Mechanising the Mind
Brave New World of ESB
As Man becomes Machine, The Evolution of the Cyborg
by David Rorvik 1973
Animals with implanted electrodes in their brains
have been made to perform a variety of responses
with predictable reliability as if they were
electronic toys under human control.
- Dr JosÚ M. R Delgado
Yale University School of Medicine
The once-human being thus controlled would be the
cheapest of machines to create and operate.
- Curtiss R. Schafer
In the field of brain physiology, I think it [ESB] is the
most exiting single discovery....I am almost frightened
to say what I think might come of this....
- Dr Robert H. Felix
Testifying before the Senate
Appropriations Subcommittee on Health
Man is possessed by an almost overwhelming desire - some insist that
it is actually an instinct - to explore, to pit himself against the unknown...
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Where are the new frontiers?
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And so, perhaps, space?
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Are there no other possibillities? Yes - one. And it
could prove to be the most significant wilderness of all, a frontier which,
if 'conquered', could obviate the 'need' for all other frontiers. This is
the frontier called the 'mind'; some of the pioneering excursions into this
(until recently) almost entirely uncharted world are described in this
and the subsequent chapter.
Exploratory progress in this realm has been such to date that Dr
Carl R. Rogers, professor of psychology at the university of Wisconsin,
has been moved to state that 'we have in the making ... a science of
enormous potential importance, an instrumentality whose social power
will make atomic energy seem feeble by comparison'. Dr B. F. Skinner
takes a similar view: 'Science,' he says, 'is steadily increasing our
power to influence, change, mould - in a word, control - human
behaviour.' So does Dr Robert S. Morison of the Rockefeller Foundation:
'Knowledge of human behaviour,' he observes, 'is becoming organised
and accumulative ... It is becoming scientific....It is not to early
to prepare ourselves for the day when there will be a behavioural
science which will make it possible the control of human behaviour with
a high degree of precision.'
That day, in fact, appears to be dawning. What man will make of it
remains to be seen. This frontier, more than any other, has a potential
for exploitation by the self-serving and the shortsighted. If wisely
managed, however, it can provide the greatest return of all, something
that is often yearned for but seldom attained: peace of mind, possibly
even mind leached of its destructive urges.
Electronic Stimulation of the Brain
Thought the 'battle for men's minds' is being waged on several fronts,
attention here is focused on the approach that promises the most
dramatic results: electronic stimulation of the brain. ESB, as it is called,
provides a means of 'mapping' the mind, of locating within the brain
the specific sites at which various categories of emotion, feeling, action
and thought originate. More than this, ESB provides a means of exerting
some control over those feelings and actions. It can even help
reactivate parts of the brain that have ceased functioning because of
disease or trauma, induce immense pleasure, override 'intractable'
pain and, for a finite period, enable one to releive one's past, even the
most remote, 'unremembered' past.
Recent rapid development in ESB technique follows-upon what was
rather a slow start. Direct electrical stimulation of the brain, in fact,
dates back nearly two centuries to the experiments of Volta, Galvani,
du Bois-Reymond and others, who discovered that the brain is more
susceptible to electronics than to obscure chemical forces ('animal
spirits', they were called) that were in vogue up to that time. During
the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, battlefield brain surgeons used crude
electronic probes that would curl the hair of today's neurologists in
an attempt to locate damaged brain tissue. They would simply stick
wires into the brain, apply the electrical voltage and wait for some
response, a twitch here, a kick there, an erection, excessive salivation,
etc.; if no response was forthcoming, the surgeon would assume brain
damage in the area under stimulation. Then he would generally take
scalpel in hand and excise the affected tissue - usually to rather horrible
This medical 'technology' lay mercifully dormant for decades after
the war - until Dr Walter R. Hess, a brilliant Swiss neuro-physiologist,
devised the modern technique of electrode implantation in 1932,
demonstrating in the process that nearly all of man's functions and
emotions can be influenced by electrical stimulation of specific cerebral
areas. 'For the first time,' observes Dr JosÚ M. R. Delgado, one of the
foremost practioners of ESB research, 'it was revealed that psychological'
manifestations like rage do not depend exclusively on sensory
inputs and physiological stimulati, but can be induced by electrical currents
applied directly to the brain. Although these findings did not
produce a significant impact on philosophical thinking, in retrospect
they may be considered as important as the nineteenth century demonstration
that the contraction of a frog muscle did not depend on
circulating spirits and could be controlled by physical instrumentation.'
Epoch-making as Hess' work was, it wasn't until nearly twenty
years later that he received the Nobel Prize for his discoveries. And it is
only now that ESB is coming into its own as a routine procedure in
animal studies, on a much smaller scale as yet, as a clinical
tool for treatment of human disorders. As a research tool alone, it is invaluable,
for it makes possible, for the first time, physiological exploration
of the conscious mind.
Presenting the annual James Arthur lecture on 'The Evolution of
the Human Brain' in 1965, Dr Delgado, a professor of physiology at
the Yale University School of Medicine, cautioned that ESB is not a
panacea for all of man's woes, 'but I do beleive', he declared, 'that an
understanding of the biological bases of social and antisocial behaviour
and of mental activities, which for the first time in history can now be
explored in the conscious brain, may be of decisive importance in the
search for intelligent solutions to some of our present anxieties, frustrations
and conflicts. Also, it is essential to introduce a balance into
the future development of the human brain, and I think that we now
have the means to investigate and influence our own intellect.'
Wiring the Brain
To understand fully the impact ESB may have in the very near future,
it is important first to understand something of the actual technique of
implanting electrodes in the brain. Thousands of laboratory animals,
including cats, rats, dogs, dolphins, bulls and even crickets, have been
wired, some with more than one hundred electrodes. Dozens of humans,
most of them suffering from serious diseases or mental disorders, have
been similarly wired - some with scores of electrodes and for periods
in excess of a year. To date, electrodes have been left intact in lab
animals for more tahn five years without any visible ill effects.
