Greatest Idea Ever

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theta4
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Greatest Idea Ever

Postby theta4 » Sat Apr 25, 2009 9:53 pm UTC

I've just gotten the greatest idea ever. It's basically brain extensions. I decided I'd tell the XKCD community, since I have no better place to put it :)

Anyway, it started with the simple idea of finding some way to get a basic 32-bit processor (or even an 8-bit, for the not too ambitious) to work with a human brain. That way, if I wanted to multiply two large numbers, I could simply consult the processor embedded in my brain somehow.

Then, I got the idea of adding a flash drive to the human brain (because hard drives take too much external power and weigh too much). That way, if I wanted to permanently remember something, I could just use the flash drive extension to my brain.

That was succeeded by the most *incredible* idea ever: a WiFi card in the brain. The brain would be given essentially the same capabilities as netcat.

If I was within range of a WiFi router and I wanted to know when the Oosterscheldekering was built, or the current population of Reykjavik, or the current weather, or the location of US Airways headquarters, I could simply open up port 80 on google.com (after connecting to the DNS to find out google.com's IP, of course) and search those things. Or what if I forgot to compile some code before leaving, or I wanted to consult some form of documentation I had stored on my hard drive, or whatever, I could telnet into my home machine and take care of those things.

Of course, trying to interface with servers through HTTP would be very time consuming. Currently, HTML is not very friendly to gather information from without a browser. Secondly, while having them still available would be nice, the HTTP headers are a mess to work with.

Either way, whole new protocols would appear that would be simply text based and would be nice to work with, especially in a netcat-like environment, kinda like the current cell phone-friendly websites. The entire Internet would be only a few thoughts away.

What's even better is, because every person would have their own IP address (IPv6, of course), one person could begin listening on a port, and another person could connect to that port. It'd be like scheduled telepathy. Even better, every single person would have something like port 1 or port 2 always open. If I wanted to ask someone a question, or tell them something, I would simply open port 1 or 2 or whatever on their brain and begin talking with them. It would be telepathic communication.

The specifics aren't important, but it's a cool thought. Getting hardware/software to work with a human brain is possible. Our muscles are nothing more than lumps of cells triggered by electrical pulses sent out from the brain. Over the years, with practice, our brains learn how to use these muscles. Using a processor, or a hard disk, or a wifi card would me more difficult as there would be no way to know if you were doing it right or not.

But scientists have gotten people to move a cursor around on a screen with nothing more than their thoughts. Eventually, the research in this area would be so in-depth, that getting a human brain to use a 32-bit processor to its intended purpose could be possible. It would only be a few years, or even months, after that that researchers would have a WiFi card working with the brain.

Anyway, I'd like to get some opinions on this idea.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby MarshyMarsh » Sat Apr 25, 2009 10:44 pm UTC

How would you remove the heat generated by a flash drive/wifi card in the brain? and where would the powersource go?
The current theory behind MobilePhones possibly being a health risk is that they may be able to raise the brain temperature by around 1 degree Celcius. I wouldn't fancy sticking a battery in my brain.

theta4 wrote:The specifics aren't important, but it's a cool thought.


I'm afraid that in Science, the specifics are usually important.

Wouldn't it be cool if we had an infinite source of energy, don't worry about the specifics!

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Charlie! » Sat Apr 25, 2009 11:17 pm UTC

Would definitely be difficult... coming up with ways to train it would be cool though.

I think it would be easiest to have a small computer (probably running off of EPROM or something) in your body (not in your head; heat output and brains don't mix, maybe in your gut) that would convert webpages into brain language. By the future, though, we might be able to format images as accepted input (touch signals that the brain can then interpret however it plastically wants to) and send it in via the spinal column.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Gojoe » Sat Apr 25, 2009 11:31 pm UTC

This reminds me of the cyberbrains in ghost in the shell.
Who doesnt want to hook up to the net via wifi in your brain?
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby poxic » Sat Apr 25, 2009 11:35 pm UTC

Do you *really* want script kiddies to get into your wetware?
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Vieto » Sun Apr 26, 2009 12:50 am UTC

I have an idea - have an eye surgery that places toe computer device behind your retinas, enabling you to have enhanced vision and enhanced thinking power!

