A familiar horror of science fiction is the slave whose thoughts and actions are governed by an electronic gadget grafted into his brain. There might be some truth in this fiction, says Electrical Engineer Curtiss R. Schafer, who designs and develops electronic instruments for the Norden-Ketay Corp. of New York City. Electronics, he believes, could save a lot of work for the indoctrinators and thought-controllers of the future.
At last week's National Electronics Conference at Chicago, Schafer discussed recent improvements in scientific knowledge and control of the brain. After all, he pointed out, the brain is a digital computer whose functioning can be profoundly affected by electrical influences. The electroencephalograph (brainwave detector) shows electrical signals that ebb and flow in the brain. Perhaps these signals can be simulated, controlling the brain's sensations and thoughts.
Injected Signals. "The logical extension of electroencephalographic research," said Schafer, "may result in the formation of another hybrid science, biocontrol. The biophysicist has measured and recorded the electrical activity of the central nervous system, and shown that neural [nerve] currents control many of our mental and muscular activities. The electronic-control scientist has taught us that minute electrical signals, properly amplified, may be used for the control of airplanes, guided missiles and machine tools.
"It is quite logical to believe that these two sciences will merge. Biocontrol may be denned as the control of physical movements, mental processes, emotional reactions and apparent sensory perceptions . . by means of bioelectrical signals which are transmitted and injected into the central nervous system of the subject.
"Elementary forms of biocontrol have already been demonstrated . . . Direct current of the required waveform and intensity passed through [a man's] head . . . changes his sense of balance, and he leans to one side . . . Other experimenters have shown that rats and dogs may be made to feel hungry just after eating, or afraid when they had nothing to fear, simply by injecting the appropriate neural currents into the central nervous system of the animal."
Cheapest Machine. "The ultimate achievement of biocontrol," says Engineer Schafer, "may be the control of man himself . . . Enslavement could be imposed upon the vanquished as a condition of peace, or through the threat of hydrogen bombing. Biocontrol could make this enslavement complete and final, for the controlled subjects would never be permitted to think as individuals. A few months after birth, a surgeon would equip each child with a socket mounted under the scalp and electrodes reaching selected areas of brain tissue. A year or two later, a miniature radio receiver and antenna would be plugged into the socket. From that time on, the child's sensory perceptions and muscular activity could be either modified or completely controlled by bioelectric signals radiated from state-controlled transmitters. The regular treatment for schizophrenia uses the same surgical techniques . . . The electrodes cause no discomfort, no damage to brain tissue and no interference with the functioning of the brain except when energized.