Scientists Demonstrate Animal Mind-Melds

Jul 16, 2015

by Carl Zimmer

A single neuron can’t do much on its own, but link billions of them together into a network and you’ve got a brain.

But why stop there?

In recent years, scientists have wondered what brains could do if they were linked together into even bigger networks. Miguel A. Nicolelis, director of the Center for Neuroengineering at Duke University, and his colleagues have now made the idea a bit more tangible by linking together animal brains with electrodes.

In a pair of studies published on Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers report that rats and monkeys can coordinate their brains to carry out such tasks as moving a simulated arm or recognizing simple patterns. In many of the trials, the networked animals performed better than individuals.

“At least some times, more brains are better than one,” said Karen S. Rommelfanger, director of the Neuroethics Program at the Center for Ethics at Emory University, who was not involved in the study.

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10 comments on “Scientists Demonstrate Animal Mind-Melds

  • While certainly interesting, the experiments cited in this article that were performed on our fellow primates are sick, inhumane, and evil. I agree with Gandhi in that all scientific discoveries stained with the innocent blood of non-human animals should be counted of no consequence. I truly admire Richard Dawkins, and I check this website daily; however, I am sincerely disappointed that he would post the results of experiments performed on sentient animals. We need to work towards ending animal vivisection, not celebrate it because it advances our own selfish desires.

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  • As a regular visitor you should know that the content of this website is not censored by Richard Dawkins.

    Although I appreciate your love for animal,you didn’t show much care for the rats.

    Before conducting the experiment that could yield impressive scientific breakthrough,scientists would access
    the risk ,and would not proceed with the scientific tests if serious harm or suffering would result to the animals in question..

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  • What do you mean by sentient? Which species do you include?
    It seems to me that has to include all animals capable of feeling pain. That would include animals that react with avoidance. However, that includes many single-celled creatures.

    If you mean animals with consciousness, how can you tell?

    Perhaps you mean the more intelligent animals.

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  • Before conducting the experiment that could yield impressive
    scientific breakthrough,scientists would access the risk ,and would
    not proceed with the scientific tests if serious harm or suffering
    would result to the animals in question.

    I wish I had your confidence. There have been some pretty appalling experiments done on chimps in the not so distant past. See for example:

    As a leading example, a monkey’s hand, like the human hand, is linked
    to the brain by three main nerves (radial, medial and ulnar) that
    transmit electric signals to specific and adjacent areas of the brain.
    Viewed by magnetic resonance imaging, these areas “light up,”
    indicating neuronal activity, in response to stimulation of the
    corresponding regions of the hand. Modifying or blocking the
    transmission of signals from hand to brain not only changes or shuts
    down the neuronal activity in that micro-region, but also leads to
    rearrangement of the linkages among the neurons themselves.

    In one experiment, the medial nerve was cut; in a more extreme
    intervention, the middle finger served by that nerve was amputated.

    I’m not sure when these experiments where undertaken but looking at the wiki page for Michael Merzenich I would guess 1980s.

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  • I don’t know about abroad but I am quite happy with the current terms for animal testing in the UK. It requires a special home office license, you have to prove their is no alternative and you have to have vets on site to monitor welfare.

    Research on primates is very rare, great apes almost non existent. The vast majority of research is carried out on rodents since they are similar enough to get decent results.

    There are numerous examples where sacrificing hundreds of animals has lead to treatments that have saved millions of humans from one condition or other.
    I’m not a hypocrite – I eat meat and therefore don’t see that it as any less ethical to perform animal testing if it can lead to medicine that can save lives – cancer and aids research are prime examples.

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  • BigPencil
    Jul 18, 2015 at 1:20 am

    Why can’t they just use volunteers from death row?

    It could be even worse than having a murderer in charge of your body!

    With wi-fi, religious volunteers could be linked to the pope, or their chaplains, or their preachers (having been told this is a hot line to god), so in response to any carnal or rational thoughts, there would be an instant remotely controlled bout of self flagellation!!!!

    Whole religious zombie armies could be assembled!!! – The new hi-tech inquisition or jihadists with even stronger mind control by god-viruses!!!

    Stepford Wives with a vengeance!!

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  • I don’t mean to stray too far off topic, but I’m not even certain that it would be necessary to find death row killers to volunteer as guinea pigs, nor do I believe that only those of a religious stripe would submit themselves to becoming “Stepfordified”.
    Volunteers at hypnosis shows routinely allow themselves to be toyed with for some type of crowd amusement–schadenfreude to satisfy some instinct I can’t begin to understand. Orwell presciently wrote about Big Brother, but never conceived the future mortifying horrors of “reality TV”. Add to that an economy which has a rampant poor and vanishing middle class seeking money through desperate means (selling blood, sperm, hair…)

    I wish I had the ethical answers.

    Like anyone, I have benefitted and survived due to scientific and medical knowledge often gained through methods which, when contemplated, make me shudder.
    Maybe when the big mother ship finally lands, and its three headed, green skinned, tentacled crew starts reaping human subjects for Mengeleque experimentation, the ensuing mass panic will initiate a mass, spontaneous epiphany as to how we can advance the cause of science without inflicting so much pain.

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  • Shameful research. Let’s not pretend no one was harmed int he making of this finding

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