Monday, December 06, 2010

Writing into the prefrontal cortex or how to avoid a makeup Class in Calculus

I suspect everbody from Sun Tzu, through Susruta the cosmetic surgeon, via Plato all the way to Goebbels, might have racked their brains on how to control what people think.
But more than control, implying constant and involuntary obedience, I wonder how feasible it might be to transfer what one person has learnt to another. Telepathy is clearly old, and relatively discredited. But I wonder with all the progress made in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), would it be possible indeed not just to read our thoughts, but to write too?
More on this in a bit. There are apparently clear enough indications that the pre-frontal cortex (PFC) of the brain in Rhesus macaques is capable to showing single cell level changes corresponding to numbers [1]. The blogger who posted this [2] appears to also suggest that simple arithmetic is performed in these monkies. The measurements were made using probes inside the brain to monitor firing of single neurons.
So if we can measure firing when an operation of addition is performed, what would it take to "teach" the brain how to do it. Indeed that raises the same old question, how to we learn. But at a neuronal level.
And then how do we modify this. Is this at the single neuron level? For such simple tasks as addition it appears to be controlled in monkies at the single neuron level. So how about higher mathematical functions? Can we "write" calculus into our brains?


  1. Bongard, S. & Nieder, A. (2010). Basic mathematical rules are encoded by primate prefrontal cortex neurons Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 10.1073/pnas.0909180107