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Scientists create false memories by manipulating neurons
Dick Pelletier   Sep 16, 2013   Ethical Technology  

Research may one day lead to better understanding of consciousness… Imagine you’re a mouse, and you’re feeling a chill throughout your body because a researcher is placing you into a chamber. You distinctly remember feeling shocks in that chamber…

   What you don't know, is that scientists have manipulated your memory by changing the normal instructions to your brain cells that drives the mind to order actions, giving you a false version of your own past. The truth is that, in this particular chamber, you were never actually shocked.

    This may sound like a scene from some horror flick, but this scenario is actually happening in research labs today. This cutting-edge science promises strong implications for understanding memory in humans; and many positive futurists believe it could even one day help unravel the mysteries of consciousness.

    What consciousness is, and why and how it exists, are some of the oldest questions in philosophy. Many religious and spiritual believers explain consciousness in terms of a "soul", separate from the physical body; a state of mind that lives on after the body dies, or reincarnates into another life. It has been described as everything we are aware of when we are awake, and central to what makes us human.

    Today, a growing number of scientists feel we may soon be able to explain consciousness by discovering how trillions of neuron connections initiate thoughts and direct our emotions and actions.

    Though the keys to understanding this unique trait may lie in the 100 trillion connections our neurons make as they communicate with each other, how a mind emerges from this neuronal noise remains a mystery. However, Henry Markram, director of the Swiss Blue Brain Project believes his research will one day succeed in unraveling many of the brain's mysteries, as explained in this video.

    Markram predicts that by 2023, his project will produce a machine replication of humanity's most vital organ, the brain. To simulate the brain's trillions of synapses, we'll need to process 500 petabytes of data, which will require faster computers, predicted by Moore's Law to become available as the future unfolds.

‚Äč    The most impressive part of the Blue Brain research is that Markram is building a simulated mind in a machine that could include self-consciousness. Many neuroscientists are convinced that no matter how much we know about our neurons, we still won't be able to explain how a twitch of ions in the frontal cortex becomes the Technicolor cinema of consciousness.

    Nevertheless, Markram argues that Blue Brain will transcend the limits of conventional neuroscience. Once we can model a brain, he says, we should be able to model what every brain makes. We should be able to experience the experiences of another mind.

    A key element in this project includes downloading the simulation into a robot, giving the brain a body. This will prove that a sentient being is being created. If the robot just bumps into walls, then it could be considered a failure. Markram hopes that the 'bot will be unpredictable and not just follow its instructions.

    Blue Brain scientists are convinced that consciousness is just a massive amount of information being exchanged by trillions of brain cell communications. One objective of this research is to discover how neurons give rise to our identity, but the scientists also hope to learn how the mind controls cell activities that cause disease. Wayne Dyer and Bruce Lipton explain how thoughts affect our health in this video.

    Unraveling consciousness also holds the potential to alter thoughts that allow people to commit violence and other harmful acts. See this National Institutes of Justice article. Positive futurists believe that a crime/violence-free world could one day be ours to enjoy.

    Changing human nature through a better understanding of consciousness holds great promise in the decades ahead, to produce a peaceful global village more intent on solving economic and environment issues than arguing over religious and ethnic interests. Will this cutting-edge research produce such an optimistic future? We certainly hope that it will. Comments welcome on this most controversial topic.

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.


1. The research cited does not create false memories, just just encourages the memory of a specific tone. How do you make this leap into false memories?

2. False memories are quite easy to impose in the lab just through association of memory recall and imagination. (You get them to remember a memory, and then present a word or photo, which can get integrated into the memory) False memories can even be logically implausible. IE lab subjects have been totally convinced that they remember seeing mickey mouse at universal studios.

The lesson here is that memory is much much more fallible than we realize.

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