The procedure for implanting electrodes in humans (basically the
same as for animals) goes like this: air or radiopaque material is
injected into the intracerebral spaces inside the skull so that the various
parts of the brain can be visualised by means of X-rays. A metallic
skullcap - called a stereotaxic machine - is attached to the head with
three or four little spikes that penetrate the scalp. Then X-rays are
taken from various angles. ESB experiments during recent years have
provided increasingly detailed maps of the brain, thus making it possible
to pinpoint the exact areas they wish to stimulate. They make
geometrical calculations, using the X-rays and the reference-point grids
on the stereotaxic apparatus, to get three-dimensional co-ordinates for
positioning of electrodes.
When the desired target is fixed, the subject is further anaesthetised
and small burr holes are drilled into his skull at the appropriate points.
Micromanipulators on the stereotaxic machine are used to guide the
hair-like stainless steel electrodes through the holes, sinking them to
the desired depth in the brain. Some of these electrodes are only a
millionth of an inch in diameter - small enough to be placed inside an
individual nerve cell. Even the larger electrodes, however, leave the brain
function unimpaired and are entirely painless because the brain itself
has no sense of 'feel'. Once the electrodes are in place, their exposed
ends are attached to small terminal sockets that are cemented to the
scalp. Electrical current, measured in milliamps in most cases and
discharged at the tips of the electrodes, providing the desired stimulation
of the brain.
Originally, the electrical wires feeding into the sockets were connected
to bulky consoles that were immobile for all practical purposes.
This had obvious disadvantages since it didn't permit spontaneous
movement and, of course, restricted the subject to a small area.
Deranged individuals and rambunctious lab animals, moreover, often
tried to rip the electrodes out of their skulls with less than felicitous
results. To circumvent these serious problems and achieve a more
natural man-machine symbiosis, technicians developed stimulators
packaged in collars, small backpacks and little boxes that fit securely
on the crown of the head. These contain batteries, transistors and
timing devices to regulate and control the stimulation. They also serve
as receivers, tuned to pick up radio signals from remote operators who
can regulate the tempo and intensity of stimulation in whatever way
they desire at any given moment.
Researchers at the Yerkes Primate Centre in Atlanta have developed
a head unit that is even equipped with a solar cell so that free-swinging
monkeys need never come in for a recharge. Emphasis is very much on
miniaturisation, and Yale's Dr Delgado and his colleagues have developed
portable instrumants tiny enough to fit inside the head bandages
of their human patients. Some of them conceal their electronic headgear
under wigs and hats. Very soon researchers hope to have terminal
devices that can be wholly implanted under the scalp. But whatever the
gear, the result is much the same. When current is discharged into the
brain, the patient reacts. He may be induced to sleep or to work
happily. In many cases the patient forgets that he is being artificially
stimulated. At any rate he never feels that he is doing something against
his own will. Stimulated to make a specific motor action, he 'feels' that
he himself created the stimulation.
Government by 'Electroligarchy'
The incredible power that one can exert over an individual's actions
and emotions with ESB has given rise to some alarm. What works for
lower animals in this realm can also be made to work for man. Most
scientists assume, of course, that this technology will remain in (their)
benign hands, ushering in anew era of 'electronic nirvana'. But if the
technology should fall into decidedly unscrupulous hands (and this
must certainly be considered a possibility), then a strange and fearful
world would result.
An electrical engineer named Curtiss R. Schafer alluded to this very
possibility in a paper he presented before the National Electronics
Conference in Chicago some years ago. Half in jest, he proposed that
computer-controlled electrodes be implanted in the brains of babies a
few months after birth, robotising them for life. 'The once human being
thus controlled would be the cheapest of machines to create and
operate,' he pointed out. 'The cost of building even a simple robot,
like the Westinghous mechanical man, is probably ten times that of
bairing and raising a child to the age of sixteen. Other scientists have
admitted the possibility that governments could try to control citizen
behaviour by techniques of ESB.
The vision of a society controlled by such a government is not
pleasant to contemplate - yet it is certainly as 'realistic' as that
envisioned by Aldous Huxley in his famous novel Brave New World, in'
which the masses were bio-chemically stratified via the sort of genetic
engineering that is already becoming possible in laboratories around
the world. An electronically contrived Brave New World, however,
might actually be easier to achieve. The stratification here, of course,
would be somewhat different, as the following scenario will demonstrate:
To begin with, let us imagine a conspiracy participated in by a small
group of powerful men who seek to 'optimise' society. Noting the fantastic
potential of ESB, they envision themselves at the top of an
electronically sustained socio-structure that might be called the Electro-
hierarchy. The conspirators, let us say, are leading figures in the
military-industrial complex who want to run the society in the same way
that they run their factories and armies. But now, instead of having to
worry about personnel incentive programmes, waste, time-consuming
interoffice bickering, in-house pilfering and philandering, insubordination,
the costly ritual of hiring and firing and so on, they need only
punch buttons and transmit the appropriate signals to achieve every
general's, manager's, president's, premier's dream of the efficient
society. These Electrooligarchs might comprise, say, forty or fifty individuals
whose brains would remain entirely untouched. On their orders,
however, everyone else would have varying numbers of electrodes
implanted in his or her skull.
The Electrons, the second rank in such a society, might comprise 10
per cent of the population with fifty implanted electrodes each. Remotely
programmed and controled by the Electroligarchy, they would
exhibit unswerving allegiance to their 'masters'. The Electrons, however,
would be society's most creative components. The Electroligarchy
would be clever enough, in a corporate way, to give Electrons their
heads - at least to the extent that they could still come up with
innovations and discoveries with which to enrich society, such as it
would be. The Electrons would be drawn from the society's reserve of
scientists, economistst, scholars, poets and other 'thinkers'. They would
not be so controlled that they could no longer experience unhappiness
or some of the other emotions that often goad individuals on to do
creative things. But their potential for hostility and rebellion would be
considerably attenuated. And of course, like all the members of the
Electroligharchy, they would be programmed to 'forget' that they had
been partially robotised.
