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Lab Rats Given "Sixth Sense"

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the because-they-can dept.

Science 78

puddingebola writes "Researchers have given lab rats the ability to sense infrared light through a brain implant. From the article, 'They taught the rats to choose the active light source by poking their noses into a port to receive a sip of water as a reward. They then implanted the microelectrodes, each about a tenth the diameter of a human hair, into the animals' brains. These electrodes were attached to the infrared detectors. The scientists then returned the animals to the test chamber. At first, the rats scratched at their faces, indicating that they were interpreting the lights as touch. But after a month, the animals learned to associate the signal in their brains with the infrared source.'"

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78 comments

this is opening the door (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905083)

to all sorts of nightmarish brain interfaces

Re:this is opening the door (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905695)

You mean like the Necomimi wearable brain watching cat-ears?
But they are so cool! They perk up when you are interested in something! They twitch when you are thinking hard!
You can learn how to control them(I mean control yourself!)

Re:this is opening the door (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905739)

speak for yourself. I want to touch light and smell words. wa wa wa wa wa wa

Re:this is opening the door (2)

DarkRat (1302849) | about a year and a half ago | (#42910117)

I've got synesthesia, I already see sound

Re:this is opening the door (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about a year and a half ago | (#42912039)

I guess that makes the rest of us color-deaf. ;)

Re:this is opening the door (1)

robsku (1381635) | about a year and a half ago | (#42933977)

Just drop some acid then :)

At least watch the video (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905913)

It's much more benign [youtube.com] than it sounds.

Re:At least watch the video (2)

camperdave (969942) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906635)

The way the rats responded to the stimulus, was... unnerving.

Re:this is opening the door (3, Insightful)

Lotana (842533) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906617)

Only if you choose to see it this way.

I see brain-computer interface as a monumental step to improving our lives. We can construct sensors for virtually every stimuli there is, but could never reach the level of comfort and impressiveness that our natural senses give us. But with this, imagine what we can do for those people that lose their limbs, eyes or suffer horrific burns to their skin. We may even be able to restore movement to people with paralysis!

Imagine being able to interact with your desktop without risk of Repetitive Stress Injuries. Imagine having the ability to directly jack in to robots in hostile environments. Imagine what kind of augmentations we can add. This could even be first steps towards having a choice of immortality!

Biotech is such a quickly developing area. It is a very exciting time to be alive! You just need to avoid focusing on only negatives. Every scientific development has both good and bad sides: Nuclear fission did bring us terrifying weapons, but also a source of energy.

Re:this is opening the door (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42908663)

Brother Cavil in the series Battlestar Galactica put it quite succinctly:

I don't want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays! And I want to - I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can't even express these things properly because I have to - I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws! And feel the wind of a supernova flowing over me! I'm a machine! And I can know much more! I can experience so much more. But I'm trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!

Now, I'm not saying we should become machines ourselves, but it does not take a genius to imagine what experiences might be possible in our lives if we were to integrate technology into our bodies much more than we are now.

Imagine scouring the web with a mere thought, absorbing information directly without the inconvenience of reading text from a screen. Imagine playing a game that feels real without a clunky VR headset or a cave, and where your character's limbs actually move as you command, without needing keys or buttons for every action. I really wonder whether I'll live long enough to see such a change.

Re:this is opening the door (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | about a year and a half ago | (#42909623)

Unless the bad side is catastrophic. Nuclear technology hasn't improved life all that much, but even if it provided something amazing like free power, it obviously wouldn't be worth it if also resulted in extinction.

Re:this is opening the door (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42911657)

Nukes have created peace. More then ever seen before if you consider rising population/war per person.

Nukes 'ending the world' always gives me a chuckle though....

Tracking and identifying (5, Interesting)

roboticon (2715841) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905161)

Interestingly the electrodes were implanted in the "tactile information" processor, so the infrared light is interpreted as touch. That would seem to mean that in "tracking" the source of the signal, the rats meander until the infrared light hits their eyes, and then head toward it as the strength of the touch signal increases.

TFA says "a new sensory input can be interpreted by a region of the brain that normally does something else," but isn't the input just being "converted" into the sense of touch by activating that region of the brain?

Re:Tracking and identifying (4, Informative)

TheLink (130905) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905495)

You see with your brain too. If someone draws a simple picture on your palm or back, you can still "see" it in your mind.

See also: http://discovermagazine.com/2003/jun/feattongue [discovermagazine.com]
The brain is able to learn to see whether the picture is generated by touch or sound.

And even with sound there are different ways for seeing,
echolocation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLziFMF4DHA [youtube.com]
and some software that converts images to pitch and left-right volume: http://www.seeingwithsound.com/winvoice.htm [seeingwithsound.com]

Maybe what they could try is implant a sensory array to baby/young rats and see if they can add a extra video input to rats.

