Technologies for stimulating the brain and controlling the mind can have benefits, but they have a dark side that military and intelligence planners have
been exploiting for decades.
By Nick Begich, MD
New World Vistas: Air and Space Power for the 21st Century
The idea that the brain can be made to function at a more efficient and directed level has been the subject of research by scientists, mystics, health practitioners and others for as long as mankind has contemplated such matters. In the last decade, advances in the science of the brain have begun to yield significant results. The results of the research are startling, challenging and, if misused, will be frightening. The certainty to be expected from the research is that it will continue to proceed.
The idea that people can be impacted by external signal generators which create, for example, pulsed electromagnetic fields, pulsed light and pulsed sound signals is not new. The following information demonstrates some of the possibilities and gives hints of the potentials of the technology.
On the positive side, researchers in the field of light and sound are making huge progress in a number of areas, including working with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, stroke recovery, accelerated learning, drug/alcohol addiction and enhanced human performance. The research has shown that certain brain states can be influenced in a way which causes changes within the brain itself. These changes allow individuals the possibility of influencing specific conditions in the mind and body otherwise thought beyond our direct control.
The military and others interested in such things have also focused a large amount of research into this area for the purpose of enhancing the performance of soldiers while degrading the performance of adversaries.
What is known is that great strides in the area of behaviour control are now possible with systems developed and under development by most sophisticated countries on the planet. These new technologies represent a much different approach to warfare which our government is describing as part of the "Revolution in Military Affairs".
While these new technologies offer much for military planners, they offer even more to citizens generally. Their potential use in military applications and "peacekeeping" creates the need for open debate of this new realm of intelligence-gathering, manipulation and warfare. The most basic ethical questions regarding use of these technologies have not been adequately addressed.
At the same time that defence and intelligence-gathering capabilities are being sought, independent researchers are fully engaged in seeking positive uses for the technology. The potentials of the technology, like all technology, are great as both a destructive or constructive force for change. The idea of enhancing physical and mental performance while bypassing what heretofore was a long and arduous road to achieve the same results is exciting. Maintaining the research in the open literature and ensuring that constructive uses are encouraged is critical.
I began looking into technologies for stimulating brain performance about fifteen years ago. At the time, there were limited tools available compared to what is now possible. Now it is possible to obtain light and sound, electrocranial and biofeedback tools for use in this exploration. Moreover, there are audio materials also available for use with most of these tools. These audio materials can be used for learning languages, behaviour modification or enhanced performance. The biofeedback side of the new technology is being used to train people to reach specific desired brain states for optimum performance.
The use of light and sound devices for stimulating brain activity which is conducive to accelerated learning and relaxation is a growing area of interest to many people. Moreover, the use of these tools in conjunction with biofeedback has been the subject of quickly evolving research. The combined technologies of brain state inducement and biofeedback offer exciting possibilities.
It has been found with the combination that a person, in a matter of several weeks, can learn to modify purposefully his/her brain activity in a way which would have taken a Zen master twenty years to accomplish. It has been shown that some children with attention deficit disorders can be taught to regulate their brain activities so that they can learn efficiently without chemicals. It has been demonstrated that recovering stroke victims can more rapidly recover when working with brain-biofeedback practitioners and these new tools.
The research is also teaching us a good deal about our suggestibility in terms of influences which have an impact on our behaviour. The underlying message that comes with the new technology is the necessity of providing safeguards against misuse. Additionally, recognition of the everyday stimulation we all get and the effect of these information inputs on our learning processes becomes more clear. The suggestibility of humans, particularly when in a fatigued condition, has been exploited by terrorists, cults and others in pursuit of their own aims. The passive suggestibility of radio and television as we weave in and out of the semi-sleep states is for the most part not even recognised. The passive learning situations become even more relevant when we consider how we "receive the news" in our daily lives. The ability to influence thinking, behaviour and performance is indeed a two-edged sword.
The 1980s and 1990s were focused on building up the physical body. The 21st century will see a focus on building the mind and optimising mental performance. The idea of merging the new technologies into education is interesting and also calls into question who will decide what is to be learned. In the interim, the possibilities are incredible for those interested in such pursuits. The control of our mental function is no different than the control of the muscles in our bodies. Learning to control or coordinate the activity of our minds will propel our bodies through a much more productive and fuller life. The new tools may offer just such opportunities.
On the other side of the issue is the potential for misuse and exploitation of the science. Military planners, law enforcement officials and others are now seeking the covert use of these technologies for controlling the ultimate "information processor"—the Human Being.
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