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Fake memory implanted in mice with a beam of light (arstechnica.com)
115 points by sew 638 days ago | 77 comments



The research may show that the mice are responding to stimuli, but how can anyone honestly claim to know what the experience is like, or whether the "memories" are truly recalled as negative and induce actual "fear".

I mean, it's not like mice can verbalize their experience. They don't use words to tell us how they "feel" about these memories on the inside.

And in the article, it states that no new memories were actually created. Only the nature of existing memories were augmented to be negative.

From the article:

  ...whether they could create a new, negative association 
  by flipping the switch on an old, neutral memory while 
  giving the mouse a negative experience.
So they took an existing memory of a location, and made the mice scared of the location. That's a lot different from the claim in the headline.

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If the mice respond in a way that indicates a fear response, why would you not consider that as strong evidence for the experience of fear? I would also add that verbalizing an "experience" is a behavior just the same as a "fear response" action being observed. Both types of evidence have the same problem of extrapolating the inner mind by external behavior.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then its a duck. That's the best we can do for now, whether mice or men.

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> If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then its a duck. That's the best we can do for now, whether mice or men.

That doesn't sound particularly scientific. Sometimes a bit of precision with language is nice.

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Yes, that's a fear response, but there's still a missing link. The mice associate blue-cage-related-thoughts with pain, but that doesn't mean they have any memory of being hurt inside a blue cage. They might just remember the time they were considering blue cages and got punished.

In short: just because their test activated a memory doesn't mean it created one

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I volunteer to take part in an experiment for false memory implantation on humans. Sounds like fun.

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I wish there was a website where people could sign up to volunteer for experimentation. They could make (simplified) health data available, and tick what kinds of things they'd like to do.

Until then, here's a website that'll let you experience a common memory error. (http://psych.hanover.edu/JavaTest/CLE/Cognition/Cognition/fa...)

There are probably more experiments you can do on yourself to induce a false memory.

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That might be a good idea for the future, if we can insure the experiments are done ethically, and with the subject's full understanding.

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You already did, and were a great help.

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Hah!

Reminds me of "Tom" from 50 first dates. Thanks for the good laugh this afternoon.

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Sounds like you'll be brain-dead afterwards.

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It's amazing that intelligent people often accept material answers to immaterial questions like memory, consciousness and thought. As if those questions could ever be answered by natural sciences.

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It's amazing that intelligent people can assume that questions of memory, consciousness and thought cannot be answered by the natural sciences.

Given our species long history of pushing back the boundaries of mysticism, fear and uncertainty, it would seem presumptuous to doubt that our own minds are somehow exempt from the rules of the natural world.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Concept_of_Mind

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If you could actually define those words in a rigorous way, maybe then we'd be able to have a conversation about whether or not they are material. Too bad nobody really knows what consciousness is. Do you have some insight that nobody else has?

It's pretty clear there is a physical basis for cognition. Some extremely pedantic philosophers may not come to the same conclusion though. If you have any doubts, here's how you can find out: get a friend to beat your head in with a baseball bat (made with preferably something tough like steel or titanium).

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Even with all the Snowden articles I've read over the past few months, nothing has made me want to start manufacturing tin foil clothing more than this article just did.

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Then the title is slightly misleading. The beam of light is not sufficient for creating the memory, just part of the process. The other thing not mentioned in the title is that the mice are either genetically engineered to have neurons that express light sensitive proteins, or have been injected with a virus that makes these neurons sensitive to light.

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> Then the title is slightly misleading.

The whole story is BS. There is zero evidence that they implanted any sort of memory, let alone a false one. All they've shown is that when the mice encounter situation X, they are afraid because their memories of situation X are associated with fear. Basically it's like how if you have a nightmare about dying in a car crash then you may be afraid of driving the next day, but that doesn't mean that you have a memory of actually dying in a car crash.

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It's certainly not an uninteresting or invalid scientific result, but the interpretations tend to get a little overblown. This is an unfortunately common theme in neuroscience, especially recently.

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Captology wikivs laser beams.

Both

  * zomgcopter creepy
Captology

  * Coined at Stanford
  * Persuasion technology that's "not malevolent"
  * Doesn't require neurosurgery
Laser beams

  * May cause fire
  * Almost completely harmless when combined with sharks capable of jumping
Adv: laser beams

PS: Yeap, the post title is inaccurate link-bait. Plz edit to be more realistic.

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No, they actually mentioned that they used a virus to modify the neurons such that they would express the right protein when hit by the correct color of light.

