The machine that makes you more smarter
October 24, 2005 7:19 PM   Subscribe

The machine that makes you a savant. (NY Times, No registration copy here) Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation sounds sketchy at first, but there is growing evidence this device developed for brain mapping can change and maybe even enhance mental functions, and may (or may not) be especially useful against depression. The results of the first major US trials will come out in 2006, as discussed in this MIT Tech Review article (PDF). Are you ready for one at home?
posted by blahblahblah (43 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I want one!
I want one!
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:43 PM on October 24, 2005

I heard about this many years ago and have been excited about it (on a subconscious level) ever since. Hurry up people!
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:46 PM on October 24, 2005

I wish the reporter had published his cat drawings.
posted by grimcity at 7:54 PM on October 24, 2005

grimcity: I was thinking the same thing.
posted by brundlefly at 8:15 PM on October 24, 2005

Wait a minute. I saw this episode.

From now on you may adress me as Lord Garth. That's LORD Garth, Damn it!
posted by tkchrist at 8:17 PM on October 24, 2005

'You're not going to be damaged,' he said. 'You're going to be enhanced.....You can make people see the raw data of the world as it is. As it is actually represented in the unconscious mind of all of us. '

I could accept the "enhanced" claim......
posted by troutfishing at 8:24 PM on October 24, 2005

Vernor Vinge had something that sounds alot like this in his A Deepness in the Sky.
posted by Iax at 8:28 PM on October 24, 2005

That machine can't be too hard to build.
posted by horsewithnoname at 8:30 PM on October 24, 2005

I'm sure more people are more excited about the possibility of using these device to eliminate migraines ( Discover Article Page 1, Page 2.)
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:33 PM on October 24, 2005

Very interesting, though it sounds like they have a long way to go. If you wanted an in-home machine, you'd probably need an MRI machine and a map of the brain to determine where to point the thing. Although I suppose if you were trying to remember where you left your keys, you could just rub the TMS all over until you hit the right spot - "oh yeah, that's where I left them!"

Sounds a bit fanciful to me, although maybe that's just the Pollyanna-ish tone of the NYT article. I'll be very interested to see the published results of any trials with an appropriate sample size.
posted by blendor at 8:45 PM on October 24, 2005

I know kung fu.
posted by davelog at 8:46 PM on October 24, 2005

It's like something out of a novel by Philip K Dick
posted by thecollegefear at 8:54 PM on October 24, 2005


So did Greg Bear, in Eon. Or at least the language machines were the first things I thought of when I read the part about reverting your mind to a child-like state to pick up languages quickly. Rapid fluency in foreign languages--that's the sort of utopian deal I can get behind. Imagine how much better the Iraq situation would be if even 25% of the soliders had spent a week becoming fluent in Iraqi Arabic?

But the idea of giving regular people savant abilities just doesn't make very much sense. Until computers threaten to destroy mankind, we needn't worry about doing complex math in our head; drawing is a skill that can be learned with practice; and so on. Language is the big one, but no one even seems to be thinking about the ramifications this technology could have.
posted by thecaddy at 8:58 PM on October 24, 2005

I'm not an expert, but I think the rapid language acquisition in children the author was talking about was a bit nonsensical as it relates to TMS. That aspect of the developing brain has more to do with higher neural plasticity which decreases with maturity. Although I don't really know much about the machine, it doesn't sound like it affects (or could affect) plasticity. All it appears to do (and correct me if I'm wrong) is induce action potentials, which would have nothing to do with encouraging new pathways or growth.
posted by blendor at 9:11 PM on October 24, 2005

(The previous comment is based on my limited knowledge of neuroscience and even more limited knowledge of TMS. Apologies if it's totally off-base.)
posted by blendor at 9:20 PM on October 24, 2005

I would worry if any of the doctors was named Frankenstein.
posted by Cranberry at 9:25 PM on October 24, 2005

Yeah, we have these damn MM wireheads all over in the future. Mostly ad execs....

...I've said too much.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:26 PM on October 24, 2005

Let's see, I'll need a couple electromagnets, a football helmet, and a 220volt connection...

I should probably remove my piercings.
posted by Balisong at 9:28 PM on October 24, 2005

Aw crud. I knew I should have waited for newer technologies before I moved on the trepanation.
click at your own risk
posted by maryh at 9:51 PM on October 24, 2005

1) It's possible that non-specific excitation (classical or otherwise) of neurons can induce them into a more plastic state such that profitable interactions with neighbouring neurons could be achieved.

2) It's possible that an external stress/insult could initiate restructuing that could be profitable to more current situations where older structures from previous stimuli were less-than-optimal.

3) This is a whole bunch of crock built on happenstance and placebo effect.

The brain is so bloody fucking complicated - no-one has any (real) idea why/how this works; I'd be loath to guinea-pig myself without knowing more.

Animal tests would be the first step - zap Koko the sign-languaging-gorilla first - see what happens, or zap dogs. There are (albeit extremely primitive and not particularly apt) animal (rat, mouse) models for various cognitive dysfunctions. Try this out on the first to get some concrete data.

