By hitting your brain. That's How.
April 14, 2011 6:56 PM   Subscribe

I'll pass. I don't need a magnet to get those results.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:01 PM on April 14, 2011

posted by lazaruslong at 7:03 PM on April 14, 2011

Hmmmm... Those effects are pretty extreme, and the magnetic fields look pretty powerful, given that they are affecting the camera.

I wonder if the magnetic fields are inducing electrical currents in the brain, and the electricity (not magnetism) is directly causing the effects.
posted by colinshark at 7:04 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Well, after reading the wiki, that does seem to be the case.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation
posted by colinshark at 7:06 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fucking magnets. How do they work?
posted by empatterson at 7:08 PM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

it reminded me of that scene in the matrix.
posted by delmoi at 7:12 PM on April 14, 2011

Hold an electromagnet close to your skull and you can enhance or suppress the activity of neurons just beneath it, thanks to a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). In this video, our brave editor Roger Highfield was zapped by Vincent Walsh from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL to show how it can turn off speech

That seems like maybe not such a good idea.
posted by dersins at 7:18 PM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

posted by Ron Thanagar at 7:19 PM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

I suppose it's only a matter of time before someone figures out how to use TMS to induce pleasure in the brain, and then BOOM! a decades-long, multi-billion dollar war on magnets.
posted by mullingitover at 7:21 PM on April 14, 2011 [19 favorites]

I wonder if the magnetic fields are inducing electrical currents in the brain, and the electricity (not magnetism) is directly causing the effects.

You do know that electricity and magnetism are intrinsically related, right?
posted by axiom at 7:21 PM on April 14, 2011

Apparently I skimmed right past your follow-up. Apologies.
posted by axiom at 7:22 PM on April 14, 2011

Yup, that's it in a nutshell, collinshark. I did a week-long TMS training, once, and a guy in my training class had a seizure from it. (One of six people ever at that level of stimulation - we saw a pre-prepared powerpoint later that day which boasted Only five people ever! and the presenter was all, "Whoops, better change that slide.")

Seizure rates are really really low, but TMS still makes me uneasy. Stupid availability heuristic.
posted by shaun uh at 7:23 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Did you catch his name? Dr. D. Gauss!
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:28 PM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

BOOM! a decades-long, multi-billion dollar war on magnets.

The south shall rise again!
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:29 PM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

It seems like when we actually get a handle on this kind of mind manipulation we'll stop being human as we recognize it today.

That or Yellowstone blows and kills us all.
posted by The Whelk at 7:31 PM on April 14, 2011

Here we go: 'What good is a phonecall, if you're unable to speak?'
posted by delmoi at 7:40 PM on April 14, 2011

I remember reading about this a ways back - there's a spot in the brain that you can hit with TMS that induces orgasms. It's too bad it's so hard to use, because that would be the best crowd control weapon of all time.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:53 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

No, I'm inclined to think it would greatly increase the rate of protests actually.
posted by Bromius at 8:13 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]




posted by The Whelk at 8:15 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

I actually thought one of the most fascinating parts was how the part of the brain that allows you to sing is separate from the language center. This is the first time I've heard it, and it seems like this could be a really useful thing to utilize with people whose language centers have been damaged. Not that I know how you could do that...
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 8:17 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

So the electrical pulses are literally jamming up the electrical charges that jump between the billions of synapses in the brain. Amazing stuff. If that electrical burst can be made precise and powerful enough anyone can be turned into a frozen zombie. Or a mute zombie anyway.

The other amazing thing is seeing so clearly proved that words (and therefore thoughts??) that are sung are controlled by the other side (the Right side?) of the brain as opposed to the side that controls speech.

Incredible stuff what that says about the way we form ideas. It seems that the more creativity is used in expressing an idea the more powerful it is, or could pulses on the other side kept the man from singing the words?


