Welcome to Your Future Brain: Inside David Eagleman's Neuro Lab
David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and a New York Times bestselling author. He directs the Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine, where he also directs the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. He is best known for his work on time perception, brain plasticity, synesthesia, and neurolaw.
Beyond his 100+ academic publications, he has published many popular books. His bestselling book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, explores the neuroscience "under the hood" of the conscious mind: all the aspects of neural function to which we have no awareness or access. His work of fiction, SUM, is an international bestseller published in 28 languages and turned into two operas. Why the Net Matters examines what the advent of the internet means on the timescale of civilizations. The award-winning Wednesday is Indigo Blue explores the neurological condition of synesthesia, in which the senses are blended.
Eagleman is a TED speaker, a Guggenheim Fellow, a winner of the McGovern Award for Excellence in Biomedical Communication, a Next Generation Texas Fellow, Vice-Chair on the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on Neuroscience & Behaviour, a research fellow in the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, Chief Scientific Advisor for the Mind Science Foundation, and a board member of The Long Now Foundation. He has served as an academic editor for several scientific journals. He was named Science Educator of the Year by the Society for Neuroscience, and was featured as one of the Brightest Idea Guys by Italy's Style magazine. He is founder of the company BrainCheck and the cofounder of the company NeoSensory. He was the scientific advisor for the television drama Perception, and has been profiled on the Colbert Report, NOVA Science Now, the New Yorker, CNN's Next List, and many other venues. He appears regularly on radio and television to discuss literature and science.
David Eagleman: We’re entering a very interesting stage of human history right now where we can start importing technology to enhance our natural senses or perception of the world. So as it stands now, as biological creatures, we only see a very small strip of what's going on. Take electromagnetic radiation: there's a little strip of that that we can see, and we call it “visible light,” but the whole rest of that spectrum -- radio waves, television, cell phone, gamma rays, x-rays -- it’s invisible to us because we don't have biological receptors for it. So CNN is passing through your body right now and you don't know it because you don't have the right receptors for it. Well, it turns out that the part that we see of the spectrum is one ten trillionth of it, so we’re not seeing most of what's going on, right?
What's very interesting, I think, as we keep pushing forward with technology, is we’ll be able to take more and more data from those invisible parts of the world and start feeding them into our brain. So, for instance, snakes see in the infrared range and honey bees see in the ultraviolet range. Well, there's no reason why we can't start building devices to see that and feed it directly into our brains.
It turns out what the brain is really good at doing is extracting information from streams of data, and it doesn't matter how you get those data streams there. One of the things my lab is doing is building a vibratory vest so that we can feed in sensory information through the skin of your torso rather than through more typical sensory channels. So, for example, we’re doing this for people who are deaf who want to be able to hear. We set up a microphone on the vest and then the auditory stream is turned into this matrix of vibrations on your skin, and what that does is it feeds in electrical signals into the brain that represent the auditory information.
And if it sounds crazy that you would ever be able to understand all these signals through your skin, remember that all the auditory system is doing is taking signals and turning them into electrical signals in your brain.
So we’re developing this right now so that deaf people will be able to hear through their skin, but our next stage is to feed not just auditory information but other data streams into the vest -- for example, stock market data or weather data -- and people will be able to perceive these data streams just by walking around all day and unconsciously having the stream of information coming into their body, and it will expand their sensory world.
I think this is where technology and the brain have a very fertile meeting ground, is that we will be able to enhance the window of reality that we’re able to see.
Directed / Produced byJonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
We’re entering a very interesting stage of human history right now where we can start importing technology to enhance our natural senses or perception of the world, says neuroscientist David Eagleman.
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