It's acceptable to test LTD/LTP in animals, but it's a little too invasive to do with humans, yet. Hell, try this thing out with cultures to see if it actually *does* anything.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:02 PM on October 24, 2005

My guess is it'll only take a couple weeks before they get banned for entertainment purposes.
posted by delmoi at 10:19 PM on October 24, 2005

I...I just want to be able to draw a cat.
posted by horsewithnoname at 10:20 PM on October 24, 2005

"Get Back to Brilliance"
with MagnoIQ! ®

... may cause upset stomach, acid reflux, nausea, dizziness, headaches, sinus pain, inner ear infections, bloody nose, seizures, vomiting, partial paralysis, brain cancer, and premature decrepitude.
posted by insomnia_lj at 11:04 PM on October 24, 2005

anybody read 'lathe of heaven' by ursula leguin?
posted by gnutron at 11:47 PM on October 24, 2005

gnutron- I had the same thought! Although I was thinking of this movie, because I haven't read the book.
posted by maryh at 11:53 PM on October 24, 2005

This Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator, it stimulates?

Cause I was thinking of this movie.

(The book is way better though. I read it first.)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:35 AM on October 25, 2005

As an all around aficionado of recreational mind alteration, I thoroughly endorse further exploration into this. Even moreso if the goal is to cause creative stimulation or enhance learning ability.

There have been sound/vision devices that bring the brain to different receptive states, and though their effect is subtle and can takes rather long to arise. These devices are surely the next step.

Long ago there was a device meant to cause total transformation to people, it was called the feraliminal lycanthropizer... as you can imagine it was meant to cause people to become feral, and like werewolves. Nowadays we just use mtv for that.

And yes, it is very much like a PKD device... like the dial-a-mood machine in his novel 'Counter Clock World'.

Really interesting stuff - thanks for the link!
posted by phylum sinter at 1:27 AM on October 25, 2005

888: The desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it...
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:45 AM on October 25, 2005

I'd sure like to hear what ikkyu2 has to say on this...
posted by Pliskie at 2:51 AM on October 25, 2005

Try this out on rats first, eh? They already tried that. Just ended up with a civilization built under some farmer's rosebush.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:53 AM on October 25, 2005

So after this was reported in the New York Times a couple of years ago I found myself at a dinner party with Oliver Sacks. I asked him what he thought of the machine. He said that he had tried it out just a few weeks before and, "All it did was give me a headache."
posted by n9 at 4:29 AM on October 25, 2005

Indeed, n9. In fact, I quoted Sacks saying very much the same thing in an article I wrote for Wired about savant syndrome in 2003.

I also interviewed Dr. Snyder at some length, and I remain skeptical of this quickie route to savant abilities. I also quote the leading expert on savant syndrome, Darold Treffert, saying: "The likelihood of significant savant abilities emerging in a 10- or 20-minute TMS session in normal volunteers is, in my view, zero."
posted by digaman at 4:45 AM on October 25, 2005 [1 favorite]

its good to see that we are finally getting in there and tinkering with the works, we are never going to get any of the cool stuff we read about in SciFi books if we don't get our act together and start messing with neurons, i want the first set of night vision eyes, and maybe some wolverine claws.
posted by stilgar at 4:57 AM on October 25, 2005

Here, folks, make your own! Wrap it in tin-foil for extra protection.
posted by Floydd at 6:26 AM on October 25, 2005

stilgar -- really! Where the hell's my Ono-Sendai cyberspace deck and my little plastic tiara of 'trodes so I can jack directly into the cyberspace matrix?
posted by alumshubby at 6:57 AM on October 25, 2005

I find that I think far better when I get off my ass and exercise or do hard physical labor.
posted by troutfishing at 7:50 AM on October 25, 2005

phylum sinter - the dial-a-mood machine appeared in PKD's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Which gives me the opportunity to highlight the excellent technovelgy site which has grown considerably since last being an FPP here.
posted by longbaugh at 9:09 AM on October 25, 2005

The Penfield Mood Organ was definitely in DADOES. I'm almost certain it was used in other works, too, but my google-fu failing me on that score.
posted by Sparx at 2:00 PM on October 25, 2005

Who needs electronics! Try the big frickn spinning magnet version. Also see his site index.
posted by billb at 6:46 PM on October 25, 2005

Ah, giant magnets - is there anything they can't do?
posted by Pinback at 6:56 PM on October 25, 2005

TMS isn't complete hogwash-- plenty of studies exist that make less sensationalistic claims (like how stimluating the motor cortex affects decision-making in hand-reaching tasks). On the other hand, plenty of logistical problems remain, for example preciseness and individual brain differences. I'm skeptical of the savantry claims (this is an old article-- a double post I think), and eye-rollingly skeptical of the credulous narrator. We're far from a magic bullet when it comes to brain imaging and therapy (as the Times so nicely pointed out to us last week).
posted by mowglisambo at 9:50 PM on October 25, 2005

I've been wondering if just sleeping on one of those old Radio Shack Bulk Media Erasers might do the same thing. Is there some sort of specific interval or frequency required or can we just crank it up and think better?
posted by milovoo at 10:39 AM on October 26, 2005

If the field was really strong, wouldn't the magnetism, like, pull all of the Selenium or Lithium, or whatever the hell trace metals in your head to one side or the other ? ( only if they're ferrous though, I suppose. Pardon my ignorance )
posted by troutfishing at 3:54 PM on October 26, 2005

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