Telepathic mice! No, not really.

First mind-reading implant gives rats telepathic power.

The world’s first brain-to-brain connection has given rats the power to communicate by thought alone.

The feat was achieved by first training rats to press one of two levers when an LED above that lever was lit. A correct action opened a hatch containing a drink of water. The rats were then split into two groups, designated as “encoders” and “decoders”.

An array of microelectrodes – each about one-hundredth the width of a human hair – was then implanted in the encoder rats’ primary motor cortex, an area of the brain that processes movement. The team used the implant to record the neuronal activity that occurs just before the rat made a decision in the lever task. They found that pressing the left lever produced a different pattern of activity from pressing the right lever, regardless of which was the correct action.

Pairs of rats were even able to cooperate across continents using cyberspace. Brain signals from an encoder rat at the Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal in Brazil were sent to a decoder in Nicolelis’s lab in North Carolina via the internet. Though there was a slight transmission delay, the decoder rat still performed with an accuracy similar to those of rats in closer proximity with encoders.

So, not telepathy, really. Read the article for more about this experiment but when I see titles like this, I have to look to see what is ACTUALLY happening. Telepathy as a genuine ability has significant problems. There is no mechanism that makes sense. It does not seem to depend on distance or even time. And the studies that show it actually exists have not been convincing. But, the researcher were actually able to think about brain waves with electronics. We can’t say the same for the as yet unproven, popular description of “telepathy”.

  11 comments for “Telepathic mice! No, not really.

  1. One Eyed Jack
    March 2, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    Telepathy as a genuine ability has significant problems.

    You’re far too kind, Sharon.

  2. March 2, 2013 at 4:55 PM

    Actually the notion that telepathy is independent of time and space has been critiqued quite a bit by ESP researchers, and is no longer really an objection. I can’t think of a detailed reference off the top of my head, but there are a couple of papers which argue it is certainly not a given in Anomalous Experiences: Essays From Parapsychological and Psychological Perspectives, edited by Matthew D. Smith. MacFarlane & co Inc. Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina and London, 2010 from the Liverpool Hope conference on GESP that make this very clear indeed. Oddly enough I don’t think it was necessarily a claim of early psi researchers either – I’m thinking of Upton Sinclair’s Mental Radio (1930) f’r instance, and can’t recall it in there. Earliest definite reference I can come up with off top of my head is as an objection to psi theories, as employed in this [piece, and that is in Milton Rothman’s Physicists Guide to Skepticism (1988) but may well occur earlier in the literature. Not that I’m very knowledgeable on ESP research, it bores me stupid, but I’m fairly certain that time and distance are not variables is no longer held by the mainstream psi research crowd as a firm belief, if it ever was. Also given telepathy literally only something like “like feeling at a distance” if I’m not mistaken, but was coined as a neologism to mean information transfer at a distance by non-sensory means, it’s hard to know exactly what telepathy might constitute…

  3. Jack
    March 2, 2013 at 5:30 PM

    Quantum entanglement makes telepathy an interesting concept. Of course, QE run amok enables all sorts of paranormal and supernatural entities, abilities, and hoodoo.

  4. March 2, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    Neat! Anyone interested in reading about some of the work being done with human-to-computer “telepathy” should look up Adrian Owen.

    http://www.nature.com/news/neuroscience-the-mind-reader-1.10816

    http://gizmodo.com/5922208/scientists-invent-mind+reading-system-that-lets-you-type-with-your-brain

    And the Gallant Lab: http://gallantlab.org/

    There are also a lot of very interesting discussions going on in law enforcement, criminal justice, civil liberties, and psychology circles about the future applications and ethics of fMRI lie detectors.

  5. One Eyed Jack
    March 2, 2013 at 7:49 PM

    Actually the notion that telepathy is independent of time and space has been critiqued quite a bit by ESP researchers, and is no longer really an objection.

    Before we consider the nuances of ESP, we need to demonstrate that it exists. To date, no credible study has ever shown reproducible, statistically significant evidence that ESP exists.

    This story is, obviously, not about telepathy, ESP, or anything of the sort. Just another example of writers and editors twisting headlines to draw attention. It’s a shame they do this. The real story is a hundred fold more interesting than psychic woo.

    Anyone interested in a Sci-Fi series that incorporates the same idea as this research should check out John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”.

    http://www.amazon.com/Old-Mans-War-John-Scalzi/dp/0765348276

  6. March 3, 2013 at 12:49 AM

    One Eyed Jack – according to many people exactly such studies exist, the Ganzfeld ESP test being the most famous. I think it was the Ganzfeld database that led Richard Wiseman to make his much quoted comment about “ESP being proven by any normal scientific standard” (I’m paraphrasing slightly, Richard can correct me if he wants). While individual ganzfeld experiments may or may not be significant, sceptic Andrew Endersby did a seven part study first published in Skeptic Report that found a significant effect in the meta-analysis – you can download it here – http://www.skepticreport.com/sr/?p=316 Of course a consistent replicable effect can not be achieved in any experiment with unknown variables, and until someone comes up with a mechanism, well ESP could stand for “error some place”. I don’t believe in psi, but I acknowledge there is a statistically significant anomaly in the ESP experimental data – I just am not sure how to explain it yet.