Re:Tracking and identifying (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42908587)

Literally eyes in the back of their head.

Re:Tracking and identifying (4, Interesting)

AK Marc (707885) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905617)

If you receive conflicting information, your brain will file it conveniently. "Touch" brain activated by light can be re-wired to be forwarded to vision. That was part of the result. They initially acted at first like it was "felt" as a touch. Later, they acted as if it was "seen".

Re:Tracking and identifying (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905987)

"Figure 2A: Learning curve for IR-only trials. Graph shows percentage of correct trials as a function of session number (130 sessions in four rats). Black circles/lines indicate mean/s.e.m. for blocks of three sessions."

And there are 15 datapoints if you look at the chart. So there should be 4*3*15=180 sessions, yet there are only 130 total. That makes it seem like they failed to collect data on 27% of trials for some reason. What is the explanation for this? I mean stuff happens so its fine to be missing some sessions, but I can't find an explanation in any obvious place and it seems like an obvious thing to notice.

Has Nature once again failed to publish a report it is possible for the reader to reasonably interpret?

What is the function of the device (1)

For a Free Internet (1594621) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905181)

I geopre[wol ksebacious underamd0spoal;w and the ot89io(()()()()()()()()()*&)&)&)&((((****((( rueikjaskjJKJKKJJK poop on your face toad itewioakl int idsopap tUNDERSTAD thjkkjkak poawwooowowowooowoooo jroiellllal the thing! But yout retiortort carasas 09opoaa0 pahonoy!!!!! MOOD PILLS

It is not 6 (3, Interesting)

markdavis (642305) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905219)

Why is that stupid term "Sixth Sense" still used?

1) Sight
2) Hearing
3) Touch
4) Taste
5) Smell
6) Balance
7) Temperature
and there are several others. So it is not a "Sixth Sense"

Re:It is not 6 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905307)

There are many, many senses. And we're discovering more all the time.

Re:It is not 6 (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905317)

You forgot 8) Humor

Re:It is not 6 (0)

TarPitt (217247) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906435)

You forgot 9) Irony

Re:It is not 6 (1, Offtopic)

sdnoob (917382) | about a year and a half ago | (#42907191)

You forgot the one that more people are lacking than any other....

10) Common Sense

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42907549)

It's been my experience that if more people would lack #10 we would all be better off...

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42907575)

You forgot 9) Irony

People often use "irony" and "sarcasm" as synonyms for "humor" when they want to sound intelligent.

Re:It is not 6 (4, Insightful)

Guppy06 (410832) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905329)

Why is that stupid term "Sixth Sense" still used?

About 3000 years or so of cultural heritage, combined with general apathy on the subject from the public at large. The alliteration doesn't hurt, either.

Have fun tilting at those windmills.

Re:It is not 6 (1)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year and a half ago | (#42911973)

About 3000 years or so of cultural heritage, combined with general apathy on the subject from the public at large. The alliteration doesn't hurt, either.

Have fun tilting at those windmills.

Well, if he's lacking Sense#8 (balance), he sure is going to tilt.
[for those lacking Sense#37 (puns), yes I do know the alternate meanings of "tilt"]

Re:It is not 6 (5, Funny)

nxcho (754392) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905345)

Actually Nr.6 is reserved for future use. 1) Sight 2) Hearing 3) Touch 4) Taste 5) Smell 6) 7) Temperature 8) Balance 9) Autokinectic etc

Re:It is not 6 (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905819)

7 is also reserved for historic reasons, I believe.

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42913153)

and 13 is written upside down.

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42908597)

Actually, Nrs 2,3 should be:
2) ???
3) Profit !!!

Re:It is not 6 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905355)

Why is that stupid term "Sixth Sense" still used?

Right! Have they no concept of how to do salami slicing?

1) Ability to see red light
2) Ability to see green light
3) Ability to see blue light
4) Ability to see light in low light levels
5) Ability to taste salty
6) Ability to taste sweet
7) Ability to taste sour
8) Ability to taste bitter
9) Ability to taste umami
10) Ability to smell floral scents
11) Ability to smell musky scents
12) Ability to smell sulfurous scents
13) Ability to smell amine scents
...

We could probably stretch this out to at least a hundred.

Re:It is not 6 (2)

ldobehardcore (1738858) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906127)

Yeah. Often Temperature is folded into touch, and balance is folded into a more general category of proprioception which includes the ability to tell the position and motion of body parts in space without having to look at them all the time, as well as whether the body parts are touching each other or moving on an intersecting path.

Personally I think smell and taste should be folded together. Really bad smells are often tasted, and without a sense of smell, taste loses so much acuity all it's really useful for is detecting whether something's poisonous.

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42908251)

But those are all directly sensing the same thing.

