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Immediate brain plasticity after one hour of brain–computer interface (physoc.onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
265 points by rajnathani 6 months ago | hide | past | web | 59 comments | favorite

An article explaining parts of their result: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-11-movements-brains.html

The implication for the use of this technology in the treatment of stroke and rehabilitation:

> "The spatial specificity of the impacts achieved with BCI could be used to target those areas of the brain affected by strokes," explains Professor Arno Villringer, director of the neurology department at the MPI for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences. "Machine learning processes serve to decode or translate BCI activities into control signals," adds Professor Klaus-Robert Müller, professor of machine learning. "This is the only way to convert individual BCI activities into control signals without lengthy training periods. This customized reading of the BCI will be decisive in determining whether the technology can be used in rehabilitation systems in the future."

So.. is "plasticity" a good or bad thing?

It depends.

Tinnitus is believed to be, in many cases, due to the maladaptive plasticity that happens in response to hearing loss.

The brain doesn't hear some frequencies so it "reconfigures itself" to amp up the volume on those frequencies. Not unlike our own HiFi amps, if you increase the volume on a line that doesn't carry a signal, you get all kinds of bad noise.

Any way to train the brain to silence those frequencies , even while it's quiet outside ?

Anecdotally I think there must be.

I recently realized that I'm pretty sure I've had some form of tinnitus since I was a small child and never recognized it as such until recently. The sound inside of my ears is only there when I focus on it or if it's really quiet. The strange thing is because I always heard it when I was falling asleep as a child, it has always been associated with relaxation and rest, and so ends up lulling me to sleep rather than causing me distress like it does for so many other people.

Like many other conditions, severity matters. Mild tinnitus is very common and generally not an issue. Severe cases are a very different beast and can easily lead to suicide.

See https://journals.lww.com/thehearingjournal/Fulltext/2016/070...

I think this also applies to many kinds of low-grade chronic suffering. Changing your response to the sensation might be easier than stopping the sensation.

I have tinnitus.

It was 6 months of agony, then I started to ignore it. It wasn't a conscious decision, the ignoring happened automatically. I only have the high pitched ringing in my ears when it's quiet. It literally feels like a curse though, I can't hear silence.

5 years later, I found out something remarkable (and I hope there's a researcher willing to test this with me and other tinnitus people). It was an accident to figure this out.

When I do the Wim Hof Method, for just a brief moment it's silent. I can kind of have an idea why, since it's silent during an oxygen starvation moment (breathing all your oxygen out and then not breathing for another 2 to 3 minutes).

But for me it was a life saver. Why? Because if I really want to experience true quietness again, I can do the Wim Hof Method and experience about 10 to 20 seconds of quietness per 5 minutes.

My curse is lifted. It's not perfect, but good enough for me.

If you have tinnitus and want to learn the Wim Hof Method from me, feel free to reach out [1], my email is in my profile.

[1] My time is limited, I can teach up a total of 6 people for free who also have tinnitus. If you send an email, I'll put you in an online session with 1 to 2 other people (who also responded to this, so they're all from HN). After 6 people, I need to charge for my time. And please, leave the spots open for people who actually have tinnitus. Don't fake it, there are probably (hopefully) videos online on how to do the Wim Hof Method.

My expectation is that only 0 to 2 people will email me, but what do I know? Also my qualification is that Wim trained me personally for 4 days straight. And I have trained my friends.

Final note: learning the WHM to alleviate yourself from tinnitus is an experiment. It worked for me. It may not work for you. Also, learning the WHM you need someone to be physically there to be a 100% sure about your physical safety (normally that would be me). I am not planning to do anything extreme though.

Some people have also found temporary relief with the finger drumming method (sometimes called the "Reddit Method/Cure" because it gained popularity after he posted it on Reddit[1]):

> Place the palms of your hands over your ears with fingers resting gently on the back of your head. Your middle fingers should point toward one another just above the base of your skull. Place your index fingers on top of you middle fingers and snap them (the index fingers) onto the skull making a loud, drumming noise. Repeat 40-50 times. Some people experience immediate relief with this method. Repeat several times a day for as long as necessary to reduce tinnitus.Dr. Jan Strydom, of A2Z of Health, Beauty and Fintess.org.