  7. One Eyed Jack
    March 3, 2013 at 4:11 AM

    @Chris Jensen Romer

    If it’s not reproducible, it’s not proven. You don’t need a known mechanism to reproduce results. If it worked, it would be reproducible. Hence, my statement stands.

  8. March 3, 2013 at 7:18 AM

    I don’t think proven is the issue. I think there are lots of peer reviewed and well conducted studies that show statistically significant evidence that ESP (being here no more than an anomaly that repeatedly and consistently shows up) exists. (Most importantly quality of experiment does not seem to be associated with non-significant or lower scores) I don’t know what ESP is, and I don’t believe in psi as I say, but I do think we have to work to explain the data. I can’t.

    Lots of science works perfectly well without being reproducible. To give the example Karl Popper did, the Theory of Evolution. You are never going to re-run evolution on this planet – why Popper thought it was more a historical than a scientific idea. However any experiment where the variables are unknown will give inconsistent results, and from school chemistry onward I have found that real science experiments do just that, even when we are meant to know what the variables are, because there are so many potentially confounding factors. For example the boiling point if water seems pretty solid – but of course it is based on the atmospheric pressure at sea level, and get accurate enough and even at sea level it will vary by prevailing conditions. Science is a lot more complicated than many people seem to suggest.

    I therefore think you do need a known mechanism to consistently reproduce results. If you do not know what the effects of certain dietary factors and certain gene expression are in the digestion of substance pharmaceutical A, you may well get inconsistent results over a trial population and even with the same individuals over time unless you know to restrict their diet appropriately, which you can’t do unless you know the mechanism.

    Logically therefore I think the lack of absolutely consistent reproducible results is therefore NOT a major argument against ESP (or any scientific) claims. Our measurements of the speed of light vary each time measured – such differences in experimental outcomes are pretty standard, only in the mathematical proofs do we find extreme accuracy. Rationalism rather than Empiricism allows such certainly, as deductive mathematical proofs are, well proofs. Observations are not so clear, and are subject to experimenter error and instrumental error.

    Secondly of course you could argue that ESP “ability” whatever that may be is non-evenly divided – that would also skew results, as for example a series of experiments in baseball ability would show a non-consistent pattern.

    I find many reasons to doubt telepathy, but I don’t think these work. Still always interesting to discuss.

    cj x

  9. One Eyed Jack
    March 3, 2013 at 9:17 AM

    I don’t think proven is the issue. I think there are lots of peer reviewed and well conducted studies that show statistically significant evidence that ESP (being here no more than an anomaly that repeatedly and consistently shows up) exists.

    Citations.

    Statements like that need references. Please no quack sites or publications from pseudo-science journals.

    Lots of science works perfectly well without being reproducible. To give the example Karl Popper did, the Theory of Evolution. You are never going to re-run evolution on this planet

    No, you cannot “re-run” all of evolution, but you can test it. Evolution allows you to make predictions about evidence not yet observed. When you find the evidence as predicted, the theory is re-enforced. You can also observe evolution with species that reproduce quickly, such as microorganisms. The work of Richard Lenski at Michigan State University http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._coli_long-term_evolution_experiment is a great example of this. Evolutionary theory predicts the sorts of results he has obtained.

    Lots of science works perfectly well without being reproducible.

    No, it doesn’t. If it’s not reproducible, it’s not science. It might be research, but if results are not reproducible, then it’s nothing but a single data point. At some point, a hypothesis must reproduce results to have validity.

    . If you do not know what the effects of certain dietary factors and certain gene expression are in the digestion of substance pharmaceutical A, you may well get inconsistent results over a trial population and even with the same individuals over time unless you know to restrict their diet appropriately, which you can’t do unless you know the mechanism.

    This is why drug trials include large populations. You can determine the general effect by averaging results. You do not need to understand the mechanism to validate an effect. You can see the statistical change in the group. ESP falls into the same category. You do not need to know the mechanism. If it is real, you will see a statistical effect. ESP fails to reproduce results.

    Our measurements of the speed of light vary each time measured

    Very small variances due to understood and expected experimental error. There is no debate on the speed of light. It is know with great accuracy.

    I apologize if this comes across as harsh, but I can’t let statements that say there is evidence for ESP go unchallenged. Every study of ESP that has shown positive results has failed the challenge of reproducibility or has been found to be nothing more than sloppy research. That is the simple truth.

    I too think the idea of ESP is great fantasy. Who didn’t try to zap their sibling with “mind powers” as a kid? However, the evidence just isn’t there.

  10. One Eyed Jack
    March 3, 2013 at 9:20 AM

    Html fail.

    Our measurements of the speed of light vary each time measured

    Should have been quoted in the previous post.

  11. March 3, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    I enjoyed the Skeptoid episode about Ganzfeld. http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4348

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