A team of investigators from the United States proposes that human can control certain neurons in their brains directly, either promoting or inhibiting the activity of nerve cells to suit specific demands.
This ability may be a part of the intricate mechanism that allows the human brain co process external stimuli, inner thoughts, memories, future plans and so on at the same time.
All these thoughts are presented in any person's head all the time, simultaneously, and it's the job of the brain to determine which of the information is put into the spotlight, and which is discarded as irrelevant.
How this is done, alongside with the mechanisms involved in the process, is still unknown to science. This is why the University of California in Los Angeles
(UCLA) decided to carry out the new study.
It could be that our cortices are in fact giant filtering devices, that are capable of assigning significance and meaning to a host of visual or auditory stimuli, and to various thoughts, ideas, memories and experiences. We then act or think based on that classification.
A huge and complex network of nerve cells called neurons is involved in this process, and the UCLA team demonstrated in the new research that some of these cells can be controlled consciously.
Together with colleagues from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the researchers shows that the activity of certain neurons can be either inhibited or boosted by the conscious mind.
This was achieved in a series of experiments set up at the UCLA, in which test participants proved capable of manipulating an image on a computer screen using only their thoughts.
The new research contributes to “understanding how the brain transforms external reality into mental objects,” explains Itzhak Fried, who is a professor of neurosurgery at the UCLA.
“What these findings show is that thought alone can shape and override the reality of the visual input,” adds Fried, who is also the director the UCLA Epilepsy Surgery Program, and the author of a new paper reporting on the findings.
The work is published in the October 28 issue of the esteemed scientific journal Nature, and was co-authored by Caltech neuroscientist Christof Koch.
“Looking at these results, people may ask, 'Do we control our neurons or do our neurons control us,' while the ultimate reductionist's answer may be, 'We are our neurons',” Fried concludes.
Funding for the new investigation came from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), the National Institute of Mental Health, the G. Harold and Leila Y. Mathers Charitable Foundation, and the World Class University program, in South Korea.