[1] https://np.reddit.com/r/WTF/comments/3l3uri/these_guys_light...

There are therapies in the works that attempt at reversing this maladaptive plasticity (and reach the holy grail of silence). The most promising one (and unfortunately, the only one too) uses bi-modal stimulation (sound + electrical) with a very specific timing.


A company called Neuromod has shipped a device that also works on a similar principle a few months ago. The jury is still out in terms of efficacy.


I was having tinnitus problems and for me what helped was just honestly the awareness that my brain was tricking me. If you put a sensitive mic up against your ear, it won't hear it. Somehow it became easier to ignore until it truly wasn't there anymore.

Smoking weed helps me, i zone out on other things and the tinnitus "disappears" for almost 2 hours. when it "comes back" i'm usually in the middle of something else and don't notice it until i get to a breakpoint (like a tricky algorithm, and i sit back to think.. then i'll notice that sound again)

Don't silence, adopt. Use your tinnitus as an object of meditation. You don't even have to literally meditate on it, if you don't want to. Just broaden your awareness to include the tinnitus along with the rest of your sensory experience. With practice, it stops bothering you. With true meditation, it turns blissful.

It is debatable whether the Buddhist Heroic March Sutra (Śūraṅgama Sūtra) is referring to this "sound of silence" as the king of all meditation objects but it is certainly a gateway to it.

Yes very good thing. It means that memory associations to specific input were garnered after one hour. Typically this type of placidity takes a long time of historic reinforcement to generate. Placidity is basically an input into your brain sensory then maps to an associated brain function either a memory or a real physical action, the latter performed in the experiment. Basically a simple neuron is invoked, does it cause your arm to move. The experiment was to attempt to train that neuron to move the arm, which was successful and led to the ‘natural movement’ an hour after experiment...

This is super simplified and thus there are some inaccuracies but I think it gets the point across. You can do further research and read the paper if you care to learn of the real specific implications of this experiment.

~Placidity~ -> Plasticity. Probably an auto spell check.

Yes, sorry you are correct. I will fix when at a computer!

I wouldn’t be so quick to label “quick learning” as a good thing. Sure learning quick is good when you’re trying to adapt to new environments, but environments aren’t always changing. In edge cases quick learning in response to, say, a traumatic event and environment change, can yield learning that is maladaptive.

A suitable analogy is to look at gradient descent methods — which explicitly rely upon a “learning rate” parameter that controls how quickly the algorithm updates its global result as a result of local, immediate, information. Certain classes of problems do well with higher or lower learning rates — so it is very unspecified and unknown how something like this translates to human behavior

Hurm, wouldn’t you be able to train equally quick to handle the trauma? Also, while trauma is tragic, everyone who faces something bad should face it fully. If you walk away from ashes you will never find the gold, to quote Neitzche essence! The last part was not as support to my claim or some fallacy, was just to speak on the human condition and suffering, which you eluded to in your post.

I agree that quick learning is not always beneficial, regulation is always important. Actually regulation is necessary so out right bans are not induced. However, furthermore we should not stop development due to fears. There will always be fear. You cannot understand the truth or reality until you are in it. Hopefully with the development of technologies like BCI there will not only be a better understanding of the human condition but of statistical inference. The combination of both being better can lead to safeguards against the consequences aforementioned. And if at the end of the day the technology is deemed as dangerous, even though the cat cannot be put back in the box, at least the benefits will exist. No technology exists without equal benefit and harm, the spread of both is the main point of concern. Or rather the disparity creates and the widening of gaps is of concern. There is always a cost benefit analysis for any dev.