The beam of light doesn't create the memory -- it triggers a remembrance of the memory.

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What would it take to make this virus airborne?

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Even if that were possible, and i suspect that it's either not or very hard, you would still need to get a fiber-optic cable through your skull and into your brain. Shining a light into your eyes isn't going to do anything in this context.

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If they can do this in RF frequencies to which our bodies are opaque, how long before they can do this in RF frequencies to which our bodies are transparent?

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If a frequency has to go right through you without loosing energy, then none of the energy can be put in to modifying neurons. Of course, you could do like they do with radiation therapy and have lots of low-absorption beams converge on a single spot.

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Reading the parent comment caused me to gasp out an "oh shit" which was immediately quieted by your comment.

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You would have to do this anyway, with at least three beams. That or implant a fiber.

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They can't. An RF antenna for useful wavelengths is much bigger than the size of the proteins you can genetically engineer. We CAN engineer proteins sensitive to light (eg: use the ones that are already present in your retina, and connect them to an ion channel typically found in a neuron). What you're proposing is not simple (though WOULD be immensely helpful for neuroscience research...)

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You are taking it a bit too far

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If anyone's interested in how this might play out, be sure to check out the Joss Whedon TV series Dollhouse. It's on Netflix Instant, and is really pretty great Sci-Fi.

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Half the episodes are crappy filler. Half the episodes are solid gold, some of the best neuro/cyber-punk out there.

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Quick translation: 1) Researchers found neurons that are active in one context (say, mice are in a blue cage). 2) They use a genetic tool to target these neurons and make them sensitive to light 3) The researchers then deliver mild foot shocks to the mice, while activating these neurons 4) Mice are put back into the original context (blue cage), and exhibit behaviors associated with expecting foot shocks.

Makes sense, nothing too surprising but getting something like this to work is impressive.

*edit for clarity

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Here is the abstract (all I could find) of this paper:

  Memories can be unreliable. We created a false memory in mice by optogenetically manipulating memory engram–bearing cells in the hippocampus. Dentate gyrus (DG) or CA1 neurons activated by exposure to a particular context were labeled with channelrhodopsin-2. These neurons were later optically reactivated during fear conditioning in a different context. The DG experimental group showed increased freezing in the original context, in which a foot shock was never delivered. The recall of this false memory was context-specific, activated similar downstream regions engaged during natural fear memory recall, and was also capable of driving an active fear response. Our data demonstrate that it is possible to generate an internally represented and behaviorally expressed fear memory via artificial means.
- from https://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6144/387

The Ars article also has a good link to a backgrounder on optogenetics: http://f1000.com/prime/reports/b/3/11/

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>increased freezing in the original context, in which a foot shock was never delivered

seems like an effective way to train things like correct reaction for the "Attention" command in soldiers, schoolchildren, employees during all-hands,...

On the other side, some decades later we will be appalled by the modern practice of electrical shocking of mice the same ways some of us are already appalled by medieval torture.

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Medieval torture is a bad example because it was done with the intent of causing pain. This is not.

A better example might be vivisection - it used to be done without any analgesia at all, for the simple reason that they had none. But they learned a LOT from it. Today the idea is repugnant, but that's because we have analgesics we can use.

This is the same way - it's the best tool we have. Once we get a better tool we'll use it, but don't criticize the past for not using a tool that didn't exist.

Even worse would be to say not to do the experiment at all.

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>Medieval torture is a bad example because it was done with the intent of causing pain. This is not.

Jews in concentration camps were experimented on with intent of scientific experiment. By your standard it is just ok.

Intent doesn't matter to the subject of torture, be it an interrogated witch, 911 terrorist, Jew in concentration camp being experimented on or a dog being vivisected.

> Today the idea is repugnant, but that's because we have analgesics we can use.

No. The idea became repugnant to some [the most advanced people of the time] and through their effort the analgesics started to be used. In particular, ether was first used for surgery in 1846, while vivisection was still legal for more than half a century after that.

Or do you mean UCSF doesn't have analgesics available:

http://www.sfgate.com/education/article/UCSF-lapses-mean-res...

> Once we get a better tool we'll use it, but don't criticize the past for not using a tool that didn't exist.

That a convenient lie - alcohol, 'shrooms, opium, various barks, cola nut, etc... have been known for like thousands years.

>Even worse would be to say not to do the experiment at all.

False scare, like security vs. liberty. The humanity would probably be much better off if it excluded all experiments on live animals. Our primitive, medieval, violent mentality is that keeps us from developing into advanced civilization. Live and let live.

