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article imageEssential Science: Could our brains handle teleportation?

By Tim Sandle     Mar 7, 2016 in Science
While physicists toy with the theoretical idea of teleportation, neurologists have been considering if our brains could cope with being scrambled and reassembled. The outcome of this inquiry has recently been published.
Teleportation is a means of transporting over distance an object or person, through breaking down the molecules and reassembling them. It is a fairly often used concept in science fiction, such as the misquoted "Beam me up Scotty" from Star Trek and "Teleport now" from '70s sci-fi show Blake's 7.
While teleportation remains a long way from reality, it is not only the physical side that could cause damage, there is the psychological and affect on brain chemistry as well.
Teleportation can best be thought of as the transfer of matter or energy from one point to another without traversing the physical space between them. The word was first attributed to the writer Charles Fort, from whom the term 'Fortean' derives, in 1931. If it ever became a reality, it would revolutionize travel.
The actual physics of teleportation remain theoretical, and involve the twin-processes of dematerialization and rematerialization. To do this, and to reform a functioning object, not only would atoms need to be sent but also the binding energy that hold nuclei together.
As to the brain side of things, this is the subject of a recent study by researchers based at University of California, Davis. Led by Professor Arne Ekstrom, neuroscientists have been examining the brains of rodents. The reason for using mice is because the brains of these animals share characteristics with humans, in terms of the neural pathways.
This research has shown that as a mouse navigates through a maze, and attempts to recall a route, its brain gives off detectable oscillations, in a specific rhythm. from the region called the hippocampus. The same effect is seen when people play video games.
What is unknown is the extent to which these oscillations are a product of memory and to the actions of external stimuli.
To further assess what is going on, the researchers, used patients who had epilepsy. With the consent of the patients, the researchers implanted electrodes on their brains, inside the skull. This was, according to the research brief, to determine where seizure activity begins. It was also hoped the findings would help to identify treatment options.
At the same time, the researchers hoped they would find out if some type of external input or the learning process was controlling this sort of brain activity.
As the electrodes recorded typical brain activity in between collecting data on the seizures, three patients agreed to navigate through a video game made up of varying landscapes of buildings and streets. One part of the game involved entering a virtual “teleporter,” allowing the patients to virtually jump them to a different location in the game environment.
When the 'teleportation' was taking place, the video screen became black. Here, when there was clearly no external stimuli, the electrodes continued to record brain oscillations. While oscillations were present, these were of a different rhythm and the rhythms varied depending on the duration of the screen being black.
From this, the researchers concluded brain oscillations are driven by the memory and learning process, and do not depend on the outside input.
The work is expanded upon in the video below:
The inference was, albeit from a tiny study, that our brains could indeed handle teleportation. The study has been published in the journal Neuron (see: "Oscillations Go the Distance: Low-Frequency Human Hippocampal Oscillations Code Spatial Distance in the Absence of Sensory Cues during Teleportation.")
So while the physical complexities of teleportation remain a major challenge, at least we know humans are mentally able to cope with it.
In related news, by using a series of laser beams, German scientists have successfully teleported classical information without the transfer or matter or energy. This was through the transfer of particles, allowing the same particles to co-exist in two different places at the same time.
In a research note, lead scientist Alexander Szameit, a professor at the University of Jena, stated: "Elementary particles such as electrons and light particles exist per se in a spatially delocalized state. Within such a system spread across multiple locations, it is possible to transmit information from one location to another without any loss of time."
This remarkable achievement has been published in the journal Laser & Photonics Reviews (see: "Demonstration of local teleportation using classical entanglement.")
This article is one of Digital Journal's Essential Science columns. Each week we explore a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we looked at a species of bacteria, which can cause gum disease, that has been linked with a type of cancer called esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. The finding provides a potential mechanism for early detection. The week before we considered the possible risks to the food chain for the herbicide glyphosate.
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