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127 . T E C H N O -­ T E L E P AT H Y A N D T H E O T H E R N E S S O F T H E O T H E R Only later, when I began to probe, did I learn that below the surface transmission—­ the front of mind stuff which is what I’d originally been picking up—­ language faded away, and was replaced by universally intelligible thought-­ forms which far transcended words. Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children The problem of telepathy, thought–­ transference, or extra-­ sensory communication is one that has generally been given a wide berth in serious philosophical or scientific discourse, and relegated to the obscure domains of pseudo-­ science, mysticism, and new-­ age quackery.1 However, while the possibility of telepathy as an innate mental faculty may remain a fanciful one with little scientific credibility, the prospect of direct, technologically-­ enabled communication between minds is one that is being taken increasingly seriously. Indeed, theoretical physicist and prominent futurologist Freeman Dyson has expressed his belief that what he calls radiotelepathy—­ “the direct communication of feelings and thoughts from brain to brain”—­ will be the most significant scientific development of the next eighty years, leading to “radically enlarged” opportunities for shared understanding and thus to our experiencing life “in a whole new way.”2 The initial steps in this direction have already been taken by scientists combining BCI principles with neural stimulation technology to allow for information to be conveyed directly from one brain to another. Early experi­ ments into brain-­ to-­ brain interfacing (BBI) have generated widespread excitement on social media and in the popular press and, perhaps inevitably, reports have surfaced that Facebook is monitoring developments with a view 4 128 T e c h n o -T e l e p a t h y a n d t h e Ot h e r n e s s o f t h e Ot h e r . to enhancing the means by which we share thoughts and experiences with friends. As Mark Zuckerberg proposed in a live web chat, “One day, I believe we’ll be able to send full rich thoughts to each other directly using technology. You’ll just be able to think of something and your friends will immediately be able to experience it too if you’d like.” Imagining Telepathy In contrast to research in BCI technology, which has developed a more or less standardized set of approaches and aims, where the only real divergences concern the most successful means of recording brain activity, in experimental BBI research there is as yet no such consensus. From surveying the outcomes achieved so far it is clear that there is no single idea of exactly what would constitute communication between brains (or minds), nor is there unanimity on what the purpose or potential future applications of such communication might be. This is no doubt due in part to the emergent nature of the field, which has only begun to take shape in the second decade of the twenty-­ first century, but it is also due to the huge increase in complexity in the sender–­ receiver relationship when compared with BCI technology. After all, it is relatively easy to agree on what it would look like to exercise control over a tool or a computer program with the mind, while it is considerably less straightforward to agree on what it would mean to transfer information from one mind/brain to another.3 Rather than acting on an inert mechanism, such as an electric wheelchair or a computer cursor, in a BBI system the information is being transmitted from one conscious agent to another and this relationship is of a fundamentally different nature to our relationship to an object, as Husserl, Sartre, Levinas, and countless others have shown. As such, neural interfacing between brains introduces a unique set of technical and philosophical problems that do not arise in the interfacing of a brain and a machine. Some early BBI prototypes have skirted this considerable difficulty by developing an active-­ passive model of brain-­ to-­ brain communication where the second (passive) participant is precisely made into a mere inert mechanism over whose actions the active participant exercises control. Researchers at the Cognition and Cortical Dynamics Laboratory at the University of Washington in Seattle developed a noninvasive human-­ to-­ human BBI using EEG signals to harness neural information from the “sender” and transcranial 129 T...


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MARC Record
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