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> Jews in concentration camps were experimented on with intent of scientific experiment.

No they weren't. They were experimented on with the intent of causing pain. If you really believe that the intent was science then you owe it to yourself to learn more history.

> Intent doesn't matter to the subject of torture

Yes it does. If the intent is pain then pain will be maximized. If the intent is learning then pain will be minimized, or at least not increased.

UCSF seem incompetent and negligent, but why are you using them as an example? There are always bad actors. You need to look at the normal, not the extreme.

> alcohol, 'shrooms, opium, various barks, cola nut, etc... have been known for like thousands years.

We know now that they could have used it. Yet from every account I've read they didn't. They had opium, yet did surgery without it. So despite theoretically having it, practically speaking, they didn't.

> The humanity would probably be much better off if it excluded all experiments on live animals.

If by better off you mean die young then I guess so.

> Our primitive, medieval, violent mentality is that keeps us from developing into advanced civilization.

Our "primitive, medieval, violent mentality" are what is causing us to advance. Peaceful non-competitive societies never progress. And what's primitive about it anyway? Do you consider yourself primitive? No? They why do you think anyone else is?

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>No they weren't. They were experimented on with the intent of causing pain. If you really believe that the intent was science then you owe it to yourself to learn more history

man, are you serious or just doesn't know anything or just trolling?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_human_experimentation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_731

the rest of your statements are about the same. I'll just stop here.

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The experiments they did had no real scientific value. Nominally, they were doing research, but it wasn't rigorous or useful results.

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That's not entirely accurate. Many experiments were useless, notably Mengele's, but some data collected remains useful (though not necessarily used) to this day. There were results by others that were applicable, usually regarding weapon development and exposure to elements.

And while we're on the topic, the US experimented on their interned populace as well, though with less intent to harm, as did the Japanese (referenced by GP).

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Wow. It's not often I come across someone who is willfully ignorant. You even link to sources!

Did you even read those very things you linked to?

Not only do you know of one case of torture you know of two! And still somehow believe they were intended as experiments and not intended for pain.

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I read and I disagree with you.

> And still somehow believe they were intended as experiments and not intended for pain.

How about: they were intended as experiment, but Jews were treated as disposable experimental material, just like we treat rats today? Because hey, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test crazy theories on real humans without regard to consequences. And maybe help the soldiers win the war!

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That's just not the case though.

They were intended for pain - the "experiment" was an afterthought "hey! we are already torturing them, lets get some data out of it too".

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This philosophical argument can be answered very simply. Which do you value more, animals or humans?

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>This philosophical argument can be answered very simply.

it is not philosophical, it is routine everyday choice everyone of us make. Like these researchers at UCSF - whether to administer analgesics or not before cutting a body part - calling it a philosophical question clearly shows your own philosophy.

>Which do you value more, animals or humans?

By asking such a question you already stated your answer. I don't ask nor answer such a question as i don't assign specific value points on lives of humans or animals. Putting such specific values and compare them has always been leading humans who think of themselves as of higher value to mindlessly butcher, torture, etc... anybody whom they think of as of lesser value, be it humans or animals.

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It is not philosophical, it is routine everyday choice every one of us make.

There is no answer that's not philosophical. Refusing to quantify your philosophy is philosophical.

It amounts to asserting that taking a position is wrong when only people who disagree with the philosophy you implicitly accept are taking a position, so it's also rather hostile.

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If you actually value either, you also have to value the other?

But I can also answer that with a question if you want: which do you value more, slow but steady progress, and planting for generations ahead and reaping from what generations before sowed, or instant gratification and profit, and the constant low-intensity war that entails? (not that we lack a constancy of military action in the world, but hey)

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> If you actually value either, you also have to value the other?

If by value you mean assign a positive number then No. If by value you mean calculate then Yes. (Sorry for phrasing it that way, but I wasn't sure which you meant.)

> which do you value more, slow but steady progress, and planting for generations ahead and reaping from what generations before sowed, or instant gratification and profit, and the constant low-intensity war that entails?

Now I'm confused. In another post you appear to be against this experiment (i.e. the slow and steady progress), but the way you write this makes it look like the slow and steady progress is the better way - but that's the experiment.

So which is it?

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Medieval torture is a bad example because it was done with the intent of causing pain. This is not.