Anyhow, I think that scientist dude has some strange speech tics I noticed and I wonder if it's from playing with that magnet a bit too much.
posted by Skygazer at 8:21 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

This reporter was chosen for his baldness.
posted by cman at 8:22 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

mullingitover: I suppose it's only a matter of time before someone figures out how to use TMS to induce pleasure in the brain, and then BOOM! a decades-long, multi-billion dollar war on magnets.

Or Woody Allen gets to see his orgasmatron happen in real life.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:23 PM on April 14, 2011

I work with a couple of researchers that use TMS in fMRI studies.

One of the studies found an interesting effect that they are hoping to research more. I do IT stuff and data processing, and not actual brain research, so you'll have to forgive the simplifications.

The big idea is that tracking of some objects in your visual field is done in the visual motor cortex, which is an area of the brain that helps to process visual data. But it doesn't do it immediately - you have to train it for what to look for. While this training is going on, a different, lower order, part of the brain handles the task.

So, after the VMC has been trained and is reliably handling the task, the researcher uses the TMS to interfere with VMC and see what happens.

The part that is not surprising isn't the diminished performance. The surprising part is that if you interfere with the VMC doing the task, the part of the brain that helps regulate speech and verbal memory starts doing the work, and not the lower part that was doing it when the task was novel.

It's a remarkably similar effect to thing that causes people to turn down the car stereo as they look for an address. Auditory processing and tracking is used to help the VMC with visual field tracking even though they are very distinct regions.

There are a couple of other motor task studies going on using TMS. It's really hard to use it in a MRI however, because it naturally distorts the field so we have to use all sorts of funny tricks to either increase the resolution or otherwise correct for it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:49 PM on April 14, 2011 [7 favorites]

Transcranial magnetic stimulation

The mouse in that link has coils above and below him. This guy is getting zapped by a figure-eight configuration on a wand. The two coils, I'm guessing, have reciprocal orientations, and the magnetic field is a long spiky probe shooting out between them, normal to the plane of the two loops.

But what's the clicking sound?With the twitching? It seems as if they are building up charges in a capacitor, maybe they don't have enough line current for continuous operation.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:58 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

One neat thing about TMS is that you can actually enhance function, not just knock things out.

There's work with repetitive TMS (rTMS) that shows it can improve tactile perception with the finger and enlarge its cortical representation - i.e. more of the brain lights up when you move it. And the effect lasts for two hours.
posted by parudox at 9:12 PM on April 14, 2011

I heard about a TMI (trancranial magnetic stimulator.. although too much information .. bodes.. well, bodes) being on campus when I first started my PhD program in neuroscience here. I registered to volunteer, but never heard back from them. Wrote them one about a year afterwards. It's been about three years now. I've been in two fMRI "control" studies, which I was asked to participate in since then.

I *really* want to get my brain manipulated.

You see, I'm kinda skeptical about the actual "turning off/on" brain cells. And the specificity. And how deep it can go. And how "specificitally" the cortical layers (I through IV), &c.

I *really* want to experience.
posted by porpoise at 9:30 PM on April 14, 2011

That seems like maybe not such a good idea.

Ah, don't be such a Luddite!
posted by CynicalKnight at 9:49 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm reading Oliver Sacks' book Musicophilia right now, and I can't help but wonder if TMS could be used to create "musical savant" traits without other brain impairments. The book describes a lot of individuals that have suffered a tragic brain accident, but as a result have suddenly developed perfect pitch! Or synesthesia! Or suddenly felt compelled to change their life, start playing music, and become a amazing composer! It seems like if you could impair your brain in a similar, yet temporary, way on a frequent enough basis, you could cause your brain to start building the pathways you would need to become a musical genius.
posted by Secretariat at 9:49 PM on April 14, 2011

The fact that song is handled separately from speech is how Scott Adams was finally able to break his spontaneous dysphonia. Please don't make me regret bringing him up.
posted by eritain at 11:09 PM on April 14, 2011

