Posted by Dr Katy Taylor on 13th August 2015
Brains of monkeys and rats wired together in cruel experiments
We were saddened to see hype in the media recently of yet more brain experiments using monkeys and rats.
Scientists from the US were claiming that the possibility of telepathic communication had moved a step closer after they managed to link together the brains of monkeys and rats to form a ‘super brain’ in two separate experiments.
In the first experiment, carried out at Duke University in the USA, four macaque monkeys had electrodes surgically implanted into the areas of their brain responsible for controlling movement.1 Three of the monkeys were then wired to the same computer and trained to move a digital arm using only their minds. Although their brains were not directly connected, each monkey had to control a different part of the arm and work together by syncing their thoughts to move it towards the target for a juice reward. Cruelly, monkeys are typically deprived of water in experiments such as this to motivate them.
In the second experiment, carried out by the same group, the brains of four rats were surgically implanted with electrodes which were then wired together.2 Each of the rats’ brains was then simultaneously stimulated with electricity until they worked out how to interpret each other’s brain signals for a small water reward. The rats were also deprived of water to make them perform. Once their brains had synced into what the researchers are calling a ‘Brainet’, they were forced to work together to solve a problem.
The scientists claim that their research opens up the possibility of creating a ‘super brain’ capable of solving complex problems. However, contrary to the claims in the media, these experiments are not demonstrating ‘mind reading’ but are a simple demonstration of the use of computer-brain interfaces that are already being tested in monkeys and humans. Crucially, there has not been any public debate about whether people would even want to open their thoughts to others in this way. Anders Sandberg, a neuroethics researcher at the University of Oxford has questioned the utility of this technique; “there is no guarantee that brain-to-brain interfaces will be a sensible thing in practice. There’s something to be said for neural privacy”.3
- Computing arm movements with a monkey brainet. (2015). Nature Scientific Reports, 5:10767. Original article can be found here: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep10767
- Building an organic computing device with multiple interconnected brains. (2015). Nature Scientific Reports, 5:11869. Original article can be found here: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep11869
- Monkey ‘brain net’ raises prospect of human brain-to-brain connection. (2015). The Guardian, 9 July: http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jul/09/monkey-brain-net-raises-prospect-of-human-brain-to-brain-connection