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The Science Blog

15/08/2013

‘Telepathic’ rats forced to communicate for water

It might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but scientists claim that the possibility of telepathic communication has moved a step closer after they managed to connect the brains of two rats by forcing them to communicate by thought just to get a drink.

In the experiment, carried out at Duke University in the USA, thirsty rats were trained to press levers in order to get a tiny amount of water. Once the training was complete, scientists surgically implanted electrodes into the rat’s brains before splitting them into two groups of, ‘encoder’ and ‘decoder’ rats. Only the encoder rat was able to see the correct lever light up to receive the water reward. The nerve activity associated with making this decision was recorded and filtered through a computer that transmitted the instructions via wires to the decoder rat who had previously been trained to recognise the brain signals as representing the correct lever.

Contrary to the claims in the media, this experiment is not demonstrating ‘mind reading’ but is a simple demonstration of the use of computer-brain interfaces that are already being tested in monkeys and humans. Researchers admit that they were "blasting a relatively large area of the brain with a signal they're not sure is 100 per cent correct."

It is depressing that animals are being forced to suffer in cruel and pointless experiments just to satisfy the imagination of the researchers, more concerned about leaving a legacy of their work than the suffering of the animals they use. The lead researcher said; "I would be very glad if the brain-net my great-grandchildren used was due to their great-grandfather's work". It is also worrying that researchers are now testing their experiments in monkeys and that the military could be interested in its application to create remote-controlled ‘killer animals.’

Source:

1. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn23221-first-mindreading-implant-gives-rats-telepathic-power.html?full=true

2. A brain-to-brain interface for real-time sharing of sensorimotor information. (2013). Scientific Reports, 3: Article number 1219. Original article can be found here  http://www.nature.com/srep/2013/130228/srep01319/full/srep01319.html

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