Brain-to-Brain interface synchronicity today

Today is August 27, and two fascinating and surprisingly related things are in the news. One is the release of my good friend Ramez Naam’s (“Mez”) second novel, Crux.  The other is this press release from the University of Washington, announcing the first ever direct brain-to-brain communication.

Computer-mediated brain-to-brain communication is the core theme of Mez’s series that started with Nexus and continues with Crux. Of course, a thousand variations on “The Matrix” have been done to death, but where Mez’s novels shine is in their combination of hard sci-fi realism about the technology involved, and the focus on the societal response to the initial emergence of the technology.  Mez has written several nonfiction books and is experienced with considering the Big Picture of how technology and human activity interacts with our nature and our culture, and now that he’s writing fiction you can experience that well-researched thoughtful investigation in a fast-paced page-turner format.  Seriously, I was a beta reader for both manuscripts, and in both cases I literally could not put it down: I started reading, and then missed both sleep and work for the next 15 hours or so until I was finished.  So I recommend the book.

And of course I also recommend the link on the neuroscience research.  I will comment that the news, although momentous on the surface, is technically a mere baby step.  The technology they use on the receiving end is trans-cranial magnetic stimulation, which is a blunt instrument to say the least.  It’s barely accurate enough to activate just a few fingers in the motor cortex, and there is very little control of the degree of activation or deactivation generated by the pulses.  Also, in my early days in the lab I volunteered to help pilot a TMS study where they administered me 6000 pulses over 5 hours or so, and honestly I did not feel very good afterwards, so I’m not sure it’s completely safe in the long term, either.

But the fact remains that this will forever be on the record as the first instance of direct brain-to-brain computer-mediated transmission.  I’m sure there will be a great deal of discussion about the technical details of what needs to happen to make that really work.  I have some thoughts of my own which I will share here in the future.

Crowdfunding page live!

Crowdfunding page live!

Check out the crowdfunding campaign page there, with a really fun video that Andy Schoen made! 

This will kick off a series of “lab notes” posts about our progress on putting the equipment and protocol together for this Self-Identification study.  You can get to that from the Microryza page. (You don’t have to donate to look at it!) I’ll also start posting that info here.


Buddhist Geeks conference

Two years ago my good friend and colleague Willoughby Britton suggested I go to the Buddhist Geeks conference in Los Angeles. This year it's in Boulder, and I came to attend the conference and also visit the lab of Tor Wager, who is the social and affective neuroscience researcher I admire most, and who appears to have an interest in our meditation research. (More on that in another post.) I also came here to promote a crowd funding campaign for my research, which will go live soon on Microryza.

The talks have begun. Right now I'm listening to Lodro Rinzler, a young Shambhala teacher who looks quite the hipster. But I'm liking his talk. He is emphasizing the importance of learning meditation and dharma practice within a supporting community, the sangha. This is a big issue with all the Buddhist modernism going on.

All this is being webcast live, and archived. I'm not going to try to provide thorough coverage of this conference because there are probably two dozen other people doing that… And the whole thing is webcast anyway. But I will try to offer a little bit of what I think is helpful.