• Question: Could you (theoretically) load information into someones brain even if they haven't learnt it. Could someone know everything if it was downloaded from the internet?

    Asked by anon-249476 to Ioana on 21 Mar 2020.
    • Photo: Ioana Grigoras

      Ioana Grigoras answered on 21 Mar 2020:

      Hi! That is a very cool question and the truth is I don’t really know what to say. I think at the root of the question is whether you think the brain is essentially a huge and complex electric circuit. To some extent that is true. The brain is made of billions of brain cells (neurons) that communicate with each other using electric impulses, so you could consider each neuron to be an electric conductor, because an electric current can flow through it. That would make the brain is a very very very very (very very very very very) complex electric circuit.
      However, the fact that the cells are alive brings a new level of complexity to it, because it gives it properties that non-alive electric circuits don’t have, like being able to change based on their electric activity.

      There is a very cool thing called brain plasticity, which means that the brain is capable to change its properties based on its experience. Whenever people learn, small changes occur in their brains to allow the learning process. Depending on the type of learning, that small change can be an increase in volume of the corresponding brain area, or a change in the levels of brain chemicals or a difference in how that brain area is connected to other brain areas.

      Ok, so let’s play a hypothetical scenario! Let’s say you want to ‘load’ the wikipedia page for brain into someone’s brain without them actually having read it. In theory, I guess if you knew what were the small changes that happen in someone’s brain when they read the wikipedia article and if you could find a way to determine the exact same changes through a different process, then that might work as if they actually read the article. The problem is that you can’t necessarily use another brain as a model (because what if another person known more or fewer words than the person you want to ‘load’ it in and then they’d react differently to some words), so you’d need to make a model of the person’s brain and simulate (in great detail) the changes caused by reading the wikipedia page. Then, I can’t really come up with another process that could cause the same exact changes… Maybe if you would electrically stimulate the exact same neurons at the exact same frequency and intensity, that would have the same effect as reading the article. There has been immense progress in science to better understanding how the brain and learning works. Hopefully, in time we’ll have the technology to study the smallest changes in the human brain and to run complex simulation, but we’re still very far from that.

      If theoretically, you could successfully overcome the problems above and load information into someone’s brain, I don’t see why they couldn’t learn anything downloaded from the internet. The only impediment would be that this information would have to be coded like information the person has seen or read or a task they practiced, otherwise I don’t know how you would activate the circuits involved in learning that information.

      Hope this answers your questions! Looking forward to the next one!