Mind Over Matter

Shopping For The Body

Have you ever wanted to use mind control on your body? Apparently monkeys have managed to do so: the scientific journal Nature recently published research where two of the creatures successfully operated a virtual arm using only their brain waves.

Named Mango and Tangerine, the monkeys were trained to play a video game by first using a joystick to move an arm on screen, reports BBC News. To win a fruit juice reward, the limb had to capture one of three objects, based on specific texture. Each target was linked to a different vibration of the joystick, so even when it was removed, the animals' brains alone were able to perform the same task: their thoughts could both send out motor signals to control the arm as well as receive feedback to understand the objects’ textures, just like a physical one would normally function.

Since the arms in this research are digital, this type of mind-movement is not as paranormal as psychokinesis. Yet the technological innovation approaches this sort of magic, and its potential applications for human use is exciting: it could be used to create prosthetics for the paralyzed, helping patients regain movement as well as a sense of touch, wirelessly.

In fact, the computer engineer Gerwin Schalk has already started similar research on people according to The New York Times Magazine: he's devised a postcard-sized brain implant that allows patients to control the actions in a video game with their thoughts. Though initially intended for epileptics, the implant has the potential to evolve into a consumer product that could send signals to an iPhone, a computer or a car.

“A small opening in the skull, you plop a device in, wireless transmission and you’re done,” Schalk says. “It sounds crazy. But if you have something that works, people will do it in a nanosecond. Breast augmentation is totally invasive compared to this — and how many people do that every year?”