Matrix Unloaded: How you can fly a plane using expert-pilot brainwave patterns
“I know kung fu,” movie buffs might remember the remember the quote from “The Matrix.” We can all probably agree that being able to download knowledge “on tap” would be a boon to humanity. It is a shame it is just a movie… right? While that may be the case, it is just for now. That is because researchers have discovered that low-current electrical brain stimulation can modulate the learning of complex real-world skills.
Unfortunately, you will not be learning kung fu any time soon, but your children just might. While the work is still in early stages, this matches well with our earlier prediction about technology and the future of humanity. To be clear this is not loading up some computer program and clicking the download button, the researchers used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in order to improve learning and skill retention.
“We measured the brain activity patterns of six commercial and military pilots, and then transmitted these patterns into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an airplane in a realistic flight simulator,” says Dr. Matthew Phillips, lead author.
This doesn’t mean knowledge when you want it just quite yet, but we will get to that in a minute. The study found that subjects who received brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps improved their piloting abilities over the course of 4 days when compared to a control.
“We measured the average g-force of the plane during the simulated landing and compared it to control subjects who received a mock brain stimulation,” says Phillips.
The use of brain stimulation has been used in the past, so this isn’t a new idea. Previously conducted research has demonstrated that tDCS can both help patients more quickly recover from a stroke and boost a healthy person’s creativity. However, this is one of the first studies to show that tDCS is effective in accelerating practical learning.
Phillips speculates that the potential to increase learning with brain stimulation may make this form of accelerated learning commonplace.
“As we discover more about optimizing, personalizing, and adapting brain stimulation protocols, we’ll likely see these technologies become routine in training and classroom environments,” he says.
“It’s possible that brain stimulation could be implemented for classes like drivers’ training, SAT prep, and language learning.”
The success is most likely because the brain stimulation helps an untrained pilot (in this case) to get in the correct state of mind to fly. By modulating the subjects patterns you are — what would appear to be — correcting for mistakes in the brain before they are made. In this case, by strengthening the correct pathways for flying a plane you are effectively making it easier for the brain to follow along the correct thought pattern.
In other words, you are taking a map of the needed brain activity from a professional and trying to apply that same activity to someone who is not trained. While this is a somewhat over simplification of how the research worked, the main idea is that by strengthening the needed connections and helping the brain activate certain areas associated with learning and memory retention the researchers were able to increase the ability of the untrained individuals over the course of 4 days.
Before you find a website online trying to sell you on this very idea, it is important to remind everyone that wildly trying to stimulate parts of your brain will help you achieve the same results. It goes back to the map analogy; just having a map of any random thing is not going to help you get to your destination. You need a specific map of what you want to see any result.
Alternatively, as the researchers concluded:
“Because there appears to be a differential, region-based effect of neurostimulation interventions, it is critical to determine the optimal targets, stimulation parameters, timing relative to the target behaviors, and synchrony between innate learning processes and strategies and exogenous stimulation for maximally-effective augmentation.”
Which means I am just going to have to put my kung fu aspirations on hold… for now.
Choe, J., Coffman, B., Bergstedt, D., Ziegler, M., & Phillips, M. (2016). Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Modulates Neuronal Activity and Learning in Pilot Training Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10 DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00034