Is it actually possible to directly transfer one’s experiences into another person’s brain?
Dejá vu? If this question in its particular wording seems familiar, you might be reading just the right text! I addressed this question in my blog post on Brain to Brain Interfaces (BtBIs) in June 2016 and just as promised here’s the report on the data and opinions collected from some of the readers.
If you haven’t had a chance to read about BtBIs yet, be sure to check out what I wrote and come back.
Otherwise, if you have read the post and are now interested in the opinions of fellow readers, go ahead and we’ll dive into the data!
Research on BtBIs is cutting edge, futuristic, and controversial. When I wrote the blog post back then, I was very interested in what people apart from the researchers thought about BtBIs – in particular, I wanted answers to the following questions:
- How many people would join an experiment on BtBIs themselves? Why would they join such experiments, or what would make them hesitant to do so?
- How likely do people think that technology similar to BtBIs will become prevalent throughout society?
- Can some of these questions be explained by how fascinated, as opposed to scared, people are by the advance of technology?
After a brief description of the sample, let’s see what the data can tell us about each of these questions.
17 participants started the survey, but 3 of these participants dropped out right in the beginning, so I report the data of 14 participants.
The sample comprised of 10 females, and 4 males who had a mean age of 26.5 ± 5.7 years (mean ± standard deviation).
Why would people join BtBI experiments?
An impressive number of 13 participants (93%) indicated that they would take part in research on BtBIs. Only one participant indicated otherwise, but he was not really sure either, as demonstrated by his answer on the open question on “why not”:
- “Maybe only if I was paid.”
What were common reasons that participants stated for their willingness to participate in BtBI research? We are entering the domain of qualitative analysis now, so feel free to take a look at the anonymous data yourself and challenge what I write here.
The main bulk of the answers are based on the motive of curiosity. To name a few examples, see the following three excerpts:
- “I would like to experience the world in the same way as another person does – everything is subjective and I believe that this would be a good way to better understand others.”
- “I am fascinated by it, and would like to contribute to researching and improving this technology.”
- “For progress !!! ;)”
A few answers are careful in their tone. Take the following answer, which is supportive of the general idea but not willing to go as far as possible with it:
- “If it was only about visual categorisation or sth similar, it’d be okay. If it’s more elaborate, e.g., emotion transfer, then not – too personal”
Or these excerpts from the remaining two careful answers:
- “[…] I would not be Patient Zero though”
- “[…] I would not participate in research that is potentially harming me.”
Lastly there is one answer emphasizing the trust of ethical research:
- “I would like to support developping new and helpful technologies and I would trust the researches that the experiments won’t touch my private thoughts.”
Do people think that openly accessible related BtBI technology is likely?
As an example close to the BtBI research, I introduced a concept from science fiction: “Simstim”, referring to the stimulation of the brain and nervous system of one person using a recording (or live broadcast) of another person’s experience. Simstim is reasonably close enough to BtBIs to be used synonymously for our purpose in this blog post.
One of the questions in the survey was: “How likely is it that technologies such as “simstim” will exist in the future?” Here, people could answer on a visual analogue scale by clicking on a line in between the anchors.
- “simstim” will never exist [which would indicate low values to a minimum of 1]
- “simstim” will certainly exist [which would indicate high values to a maximum of 101]
The mean rating on this question was 69.6 ± 30.5 (mean ± standard deviation). This indicates to us, that the majority of participants were of the opinion, that it is relatively likely that at some point, simstim will exist (see also Figure 1).
Relating the likelihood of simstim to attitudes towards technological advance
When I created the survey, I furthermore included a question in a similar format to the one asking about the likelihood of simstim. Again, people rated on a visual analogue scale, this time for the question: “Technological advance is rather …” with the anchors being:
- scary [which would indicate low values to a minimum of 1]
- fascinating [which would indicate high values to a maximum of 101]
So what is the relationship to the participants’ attitude towards technological advance? Take a look at Figure 2!
In figure 2, you can see that the more fascinated participants were by technological advance, as opposed to scared by it, the more likely they envisaged technologies like simstim to exist in the future. Admittedly, there are only few data points and there were no participants who found technological advance absolutely scary, but still: the Pearson correlation between the two variables was 0.4
That’s it – a brief report on the opinions on BtBIs collected from readers. Let’s summarize the findings in three points:
- Most participants (93%) would take part in BtBI experiments. Mainly for motives of curiosity and to advance science. Some participants were more careful than others and one participant expressed his trust towards researchers.
- Judgments of the likelihood of BtBI-like technologies to be accessible in the future ranged from not completely unlikely to very likely … the majority of participants believe that such technologies will exist in the future.
- The judgement of this likelihood is related to the attitude towards technological advance that a participant has. Generally, the more fascinated participants were by technological advance, the higher they judged the likelihood of simstim.
Lastly, it is important to mention that out of about 550 readers, only 14 felt that they wanted to share their opinion. That’s a response rate of 2.5% so the data reported here are in no way representative of all the readers. Despite this rather sad fact, it was interesting to get a small insight – thanks to those 14 anonymous readers out there.
Do you have other ideas how the data could be analyzed? Feel free to post your suggestions in the comments! You can also check out my analysis script and the anonymous data on github.