 10.1016/S1388-2457(02)00057-3

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