New research published today in the journal Science suggests it may be possible to use brain technology to learn to play a piano, reduce mental stress or hit a curve ball with little or no conscious effort. It’s the kind of thing seen in Hollywood’s "Matrix" franchise.
Experiments conducted at Boston University (BU) and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, recently demonstrated that through a person’s visual cortex, researchers could use decoded functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to induce brain activity patterns to match a previously known target state and thereby improve performance on visual tasks.
Think of a person watching a computer screen and having his or her brain patterns modified to match those of a high-performing athlete or modified to recuperate from an accident or disease. Though preliminary, researchers say such possibilities may exist in the future.
"Adult early visual areas are sufficiently plastic to cause visual perceptual learning," said lead author and BU neuroscientist Takeo Watanabe of the part of the brain analyzed in the study.
Neuroscientists have found that pictures gradually build up inside a person’s brain, appearing first as lines, edges, shapes, colors and motion in early visual areas. The brain then fills in greater detail to make a red ball appear as a red ball, for example.
Researchers studied the early visual areas for their ability to cause improvements in visual performance and learning.
"Some previous research confirmed a correlation between improving visual performance and changes in early visual areas, while other researchers found correlations in higher visual and decision areas," said Watanabe, director of BU’s Visual Science Laboratory. "However, none of these studies directly addressed the question of whether early visual areas are sufficiently plastic to cause visual perceptual learning." Until now.
Boston University post-doctoral fellow Kazuhisa Shibata designed and implemented a method using decoded fMRI neurofeedback to induce a particular activation pattern in targeted early visual areas that corresponded to a pattern evoked by a specific visual feature in a brain region of interest. The researchers then tested whether repetitions of the activation pattern caused visual performance improvement on that visual feature.
The result, say researchers, is a novel learning approach sufficient to cause long-lasting improvement in tasks that require visual performance.
What’s more, the approached worked even when test subjects were not aware of what they were learning.
"The most surprising thing in this study is that mere inductions of neural activation patterns corresponding to a specific visual feature led to visual performance improvement on the visual feature, without presenting the feature or subjects’ awareness of what was to be learned," said Watanabe, who developed the idea for the research project along with Mitsuo Kawato, director of ATR lab and Yuka Sasaki, an assistant in neuroscience at Massachusetts General Hospital.
"We found that subjects were not aware of what was to be learned while behavioral data obtained before and after the neurofeedback training showed that subjects’ visual performance improved specifically for the target orientation, which was used in the neurofeedback training," he said.
The finding brings up an inevitable question. Is hypnosis or a type of automated learning a potential outcome of the research?
"In theory, hypnosis or a type of automated learning is a potential outcome," said Kawato. "However, in this study we confirmed the validity of our method only in visual perceptual learning. So we have to test if the method works in other types of learning in the future. At the same time, we have to be careful so that this method is not used in an unethical way."
At present, the decoded neurofeedback method might be used for various types of learning, including memory, motor and rehabilitation.
The National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Japan supported the research.
Water rationing hits California: limit of 50 gallons per person per day or face fines of $500 2014 09 29
Millions of Californians are about to be hit with strict water rationing -- daily "allocation" numbers that represent the maximum amount of water you’re allowed to use for any purpose. Households that exceed the allocation limit will face stiff fines of hundreds of dollars per violation.
"In July, the State Water Resources Control Board passed stage one emergency regulations, giving powers ...
Much of Earth’s Water is Older than the Sun 2014 09 29
Much of the water on Earth and elsewhere in the solar system likely predates the birth of the sun, a new study reports.
The finding suggests that water is commonly incorporated into newly forming planets throughout the Milky Way galaxy and beyond, researchers said — good news for anyone hoping that Earth isn’t the only world to host life.
“The implications of ...
Did the Vikings Get a Bum Rap? 2014 09 29 A Yale historian wants us to rethink the terrible tales about the Norse.
This illustration shows the stereotype of Viking marauders wreaking mayhem, even on clergy. The scene depicts the monastery at Clonmacnoise, Ireland.
The Vikings gave no quarter when they stormed the city of Nantes, in what is now western France, in June 843—not even to the monks barricaded in the ...
David Cameron Says Non-Violent Conspiracy Theorists Are Just As Dangerous As ISIS 2014 09 29
David Cameron told the U.N. that "non-violent extremism" is just as dangerous as terrorism and must be eradicated using all means at the government’s disposal. He references 9/11 and 7/7 Truthers as examples of the type of extremism that must be dealt in a similar fashion to ISIS.
If you thought Obama’s War is Peace speech to the U.N. was creepy, ...
NY Times: Europe’s Anti-Semitism Comes Out of the Shadows 2014 09 28 NY Times Whines about European "Anti-Semitism"
In the wake of the conflict in Gaza, three communities became flash points of violence and began contending with hatred they thought was buried in the past.
Read the NY Times hit piece on Europe here
Below is a rebuttal from Mike King’s The Anti-New York Times at tomatobubble.com:
Strike up the violins and break out the barf ...