Positrons might occupy the next rung down the ladder, possibly comprising
30 per cent of the population. Each would possess some two
hundred embedded electrodes. These individuals would make up the
white-collar support contingent. The positrons would help put the theories,
plans and projects of the Electrons into practice. They would be less
imaginative and less intelligent than the Electrons, hence more closely
controlled and regimented. They would be characterised by dedication,
driven by the desire to implement the goals set by the Electrons.
Emotionally, they would be wholly positive thinkers, enthusiastic
components of the machine; the more they accomplished, the more pleasure
they would receive electronically. They would possess none of the
Electrons' negativism, but they would maintain minimal personalities,
if only to make them more palatable to the Electrons with whom they
would have to make frequent contact.
At the lowest level might come the Neutrons, 60 per cent of the
population with five hundred electrodes each. These would be the blue-collar
people, the factory workers, the soldiers, secretaries, bus drivers,
all those engaged in repetitive, often menial tasks. They would be
cheaper and more reliable than automatic equipment and mechanical
robots. They would, in fact, be completely robotised so that they could
dig ditches all day and love every minute of it, if need be.
Even assuming that a centralised computer of sufficient complexity
and sophistication to effect such a system is possible, implementation
would still remain a major obstacle. It would almost certainly be a
mistake, however, to assume automatically that it would be impossible
to implant electrodes in everyone's brain. It might be relatively easy
provided people could be persuaded to undergo implantation voluntarily.
In a world rapidly growing accustomed to artificial external and
internal prostheses, spare-part surgery and organ transplants, the idea
of implanting metal wires in the brain is bound to become less and less
'foreign' and repugnant. And to push the campaign along, our Electrocrats
might offer a number of incentives, perhaps tax deductions or
even cash 'rewards'. Possibly the implant programme could be ballyhooed
into a matter of 'national security', so that refusal to participate
would call one's patriotism into question. Instantaneous communications
and electronically augmented 'will to resist the enemy' could be
some of the selling points.
More likely, however, is the possibility that people will opt for the
impalnts in order to 'cash in' on a new form of electronic entertainment.
As we shall see later in this chapter, the so-called 'pleasure centres'
of the brain can be wired in such a way that one can create,
with the mere push of a button, an almost orgasmic state of euphoria
or cause the individual to hallucinate as vividly as if on LSD. With
computer programming it may be possible to create within the mind
synthetic experiences of almost any description. In addition, it may
prove possible to transmit electronically coded information directly
into the brain via the implanted electrodes, creating a radical new
approach to education.
Dorman D. Israel, as Fellow of the Institute of Radio Engineers, for
example, predicts that brain implants will be much sought after around
the turn of the century to implement new means of communication
(direct electronic sthought transference) and enhance creative
capabilities. Writing in the Proceedings of the IRE as if from the perspective
of the year 2012, Dr Israel notes that by bthe year 2000 people will be
able to transmit their thoughts over substantial distances 'but always
by appointment - a most fortunate limitation. By 2012, he goes on,
things will have advanced to the point that 'newborn infants can be
operated upon and the latest submicroelectronic equipment installed in
the brain and at certain critical points in the spinal column so that they
are almost certainly assured not only of the benefits of full non-radio
communicative powers but also there is reason to beleive that their
scientific creative ability will be enhanced. Logically enough, this operation
must be performed within two weeks of birth because if the
infant is only slightly exposed to contact with its family who still have
not completed their "unlearning"' and readjustment (to the new technology),
he might never become a good subject for the modern system
Sizeable segments of society may already have undergone electrode
implantation by the time the 'takeover' plot is first hatched. By simply
commandeering the by then existing computer-co-ordinated system, the
Electrocrats would find that most of their work had already been done
for them. When the individual dials into the central computer from his
own home requesting, say, pleasurable experience number 547Z, he
may then receive instead a carefully contrived series of electronic impulses
that instil in him an unswerving loyalty to his unseen masters.
Or possibly the stimulation he receives might simply obliterate his will
to resist a physical takeover or fill him with a completely debilitating
fear of authority. That dramatic behavoural control is possible with
ESB and has, in fact, been demonstrated in several laboratories as we shall see.
Like nuclear energy, ESB possesses a fantastic potential for good as
well as evil. Having conceded the substantial potential for abuse of this
new technology, let us proceed to look at the other, more hopeful side
of the coin. In the course of ESB experimentation, scientists have discovered
that all of the brain's functions - the autonomic, the somatic
and the psychic - are susceptible to electronic control. As Dr Delgado
puts it, in 'exploring intracerebral physiology, we are reaching not only
the soma but also for the psyche itself'.
Consider the influence that can now be exerted over the autonomic
system which resides largely in the hypothalamus, that deep, dark
elemental area of the brain that controls our most basic and primitive
needs. It helps regulate blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, hunger,
sleep, sex and many other things. Appropriately placed electrodes can
alter all of these functions. Cats that have just eaten a large meal can
be stimulated to gorge themselves even further, completely ignoring
their already distended stomachs. Others, literally starving, can be
electronically induced to ignore food placed directly under their noses.
The diameter of their pupils can be electrically controlled as if they
were the diaphragms of cameras. The doctors can willfully alter the
animals' blood pressure and heart rate with precision.
Scientists see many benefits accruing from this sort of control over
basic functions. They can, to begin with, get a better understanding of
how these functions work and what can go wrong with them, thus
arriving at more effective cures for diseases of metabolism, the heart,
circulation and so on. Something called 'electrosleep', for example, has
come to rescue of numerous human insomniacs, though to date
most clinical work has been with external electrodes attached to the
scalp. In lab work, however, internal electrodes have been used on
animals with encouraging results.
At the Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, Dr Adrian Perachio, a
neurophysiologist, is conducting a series of ESB experiments for NASA
which may result in abetter understanding of what happens to sleep
patterns during space travel. Variations in acceleration and gravity
seem to affect and perhaps inhibit one critical phase of sleep known as
the rapid-eye-movement (REM) phase, during which most of our
dreams occur. Humans and lab animals deprived of REM sleep exhibit
bizarre and often psychotic behaviour; this indicates to some scientists
that REM is as essential to life as food and water. Some researchers
now claim to be able to stimulate REM sleep at will. This suggests that
we may one day be able to cut down substantially on our total sleep
time. Why? Because many beleive that other sleep phases are merely
incidental to the critical REM stage (which constitutes only 24 per
cent of healthy sleep time). Thus, if REM could be artificially induced
on a routine basis, perhaps through self-stimulation of implanted electrodes
at the desired time, one might be able to reduce the period of
slumber by 50 to 75 per cent.
