30 August 2012

On-line, voluntary control of human temporal lobe neurons

'On-line, voluntary control of human temporal lobe neurons' is the title of a paper published in Nature back in October 2010 on a study led by CalTech's Moran Cerf, but it came to my attention via this recent BoingBoing post (about how the paper results were wildly misinterpreted).

What I found interesting about these findings is that it seems to give experimental evidence that mental concentration can in some way influence neuron behavior.  Or as the paper puts it, "At least in the MTL, thought can override the reality of the sensory input." [MTL is Medial Temporal Lobe].  The experiment involved epilepsy patients with electrodes in their brains, who then did a test in viewing pictures online.

It's not a big surprise to me that this is possible, but it's great to see some scientific verification.  And still no one really understands what exactly happens when one 'concentrates' or 'pays attention' but clearly it can result in changes to the way the brain behaves.  I continue to be most interested in just what can be achieved via methods of concentration.

But I do think this closing line is important: "Our method offers a substrate for a high-level brain–machine interface using conscious thought processes."

Here's some coverage that the paper got at the time in Time: Controlling Your World With a Single Neuron by Jeffrey Kluger.  I'm not quite sure why the focus is always on what these findings might enable for disabled people...  isn't it even more interesting what it implies for 'normal' folks?

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