Based on what you learned about neuroimaging, what are some reasons to be skeptical about the plausibility of Vulcan mind-melds?
First, we talked about EEG/ERP technique and its limitations, such as the artifacts (blinking) just like when Spock was trying to mind-meld with Kirk and told him to stop blinking. It only picks up pyramidal neurons that point in the same direction. Also, signals are very faint and hard to detect even after the effort of putting the electrodes on the scalp. A shielded room is needed when the EEG is used because any device that releases magnetic activity can be detected too and pickup the activity of the device and not the person’s brain. Second, I learned about eCog, which it works by a surgical procedure that opens someone’s skull and inserts electrodes directly on the brain to measure brain activity. This technique gets a much better signal but the obvious downside is that it wouldn’t be great for the purpose of telepathy. Third, people can be injected with radioactive tracers that will bind to certain parts of the brain and brain activity can be measured based on radiation. This would also not work for telepathy because Spock would have to inject Kirk with some radioactive materials and then wait for 15 minutes.
The fourth option would be to try to inject the magnetic fields directly. Since there are currents in the brain that produce magnetic fields, we can use MEG technique. This technique can receive enough signal from the brain. However, it’s also hard to use in the world because it should be shielded from the devices around the room and this would be a problem in lining up ‘what’ with ‘where’ in the purpose of telepathy. Fourth, fMRI could be used to detect chemical changes in the brain by measuring levels of oxygen in the blood. There are a few limitations in order to use it to read someone’s mind. One, blood moves very slowly (5-8 second) for the blood change to happen. This is a problem if the person (like Kirk) was having rapid changes in the brain, such as having several thoughts, they would be really hard to tell apart. Also, it requires many magnets that are cold and hard to move/carry and it can’t be used to measure the whole brain simultaneously. For this technique, the researcher obtains a series of 2D images and combine them together to get 3D picture. This process takes a few seconds and it would be an issue in the reconstruction of the signal. Subjects must not move and this would not be strategic for an alien who is reading someone else’s mind. Fifth, we talked about the NIRS technique, which it works by shining infrared light through the scalp and measure the amount of oxygen in the brain. This technique can measure only two or three locations at a time and the infrared light does not travel far through tissues. Spock would only receive brain activity from the surface parts of the brain. Again, it would require the baby alien not to move which is hard to do.
Finally, there are additional limitations that we’ve discussed in class, such as how brains can have different shapes and the same brain processes can happen in different parts of the brain for some people. For example, some people use primarily their right side of their brain for language and others use their left brain side. This would be another problem in order to read someone else’s brain signals since different people can have different brain signals in various places. In other words, I don’t think it would be possible for aliens to read our minds: probably not from a distance because human brain signals are very weak and hard to detect. Also, there is a noise problem, which can be avoided by shielding all of the devices around the room. It could be plausible for aliens to read each other’s minds if they lived in a different galaxy that had a special environment and if aliens started reading each other’s minds in the beginning that caused the aliens to converge in all of their brains. Overall, we’ve concluded in class that it’s really not about reading people’s thoughts directly, but reading an encoded transmission. In other words, it’s like language but with no sound since a “thought” is just an activity in the brain.