On the other hand, it might be useful to prolong sleep electronically
too. If at the same time heart rate, body temperature and other life
functions were slowed down by the proper stimulation of the hypothalamus
and other cerebral structures, a state of suspended animation
might result, the likes of which could come in handy on extended spase
journeys. This sort of 'hibernation', at any rate, now appears far more
feasible than that sort invisioned by cryogenic (deep-freezing)suspension.
Somatic functions have yielded even more dramatically than the autonomic
to ESB. These are th motor functions, movements of the body
and its extremities, which can be controlled by stimulating various
parts of the cerebral cortex. In Dr Delgado's experiments animals were
induced to 'move the legs, raise or lower the body, open or close the
mouth, walk or lie still, or tirn around'. He found that the animals took
all of this very much in stride, seemingly unaware of the outside interference.
Cats stimulated in such a way that they would suddenly have
to raise a hind leg would go right on purring. Nor would they stumble
or fall. 'However', Dr Delgado observes, 'if we tried to prevent the
evoced effect by holding the hind leg with our hands, the cat stopped
purring, struggled to get free, and shook its leg,' indicating that the
stimulatory command is a powerful one.
A number of researchers are working to put this sort of motor control
to practical effect. Perhaps the most impressive results to date have
been achieved by Dr Lawrence R. Pinneo and his associates at the
Stanford Research Institute. Dr Pinneo is using ESB as an 'electrphrosthetic'
device which he hopes will help paralyses stroke victims
move again. Work is still confined to lab animals but its applicability
to humans is apparent. The best thing about electroprosthesis is that it
does not require any sort of artificial limb or external attachment.
Instead, parts of the brain not damaged by the stroke are stimulated
to produce purposeful movements. Computers are used to control the
sequence of stimulatory events emanating from as many as sixty electrodes,
permitting the animal to move about in a co-ordinated and
almost natural fashion. 'With a little training,' Dr Pinneo points out, 'the
animal can be given a set of switches that tell the computer what set
of movements to produce; thus he can enetr into control of his ownbehaviour.'
For those interested in the specifics of the experimental electroprosthetic
technique, Dr Pinneo and his colleagues (Dr J.N. Kaplan and
E.A Elpel of the Stanford Research Institute, and P.C. Reynolds and
J. H. Glick of the Stanford University School of Medicine) have prepared
a paper entitled 'Experimental Brain Prostheses: Methods and
Possibilities'. In it, they write:
This technique involves permanently attaching an electrode guidance
platform to the paralysed monkey's skull while the monkey is
anaesthetised an in a stereotaxic instrument. The platform is made
of dental acrylic and contains an array of holes through which electrodes
can be inserted into the brain with stereotaxic accuracy. It is
aligned above the monkey's head with the stereotaxic apparatus and
is attached to the skull with screws and acrylic dental plastic. The
skin below the platform is removed so that electrodes can be inserted
directly through the skull without piercing the skin first.
..After application of alocal anaesthetic, a small hole is drilled
through the skull using a hole in the platform as a guide. The hole in
the skull is made on the side contalateral to the cortical lesion, i.e.,
on the same side as the paralysed limb, because most limb movements
evoked by stimulation in the brain stem occur on the same
side as the stimulation. An electrode is lowered into the brain in 1-mm
steps throught the hole in the skull. Motor responses to stimulation
are initially tested at each step as the electrode is lowered.
After each location is found that produces a distinct elementary
motor response, electrodes are permanently fixed by bending the
electrode on top of the platform and attaching it to the platform
with acrylic. The electrode is then connected to an Amphenol plug
that is housed in a box made of acrylic. The box is attached to the
guidance platform with screws and is removed from the platform
only when electrodes are inserted into the brain. In Bruno (one of
the lab monkeys) thirteen locations were founsd that upon stimulation
produced movement in his paralysed right arm. Movements in
this limb included rotation of the wrist, arm turning in towards the
body from the shoulder, arm straight out from the body, rotation of
forearm out from the body at the elbow, flexion of the thumb and
several other elementary movenments.- -end of quotation from Pinneo et all
The Stanford team uses a LINC-8 digital computer to programme
and operate the implanted electrodes. The total bio-cybernetic system
consists of (1) a ten-channel programmable brain stimulator (more
channels are possible for future expansion to accommodate any number
of electrodes);(2)the LINC-8 computer with appropriate interfacing
equipment; (3) the software programmes controling the system; and
(4) the animal itself.
The information needed to produce agiven set of movements is encoded,
in each case, in a table format called TIMETABLE. Fed into the
computer, TIMETABLE specifies the pattern of stimulatory events
needed to produce the desired motions. The TIMETABLE repertoire can
be altered simply by addressing the computer via teletype. The system
also features a magnetic tape input so that TIMETABLE configurations,
once proved effective in evoking a specific movement, can be stored for
future use and instantaneous retrieval. This is what makes it possible
to put together a chain of movements that closely approximates natural,
co-ordinated bodily motion. Complex as the whole system sounds, it
has been simplified to the point that, as noted, the monkey can himself
operate a small set of switches. With proper training this enables
him to control his own movwmwnt. He learns, for example, that if he
wants to raise his right arm he is to push one switch, if he wants to
move rapidly forward he is to push another switch, and so on.
Dr Pinneo expects to implant as many as 240 electrodes in the brain
stem, making possible even more sophisticated cyberntic organisms.