@Secretariat, they have done that with some math savant skills, suggesting that perhaps some savant skills are not due to enhanced processing in one area as much as they are due to increased inhibition in another.
posted by cogpsychprof at 5:50 AM on April 15, 2011

How a Magnet Can Turn Off Speech

"Oh, well, any decent blend of Scotch'll do that." /Scotty
posted by bwg at 6:00 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I took part in a TMS experiment a few years back. Weird experience. I was told that the induced current generates its own opposite magnetic field, resulting in a slight attraction between your brain and the coil. I'm not sure how much of the odd sensation was that and how much were muscle twitches though.

The experiment I had was similar to that described by Pogo_Fuzzybutt. Prior to the experiment they had to find the right bit and were screwing around with my motor cortex or something. They got my hand to jerk and there was a weird sensation a bit like touching an electric fence. I'd have definitely attributed it to something at my hand rather than in my brain if I hadn't known better.
posted by edd at 6:10 AM on April 15, 2011

There's work with repetitive TMS (rTMS) that shows it can improve tactile perception with the finger and enlarge its cortical representation - i.e. more of the brain lights up when you move it. And the effect lasts for two hours.
posted by parudox at 23:12 on April 14 [+] [!]

That's the crazy thing. How does that even make sense? I read a similar study that wasn't about tactile perception, but motor function. They zapped people's motor strips (between the parietal and frontal lobes) to establish a correspondence between the location of an administered TMS pulse and the resulting motor effect. They zeroed in on patches of brain that would cause the thumb and forefinger respectively to move. Then, they zapped the thumbs for a long time. Finally, they zapped the forefinger area, but instead, the thumb moved! W T F

The only thing that comes to mind that could explain that kind of phenomenon is the following. Let's call one patch of neurons in the motor strip T, because they respond to TMS by making the Thumb move. But they aren't connected directly to your thumb; they talk to some other set of neurons T' to make that happen. Let's call a neighboring patch of neurons F, because they respond to TMS (at first) by making your Forefinger move. Then, when T is stimulated repeatedly by TMS, T' fires too. But F is also firing a little! All of those neurons have some spontaneous firing rate. If T' is firing enough, then most of the random spikes that F' emits would coincide with a spike in T'.

If F had some weak direct connection to T', and learned all Hebbian-like, then those coincidences in firings could strengthen the connection between F and T' until stimulating F was enough to make T' fire. But then, why wouldn't the index finger move as well? THE QUESTIONS NEVER END!

Alternative: there's another layer of indirection sitting between the motor strip and the efferent neurons going to the muscles. The repeated TMS convinces that layer that there's some serious thumb action going down and it needs to route more neighboring neurons to the efferent neurons controlling the thumb. Now I'm going to have to figure out how that would work...
posted by Jpfed at 6:14 AM on April 15, 2011

porpoise: if you google around for DIY TMS, you can find some info on making your own TMS coil using telephone pick-up coils as electromagnetic inductors. Not as powerful as the science-grade stuff, obv, but still strong enough to get some effects.
posted by logicpunk at 6:18 AM on April 15, 2011

You can just tell me to shut up, you know. It's not like you haven't done that before anyway.
posted by tommasz at 6:55 AM on April 15, 2011


Pleasant sensations may not be that unusual. At 1:42 in the New Scientist clip, Walsh says "That's grand" and can't stop himself laughing.

Of course, it probably depends where the field is directed -- I can see it causing nasty effects, too.

And this:

The clicking is because the current is pulsed. That's likely done for both biological and electrical safety. These are coils, large inductive loads which will heat up very quickly if left to run uninterrupted, if they don't trip a breaker first. Also, in anything you are doing to the brain, you want to manage the exposure carefully :)
posted by rhombus at 8:27 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a TMS thing I saw years ago (or something very similar to it) which has stuck with me: Michael Shermer (Skeptic Magazine) puts on the "God Helmet".
posted by hippybear at 8:29 AM on April 15, 2011

Not very germane, but I just wanted to point out that the name of the video producer is "Sandrine Ceurstemont".

