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Michio Kaku on Reading Minds, Recording Dreams, and Brain Imaging
Michio Kaku: When I was a child I was fascinated by telepathy in science fiction. In fact, I tried really hard to read other peoples’ minds, to project my thoughts into other people's heads. And I came to the conclusion that maybe telepaths do walk the surface of the earth, but I wasn’t one of them. Now I’m a physicist and I realize that with all the electromagnetic probes that we have of the human brain we can actually see thoughts ricocheting across the brain itself. We can see the thinking living brain as it thinks, and we can create computer simulations of this to understand what people are thinking. So at the present time telepathy exists. For example, look at my colleague Stephen Hawking. He’s lost control of his fingers now so he cannot communicate even with a laptop computer. But look at his right frame of his glasses. There’s an EEG sensor that picks up radio waves from his brain, decodes that, and he’s allowed to manipulate to some degree a laptop computer. You can do better by putting a chip directly on top of the brain. People who are totally paralyzed, who are vegetables and they’re trapped in this shell of a lifeless body – these people can now play video games. They can read email, write email, do crossword puzzles. They can operate their wheelchairs. They can control household appliances. They can control mechanical arms. Next they will control mechanical legs and exoskeletons. In fact, one of the people that pioneers this technology, for the next soccer World Cup [this scientist] wants to have a paralyzed person put on an exoskeleton and initiate the soccer games. That’s a goal for one of the scientists that I’ve interviewed for my book.
And so we’re way past simply understanding the way in which the brain radiates radio. We’re at the point now where we can actually interface the human brain with a computer and eventually with an exoskeleton by which they can become Iron Man. And so Iron Man is not simply a question of science fiction. It’s something that we can actually visualize in the laboratory.
In addition to putting a chip on top of the brain you can actually put sensors directly into the brain itself that are like hair-like thin fibers. There’s a certain class of people with depression that have been resistant to drugs, pharmacology, psychiatry, counseling. They are chronically depressed. It turns out that when you put a brain scan – put them in a brain scan - you find out that yes indeed there’s a certain part of the brain that seems to be associated with this depression. By putting in probes you can dampen the electrical activity of this and all of a sudden they’re cured. On one hand you see somebody who’s chronically depressed, wants to commit suicide, has been plagued by this. And afterwards they’re just cured. It’s remarkable. But this is just another of the ways that we can access the human mind. Another way is through probes in an operation on epileptics. Epileptics have many seizures – many of them are life threatening. It’s possible to remove part of the cranium. These people are fully awake during this process because the skull has no sense organs to sense pain.
You put a bunch of electrodes directly on the brain itself. These people can type. These people can type very quickly simply by thinking about it. They think about a certain letter, a computer recognizes the pattern and a computer will type in this way. Yet another way of probing into the brain itself is with an MRI scan. We can take the living brain, put it in an MRI and get 30,000 dots like a Christmas tree set of lights that code the amount of electrical activity. You take these 30,000 dots, put it into a computer program that can then decipher it and bingo, what you get is a picture of what they are thinking. We can now visualize what somebody is thinking about. In fact it’s on the web. There’s a picture of Steve Martin, for example, in one of his movies and then right next to it is a picture as viewed through the human mind. This is amazing. You can clearly recognize the eyes, the ears. You cannot recognize the fact that it’s Steve Martin. However, you can also do giraffes. You can put elephants and clearly you’re looking at an animal and not a human. And now get this. We can actually begin the process of photographing dreams. This was considered pure science fiction. Look at the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio called Inception. It turns out that the first steps in this direction have been taken already in Kyoto and at Berkeley. What you do is you put the patient in an MRI scanner and he falls asleep. The brain is then scanned creating 30,000 dots. A computer analyzes the 30,000 dots of a sleeping brain and reconstructs the image of what he’s dreaming about.
Now I’ve seen these pictures. They’re pretty crude. You see a picture of a human and obviously he’s thinking about and dreaming about a human. But one day we may be able to refine this technique so that when you wake up in the morning and you hit the play button of a computer, you see the dream that you had last night.
Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton
Dr. Michio Kaku returns to Big Think studios to discuss his latest book, The Future of the Mind. Here he explains the remarkable advances in brain imaging.
Join us at 2 pm ET tomorrow!
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.
A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.
- The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
- The study aims to explore whether the disease causes cognitive impairment and other conditions.
- Recent research suggests that COVID-19 can, directly or indirectly, cause brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage and other neurological problems.
Brain images of a patient with acute demyelinating encephalomyelitis.
COVID-19 and the brain<p>A growing body of research reveals alarming neurological complications among COVID-19 patients. On Wednesday, for example, researchers from University College London published a <a href="https://academic.oup.com/brain/article/doi/10.1093/brain/awaa240/5868408" target="_blank">study</a> in the journal Brain that describes how some patients have suffered temporary brain dysfunction, strokes, nerve damage, and other neurological problems concurrent with COVID-19.</p><p>Some patients suffered brain inflammation as a result of a rare disease called acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, which can cause numbness, seizures, and confusion. One patient in the study even hallucinated monkeys and lions in her home.</p>
Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>A separate study published in the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7198407/" target="_blank">Journal of Clinical Neuroscience</a> notes that some COVID-19 patients have also suffered neurological complications like impaired consciousness and acute cerebrovascular disease. The study notes that past viruses like MERS and SARS also seemed to cause neurological problems.</p><p>A troubling finding among this growing body of research is that some patients seem to suffer neurological damage even when respiratory symptoms aren't obvious. Additionally, scientists aren't sure whether damage from the disease will be permanent.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Given that the disease has only been around for a matter of months, we might not yet know what long-term damage COVID-19 can cause," Dr. Ross Paterson, joint first author of the University College London study, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-07/ucl-iid070620.php" target="_blank">press release</a>. "Doctors needs to be aware of possible neurological effects, as early diagnosis can improve patient outcomes."</p><p>If you've been diagnosed with COVID-19 and want to enroll in the study, visit <a href="https://www.cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study" target="_blank">cambridgebrainsciences.com/studies/covid-brain-study</a>.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.
- Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
- More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
- SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.
Source: McKinsey Global Institute analysis [PDF]<p>Work in understanding the skills at the heart of the new digital economy is leading to novel assessments that allow individuals to prove mastery to faithfully represent their abilities—but also to give weight and stackability to the emerging ecosystem of micro-credentials that make education more seamless across time and education providers. And we are seeing the beginnings of a renewal in the liberal arts, focused on building human skills in affordable ways that are accessible to many more individuals and far more effective.</p><p>Amidst these dark times, there is much opportunity to refresh the nation's education and training solutions to support the success of individuals and society writ large.</p>