(NaturalNews) Researchers from the University of California at Irvine have made a breakthrough by demonstrating how specific memories can be implanted through the direct manipulation of the brain.
Building upon five decades of research, Neurobiology and Behavior Research Professor Norman M. Weinberger and his team confirmed the ability to "directly alter brain cells in the cerebral cortex." They associated a specific auditory tone with the stimulation of the nucleus basalis in rodents, which releases acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important to memory functions, into the brain. Later playback of the tone triggered a spike in respiration in the lab animals, indicating that the sound was recognized. Acetylcholine also plays a critical role in the arousal of attention and emphasis in sensory perception.
Degeneration of the nucleus basalis is found in patients suffering from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and the proper functioning of acetylcholine is, in turn, believed to be necessary for "neural plasticity" or the remapping that occurs after learning and other functions. Scientists at Stanford and UC Berkeley have previously found that "acetylcholine increases the effects of perceptual learning which points to its role in regulation of neural plasticity."
Important Memories Use More Brain Power
The UC Irvine researchers say this confirms that direct brain stimulation can create memories that are as convincing as natural memories and also stored long-term. Interestingly, their experiment increased the range of brain cells involved in response to the auditory cue, finding that the more intense the memory, the larger the footprint of neural networks associated with it.
Weinberger's team hypothesizes that a "memory code" indicates the importance of particular memories, writing:
"The strength of memory is proportional to the amount of expanded representational area for a signal: the greater the area, the stronger the memory. The importance of the memory of a stimulus is a direct increasing function of the number of neurons that optimally process or become tuned to that stimulus."
Natural News spoke with Dr. Norman M. Weinberger about his most recent findings. He indicated that the research conducted at UC Irvine demonstrates how auditory experience through the sensory organs transforms into particular meaning in the brain, in turn affecting cognitive behavior (as the rats did when they increased respiration after recognizing the test tone from the experiment).
According to Dr. Weinberger, the auditory cortex is affected by the flow of acetylcholine during and after the stimulus, thus placing a proportional "bias" on the physical processes - down to the actual ear. "Just as a musician's ear is tuned," the auditory cortex "emphasizes what's important," Weinberger stated.
However, according to Dr. Weinberger, the stimulus alone is not enough to determine the importance of memory creation. Instead, it is how the event is processed and put into context, based upon associations and previous experiences. Laboratory conditioning is about predictable events. "The brain picks up regular events in the world and associates it," Weinberger said. "What do you do about it? If it's good, can you get it? If it's bad, can you avoid it? These two forms of learning are absolutely essential in our experiences," Weinberger stated. In essence, to "know who we are."
In highly traumatic events, such as in those who suffer from PTSD, "more neurons encode the traumatic experience," while "a lot of stress hormones are released," leading to the "enhanced storage of memory cells," Weinberger told Natural News. In turn, people often have intense recall of their best experiences. Acknowledging that the size of memory networks are also expanded when the reward and pleasure centers are stimulated, Weinberger commented, "You can never have too much happiness."
Artificial Memories & Mind Control
How will this science of creating memories - and specifically, the ability to manufacture and implant them into the mind - alter society? That depends of course on who uses the knowledge. For Norman M. Weinberger, the research is his own but belongs to the people. Most of his funding comes from National Institutes of Health grants, and many of the applications could go towards technology to benefit the hearing impaired or blind. Too often though, people expect immediate results from such research, while in reality everyday applications could be far off, he cautioned.
Meanwhile, do the possibilities of creating totally artificial memories unveil a dystopic future like the one depicted in the Schwarzenegger flick "Total Recall," based upon the Philip K. Dick short story, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," where false memories go hand-in-hand with a world of socio-political illusion? The post-war world has already seen secret experimentation carried out by the CIA under Project MK Ultra where various techniques of mind control were used against unwitting and unwilling subjects for decades. Will such abuses be accelerated with these new discoveries?
Dr. Weinberger acknowledged that it was "theoretically possible." He said, "If anyone could put an electrode into your brain, it would be the most control anyone would ever have."
"If you're asking if an evil empire could use this technology, well they have throughout time," indicating that various techniques have been used towards agendas of control.
"Sure, it is theoretically possible [to control a person's mind], just as it is possible for complete control of any device. You can get a car to go forward, despite never stepping on the accelerator, if you understand how the machine works."