Source? The article just said they wanted to see if they can do it. Namely, to create a negative, fake memory.

it's the best tool we have. Once we get a better tool we'll use it

Tool for what, exactly? We know the brain is made up of stuff and that it can be influenced. The question is rather, what of that is even desirable to do. In the article I just see the fascination of playing God, there not even pie in the sky medical applications are mentioned. And personally, I can't think of any. I tried!

Let's say someone was sexually abused by red haired people as a kid. That is, they only knew two red haired people, those abused them, and now they have a very strong negative reaction to red haired people. Wouldn't it always be more desirable for them to talk about this stuff and work through it, than just their association with red hair being "reset"? [I'm simply assuming that if you can make benign memory bad, it's only a matter of time until we try making a bad memory benign, or even good] Okay, maybe it should be their choice, I can't tell others what they need to be able to cope with. And my example is very bad, I just couldn't think of a better one; though I am still keen to hear others, let's simply assume there is a really good example, and a great medical use for good.. where there's not so much faking going on, but correcting actual mistakes etc. where intellectually realizing them just doesn't cut it for some reason.

As I said, I can't really tell others what they should do or not do, especially since I am not suffering from any crippling anxieties or brain damage. I have only one argument why they should rather go the harder road, which may big payoffs in the way of personal growth, but also may simply not work at all: just like you supposedly can't hypnotize people to do things that goes completely against their moral values, I think it's harder to make someone believe the dog that bit them actually licked their hand with just a bunch of conversations. Yes, people can be brainwashed already, and I guess a bad but trusted therapist could also do a lot of damage; but compared to physically reaching in there and re-arranging things, it's still like muskets to the nuclear bomb. And wether stuff like "Bush Derangement Syndrome" is a real thing, or just a dumb ad-hominem, is actually simply a consensus decision. Medical history, and that of the mind especially, is FULL of people being mis-diagnosed and made to fit. The world has been reeling with power grabs and raising awareness of them for many decades, so to invent such a "tool", even the most simplicistic beginnings of it, "just because", seems just nucking futs to me. That it's "exciting" to the "global neuroscience community" doesn't really cut it for me to get excited, too.

"If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?" -- George Orwell

^ You see, there is only one way to find out, and no way back from it. Any steps towards it needs to be heavily justified. Basically, if you can do it any other way, where volition and dignity remain intact, you have to do it that way. Can you show me what this is good for that's a.) important, and not just "exciting" b.) not possible any other way?

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> Source? The article just said they wanted to see if they can do it. Namely, to create a negative, fake memory.

Do you realize how little we know about the brain? Any information we can collect is useful. It may seem minor to you, but considering how little we know everything [that is real] helps.

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Considering how much we already know about the human psyche and society, and how little of that is applied because it hurts our ego and profits, that's just the predictable naive response that could be said about anything. We also know very little about humanity coping with global nuclear war, so why not simply fire off a few nukes? "everything helps"?

I say thinking comes first, then poking around in the brains of creatures that can't defend themselves. If it's that important, why not do it on volunteering humans? If it has to be fucking around with mice, why not make them like a location a lot? Why create fear? Because it's easier? Or hey who cares, it's mice, bred en masse for whatever? You know, mice may seem minor to you, but they're basically persons just like everyone. There are arguments for some medical experiments, but I still haven't heard one for this. You just said it yourself, "everything helps". So why this? If anything else would help as well, and you can't even tell me what it would help for, other than temporarily satisfying some kind of inferiority complex about not being omniscient?

And do you realize that it's the brain we're talking about? You know, just because something is there and can potentially be fully understood and manipulated, doesn't mean we should get to do that with it... I'm not sure everybody is on the same page though.

But I know everybody including me is a hypocrite. Just take free will. The idea that there likely is no such thing is a LOT older than neuroscience (even Nietzsche said that the idea is only still around because every now and then someone digs it up to disprove it haha). Yet we kinda ignore that because you know what? Life is pointless and no fun that way. So yeah, everything helps when it's mice, or someone else's brain, but we reserve the right to tell science to back off from how we'd prefer to view ourselves, don't we. And sometimes for good reason, but that can't be answered by just "is it doable". Just like "should it be made doable?" can't be answered by just "does it exist?".

I mean, before we at least got to hear about all sorts of diseases that maybe might be positively affected by X or Y, but now it's really nothing more than "but think of the brain!!!1"? If that is true, wow. I'm not going to take your word for it, but just in case, wow.

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> so why not simply fire off a few nukes

Did you really just equate firing a nuke with scaring a mouse?

> You know, mice may seem minor to you, but they're basically persons just like everyone.