He points out, however, that with this much hardware in the brain
there is bound to be some significant damage to brain structure. Hence
he is now looking for means of achieving deep brain stimulation without
implanted electrodes, a means that would, in addition, permit
stimulation of deep brain sites without simultaneous stimulation of
intervening brain tissue. 'In order to stimulate at one point, and one
point only and to produce no damage to intervening tissue,' he notes,
'it is evident that the intensity of the penetrating energy must be below
that necessary for tissue stimulation at every point except the desired
focus of stimulation. This obviously means that two or more sources of
energy must be used where each can be focused to a point, and where
the point of focus is the site of stimulation. It also means that at the
point of focus, the two or more beams of energy must be able to add,
in phase, in order to provide a total intensity sufficient to stimulate
the tissue at that point.' A single energy source sufficient to stimulate
the target site, in other words, is no good because it would also be
sufficient to stimulate all intervening sites. External stimulators of the
future may combine a variety of energy forms, including electric current,
electromagnetic radiation (especially at microwave or higher frequencies),
ultrasonics and laser beams.
Dr Pinneo and others, including Dr Wendell J. S Krieg, a Northwestern
University anatomist, are hopeful that similar electroprosthetic programmes
can be established for the blind. Though actual experimentation
has only begun, Dr Krieg hopes to help the blind see through the
use of light-sensitive photoelectric cells wired directly to the brain.
The miniaturised cells, he says, could be worn on the patient's head,
perhaps even incorporated into hats. Electrodes feeding out of the cells
would be permanently implanted in ythe portion of the brain that interprets
vision. As a modest start, Dr Krieg proposes a system capable of detecting
and transmitting the shapes of letters so that the blind person would
perceive a continuous series of letters and words - in the same manner
that the normal person reads the news that is flashed in lights at Times
Square. From here, he says, more complex systems could be devised so
that pictures resembling animated cartoons could be viewed. Eventually
the system could be refined to the point where it would be possible for
the subject to perceive variations in light, detect the presence of doors,
windows, approachin objects and so on.
'He would be enabled to move rapidly and safely and to throw away
the white cane, which is little more than a tradition or a warning,' says
Dr Krieg. He adds that such systems are feasible since the process
for stimulating the visual portion of the cortex is well known. He
obseves that electrode implants can also be useful in overcoming hearing
losses and, like Dr Pinneo, notes the possibilities for the use of ESB
in restoring movement to paralysed or injured limbs. 'It is a comparably
easy matter with a myograph to analyse the exact time sequences
of all the muscles of the limbs while walking,' he says. 'By playing such
a record on a stimulator connected to the proper muscles, each muscle
could be made to contract at the right time and the result would be
Dr Pinneo and associayes have been at work now for more than ten
years on an approach to visual prosthesis or 'electrovison'. So have a
number of British researchers, notably G. S. Brindley and W. S. Lewin,
who have actually begun working with the human. Brindley and Lewin,
in one effort to overcome blindness, implanted eighty platinum electrodes
into the brain of a fifty-two-year-old nurse suffering from glaucoma
and retinal detachment. The patient was able to 'see' a small spot
of light, and the British investigators beleive that proper programming
of the stimulative events will enable the blind to avoid obstacles and
possibly read print.
The Stanford team is trying for even better results: 'to reproduce
normal vision by making the visual system act as it would physiologically
with light stimulation of the retina'. Dr Pinneo and his group have
now formulated a theory of 'brightness' vision and are making headway
in their effort to replicate some forms of it electronically. As presently
envisioned, the prosthesis system, once perfected, will be much like
that for stroke. With computer control, Dr Pinneo says, 'we should be
able to present a three-dimensional mosaic of stimulated points representing
the entire visual field....For the present, we will only consider
black and white representation.' Nobody is yet ruling out, however the
possibility of eventually achieving artificial colour vision.
The cost and size of computers of sufficient complexity to control
these electrprostheses are, at present, considerable. But Dr Pinneo
points to the rapid progress in the miniaturisation of electronic componentry
as a way around these difficulties. Thanks, in part, to the
space programme, he thinks we will ultimately have 'practical, relatively
low cost, general purpose computers small enough to be worn or
carried by a human being as part of his clothing'.
Intriguing as the electrosomatic devices are, it is the psychic and behavioural
functions of the brain that are the most spectacularly controlled
by ESB. This was demonstrated by Dr James Olds, who was the first to
discover the so-called 'pleasure centres' of the brain while experimenting
with rats at McGill University in Canada. The nature of the pleasure
induced by stimulating these centres (located in a variety of areas)
seems to transcend that associated with mere food, drink or sex. The
stimulation seems to result in a sort of super-euphoria or hyper-ecstacy
that causes the animals to forget mor jejeune pleasures.
Rats, in one experiment, were 'wired for pleasure' and then permitted
to press the stimulating lever themselves. And press it they did - some
at the astounding rate of 5000 times per hour! Some of these sybarites
kept it up for twenty-four hours a day for periods of up to three weeks,
taking only the briefest rat naps and scant seconds for food and drink.
Conventional sexual intercourse was completely forsaken: 'Electrosex',
it seems, combines the best of all possible pleasures.
It was discovered, in the course of stimulating human brains to
control certain disorders, that man, too, is possessed of these pleasure
centres. Dr Robert G Heath of Tulane University and Dr Delgado have
both reported this phenomenon in man. Dr Delgado notes that some
patients undergoing stimulation suddenly began discussing sexual
matters. Several engaged in flirtatious activity that was out of character
with their normal behaviour. Most surprising, several of the stimulated
subjects expressed their desire to marry the doctor (regardless of
whether they were of the opposite sex).
Though the subjects who experienced changes in the sexual ideation
apparently experienced pleasurable feelings, they are not necessarily the
same, intense feelings that kept the rats up day and night pressing the
pleasure pedal. Other human subjects, however, have experienced
similar pleasures. One man, equipped with one of Dr Heath's intracranial
self-stimulation (ICSS) devices, for example, was particularly
fond of pressing one of the buttons on the portable device. According
to the reports on this patient, 'the feeling [that resulted] was good; it
was as if he were building up to a sexual orgasm'. Dr Heath observed
that, 'regardless of his emotional state and the subject under discussion
in the room', the pressing of this particular button 'was accompanied
by the patient's introduction of a sexual subject, usually with a broad
grin. When questioned about this, he would say. 'I don't know why
that came to mind, - I just happened to think of it.'' 'The stimulation
was a highly effective sexual aphrodisiac and the patient called upon it
Experiences of possibly even greater intensity have been reported by
some of Dr Delgado's subjects. One woman, while undergoing stimulation
of a pleasure centre in the brain, found it impossible to control
herself. Her mood would abruptly switch from its usual serenity to one
of euphoric giggling and laughing. She could only describe what it was
that she was feeling as 'pleasant tingling sensations of the body'.
