TMS Advances

Can Telepathy be Used to Aid People with Disabilities?


Once considered a pseudoscience, telepathy is being researched by some of the greatest minds in the country, with a goal of utilizing it to aid individuals with disabilities impairing their communication.

brain to brain telepathy illustration

BrainNet, was developed by neuroscientists at University of Washington and Carnegie Mellon University, and has successfully connected three brains to share thoughts. As the first successful multi-person, non-invasive, direct brain to brain interface for collaborative problem solving, researchers originally connected three minds to communicate about playing a Tetris-style game.

Research Testing Process

The process utilizes electroencephalograms (EEGs), to record the electrical impulses that show brain activity, along with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which stimulates neurons with magnetic fields. TMS has been recently researched and used for treating a variety of mental health issues, as well as helping scientists better understand how neural networks work. Within BrainNet TMS is used to non-invasively deliver the information to the brain.

EEG Emitter subject & TMS Receiver Subject
Credit: Grau, C., et al. PLOS ONE 2014

In the pilot testing, two of the three subjects are "Senders” and the third is the “Receiver.”  The Senders’ brain signals are decoded using real-time EEG data analysis to extract decisions about whether to rotate a block in a Tetris-like game before it is dropped to fill a line. The Receiver cannot see the screen. The Senders' decisions are transmitted via the Internet to the brain of the "Receiver.” The decisions are delivered to the Receiver's brain via magnetic stimulation of the occipital cortex with TMS. The Receiver uses the information received to decide, using an EEG interface, whether to turn the block or keep it in the same position. A second round gives the Senders one more chance to confirm and provide feedback to the Receiver's action.

diagram of how telepathy works with EEG & TMS
Visualization of brain signals being sent from the sender to computer via wireless EEG, then from computer to the receiver via TMS coil. Credit: Grau, C., et al. PLOS ONE 2014

Receivers were able to determine which of the senders was most reliable based on brain communications alone.  The researchers say shows promise for creating systems that deal with more real world scenarios where human unreliability would be a factor.

While the current system can only transmit one 'bit' of data at a time, the researchers believe this can be expanded on in the future. This same group originally connected 20 brains for a game of 20 questions, with yes or no answers.

While the process is still slow moving and not 100% reliable, it’s a small glimpse at the future possibilities out there to use “telepathy” to communicate. The research has yet to be peer-to-peer reviewed, but you can review it online here.

Future Potential

The overarching goal of BrainNet is to eventually connect many different minds together, even over the internet. Once this is achieved the beneficial uses are endless, including utilizing the process to assist disabled individuals who have trouble communicating.

For individuals who are deaf, impaired by aphasia, or are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, the ability to communicate with their minds would be life changing. BrainNet could potentially greatly benefit those living with disabilities, offering them a new freedom in communication that those without disabilities take for granted.

technology and the brain
Advances in technology may offer the potetional to someday overcome all disabilities.

The researchers behind BrainNet are just one group of many researcher working on electroceutical technology, where scientists study how nerves send signals in the brain. Hugh Herr, a researcher from MIT, believes electroceuticals may help define 21st-century medicine, and that within 50 years many disabilities may be all but overcome.

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