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Laboratory rats able to communicate telepathically

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 1st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

An amazing experiment conducted on laboratory rats may lead to practical applications of telepathy, that favorite trope of science-fiction and fantasy fiction where people can communicate through the powers of their minds. An experiment conducted at Duke University led rats to interpret the other's actions and intentions -- even when they couldn't see or hear each other.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Placed in separate cages, the rats were able to solve puzzles with the aid of microelectrodes as slender as 1/100th the width of a hair implanted into their brains.

The result: The experiment worked when the rats were thousands of miles apart -- with one in Brazil and another in North Carolina.

Scientists were able to interpret a rat's thoughts and intentions by downloading those brain waves into a computer. The experiment marked the first time another rat has been able to understand the signals directly.

"Until recently we used to record this brain activity and send it to a computer," Miguel Nicolelis of Duke's Medical Center in North Carolina says. The leader of the study, Nicolelis told the BBC's Science in Action program how the system works. "And the [computer] tells us what the animal is going to do.

"We basically created a computational unit out of two brains," Nicolelis said.

He feels the research will lead to practical application for those dealing with brain injuries and paralysis, such as stroke victims. Any tangible results of the research are still a long way off, but that hasn't deterred Nicolelis, who heads one of the leading research teams in the brain space.

One of the group's lofty goals is to allow a paralyzed person to kick a ball at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil by developing a brain-controlled robot exoskeleton. The team has already fooled monkey brains into artificially feeling touch and given rats the ability to detect infrared light.

Accomplishing the feat in order to let the rats communicate with each other using only their brains was no easy feat. In the experiment, the "encoder" rat had to respond to a visual cue and press a lever to receive its reward.

At the same time, its brain would send a signal to the "decoder" rat, which then has to interpret this information and also press the right lever to get its prize. If the decoder rat gets it right, the encoder gets an extra reward, creating a feedback loop that encourage cleaner brain signaling.

It took a month and a half of training before the rats "got it."

"[It] takes about 45 days of training an hour a day," Nicolelis said. "There is a moment in time when ... it clicks. Suddenly the [decoder] animal realizes: 'Oops! The solution is in my head. It's coming to me' and he gets it right."

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