The ability to balance is extremely different from being able to feel, or tell where your body parts are mentally. (which is different from touch, there are numerous tests on this, even with people without limbs)

I can certainly see where you are coming from since they are discrete sensory inputs, but there is a real defined limit to where things are split: if they are significantly different in function and interpretation.

Re:It is not 6 (1)

craznar (710808) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905419)

I sense a pedant in the wings.

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905523)

Don't forget Humor!

Re:It is not 6 (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905535)

If the rats are forced to perform this trick, "to receive a sip of water as a reward", I believe the rats will also develop a strong sense of anger. Poor critters, starved of water by evil scientists.

Thirsty rats will probably get quite onery . . . they might be tempted to take a drink from one of those big "bags of mostly water" in the white coats.

Re:It is not 6 (1)

overlordofmu (1422163) | about a year and a half ago | (#42908145)

Nope. The bags of mostly water are too salty to drink from.

I know a rat that tried it once . . .

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905541)

6) Balance
7) Temperature

I used to think this as well, but balance is derived from touch (it's the movement of hair in your inner ear) and temperature would be as well.

Re:It is not 6 (3, Interesting)

markdavis (642305) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905597)

>I used to think this as well, but balance is derived from touch (it's the movement of hair in your inner ear) and temperature would be as well.

I totally disagree. Balance is a separate function that can be had or lost, separately from touch (pressure). And temperature really has nothing to do with touch. If you were going to go that route, then smell and taste are the same, since they are both chemical detection receptors. And hearing and balance and touch are the same because they ALL involve moment detection.

All these things come from nerve sensations, but that doesn't make them the same sense.

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42913159)

If you were going to go that route, then smell and taste are the same, since they are both chemical detection receptors.

Isn't that why you can't taste anything if you are holding your nose?

Re:It is not 6 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42919211)

Isn't that why you can't taste anything if you are holding your nose?

You can, or should, be able to taste without your nose. Your sense of taste is drastically reduced without your sense of smell, but you should still be able to identify sweet, sour and bitter; you just can't identify any of the actually interesting properties.

Re:It is not 6 (1)

robsku (1381635) | about a year and a half ago | (#42934803)

I would think that most of us would have actually tried at curiosity filled age of childhood - I did and I could still taste... Sure you can't taste as well when you have, for example, common flu and can't smell but the connection between the two doesn't mean they are totally dependant on each other.

Re:It is not 6 (2)

holophrastic (221104) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905653)

Well, you beat me to this. But I can answer the question.

Because in kindergarten -- or elementary school if your school system sucks -- very young children are taught 5. They are taught 5 because they are very young, and teaching 20 would be difficult.

Unfortunately, you live in a world where adults forget that what was taught in school isn't anywhere near complete. So they think there are 5 senses, atoms are round, primary colours are red, yellow, blue, and tarrot cards mean something.

What we need to do is not to teach these adults. What we need to do is to inform their life coaches. Let the life coaches teach them.

Re:It is not 6 (2)

Frontier Owner (2616587) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905735)

temperature and sight are both electro-magnetic energy sensations. taste and smell are both chemical sensations.hearing is mechanical vibrations. touch is a mechanical sensation. balance is a force sensation. All the scientist have done is train the mice to detect levels of electro-magnetic energy that is outside their normal range.

Re:It is not 6 (1)

tbird81 (946205) | about a year and a half ago | (#42907897)

I'm not sure that temperature sensation in humans is actually directed detecting EM energy. But I couldn't actually find out much about how thermoreceptors work.

Apparently there are six different heat sensitive channels (Trp) in the membranes of the thermoreceptor, which at certain temperatures let ions into the cell, triggering an action potential. Some of these are activated by capsaican, which is why chili feels hot.

Re:It is not 6 (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906339)

...and just to mess things up a bit, in addition to hunger (which no one got), touch is actually four or five different mechanosensory phenomena—vibration, pressure (both fine and coarse), skin stretching. Pain is also completely separate, and (to the surprise of many) actually one of our slower senses.

Re:It is not 6 (1)

tbird81 (946205) | about a year and a half ago | (#42907941)

I don't know. I'd understand it for a newspaper article, but this is the type of thing that nearly every Slashdotter knows. The story submitters and editors seem to be a different population than the commenters.

It seems we get the idiots to chose and edit the story, and get the slightly smarter idiots to make the comments.

Re:It is not 6 (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year and a half ago | (#42909353)

did you understand the concept being conveyed?
then the phrasing did its job.

Sixth sense is not enough... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905249)

to keep them from being lab rats.

Can they get me (3, Funny)

johnnyb (4816) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905255)

The ability to sense when my children are misbehaving? That would be more helpful than infrared, I think.

Re:Can they get me (1)

cheater512 (783349) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905301)

Here is a 9v battery. Just apply directly to the brain.
Should be 99% accurate.