Another patient, who was generally silent, would spontaneously exclaim
such things as 'Hey! You can keep me here longer when you give me
these,' when apparent pleasure centres were stimulated.
Just as self-involvement and inward-looking attitudes have been
found to characterise many drug-induced 'highs', self-orientation seems
to accompany the electrically induced pleasure state, at least initially.
Some have noted, however, that this preoccupation with internal
pleasures gives way with sustained stimulation and pleasurable feelings
are expressed, instead, in an increasingly outward direction. Hence, Dr
Delgado says, 'a shift from pleasurable thinking to friendliness and to
sexual ideas has been observed in some cases'.
Electroanalgesia and Electroanaesthesia
Just as pleasure can be induced by ESB, so can pain be suppressed.
'Electroanalgesia', however, generally utilises the implantation of electrodes
in the spinal column rather than in the brain itself. Dr C. Norman
Shealy, chief of neurosurgery at the Gunderson Clinic in La Crosse,
Wisconsin, and his colleagues have perfected electroanalgesic techniques
to the point that they are now being applied to humans. Electronic
painkillers are important because they give strong promise of
being useful even in overwhelming the 'intractable' pain of incurable
cancer and they free the patient┤suffering any sort of intensive pain
from the need to take massive doses of addicting narcotic
Dr Shealy and his associates have discovered that stimulation of
certain areas of the spinal cord can be highly effective in blocking intense
pain. Since 'intractable' pain has been found to originate in diffuse
structures, they selected those areas in the spinal cord where sensory
nerve fibres are packed tightly together. This enables them to achieve
maximum stimulation with a minimum amount of impalnted hardware.
The basic research that preceded clinical application of the electroanalgesic
techniques involved cats. They were wired with electrodes
and then subjected to varying degrees of pain. 'Normally,' Dr Shealy
notes, 'pinching the tail or paw of the animals leads to meowing and
vigorous withdrawal. Similarly, the cats flick an ear to avoid a hot
soldering iron. However, when a pulsed DC current...is applied to a
dorsal column electrode over the cervical cord, the animals allow prolonged
pinching and intensive heat to the point of tissue damage with
no apparent discomfort. They remain alert during the stimulus and
sometimes will sit contentedly licking themselves during the dorsal
Dr Shealy's first human patient was a seventy-year-old man suffering
the severe pain of an inoperable lung cancer. After implantation of a
single spinal electrode (with intermittent stimulation at .8 and 1.2 Volts),
both incisional and original pain were innediately and completely extinguished.
This was accomplished, moreover, without paralysing any
part of the patient's body. The patient, Dr Shealy reports, 'maintained
good movement of his legs, and vibration, position, touch and pinprick
sensations were intact'. Pain recurred from time to time but could be
immediately obliterated again simply by altering the frequency of the
electronic stimulation. At no time did the patient require the accustomed
The patient died two days after the stimulation was initiated - but for
reasons entirely unassociated with the electrode implant. 'The initial
results were so encouraging,' Dr Shealy reported with regard to this
first case, 'that it seems reasonable that technical problems can
overcome to make this a potentially practical method for releif of pain.'
Since the mid-sixties a number of others have benefited from electroanalgesia,
some now for periods measured in years rather than days.
Dr Shealy's second patient, for example, received relief for two years,
even though she was suffering from extensive pelvic cancer. His third
patient was a fifty-five year-old man who had been almost completely
confined to bed for seven years when seen for treatment. This patient
suffering crippling pains in his legs due to infection of a spinal disc. Now
he is able to walk and swim freely, thanks to a single tiny electrode
implanted in his spinal cord. Whenever he feels a pain developing, he
just pushes a button on a miniature transmitter he carries with him and
current pulses into the nerve fibre via a tiny receiver implanted beneath
the skin. The current 'jams' the nerve fibres in much the same way that
radio frequencies can be 'jammed' to prevent transmission of a message.
In this case, however, the 'message' that is being intercepted is pain.
Among others wired with self-stimulating units, like the one described
above are individuals suffering from mulltiple sclerosis, severe muscle
spasms and various carcinomas. Some use the stimulation constantly -
so far without ill effect. As before, Dr Shealy reports, 'light touch
remains intact as does vibration and position sensation. Patients are able
to walk without difficulty. Bladder and bowel functions are not affected.
Erections and ejaculations are possible during stimulation. The lack of
any significant complications in the patients who have been treated...
should now allow application of this treatment to large number of
patients with chronic pain states.'
Electroanaesthesia though not so far advanced, may eventually prove
to be of equal value. Hundreds ide every year from the toxic effects of
chemical anaesthetic agents; many others suffer severe side effects from
their toxic qualities. For most, of course, the chemical anaesthetics are
neither fatal nor significantly damaging, but they are hard on the system
and do take a long time to be eliminated from the body. Electric current,
on the other hand, can produce unconsciousness almost instantaneously
- without any hangover effect once the operation is complete.
Dr John Waycott, of the Imperial Chemical Research Laboratory in
Great Britain, predicts that electroanaesthesia will be a routine hospital
technique in the not too distant future. When that day comes a patient
requiring general anaesthesia will be taken to the operating room fully
conscious, wired there with external scalp electrodes and put to sleep
with the mere flick of a switch. Once the operation is over, the patient is
just as quickly revived, this time by simply turning off the current.