It would solve the cooling problem.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Whelan » Sun Apr 26, 2009 11:27 am UTC

With regards to the power problem, there's research being done into yeast-based microchips that can use human blood as a power source. There's a lot of that in a person, right?
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby theta4 » Sun Apr 26, 2009 3:16 pm UTC

MarshyMarsh wrote:...
I'm afraid that in Science, the specifics are usually important.
...


Well, I wasn't planning on actually implementing it. Right now, this idea is in a something-for-a-sci-fi-movie stage, not a go-to-a-university-and-build-it stage. Also, that yeast-based microchip that runs on blood sounds really cool--and promising :)
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby peter-lebt » Sun Apr 26, 2009 3:53 pm UTC

hi, it sounds a bit in the same direction the book "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom" by Cory Doctorows

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Down_and_O ... ic_Kingdom

goes. Although Doctorow heavily emphasizes the storage capabilities and the interfacing humans with a big network
rather than a processor inside persons ...
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby James Scott-Brown » Sun Apr 26, 2009 8:09 pm UTC

I see the attraction of ubiquitous internet access wherever I go. That's why I bought an iPhone.
If I want to multiply two large numbers, I simply consult the calculator in my pocket.

What is the advantage of connecting hardware to the brain directly? Having communication between my brain and electronics mediated by my muscles isn't really a big problem. Tight integration has associated problems (depending on the specific technology used) potentially including battery replacement, infection risk, and damage to nerves during direct nerve-brian connection.

The neuroplasticity of the brain is remarkable, but it is probably unable to learn how to use the entire protocol stack needed to load a web-page by controlling a wifi card directly. Nor would it be easy to get sufficiently high bandwidth by connecting electrodes to nerves. Cochlear implants have inferior sound quality to natural ears entirely because of the difficulty of rapidly sending large amounts of information into our brains except through our existing sense organs.

There are specific reasons for alternative interfaces to computers, such as to allow use by paralysed people and those with Locked-in-syndrome. But they're not common. And for sending messages to (rather than from) the body, tacile interfaces are almost always preferable to nervous ones.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Forum Viking » Mon Apr 27, 2009 5:31 am UTC

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Roĝer » Mon Apr 27, 2009 11:37 am UTC

I know one thing for sure: if I'm going to have any electronics in my brain or attached to it, its operating software had better be hardcoded in ROM. I do not want to run the faintest risk of malicious access rendering it useless, or worse, emitting all kind of weird things into my brain. Related to that: a very easy operable off switch. Preferably some failsafe system that shuts everything down if the user loses consciousness or starts to act weird.

I think that when this is implanted at a young age, the brain could learn to operate it, although of course not learn the current protocols directly (that's what the chips are for). And I can see a lot of applications: imagine learning a foreign language: initially, you only have to learn the grammar, because you can look up every word, everywhere, in less than a second! Or a surgeon could have access to all medical knowledge without looking away.

About the heat production: I think the electronics had best be placed in the neck or the upper back, where they are easy to access, not too far from the brain, and relatively safe from shocks and bruises.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Screature » Mon Apr 27, 2009 1:28 pm UTC

Anyone else reminded of "Neural Nanonics" from the Nights Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton?
They work exactly like OP suggested, albeit thousands of years in the future :P
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Iv » Mon Apr 27, 2009 2:07 pm UTC

poxic wrote:Do you *really* want script kiddies to get into your wetware?

Poor kiddies, they don't know what they'll get into...

Anyway, the idea of hooking a computer to the brain is as old as the idea of computers themselves. The problem is in interfacing the brain with a computer interface. Both input (sending informations to the brain) and output (receiving commands from the brain) are problematic. The latter one is IMHO currently being solved by fast MRI techniques while the former one is still problematic.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Apr 27, 2009 6:24 pm UTC

I've always preferred the external approach. External sensors, small magnet glued to your eardrum, and lcd contact lenses. That way I can turn it off, and avoid brain damage.
I think things will progress more from the phone/bluetooth headset mix really.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby nsmjohn » Mon Apr 27, 2009 6:36 pm UTC

Screature wrote:Anyone else reminded of "Neural Nanonics" from the Nights Dawn Trilogy by Peter Hamilton?
They work exactly like OP suggested, albeit thousands of years in the future :P

First thing I thought of. Also the wetware from the Takeshi Kovacs novels, Accelerando/Glasshouse, and Hamilton's Commonwealth Saga.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Bluggo » Mon Apr 27, 2009 7:54 pm UTC

One thing I was wondering about: how far could we get *without* interfacing directly brain and electronics?

