Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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The wired human

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So, I was thinking about how to speed up the brain using optical nerve transmission, which got me thinking. Which is ironic in a way, but this idea is more coppery than irony.

Nerve conduction in humans is oto 100m/s, meaning that if you stub your toe, it's going to be 20msec before you're aware of it. That's a long time. How can we speed things up?

Well, first of all, we need a new pair of socks. These socks will have inbuilt sensors for temperature and pressure (at least), with as many sensors per square centimetre as possible. All the sensors will feed into a dense bundle of extremely fine copper wires (or fibreoptics), that are taped up the back of your leg, over your arse, up your back, and run into an adhesive square that's glued to the back of your neck. (Nobody uses the back of their neck for anything much, so it's effectively free real estate.)

The adhesive square has a dense array of little resistive heating elements, interspersed with little micromechanical actuators. The sensors in your socks map ontp the heaters and actuators in the patch. Obviously the mapping can't be perfect, but you'll have a map of your foot projected onto the back of your neck.

Initially, this will all be very annoying. When you stub your toe or step on something hot, you'll first feel a prod or a hotspot on the back of your neck. About 20ms later, you'll feel the normal sensation from your foot, delivered via nerves. But the human brain is very adaptable and makes use of whatever information it can get. So, over time, the back of your neck will map itself to your foot naturally. Now, you can feel that stubbed toe 20ms earlier than you otherwise would - isn't that great?? Of course, it still takes time for the relayed sensations to travel from the back of your neck to your brain, but this is a much shorter distance than all the way from your toe.

Obviously, gloves are next, and at this point we might need to start putting the relay patches onto the face or throat (the closer to the brain, the better). Now you can feel things with your fingers wayyyy faster than anyone else can.

Finally, of course, we'd like to speed up movement as well, which will be trickier. However, there are already artificial hands that pick up signals from the upper forearm and relay them to the mechanical hand. If we can put a pickup on, say, the upper arm and use it to electronically stimulate muscles further down (for instance, that big fat muscle that opposes your thumb), we'd have a fully accelerated human.

MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 03 2019

Nature Neuroscience (2008) https://www.nature..../news.2008.751.html
``In a study published Sunday in Nature Neuroscience, researchers using brain scanners could predict people's decisions seven seconds before the test subjects were even aware of making them.'' [jutta, Mar 08 2019]


       [Ian], what has happened to you? All of that made sense, right here in the real world. I feel a little sad.   

       But, yes, of course reflexes are. But the reflex that pulls your hand away from the hotplate (by the way, why *did* you put your hand on the hotplate - that was just stupid) still has to travel from your fingertips to your spinal cord (or wherever that particular reflex hangs out) and then all the way back to your arm muscles. Speeding that process up by making it faster would make it quicker.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 03 2019

       //For example, the eye has (well, we could call them) “circuits” which sense something flying rapidly toward the eye. The eye itself evaluates this, and the eye in turn triggers the closing of the eyelids. Then, as I say, the brain gets to know about it after it has occurred. Similarly, put your hand on a hotplate and the hand is immediately removed, long before the brain could have done anything about it. These reflexes are well known.//   

       Sorry, this does not compute for me.   

       My hand has no thoughts of its own. My eyes have no thoughts of their own, therefore although these quickened reflexes occur prior to conscious awareness they are in no way autonomous from nerve conduction to subconscious awareness.   

       If this were not true then corpses would blink when poked in the eye.   

       So... you want to speed up cognition?
Figure out how to interface your conscious mind with your subconscious mind while keeping your sanity.

       Ya just gotta titan the nous.   

       // My hand has no thoughts of its own. My eyes have no thoughts of their own. //   

       Mine do (not in the sense of behaving in ways I don't want them to, though).
notexactly, Mar 06 2019

       How so then?   

       It's also well-known that awareness of a mental decision trails the detectable brain-state decision by quite a bit of time -- sometimes as much as 10 seconds! If the decision could be detected and brought to the attention of the person making it a bit earlier, much time could be saved as well.
jutta, Mar 06 2019

       Do you guys have links to this stuff?
Ten seconds?
That's comatose!

