Mind Control – It’s Closer Than You Think!
Mind control – only on LSD right? Hmm well maybe not…
Back in the 50s the US government were conducting secret research into mind control – project MKULTRA. In this revolutionary research of biological warfare, the US government dosed their ‘guinea pigs’ with LSD. Twenty years or so later, the secretive CIA project was abandoned and all the documents were destroyed (convenient!).
The age of secretive biological warfare research is now over (or so we are led to believe) and research is now widely discussed around the world in the media and on such blogs as this. Though MKULTRA is dead, experimental mind control is still very much alive and more advanced than ever before.
The emphasis of this type of research now focuses on helping those with cognitive disorders such as depression. New techniques in mind control research include neuroimaging techniques such as MRI (not quite as exotic as LSD but hey ho!). Though these types of techniques do amazing research to help those with mental disorders, there is still a military emphasis. It is hoped that eventually soldiers will be able to navigate the harshest of terrains with no map, or be able to make the ultimate decisions with no fear attached.
This new research includes the promising technique of optogenetics, in which neurons are made to respond to light. Before you get excited this research has only been used in the likes of fruit flies and mice. Though recent research has been able to alter eye movements in monkeys. There are also a couple of groups working on human optogentic research.
Animal research has shown that by flashing a blue light onto a specific circuit of the emotion part of the brain (amygdala), behaviour is modified. Though interesting, this technique will prove problematic in human research. First, what ethics board will accept this? Second, light cannot penetrate the skull. Also, we are not exactly sure on which brain circuits do what – though we are getting closer.
This is why I love neuroscience – with relatively new techniques such as MRI I think we are at the beginning of a number of scientific breakthroughs which will push human performance to its limits. Tom Hartley (thermaltoy.wordpress.com) once said to me that it is an exciting time to be a cognitive neuroscientist. It’s like the era of Galileo looking at distant stars for the first time.
A possible way in which we might be able to penetrate the skull without using invasive techniques such as deep brain stimulation (in which electrodes are planted deep within the brain), is with the use of ultrasound. Research is underway, tweaking ultrasound in order to stimulate specific brain regions with the accuracy of deep brain stimulation (1-3 mm cubed). This technique is hoped to work as well as optogentic research seen in mice.
Though little is known about neural connectivity (which parts of the brain speak to each other), you may have noticed that President Obama and his administration have just announced the ‘BRAIN initiative’. This $100 million a year project aims to build a comprehensive map that ties specific brain regions with thoughts and actions (what’s the military angle?). It is said this is the brain’s equivalent to the genome project. Click here for the BBC’s news coverage of Obama’s BRAIN initiative
In theory this research could not only cure cognitive dysfunctions or aid the quest for oil ;-). But it is thought that it may enable us to collectively think through problems which one brain cannot by themselves. Whatever the outcome, I believe that this is only the beginning.
As always I would really like to know your thoughts about this. Where do you think this research can lead us?