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Because I Haven't Posted About tDCS In A While

April 8, 2013 at 4:07 pm

[Obligatory self promotion and reminder: I'll be on the West Coast in a few weeks, signing copies of the final Milkweed novel, Necessary Evil.  Feel free to swing by if you happen to be in the area!  My schedule can be found here.]

Over the past weekend, I came across two articles pertaining to a subject of constant fascination for me: tDCS, or transcranial direct-current stimulation.  One new within the last week, the other almost exactly a year older.

This piece in Slate touches on many of the things that have been mentioned elsewhere, including DARPA snipers and home hobbyists.  But it also tosses some new information into the mix, including the suggestions (from the medical literature) that tDCS might be used to facilitate language acquisition as well as to improve coordination in one's nondominant hand.  The results pertaining to the "nine dot" problem are especially fascinating. 

I'm not sure how to feel about the idea of teenagers experimenting on their own brains, posting videos about it to YouTube, and then fielding suggestings from the comment threads.  YouTube comment threads seem an unlikely place to find solid, trustworthy advice about self-experimentation and cosmetic neuromanipulation.  But maybe I'm just out of touch.

The Slate article links to an even more interesting piece in The Week, written just over a year ago by Sally Adee.  (Sally Adee is the New Scientist editor who underwent tDCS and reported, among other things, that activation of the electrodes immediately caused a metallic taste to fill her mouth… in a manner strikingly similar to the description of a related fictional technology.  Ahem.)

Ms. Adee's fascinating article recounts her experience during the research for New Scientist, but focuses on a dimension that has been largely overlooked in the popular literature about tDCS—she describes, eloquently and in detail, the physical and emotional experience of using tDCS.  She paints a moving, remarkable picture of the user's (test subject's?) experience.  She also raises a number of potential ethical concerns should the technology continue to mature. 

I'm still convinced that tDCS will someday soon enable people to see the future, walk through walls, and turn invisible.  But now I wonder whether those paranormal abilities will spring directly from the application of mild electrical currents, or whether they'll spring from the complete elimination of self-doubt as facilitated by those currents.

After all, that does sound just a tiny bit like the Will to Power, doesn't it?


Steve Halter April 9, 2013 at 7:14 am
Possibly a missing comma or maybe DARPA has taken a turn towards the dark side. :-) I think that teenagers experimenting on their own brains and posting about it on YouTube probably comprises a hefty chunk of the non-cat portion of YouTube. Ms. Adee's article is interesting. I rather agree that the effects need more study--still not quite willing to build one myself and give it a go. I think what she is describing in her twenty minutes is a slightly different take on the effects than what we usually hear. The complete elimination of self-doubt seems like it could be dangerous in the wrong hands--take those teenagers from above...
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