       It doesn't take more than a single heartbeat for me to feel the pain of an adrenaline surge almost to the tips of my extremities when shit hits the fan.
Even a time lag of two seconds would have seen me dead more times than I can count.

       If the multiverse is a thing then there's a whole lot of dead and mangled me's out there... I've had a few two or three second close-calls stretch out like minutes.   

       If what you say is true then everyone is asleep.   

       //If this were not true then corpses would blink when poked in the eye.//   

       Do you personally know that they don't [2 fries]? We value empirical evidence on this forum.
AusCan531, Mar 06 2019

       Using this approach, there's no reason why the sensors which detect potential pain-causing events should not transmit via some local radio-based link to a unit on the back of someone else's neck so that when person A stubs their toe, person B will feel a sharp pain in the back of their neck. In the future, wearing such a device will be the default punishment for people who use the word 'literally' when they mean 'metaphorically' as it will be a necessary precondition for them to be able to truthfully say "I literally feel your pain".
hippo, Mar 06 2019

       //It doesn't take more than a single heartbeat//   

       The point [jutta] is making is that that's how it *feels* to you, but in fact there's a delay in consciousness. Basically, your brain does stuff and makes decisions, and then tells you about it afterwards and makes it feel as if you were conscious of it in realtime.   

       For instance, you see X about to fall on Y, realize that Y is going to explode, and leap behind some cover before it happens. It all feels as if it's in realtime. In reality, your brain saw X falling, predicted an explosion, and made you jump behind cover long before you were consciously aware of anything. But your brain backfills to make everything make sense.   

       A ten second lag is unusual, but smaller lags are happening all the time. Analysing and responding to things is relatively fast, but consciousness is slow and has to follow behind. If we waited for consciousness, we'd all be dead.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 06 2019

       Yes, it's like the difference in your auditory and visual processing pathways - they represent very different problems taking different amounts of time to complete and each needs to process data over a span of time to arrive at a conclusion as to what is happening 'now' - however, your brain cleverly fudges all this to make it look like when someone talks, the sounds occur in synchrony with their mouth movements.
hippo, Mar 06 2019

       Nope, I've never actually poked a corpse in the eye.   


       You know the filter that the subconscious mind has? The one that keeps extraneous sensory perception like after-images and the individual firing of the rods and cones in our eyes from conscious awareness in that time-lag?   

       Well, It seems that I was not born with that filter.
I think I may have gotten cross-wired during gestation or traumatized enough in early childhood that I needed to shut it off, but either way I am consciously aware of all of those subconscious nuances and that time-lag thing seems to be lacking as well if my reflexes are any indication.

       They're calling it Visual Snow and classifying it as a symptom of disease, but it's no disease. It's just more input than most people can stand.   

       I guess what I'm saying is that there are exceptions to every rule and that the conscious/subconscious time-lag thing must hugely vary from individual to individual.   

       After-images aren’t “extraneous” - they’re what allows you to see films at the cinema despite being shown a blank screen for half the time
hippo, Mar 06 2019

       Not to mention the fact that allow the brain to paste in information to mask things like eye movements and blinking.   

       Actually, that would be a cool demonstration. Use gaze tracking to follow someone's eyes as they watch a film, and have a camera re-film a small part of whatever's on the screen, but tracking their gaze. Then you could see what the eye actually sees - a blur most of the time as it shifts from point to point. Of course, you'd then add your own eye movements when you were watching _that_, which would compound the effect; but maybe put a red dot in the middle of the screen and stay focussed on that to eliminate those movements.   

       Which reminds me of a cool experiment (which maybe someone here told me about once). Stand in front of a mirror, and look at your left eye, then right, then left etc. You will never see your eyes moving, even though someone else watching you can see them moving. Your brain just backfills the image while your eyeballs move.   

       <moments later> And further to the above, if you use your computer as a mirror (eg, Photobooth on a Mac), you *can* see your eyes moving, because of the delay between reality and the image on the screen.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 06 2019

       //After-images aren’t “extraneous” - they’re what allows you to see films at the cinema despite being shown a blank screen for half the time//   

       I'm not talking about persistence of vision. I mean palinopsia. Everything I've ever seen I see superimposed on the next thing I look at for a second or two in either a positive or negative after-image depending on contrasts between the images.
I see tracers behind all moving objects.
I see the blood flow and veins in my eyes.
The movements of white blood cells and pretty much every entoptic visual phenomenon all day, every day.