Persons like everyone hu? Well I guess it makes sense then that you consider firing a nuke and scaring a mouse to be equivalent.

Here's some news: Mice are not people. They are not as important as people and their lives have little value. Yes, avoid causing them pain if possible. But don't over do it and start to think they are people.

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> Okay, maybe it should be their choice, I can't tell others what they need to be able to cope with. And my example is very bad,

Your example is very bad. It should be a basic tenant of humanity that we control ourselves, and we as individuals should be the ones making the choice on if and how we're mentally modifying ourselves. The only time that choice should be put aside is if we are modifying ourselves to be a clear and present danger to others.

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Uhm, yeah? I'm not sure why you repeat a subset of the things I said as though you're disagreeing. Also, show me your better example, or anyone's for that matter? Because I see zilch, so even my shitty example is the best yet.

The only time that choice should be put aside is if we are modifying ourselves to be a clear and present danger to others.

I'd argue the same for drone killings, and it's already violated there. So this basic human tened should exist, but doesn't, not really, not when push comes to shove. So again, I wonder, what possible good use could come of this? I mean, before I can see about dis/agreeing with it, I first would at least like to hear some stuff. So far we have nothing but "it's exciting" from the article, or "it's a tool" in the post I replied to. Not even "it's exciting because", or "it's a tool for". Geez.. I know it's not rocket science, but still, there has to be more than the fact that fake negative memories is what neuroscientists crave. I don't even doubt there are things to be said there, which is why asked for that. Sigh.

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"Even worse would be to say not to do the experiment at all."

who could even be so cruel?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=IN...

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These foot shocks are pretty mild. This is a bit of hyperbole...

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Here's the full text PDF: http://freepdfhosting.com/bb20a253a5.pdf

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If we gift them with a past, we create a cushion or a pillow for their emotions, and consequently, we can control them better.

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This is one of the first studies on cellular memory traces but not the first. Similarly, in 2011 Garner et. al. had created a hybrid memory trace chemically: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6075/1513

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This is more akin to the "programming" scene from A Clockwork Orange than it is of Blade Runner or Total Recall.

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This is an interesting story, but let's be careful not to dwell on the potentially sinister uses of optogenetics.

Other research groups at MIT — i.e. within the McGovern Institute for Brain Research — are using the same techniques to better understand the biological basis for psychiatric disorders. For example, they recently used light stimulation to rid rats of compulsive behaviors.

I'm very excited about the potential for this technology to help people suffering with OCD, general anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.

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Well it does tend to explain all of the alien abduction stories starting with a bright light.

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like any science article nowadays - - this is probably what the title should read "Fake sensation of fear implanted in GENETICALLY modified mice by repeated and prolonged exposure to a beam of light"

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No it's not a sensation, it's an association that happens as rapidly as it would happen under real circumstances. And the mice were not genetically modified, the rhodopsin was delivered through a virus.

This is important because it helps us understand the way memories are encoded, however it is for very primitive and basic kinds of memory.

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im not debating its importance - as for the genetically modified part -i will give you that they werent modified at embryo stage as is typically the case in GM Species. The virus did not deliver rhodopsin - but additional genes that allowed the cells of the rats to encode the optogenetic proteins. That is by all means a genetic modification. It wasnt just a drug injection or something!

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Sorry, i hadn't read the actual paper until now. Actually they did use transgenic GM mice, which allow the expression of rhodopsin in activated cells. While the title of the article is not very revealing, it's pretty close to what they did, although by no means did they "use lasers to implant a memory", they used a lot of other stuff too.

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yes that was precisely my point. No sense commenting on an article if you havent read what it talks about.

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yeah, but you did

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But the mice had this "on-switch" installed, right? You can't just flash the light at any mouse to scare them...That amnesia light from Men in Black hopefully is not in the making...

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What one giveth, one can taketh away: http://www.kurzweilai.net/how-to-erase-memory

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Probably relevant: http://www.ted.com/talks/ed_boyden.html

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Yep, this is the guy that came up with the method for making neurons sensitive to light. The technique can be applied in many ways, this is one of them.

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Does this mean that it might be possible to implant knowledge into our heads like in the Matrix? Could I learn Jiu Jitsu with a beam of light?

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How do they demonstrate this is not mere classical conditioning? Perhaps the mice are simple afraid of all chambers after the shock.

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Mice given the choice of Place A or another chamber after the treatment chose the other chamber.

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And the tinfoil heavy portfolio pays off for the paranoid investor!!

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Was it a pink beam of light?

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Ah, but the important question is: was the beam pink?

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