Though electroanaesthesia has been used many times, a few complications
remain to be smoothed out. For one thing, care has to be taken
to avoid induction of muscle spasms, a consequence of too much
current. In other instances, lungs sometimes cease functioning because
of the stimulation and have to be artificially ventialted during the
operation. Dr Waycott, however, is confident that these problems will
be overcome with more research into the use of various wave forms and
currents and with more precise positioning and use of the external
Other notable medical applications of ESB include suppression of
epileptic seizures and narcolepsy. Dr Heath has equipped patients
suffering from these maladies with 'wireless' self-stimulating transmitters
with which they 'fire' at will their implanted brain electrodes.
When they feel a seizure coming on or (in the case of narcolepsy) feel
that they can no longer remain conscious they merely push buttons on
their pocket transmitters and thus quickly correct the imbalance in
question. Dr Pinneo is also at work on ESB approaches to problems of
consciousness and thinks that even certain forms of mental retardation
might be vulnerable to electronic therapy.
'Our approach to both of these deficits is based on the concept of the
reticulars actvating system of the brain stem,' he explains, 'by which
efficient normal behaviour is a function of the level of consciousness, or
"arousal". By electrical stimulation of various areas of the brain, such
as the nucleus reticularis, the inferior thalamus and the caudate nucleus,
sleep-like states may be produced which in many ways mimic the level
of alertness of mentally retarded children or animals. Conversely, electrical
stimulation of the mesencephalic reticular formation produces
arousal, even in an anaesthesised animal, while destruction of this area
produces coma-like behaviour. To date, our experiments using programmed
brain stimulation have been minimally successful in controlling
level of arousal both upward and downward. It still remains to be
seen whether this type of stimulation will affect learning rate in a
retarded animal, or return to consciousness an animal suffering from
Violence and affection, like plea┤sure and pain, are proving susceptible
to electronic manipulation. Indeed, even some of the most deep-seated
patterns of social interaction can be radically altered with ESB.
Some inkling that ESB might have an 'electrosociological' value came
as early as 1928 when the pioneering Dr Hess discovered that normally
gentlse cats could be instantaneously driven to states of intense hostility
by stimulating certain parts of their brains. The moment the stimulation,
ceased, so dÝd the hostility. Then in the mid-1950s, Dr Delgado
demonstrated that one animal can be electrically driven to attack
another animal - without ancillary provocation. In one of the first
experiments in this area, Dr Delgado utilised two cats that had always
been on friendly terms. The smaller cat was equipped with brain
electrodes implanted in a cerebral structure known as 'tectal area'.
When electrically stimulated, the smaller cat would immediately launch
a fierce attack on its larger companion. Even when the large cat began
to retaliate with powerful, slashing blows, the small cat persisted. Not
until the stimulation was stopped would it withdraw. Normally a cat
beaten in a battle will go to considerable lengths to avoid the victor. But
here the small cat, even though it always lost, fearlessly launched new
battles every time it was stimulated in the tectal area of the brain.
Initially friendly relations were reestablished after each battle, but
gradually the larger cat began to regard the other with constant hostility.
Subsequent experiments with cats proved that the sort of rage that is
electronically provoked is not an all-pervasive, blind sort of hostility
but, as DR Delgado puts it, 'selective and intelligently directed'. Where
there were only two cats, the smaller would vent its rage on the other
cat, even if it were larger, but if there were a number of cats available
it would carefully select as its opponent a less forbidding foe. And,
rather tahn just tear into its target, the stimulated cat would intelligently
choose the best moment for attack, approaching the 'enemy'
with care, adapting its motions to those of the other cat. In other
words, brain stimulation of this sort does not obliterate normal patterns
of behavioural hostile performance; it 'simply' evokes those response
patterns where they would not normally exist at all.
The sort radical societal changes that can be affected by ESB has
best been demonstrated in experiments with monkeys, animals that
maintain very rigid 'rules' with regard to their social interactions.
Theirs is a highly autocratic society, in which domains and territories
are firmly fixed. In each, the strongest monkey sets himself up as the
'boss' or the dictator, reserving for himself first choice of the females,
the best food and the most space, while demanding from the others
total subservience and submissiveness. Could the boss monkey's wellestablished
dominance be attenuated electronically? And, if so, how
would the other monkeys in this group react?
Researchers found that stimulation of various parts of the brain,
notably the rostral part of caudate nucleus, seemed to nullify
threatening, dominant behaviour. They strapped normally vicious rhesus
monkeys into restraining chairs and stimulated this part of their brains.
The moment they did so, the monkeys stopped their aggressive behaviour.
They became so docile that the experimenters were even able
to put their fingers in the monkeys' mouths. Hostilities were resumed
as soon as the stimulation ceased.
Boss Monkeys were then returned to their domains and stimulated
by remote control for five seconds every minute. The change in the
'dictator' was immediately apparent to the other monkeys, who slowly
but surely began moving into territory generally reserved exclusively
for the boss. Even after the other monkeys had taken all of his territory,
the boss initiated no attacks. In general, he was content to sit back and
play a subordinate role. Shortly after stimulation ceased, however, he
reasserted his absolute authority.
In one of the most intriguing variations of this experiment, Dr
Delgado again wired one of the boss monkeys so that electronic stimulation
could overide his normal aggressiveness and authoritarianism.
But this time he placed the stimulating lever in the cage with the
monkeys. Curious creatures, they naturally began pressing it. After a
number of trials they began to notice that they could literally switch
off the monkey's aggressive behaviour simply by pressing the lever
- and they did so frequently! Humans might sometimes wish that their
own leaders could be controlled as effectively. Indeed, we have here a
complete reversal of the situation envisioned earlier in this chapter, in
which the autocrats 'wire' a subject population in order to 'optimise' its
pproductivity. If the power-obsessed minority could be wired first, it's
conceivable that the majority could get along together in a world free
of nuclear brinkmanship, organised military aggression and threats of
Dr Delgado has demonstrated that even snorting bulls can be
'tamed' with the push of a button. In what has to be one of the most
flamboyant experiments to date, Dr Delgado wired a bull with electrodes
and, after it had recovered from the surgery, challenged it in the bullring
with a red cape. Concealed behind the cape was a small radio
transmitter. Dr Delgado waited until the bull was in full charge and
only a couple of yards away - then he pushed a button on the transmitter
and instantly reduced El Toro to a benign Ferdinand. The bull
threw out its front legs and came to a grinding halt just inches from
In still other experiments - these at the Yerkes Primate Centre -
the meek have been made the aggressors. Three monkeys were placed
together: a boss, a female and a subordinate male. As always, the
female immediately sided with the boss, completely ignoring the
smaller, weaker male. The latter stood meekly by until researchers
remotely stimulated an area of its hypothalamus known to excite
aggressive behaviour. Immediately it sprang into action, advancing on
the astonished boss with increasing ferocity. Ultimately it forced the
autocrat into a corner and a position of subservience. With an alacrity
that must have further humiliated the deposed boss, the female immediately
switched her allegience to the male she had previously
spurned. 'Obviously, this study also showed something about the nature
of the female,' was the wry observation of one of the Yerkes researchers.