I wonder how my life might be different if I had a name like "Sandrine Ceurstemont".
posted by benito.strauss at 8:41 AM on April 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just watched a PBS NOVA: Science NOW episode (hosted by the wonderful Neil DeDegrasse Tyson) that had this exact same thing. Here it is: How does the brain work?

It was really neat (and it had a story on magicians in Las Vegas, which I always find fascinating thanks to Penn Jillette being AWESOME about explaining magic as science, not as hocus pocus woowoo).
posted by daq at 10:01 AM on April 15, 2011

If you zap an ACLU lawyer with this while he's defending the First Amendment, will the world end in a black hole?
posted by Debaser626 at 10:14 AM on April 15, 2011

I think the whole thing is pretty scary. The sound of the TMS working reminds me of the sound of Tasers. I'll bet there is other research going on in this field to test its military and police uses.

Sort of reminds me of the little handicap radios in Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron".

And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

posted by notmtwain at 10:19 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Woo! When I found out that the brain was composed of neurons that interacted with electrical impulses, I wondered if it would be possible to induce currents using magnetic fields. Years later, I found out about rTMS via the research of Michael Persinger. His "theory is that the sensation described as "having a religious experience" is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain's feverish activities.", so he set about trying to induce them via rTMS. I'm really interested in the nature of consciousness, and like porpoise, my next thought was "I *really* want to experience.". How hard could it be? Was anyone else crazy enough to go about experimenting on themselves?

As it turns out, the same human nature that allows us to have furry conventions means there's more than a few people willing to be their own guinea pigs for this. Unfortunately, progress has been slow. The openRTMS project has been around for a while but isn't very active. The OpenStim project has also been put on hold due to inactivity (there's got to be a pun there somewhere).

But what's the clicking sound? With the twitching?

The clicking is because the current is pulsed. That's likely done for both biological and electrical safety.

It's also necessary to induce enough potential in the neurons to trigger them. Superkuh (an enthusiast I originally ran into on stumbleupon) has done a wonderful job of explaining this on this reddit thread:
The characteristic of TMS magnetic fields is not the flux but the rate of change in flux! [...] They key to successfully depolarizing a neuron and getting it to fire is induced voltage across the membrane. The induced voltage of a magnetic field is described by faraday's law wherein voltage is proportional to the rate of change, and not peak intensity or total flux, of the magnetic field. But to achieve such a high rate of change in the current through an inductor (the coil) the voltage must be fairly high and this results in large currents with very large magnetic field strengths some thousands times the earth's field.

The most common electronic setup is that of a high voltage source of 2 to 3kv charging a bank of capacitors of 5-300 microfarads (depending on iron or air core). This cap bank is discharged through an epoxy encapsulated and actively cooled wound coil with 10-20 very large turns making some tens of microHenries. For peripheral nerves stimulation circular 'pancake' style coils are used and for brain stimulation, 'butterfly' coils. Peak current through the circuit is usually around 5kA and should be a critically damped LCR system with a width of ~100 microseconds.

If you're interested in more research:
A good overview of TMS
TMS of Brain Unleashes Creative Abilities
BioMag page on TMS
NexStim is a device manufacturer
Dial H for Happiness: How Neuroengineering May Change Your Brain
Transcranial magnetic stimulation in psychiatry
I am officially not endorsing this, but this guy makes/sells equipment that attempts to recreate "neurotheological" effects a la Persinger. For instance, the 8-coil Shakti, which is "designed for intense altered states". He also has google videos.

