Brain stimulation – possibilities as a source of knowledge and treatment of disorders

Words on the article: “The forgotten era of brain”

As a “cognitive science” follower, while I was reading the article, several questions crossed my mind:

  • The brain stimulation research obviously has enormous future and it is of utmost importance in the field of neuroscience – but, the conditions for actual research in neurosciences are provided exclusively to medical scientists. What kind of research can perform the cognitive scientist, if he does not have neither access, nor training for real work in medical labs?
  • The most advanced neuroscience researches are done prevailingly in countries such as USA, Canada, UK, i.e. countries providing sufficient financial support for such works. As we can see from the example in the article, when Jose Delgado moved back to Spain, all his achievements vanished from the scientific scene – not because he stopped his work, but because of the economical and political reasons, promoting the findings of researchers only from the above mentioned countries. So, how the work of one cognitive scientist, presumably having access to medical lab and the training for actual work with invasive or non invasive brain stimulation – how this work can be heard world wide? What would be the possibilities for actual research of one cognitive scientist from Bulgaria in the specific conditions, provided by this country and eventually university?
  • How one cognitive researcher from New Bulgarian University can perform real neuroscientific research if the university does not provide elementary conditions, such as availability of appropriate medical neuroscience labs, basic equipment such as MEG, fMRI, PET? How one cognitive scientist should proceed if his interests are namely in the field of neuroscience?
  • What is the actual place of the cognitive neuro-scientist with educational background in “Cognitive Science”? Is he accepted in the neuroscience field world wide as equal and does he have equal possibilities, training and conditions that researches in this field with medical educational background have?
  • Should the cognitive scientist take secondary place in this extremely interesting field and is this inferiority acceptable situation?

Some of the above mentioned questions are rhetorical, some are open for discussion.

The Pioneer in Brain Stimulation: Jose Delgado

As we see in the article, Delgado opposed his brain stimulation methods to the wide spread in the middle of 20-th century lobotomy. In the beginning he used wires and the experimental subject had to be immobilized in order the electrical stimulation via electrodes to be performed. Later he created wireless radio system that transmitted the signals to the implanted electrodes remotely. Jose Delgado tested his hypotheses on animals and humans and proved their plausibility repeatedly. He proved that one can control the behavior, emotional state and even the cognitive processes of the experimental subject by sending electrical impulses or biochemical substances to certain brain region. For example, Delgado used to demonstrate his achievements by spectacular manipulation of attacking Bull’s movements via energizing his caudate nucleus – brain region responsible for the voluntary movements. The research shows that influencing the septum limbic area could prevent or heal depression, moderate the chronic pain, treat bipolar disorder. Through such technology nowadays are healed Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and wide spectrum of neurotic disorder specific with increased fear and anxiety, so on.
So far, the results in this field are insecure and uncertain – they vary in different people and even in one person.
In his late work Delgado focused on non invasive brain stimulation methods, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Future Applications

My predictions are that brain stimulation methods will be greatly improved in the next decades – both invasive and non invasive ones. The stimulation is already done thru electro magnetic or thru biochemical stimulation. I am sure in the next years we are going to witness more and more applications of the brain stimulation: for healing purposes – for mental, affective and neurological disorders, for behavioral disorders in the case of psychopathic subjects. Another application would be two way brain/mind and machine interactions, where one will be able to control certain technological systems directly thru his mind/brain activity. With the development of the cognitive science work on brain information processing, encoding, memory storage, thinking, attention, states of mind – cognitive processes will be assisted and much improved by interaction with computerized micro chips, helping in the memory storage, attention and thinking activities.

Brain stimulation is double edged technology and undoubtedly could be used for cognitive, emotional and behavioral manipulation on personal or mass level. In the forthcoming years the technology will become more precise and the possibilities for abuse will arise. Such possibilities are widely discussed and I am not going to talk about them in this short essay, but will just say that every technology can be used for various purposes, depending on the ethics and moral values and the mind of its users. The knife can be used for fruits pealing or for killing – depends of its user. The technology alone is neither good nor bad. It is just a neutral result of the human knowledge advancement.

Orlin Baev, cognitive psychologist and psychotherapist
Central and East European Department for Cognitive Science
New Bulgarian University, Sofia, Bulgaria

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