Re:Can they get me (1)

viperidaenz (2515578) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905555)

50% of the time, it works every time!

Re:Can they get me (4, Insightful)

camperdave (969942) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906757)

Children misbehaving? That's easy. Listen for a drop in the background noise levels. When they're quiet, they're up to something.

Re:Can they get me (1)

robsku (1381635) | about a year and a half ago | (#42934877)

Indeed, when I was a wee child I used to be baffled about why parents were always there when we (me & my lil sis) "did something" and tried to be quiet but not when we were making noise - took a while to understand and feel dumb about it =)

In Soviet Russia (1)

Roachie (2180772) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905373)

rats give YOU a "sixth sense"!!!

Re:In Soviet Russia (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905403)

Does the ratty sense tingle?

My god, this is almost as amazing (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905391)

as gluing geiger muller tubes to the heads of cats and controlling their fear center via electrodes so they fear radiation... This was done in the 1960s.

Re:My god, this is almost as amazing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42906653)

I'm feeding a scientific troll, but let it be.

Do you really see no difference between stimulating a fear center with a binary signal (aka, GTFO cat, GTFO!) vs. an actual continuous (technically discrete, but, technically, everything in life is discrete) input into the brain conveying a meaningful information?

Would it *HAVE* to map to an existing sense? (2)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905393)

Or could it wind up mapping to something completely different, as the brain learns to interpret the signals?

Re:Would it *HAVE* to map to an existing sense? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42905633)

From an evolutionary perspective, sounds legit. The first sense a multicellular organism would have would be Taste/smell (really the same chemical receptor sense). eventually, as a nervous system would develop, getting a dedicated Taste/smell system setup would be important. To understand environment, touch would then come about. To detect prey and avoid predators, chromatophores would start to become light sensetive, and in an evolutionary arms race, lens and dedicated retinas and eyeballs for fast tracking would develop quickly. As time goes on, stuff like electrical sense and magnetic field detection would comeabout.
Hearing probably developed after the move to land, as fish don't have ears, only animals that used to be land dwellers have them. IR is still pretty primitive, as it's just IR receptive cells in a snake's snout, with no amplifiers or filters.

A new sense of course will render in an old sense first, and then over time become it's own dedicated sense.

N.I.M.H. (2)

Psibur (1795062) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905409)

God I hope one of them is named Nicodemus and becomes...intelligent.

Flowers for (3, Interesting)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905525)

Nicodemus and becomes...intelligent.

Algernon (was the first).

So they can... (4, Funny)

Brad1138 (590148) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905769)

See dead people?

Re:So they can... (4, Funny)

Arancaytar (966377) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905831)

No, but they can see red people.

(*rimshot*)

Tagged "Entertainment"? WTF (2)

jimmydevice (699057) | about a year and a half ago | (#42905869)

Why is this tagged entertainment? Have the DICE corporate sociopaths and marketdroids finally twisted the knife?

Scientist: "They're *waiting* for you, Gordan..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42906123)

"...in the tessst chamberrrr."

>>> The scientists then returned the animals to the test chamber.

di34 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42906445)

Part 0F GNAA if [goat.cx]

Menzoberranzan (1)

socaire (2727939) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906505)

I'd like infravision, I could go live in the underdark. All bow to Lolth!.

Some claim (1)

Turminder Xuss (2726733) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906755)

to have a fashion sense. Slashdotters are blind to that.

Could be adapted for implanting in politicians (1)

Zhe Mappel (607548) | about a year and a half ago | (#42906821)

They taught the rats to choose the active light source by poking their noses into a port to receive a sip of water as a reward

Great tool for positive reinforcement in our congress critters. Still, science fiction teaches us it is always better to stimulate the pain receptors!

Re:Could be adapted for implanting in politicians (1)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year and a half ago | (#42912047)

Great tool for positive reinforcement in our congress critters. Still, science fiction teaches us it is always better to stimulate the pain receptors!

(a) you don't read a wide-enough variety of SciFi .
(b) Congresscritters are quite good enough at handling positive reinforcement -- in the form of $$. But so far as I can tell, they disdain water in favor of alcohol at all times.

I, for one (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42907169)

I, for one, welcome our infrared sensing, cheese loving, cyborg overloads.

CAPTCHA: maturity

After a month (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42907581)

it stood for Congress, It could sense the trough

That would be one of the regular five. (1)

Soluzar (1957050) | about a year and a half ago | (#42908731)

Detecting light? That would be one of the normal five senses, actually.

useless until we can increase brain capacity (1)

Matsew (2849425) | about a year ago | (#42994517)

having lots of "maybe useful, but not entirely necessary" inputs will only take up valuable brain matter, that's why these haven't evolved in the first place(even though we might need some of these more in our modern society than 10 thousand years ago, I don't think it's very significant).
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