To make a random example, suppose you have a pad on your ankle which causes a few spots to press rithmically on your skin in a way which encodes the received data.

After some training, the brain should not have that much trouble interpreting automatically these signals - et voilà, additional senses without screwing with nerve endings.

The output, probably, would be a bit more difficult to engineer: I suppose one could try working on involuntary muscle movents, but they are... well.. involuntary.

However, could something along these lines work for a bit of minor, non-invasive sense augmentation?
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Fallible » Tue Apr 28, 2009 12:56 am UTC

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Warw ... ect_Cyborg

English cybernetics dude communicated with his wife using direct nerve-wifi-internet-wifi-nerve connection.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Iv » Tue Apr 28, 2009 8:07 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:I've always preferred the external approach. External sensors, small magnet glued to your eardrum, and lcd contact lenses. That way I can turn it off, and avoid brain damage.
I think things will progress more from the phone/bluetooth headset mix really.

Well, one of the things I am really looking forward is an off switch on my ears.

Also, what is an external approach ? External to the body ? External to the brain ? To the skull ? To the nervous system ? What about something that you could "wear" under your skin ? Is an earring intrusive ? If you can switch off something glued to your eardrum what makes it different from having it on the other side of the auditive nerve ?

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Bluggo » Tue Apr 28, 2009 10:58 am UTC

fallible wrote:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Warw ... ect_Cyborg

English cybernetics dude communicated with his wife using direct nerve-wifi-internet-wifi-nerve connection.
I am ashamed of just having learned of this just now: this is, quite literally, too awesome for words.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby stevenf » Tue Apr 28, 2009 1:43 pm UTC

Itsy bitsy teensy weensy problemette with connecting digital tech to organic brain. The organic item is a massively parallel analogue device (- probably) with an as yet unknown OS and the digital tech is, as it says on the tin, digital. The extent of the incompatibility is almost too huge to contemplate.

However:

We know organic computing is possible, everyone's got one, so what we are waiting for is the development of man made organic devices. When this has been accomplished then brain extensions become not only possible but likely. Likewise brain replacement.

IMHO sentience is a function of complexity and accordingly we are unlikely to see true AI with digital tech.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Iv » Tue Apr 28, 2009 3:39 pm UTC

stevenf wrote:IMHO sentience is a function of complexity and accordingly we are unlikely to see true AI with digital tech.


I disagree with both premises :
The transistor network that is Internet has yet to reach a conscience and it is arguably more complex than the human brain. Complexity by itself is not a sufficient condition.

I have yet to see the human brain complete a task that has been proved to be uncomputable in a polynomial time.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby James Scott-Brown » Tue Apr 28, 2009 8:27 pm UTC

stevenf wrote:Itsy bitsy teensy weensy problemette with connecting digital tech to organic brain. The organic item is a massively parallel analogue device (- probably) with an as yet unknown OS and the digital tech is, as it says on the tin, digital.


Sure, interfaces are hard to implement, but I'm not sure I agree that the brain is analogue rather than digital. Individual neurons fire in an all-or-nothing manner that can reasonably be described as digital. That said, chemical communication may be as important as electrical signals in the functioning of the brain.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby evilbeanfiend » Tue Apr 28, 2009 8:52 pm UTC

even if it is ADCs and DACs are relatively easy to implement. the brain is certainly a computer, it isn't well modelled as a single core general processor maybe (but even this is possible you just need to spend more time of each 'cycle') as it is , of course, a neural network
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Iv » Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:20 am UTC

Meteorswarm wrote:The brain isn't best modeled as a computer, IMO. I think in that sense, it's, at best, a collection of rather clever heuristics. It's real strength is in the ability to assimilate a lot of information from a lot of different inputs and make sense of it very quickly all while being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. That's what it evolved for, after all.