Speaking of which, I'd guess that "a decades-long, multi-billion dollar war on magnets" would end up as a war on "devices designed to produce pleasure in the user through the electro-magnetic manipulation of the brain" or "programs designed to interface with a licensed TMS device that function solely to induce pleasure in the recipient". TMS uses electromagnets (basically coils of conductive material), not normal magnets, and has therapeutic potential. So to use Morphine as an example, morphine is not illegal, but using or possessing morphine without a prescription is. Of course, people will find a way around this, and any attempts at prohibition will only lead to an unregulated black market. See also wireheading. See also eXistenZ. I could also see people recognizing the futility of "The War on X" by the time any law like that would be relevant. That's what I'm shooting for.

There is also the similar, yet different, technology of tDCS (transcranial Direct Current Stimulation). It is apparently able to both excite and inhibit brain activity, and has been implicated in things such as better math comprehension.
posted by nTeleKy at 11:51 AM on April 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

But she muted me with science.
She muted me with science!

posted by ODiV at 12:47 PM on April 15, 2011

"Good heavens, Miss Sakamoto, y-- ..."
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:51 PM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I lived with an epileptic who had a magnet-triggered vagus nerve shocker-pacemaker thing near his collarbone. It didn't work like this, it kind of just constricted his throat so he spoke hoarsely when it was zapping him, but that's what I thought of watching this, and really, watching someone do something like seize doesn't get any more fun once you've seen it happen out of control.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:55 PM on April 15, 2011

Because of some mailing lists I'm on, I actually got TMS spam just this past week. They wanted to sell me TMS as a treatment for depression.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2011

The process was tricky to film as the magnetic fields also interfered with the camera we had no film-based cameras
posted by radiosilents at 2:13 PM on April 15, 2011

Porpoise: I *really* want to experience.

This reminds me of a short story by Phillip K. Dick, I read many years ago. I no longer remember the name of it, but it was in a collection compiling his earliest short stories.It had a already a decidedly Dicksian (?) theme to it, basically the idea that humans and their memories and experiences could be manipulated to create a unique reality and identity that was programmed in a way, and true self knowledge requires short-circuiting that as it were to enter a higher plane of experience.

That very sentence you ended your comment could have come right out of the mouth of the protagonist in this story who inadvertently discovers a button that opens a panel in his abdomen which houses a roll of computer punch paper that slowly reels over a light or laser source and a parallel reading mechanism that scans the punched holes and their patterns, and he realizes this is the basis of his conscious perception of reality as the light was slowly "read" or "scanned" according to the pre-arranged, pre-programmed patterns of the punch holes.

He begins tinkering with this mechanism, by slowing it up and speeding it up and experiencing various incredible realities and visions, as well as blank moments of nothing (the experimentation with hallucinogens metaphor is pretty obvious).

But what he really really wants to do is remove the punched holes completely and have the pure light read, and therefore experience complete and unhidden truth and reality, in spite of how damaging such an amazing knowledge will be to his mind, and would probably be to any mind without it's self-protective mechanisms exposed to total "truth," and total "experience."

So he puts a tiny tiny one second break in the spooling punch ribbon, and waits for that one sliver and perfect moment of truth, knowledge, experience and beauty to spool through and...

I'll let you read the rest for yourselves. It's a good story, one that has stayed with me pretty solidly over all this time. Can we, as conscious beings truly experience full blown reality??
posted by Skygazer at 4:58 PM on April 15, 2011

A buzzer sounded in George's head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

Such a great line and an awesome story. There's a fairly good film recently made of "Harrison Bergeron" I streamed from Amazon recently. Really well and beautifully done.

The pathetic thing is the Ayn Rand zomboids have jumped on it as more grist for their nonsense.

Anyhow, Vonnegut. I realize it's completely selfish of me, but I wish he was still around.
posted by Skygazer at 5:09 PM on April 15, 2011

you're a kitty!: "I remember reading about this a ways back - there's a spot in the brain that you can hit with TMS that induces orgasms. "

This whole thing makes me think of Larry Niven's drouds.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:08 PM on April 15, 2011

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