       I don't have the filter that smooths things out for the vast majority and just take all of the data in raw and uncut in real-time.   

       If I hadn't seen this way since birth I'm sure I'd be as messed up by it as are all the people insisting that these things are symptoms.
Google visual-snow to see just how disabled I'm supposed to be according to those who suffer from their amplified awareness.

       Of the tiny percentage of the population to perceive this way, I'm in an even smaller percentage of people who are not just good with it, but visually kick ass because of it.   

       'struth... no subconscious filter.   

       Hey, if you're trying to convince us you're 2 fries shy of a happy meal, I personally am already convinced. I am willing to believe that you're the bell-end of the curve.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 06 2019

Just tellin it like it is.

       // they’re what allows you to see films at the cinema despite being shown a blank screen for half the time //   

       That's persistence of vision, and I don't see why it evolved when we evolved without motion pictures. Wouldn't seeing faster motion have been more beneficial?   

       // If I hadn't seen this way since birth I'm sure I'd be as messed up by it as are all the people insisting that these things are symptoms. Google visual-snow to see just how disabled I'm supposed to be according to those who suffer from their amplified awareness. //   

       I wonder if we could find a way to learn to switch the filter(s) on and off at will. Then anybody who learns to do that can get their own firsthand understanding of what the experience is like both ways. Maybe then they'd stop pathologizing your experience, and maybe it would be widely found to be a useful skill.
notexactly, Mar 07 2019

       I like these HB threads where [2fries] claims to have sensory abilities and experiences which are quite different to those of us ordinary folk
hippo, Mar 07 2019

       It ain't easy telling it like it is.   

       //I wonder if we could find a way to learn to switch the filter(s) on and off at will.//   

       Once you start noticing these things you can't un-notice them again. Everybody sees the same things I do, it's just edited out for them during the time-lag between subconscious awareness and conscious thought.   

       You would have some very happy campers if you could figure out a way to re-filter the Visual Snow sufferers.   

       Sturton has had something similar. Last week on the 'phone from Les Menuires he was complaining that wherever he looked he saw little white flecks, like snow, all across his field of vision. Turned out it was snowing.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 07 2019

       And speaking of odd perceptions (and completely irrelevent to everything here), I tried that "impossible colour" thing where you look at blue in one eye and yellow in the other and superimpose the images (like viewing a stereogram). It's really interesting - I see a colour that's both blue and yellow, and the only way I can tell it's weird is that I can't put a name to it. On the other hand, when I try the red/green combination I either get alternating swirls of red and green, or something like burnt umber.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 07 2019

       I tried that thing many years ago, but only with the blue and yellow. I just got patches fading back and forth between blue and yellow, but I wouldn't call it swirls. Maybe I should try again, and with other colors.
notexactly, Mar 08 2019

       So, I was thinking, so I was, about not starting everything I say with the word so, so I was.
xenzag, Mar 08 2019

       //I just got patches fading back and forth between blue and yellow// Try concentrating on the dot in the middle (there's normally a dot in the middle of each colour). Surprisingly, the blue-yellow doesn't look especially weird; it's only when you try to name it that you realize it isn't anything you've seen before.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2019

       I tried both the blue/yellow and the red/green ones on Wikipedia just now. I got no new colors, just the existing ones fading back and forth.   

       ETA: I tried Wikipedia's chimerical color demo as well. For the first one, I got just a deep blue circle which became a radial gradient on the black background, not "simultaneously blue and deep black". For the second, I got a pink circle which faded to a radial gradient on the white background. For the third, the same with bright orange on burnt orange. No new colors AFAICT. For the orange one, the afterimage was indeed more saturated than the background, which I presume was made to be "100% saturated", but I can put that down to my monitor's limited color gamut, right?
notexactly, Mar 08 2019

       Yes, I didn't get much excitement from those "after-image" impossible colours either. Only the blue/yellow superposition image gave me a new "colour".
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 08 2019


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