Surprisingly, the new boss remained dominant even after
stimulation ceased, the old boss having apparently lost face permanently.
In another of these experiments at Yerkes, the boss was stimulated
into a state of rage. One moment he was being groomed in the
arms of his beloved; the next moment he was chasing her with murderous
rather than amorous intent.
Because of the dramatic results that were obtained in the animal
experiments, doctors decided to apply ESB to certain human subjects
who were given to attacks of unreasoning rage. Some who yielded to
the treatment had ten-year histories of rage attacks in which they would
assault acquaintances or chance passers-by with deadly weapons and
wreck whatever happened to be within easy reach. A team of doctors in
Boston have treated a number of such patients at Massachusetts General
Hospital and Boston General Hospital. The medical team, consisting of
Dr Vernon Mark, Dr William Sweet, Dr Frank Ervin, Dr George Bach-y-Rita,
Dr Rioji Hagiiwara, electrical engineer Gerhard Weiss and Dr
Delgado, describes these cases in the Journal of Nervous and Mental
1 L.K. This thirty-five-year-old male design engineer had...frequent
episodes of rage during which he assaulted and injured his wife
and children. His driving was precarious because he became enraged
if other cars cut in front of him and he would go miles out
of his way to force them off the road.
2 M.R. This twenty-five-year-old male...had a police record for
vagrancy and violence. He began assaulting his medical attendants
on the neurology service of a local veterans' hospital and had to
be confined in a mental institution while awaiting surgical evaluation.
3 J.P. This twenty-year-old female had...frequent rage attacks
which on more than a dozen occasions resulted in an assault on
another person. On one occasion she inserted a knife into a
stranger's myocardium, and another time she inserted scissors
into the pleural cavity of a nurse.
4 G.C This fourteen-year-old girl was brought up in a foster home
and was of borderline intelligence. On two separate occasions her
violent behaviour resulted in the death of a young foster sibling,
and she subsequently assaulted a seven-year-old child at the state
hospital where she was confined.
Yet another brain-damaged patient, a woman, attacked her husband
more than five hundred times in aperiod of six years, battering him
with chairs, dishes and a variety of blunt instrumants. Yet even such
violent cases proved treatable with ESB, which could often be used to
ward off these rage attacks or reverse them completely after their onset
on any given occasion.
Electromemory and 'The Dream Machine'
It was in the course of treating brain-damaged individuals that Dr
Wilder Penfield hit upon one of the most astounding properties of
ESB. He was probing the brain of a woman with epilepsy at the
Montreal Neurological Institute, trying to discover which areas were
affected, when he noticed that stimulation in certain regions caused the
woman to 'relive' various events in her life. At times she thought she
was giving birth to one of her children all over again. The detailed
accuracy with which this patient, and others on whom Dr Penfield
subsequently operated, recalled experiences, some dating back to early
childhood, stunned the surgeon. 'No man can, by voluntary effort,' he
declared, 'call this amazing detail back to memory.'
Dr Delgado, who has also observed this phenomenon in a variety of
cases, calls what occurs 'experimential hallucinations'. The electronically
induced experiences qualify as hallucinations because, as Dr Delgado
describes them, they often 'appear more real and vivid than when the
events actually happened. It is as if the patient had a double life, one in
the past recalled by the electrical stimulation, and another in the
present'. The patients not only see and feel things out of their past but
even hear and smell them. It has been suggested that 'electromemory'
may become a valuable tool in psychoanalysis, far outdistancing
hypnosis as a means of bringing forgotten experiences to the surface.
The hallucinations are called 'experiential' because they usually
have some basis in past experience. On some occasions, however, subjects
have taken bizarre ESB 'trips', experiencing things they couldn't
possibly have lived through in the past. This, coupled with the fact that
it is possible to stimulate selected parts of the brain sequentially to
create various states of mind, suggests that artificial experience might
eventually become available to the consumer. It is possible to visualise
'dream machines' that would replace television and cinema. Even the
average household might one day be equipped with such a device: a
small console linked to a central computerised memory or experience
bank that could be connected to the consumer's electrode terminals for
the price of a few cents in electricity. Then the tuned-in consumer would
have only to dial the code nuber of his desired experience - whether
it might be night in bed with his favourite actress (guaranteed to be
successful) or a precarious climb up Mount Everest (also guaranteed
to be successful). It doesn't take much imagination to see how the
phrase 'Live Better Electrically' could cease to be a mere advertising
It was this sort of arrangement that Daniel E. Noble, vice-chairman
of the board of Motorola, Inc., had in mind when he coined the phrase
'electronic nirvana'. The same sort of 'library of vicarious living experiences'
that he visualised for the turn of the century has been imagined
by Arthur C. Clarke. With a nod to ESB progress, at the end of
his book Profiles of the Future, Clarke states that 'artificial memories,
if they could be composed, taped and then fed into the brain electronically...
would be a form of vicarious experience far more vivid (because
affecting all of the senses) than anything that could be produced by
the massed resources of Hollywood. They would, indeed, be the ultimate
form of entertainment - a fictitious experience more real than reality.'
When that day comes, the 'frontier' man seems to require will be only
a few bursts of electricity away.