Perhaps even more relevant to your argument, most classes of problems lend themselves to an adaptive learning rate. I.e. we would like to learn our separator or weights quickly when we have no information but we want learning to slow as we have more information (so that we can settle towards a solution representative of the data vs the last batch/data point/hypothesis update)

Methods like Ridge Regression also support your point. There is a lot of value to defining how learning takes place, and specifically more learning is often bad for our results(in ml).

It is both, it's a double-edged sword. On one hand, your brain can adapt very quickly to new stimuli and adopt good or bad habits such as problem solving or addiction. But, this quick adaptation also means you can 'unlearn' these things very easily too.

That's my pop-sci understanding of plasticity, i picked it up when trying to get rid of my bad habits.

I also wonder if that is the reason so many things online when learning new information are addicting.

The brain probably loves the plasticity state and thrives for it. Almost like a dopamine hit. So we go to distractions like reddit and HN or others too often. In the span of a few moments you can learn so much and refine what you know with research if good discussions are going on. It is important to make it useful info though or market/social patterns, not just something that is as easy to forget as it is to learn it.

"Plasticity" basically means "learning" at a low level, so it's not really an explanation for why learning can be addicting.

To add something here: everything is considered addiction nowadays: over-eating, sex, shopping, etc.

Not to derail the discussion but isn't it too much?

I'm under impression that today anyone who enjoys something more than we would like them to do so in immediately labeled an addict.

I think I've gotten a different impression. There's definitely a casual use of the word "addict" that is well-understood to be different than clinical, destructive addiction.

And that destruction is obviously where the distinction lies. One might label themselves a "coffee addict" because they spend a lot of money on coffee or find themselves more dependent on it than they might like. But I think the average person recognizes that is very different from a spending addiction that leaves you $100,000 in debt and fired from your job because you can't stop shopping online when you should be working.

Yeah but learning or completing tasks give a bit of dopamine so maybe learning in short bursts becomes addicting through successive iterations.

When you work, you have large tasks, you break them up into smaller tasks, you learn along the way, and you get fueled by dopamine to continue. You learn and use your knowledge to work through tasks that are standard and dynamic in terms of change. Easier to do large projects/tasks by breaking it in small tasks rather than one big task. Lots of 'getting things done' or todo management plans gamify the dopmamine hits into small tasks. Each task can remove or add more work depending on how you complete them or how much you think about them to optimize or reduce work. There is weight to each decision but also forward movement and tasks being completed which gives dopamine.

With online communities you are both learning and teaching on each iteration (comment/post) which when you post is a task being completed. The process is pretty standard and easy to repeat and focus on your points. The learning part is new information you get, the teaching part is formulating your response and refinement. Repeated actions like this refine and polish your ideas and understanding of the world. All of that is probably a dopamine hit combined with a bit of social aspect that may increase it. The impact of that task is low so it is easy to attack repeatedly, much like an addictive game cycle. There is little weight to each decision but also forward movement and the appearance/feeling of tasks being completed which gives dopamine.

When you are sitting in front of your big project with all the tasks and smaller tasks that have real impact, next to the addicting short burst communities with all sorts of new and old ideas and discussions from learning about space or politics to jokes and memes with low impact, the online communities/information/learning can outweigh your work/project as the former seems to become a bigger draw if you aren't careful. It is almost easier to feel like you have been doing things posting on reddit/HN until you break out of a focus state and realize that is taking from your work time, but easy to slip into due to the amazing breadth of information and topics, where work is just focused usually.

Both situations your brain is probably in plasticity states and getting dopamine from the learning and teaching short tasks.

It is probably best to have multiple projects you are working on one serious and one with more open creative mode so that procrastination is at least on work during worktime and addiction to distractions is limited. Creating addicting game cycles to give dopamine hits and repeated addictive cycles is very evident also in social media or online discussion, like the little reddit notification. You can easily go spend 15 minute breaks from work and end up hours into a reddit/HN/social discussion.

The plasticity of the brain in internet discussions also has our mind in a receptive state, so that is why online misinformation/disinformation is probably so able to propagate as well. The brain is open to new information and marketers/propagandists probably love that state to manipulate.