It has inputs, it has outputs, it has memory and processing ability. What model do you suggest ?
Remember that the abstract model of a computer in information theory does not make many assumptions as to how the model is implemented. It can be parallel, or not, using a lot of memory or an almost infinite amount of processing power. The computer model is not a computer. And I think it fits the brain more than any other model that we have available.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Roĝer » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:01 pm UTC

How do we know that the internet doesn't have any consciousness? How about the uprising memes, aren't they a sign of consciousness in its own?
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Iv » Wed Apr 29, 2009 3:12 pm UTC

I am talking about the internet as the network of computers, not as the network of users. Obviously, when counting users, the whole network has to display some features of consciousness as all its nodes have consciousness.

The network of machines as yet to show a single original thought not coming from a human user.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby stevenf » Wed Apr 29, 2009 8:50 pm UTC

I went to a lecture about CERN and the LHC last night and the successor to the net was discussed - apparently its been dubbed "the grid" and its not yet become self aware. Was anyone else aware of this development? Any info gratefully received. The considerable likelihood of black holes was mentioned but the energies of cosmic particles interacting in the upper atmosphere is much greater. Also, due to relativistic effects, the proton mass at the point of collision is 7000 times the rest mass.

On the theme of this thread - perhaps we could compromise by calling the brain a quasi-computer. The "wiring diagram" would be utterly alien to a normal reader of such things. Every neuron has numbers of synapses in different regions and at each synapse any one of a number of different neurotransmitter substances and numerous variations of receptor are present - some facilitate and some inhibit. Then there are the numerous inputs already referred to above, the as yet mysterious memory mechanism, the frontal lobe personality factors, the autonomic sub routines, the paleocortical "ROM" and reflexive circuitry, the relentless neuronal dropout and the plasticity referred to above. Hellish complex.

Digital is normally percieved as 1s and 0s. That's not really true in the organic brain.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Diadem » Wed Apr 29, 2009 9:38 pm UTC

stevenf wrote:I went to a lecture about CERN and the LHC last night and the successor to the net was discussed - apparently its been dubbed "the grid" and its not yet become self aware.

I don't think I would call The Grid a successor of the net. It's not some revolutionary new technology or anything. It is basically a massive upgrade of the infrastructure to be able to handle the dataload of the LHC experiment. The LHC will produce about 300 GB of data per second. Some preliminary analysis is done on this to bring that down to 300 MB/s, which they send to a dozen or so institutions all over the world. That may not sound like too much, but this is a continuous stream, day and night. And all this data needs to be analyzed, and those analysis have to be send as well. So yeah, they needed some upgrades to handle that :)

edit: Elsewhere it is mentioned that they need to be able to handle 1800MB/s. I'm not sure which figure is correct. Ask CERN :)
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Yakk » Wed Apr 29, 2009 10:15 pm UTC

Every time I augment my knowledge with wikipedia or google, I'm being a cyborg.

And it isn't a trivial amount of augmentation. I know some of you are youngsters and might not really get it: but once upon a time (a mere 10-15 years ago), if you wanted to know how to program intel assembly, you needed to write a letter to intel, have them ship you a manual, then read it. Or find a copy on your office shelves. Or buy it from a speciality book store.

And even after you buy it, there was no grepping of dead trees -- so you had to remember the details of each command in order to use them practically.

Today, a few google searches gives you a grepable list of commands and syntax. Sure, it takes a bit of time to get up to speed -- but you can start decoding existing assembly from the docs in minutes not days.

The fact that with relatively cheap electronics, getting lost is obsolete -- if you want to go somewhere, you simply express your interest in going there, and you now drive there almost as good as someone who is an expert in navigating in that region. Within a handful of years, this will include real-time traffic reports, letting you drive with the expertise of someone who has even more local knowledge.

It doesn't have to be 'wired into your brain' for you to use it without real effort. I get confused for a second when I realise I cannot (lacking a particular device) google information, maps, or routes while travelling. Others feel the same way when they don't have a blackberry on them and are out of contact.

