Learning the Matrix wayDon’t you think it is cool how Neo learned all those kung-fu moves without having to go through the rigors of years of training? Well, sometime down the road, we too, might be able to achieve such an accelerated rate of learning, thanks to scientists who have managed to work on implanting new skills or memories – doing so without folks being aware that they are learning in the first place. We are talking about the idea of inception here, deemed impossible by Leonardo’s team in the movie, or perhaps the restoration of skills or knowledge which disappeared via accidents, the scourge of aging or diseases, without a person being aware of what is learned or memorized.

fMRI brain scans are used to first identify patterns of brain activity which are related when it comes to viewing a visual shape oriented in three different directions. Following that, volunteers are trained to activate brain-activity patterns which are related to one of the three shape orientations, although the learning process has been masked by an arbitrary task through the request of having them make a green disc appear bigger on a computer screen. The exact size of the green disc was linked to activating the correct brain- activity pattern, without informing the volunteers in the first place. When trained, this group of volunteers will undergo a battery of new tests that were specifically conjured to consciously identify the orientation of visual shapes. Still far off from “downloading” knowledge into the brain directly, but at least it is a start.

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