Could this stimulate the development of Twitter on steroids?


The idea that someone could communicate with another person through thought alone falls into the realm of science fiction. Telepathy after all is the communication of thoughts by mysterious mechanisms which cannot be explained by science – in other words, fiction.

This series of experiments by Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist with a track record in linking nervous systems to mechanical devices, demonstrates that a type of “telepathic-like” communication is possible via a direct brain-to-brain connection.

Of course, it is not telepathy because its mechanism is understood and there is no need to invoke any mysterious ether. But it is about the direct communication of “thoughts” – as conceived by rats – through a physical connection linking one brain to another via micro-electrodes implanted into a certain region of the brain.

The most basic type of thought, a decision to press one of two levers depending on the illumination of one of two lights in a cage, was communicated with the help of rather elaborate electronics which “encode” brain waves from one rat and send them down an electrical wire to stimulate the brain of a second rat.

Why is this important? Well, it represents a fundamentally novel way of allowing one brain to communicate with another without using any of the usual sensory, visual, auditory or olfactory mechanisms. One can easily imagine that in the future we may be able to adapt this principle so that tiny radio chips implanted into our brains can be used to send messages between individuals, a bit like Twitter on steroids.

This scenario is still too far off to be taken seriously. It may never come to pass. However, what this rather thought-provoking experiment has shown is that, as with all scientific advances, you must never say “never”.