The Brain and Neuroscience
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Mind & Brain :: Feature Articles :: June 14, 2011 :: :: Email :: Print See Inside The laws of physics may well prevent the human brain from evolving into an ever more powerful thinking machine By Douglas Fox Image: Photograph by Adam Voorhes In Brief
Schizophrenia is one of the most infamous and mysterious mental disorders. Attempting to get to the root of the problem, scientists recently came up with an extraordinary solution: They built a schizophrenic computer. In a study published in the online version of Biological Psychiatry in March, researchers altered an artificial neural network capable of learning language and stories, to the point where it started "acting" schizophrenic. People who suffer from schizophrenia often have difficulty thinking logically or discerning what is real or not real in their lives. "It is characterized by delusions or disassociation of language, often with hallucinations of spoken speech," says psychiatrist Ralph Hoffman of Yale University, coauthor of the study along with computer scientist Risto Miikkulainen of the University of Texas, Austin.
Burundanga is a scary drug. According to news reports from Ecuador, the last thing a motorist could recall, after waking up minus his car and possessions, was being approached by two women; in Venezuela, a girl came round in hospital to find she had been abducted and sexually assaulted. Each had been doped with burundanga, an extract of the brugmansia plant containing high levels of the psychoactive chemical scopolamine. News reports allude to a sinister effect: that the drug removes free will, effectively turning victims into suggestible human puppets. Although not fully understood by neuroscience, free will is seen as a highly complex neurological ability and one of the most cherished of human characteristics. Clearly, if a drug can eliminate this, it highlights a stark vulnerability at the core of our species.