Read Charles Stross' Accelerando. Buy it, or download it for free:
http://www.accelerando.org/
(creative commons license), which contains a fictional example of 'external post-human being' effect.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby MrLighter » Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:58 am UTC

This may be slightly off topic, but , I remember hearing about a group of scientists who were able to attach a rat brain cell culture to a series of electrodes. The electrodes captured the electric impulses from the brain, and controlled a small robot/car thing, and then sent signals back when it ran into something, like say, a wall. I'm not sure about how the science worked, but it was definatly interesting.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby stevenf » Thu Apr 30, 2009 12:30 pm UTC

The electrical activity that MrLighter mentions in neurons is in fact a passing wave of depolarisation of the phospholipid bilayer membrane caused by instantaneous ion fluxes through ion gates. The events can be picked up by electrodes quite easily. I suspect the experiment was an attempt at a petri dish organic neural net. That's the sort of tech that will lead to man made organic computing I suspect. Are there are theoretical limits to brain size using the sort of biology with which we are familiar? Unlike inorganic digital which operates at c, organic transmission rates are pedestrian - measured in metres per second.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Technical Ben » Thu Apr 30, 2009 10:43 pm UTC

I think the main idea is that we are reaching the theoretical limit with silicon. So anything that can be branched off from there may help increase processing power more.
Or they would just have different uses and benefits/drawbacks. Like more parallel computing.

As a direct answer, the speed may be slower, but the possible combinations are greater. So much so that it's generally suggested to be infinite.

This caculation says the raw computing power of the human brain is 20 million billion calculations (bits?) per second as a quick estimate. However some recent studies suggest that each of the 50–100 billion neurons may be able to store or calculate at the level of synapses (around 100 trillion) as well as at the cell. (numbers from wikipedia, and a BBC news story)

I fail to find any other or more definite answer on google or wiki :P
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Cryopyre » Fri May 01, 2009 3:06 am UTC

What if you got hacked?
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Whelan » Fri May 01, 2009 4:53 pm UTC

Panic!

Sorry, couldn't resist. I imagine if it's linked into the concious mind then defending yourself will be possible, and at the very least firewalls and other anti-malware will be used.
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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby stevenf » Fri May 01, 2009 7:27 pm UTC

Having just retired from medical practice I can tell you of a benign hack that would be outstandingly useful:

If medical practitioners could feel what you are feeling - where the pain is, how bad it is, etc. - the standard of care and diagnosis would rocket. We could also suss out the malingerers of course too. Cross gender symptom transfer might be somewhat confusing.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Ptolom » Fri May 01, 2009 7:52 pm UTC

You know what would be even better. Combine it with http://www.wolframalpha.com/. Instant answer to anything inside your own head.

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Hefty One » Tue May 05, 2009 4:18 pm UTC

Two words: Brain Pirates

This would seriously facilitate the theft/manipulation of thoughts wouldn't it?

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Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby James Scott-Brown » Sat Jul 04, 2009 6:19 pm UTC

stevenf wrote:Having just retired from medical practice I can tell you of a benign hack that would be outstandingly useful:

If medical practitioners could feel what you are feeling - where the pain is, how bad it is, etc. - the standard of care and diagnosis would rocket. We could also suss out the malingerers of course too. Cross gender symptom transfer might be somewhat confusing.


I am much less optimistic. Of course, if you could detect which nociceptors are firing you could accurately locate the location of origin of the pain. But even with complete knowledge of the neural impulses passing into someone's head, it is not possible to determine the intensity of pain they are experiencing.

Pain is not nociception: the physical neural impulses caused by a painful stimulus are not equivalent to the subjective sensation of pain. Pain can be felt without nociception (the classic example is a man with a nail driven through his foot, who is in agony until his boot is removed and he sees that the nail passed between his toes without causing injury), and nociception can occur without the accompanying sensation of pain (soldiers with severe injuries feel little pain whilst on the battlefield; their wounds really start to hurt after evacuation).

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Angua
Don't call her Delphine.
Posts: 5944
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 12:42 pm UTC
Location: UK/[St. Kitts and] Nevis Occasionally, I migrate to the US for a bit

Re: Greatest Idea Ever

Postby Angua » Sat Jul 04, 2009 7:48 pm UTC

We would become like the Conjoiners (though warning, spoilers for the Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space series)

There they dissipate heat with a Cranial crest on their foreheads (well, the ones with super high heat output).
Crabtree's bludgeon: “no set of mutually inconsistent observations can exist for which some human intellect cannot conceive a coherent explanation, however complicated”
GNU Terry Pratchett


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