“They’ve found that it is possible for a person to mentally control a robotic limb in three-dimensional space.”
This profound news comes from Roderic Pettigrew, M.D., Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, in a press release today (5-16-2012).
Back in 1982 my wife and I attended the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. One of the big highlights for us was an exhibit showing a new machine called a robotic arm. It was big, yellow, and computer-programmed to draw a picture of the symbol of the World’s Fair. We waited in line and then it drew one for us.
Since then, computer-controlled robotic arms have been implemented extensively in manufacturing, including in automotive factories such as we have here in the Detroit area.
The NIH-funded research has been working on what it calls BrainGate, which is a neural interface system which uses an implanted sensor to capture signals that direct movement and link those to robotic devices. The big news out right now is that for the first time, “by using her thoughts“, a woman paralyzed by stroke was able to direct a robotic arm to reach for a drink and then take a sip on her own. Impressive!
In the press release, researchers indicated that the ultimate goal is, as one might expect, to reconnect the brain to paralyzed limbs instead of a robotic arm.
While this story is primarily about the connection between the brain and the limbs, the story does seem to indicate that it is thought that initially directs movement. The brain is next in the sequence, with the limbs at the other end of the process – although some might argue about the distinction between thought and the brain. So, does the brain control thought, or does thought control the brain? Does the brain move limbs or does thought direct the brain to direct the limbs to move? When it comes to movement, is thought the master? (The press release said that the woman moved the robotic arm “by using her thoughts“).
If thought is the ultimate master of movement, then when thought decides that movement is restricted by injury or disease and fails to initiate or control movement, could thought be freed from such limitation by the influence of a higher power?
The Bible (in Hebrews 12:12-13) challenges thought with this: “… lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.”
According to the Bible, Jesus healed paralysis (see Matthew 15:30). So did some of his students (see Acts chapter 3 for an example).
Food for thought!
To read the NIBIB 05-16-2012 press release – click here.