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Brain=Thought=Action=Art

posted Jan 30, 2013, 10:32 PM by Ellen Pearlman

Brain=Thought=Action=Art

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is another way of saying your perceptions make your decisions, or rather your decisions make your perceptions.  Recently Cathy Hutchinson, a quadriplegic worked with a device called the Braingate, enabling her to use a robotic arm to grasp a cup and sip from a straw.  

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Hutchinson directing the robotic hand to bring her the bottle, image courtesy Robotics Business Magazine

Braingate’s motto is “restoring  communication, mobility and independence” by working with neural signals mapped to the intent to move a limb. These signals can be “decoded” by a computer in real-time and used to power an external device, such as the robot hand.  

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Size of sensor implanted in the brain

The sensor is really tiny, almost like a human RDIF chip. Made from silicon it has 100 electrodes that record activity in small groups of brain cells, in this case, the motor cortex for activity.  Hutchinson “learned to perform complex tasks with a robotic arm by imagining the movements of her own arms and hands.” in other words she thought, and thereby willed it into being, something we do thousands of times a day - but in her case it was imaginary, in that she imagined moving her hands and arms. But in her case, actual neurons were firing that still corresponded to her limbs.

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Model of Braingate

The larger question to be asked, in terms of creative practices, is in the future will this type of apparatus capture imagination?  Will I be able to visualize something and see its image appear on a screen in front of me? Where does the imagination reside? What determines the self? How does that translate to art?

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