So if you could introduce a capability (via plasticity) and we keep practicing it regularly over time does it become long term? If so, that would be a great jump start.

Like now we can really learn C++ in 21 days?

For loops and if statements

Is there a proven and/or simple (but not necessarily "easy" of course) way to get rid of bad habits based on this principle?

I don't think technology can ever fix personality flaws, especially not the desire to find an easy way out instead of doing the work yourself. Or, let's put it this way: any such technology that could overcome your nature would destroy your personality as it was, and probably be used by governments to "fix" their population. So let's not.

I wasn't even thinking about technology. I was more asking about a proven methodology based on this principle that gives someone a structured way to do the work themselves with a high likelihood of success. It's one thing to do the work, but it's ideal to know what kind of work is best to do.

It depends on context and on exactly what is meant by "plasticity" (which isn't very precisely defined in general).

Depends. If your model of the world is inaccurate, it's better to change your mind. If it's accurate, it's better not to.

Exploration vs exploitation. But it gets funky when you try to think of how it applies to higher-level human thought. Like trying to optimize a hyperparamter without even knowing what your categories are.

If anyone wants a great primer about neuroplasticity I recommend reading “The brain that changes itself” by Dr Norman Doidge

In searching for the book I came across this hour-long documentary by the same name that features the author.


I'm interested in watching this, but the video seems to have been taken down: "Video unavailable This video contains content from Octapixx, who has blocked it in your country on copyright grounds."

Is this the same documentary? https://www.dynamicbrain.ca/the-nature-of-things.html

It looks like it. Funnily those links are blocked for me (I'm in the U.S.) whereas the YT link is not.

Thanks. I'm Canada-based so it seems the issue is related to geo-restrictions.

Hopefully between the two links, everyone who wants to check this doc out is covered.

I also had immediate brain plasticity after being involved in a traumatic experience.

This feels like evidence pointing to the future Dr. Miguel Nicolelis describes in Beyond Boundaries (how quickly human brains can interpret new inputs) - http://www.beyondboundariesnicolelis.net/wordpress/beyond-bo...

Really cool stuff. I'm picturing a future where humans achieve so much more due to a never depleting neuro-plasticity.

Possibilities are endless.

Imagine when over-controlling parents, communities or governments figure how to use state of the art BCI feedback.

Youth re-education camps around the world will make good students, athletes, citizens, "tame child-creatures", soldiers, jihadists, missionaries, Christians, communists and worker-consumers and assembly line workers around the clock.

"We can build you. Lead the way to mental health–be the first in your family to enter a mental health clinic!"

Our bodies are such a marvelous machine, with many individual parts and signaling processes, with the ability to rebuild and adapt.

Something that has always blown my mind is that you can have a hemisphere of your brain removed with no major consequences:


> Studies have found no significant long-term effects on memory, personality, or humor, and minimal changes in cognitive function overall.

Had that not been the case, we'd be a dead branch of evolution probably long gone by now.

Interesting article, and the results at least “make sense” to me.

I am just a single data point but there are a few things that I think help my neural plasticity:

Mix up the way I do routine physical activities: for example switch the order of putting on shoes, etc.

I spend anywhere from five minutes to twenty minutes in VR every day. Just putting on my Oculus Quest, and trying some random or favorite activity for a few minutes feels stimulating (and is fun).

Meditation: I tend to meditate a fair amount for several days, then not meditate for a while, in a cycle. I feel better when I meditate more but I don’t have a good explanation beyond spirituality.

EDIT: also, I think lots of quality sleep refresh my brain. In the 1980s, Sir Francis Crick theorized that REM sleep had the beneficial effect of removing unnecessary memories from the previous day - sort of a Marie Kondo spark joy cleaning out process.

How is the feedback generated and fed into the brain? Lets say the goal was to move an object to the left? How does that cycle work?

Isn’t neuroplasticity the main method of operation for a brain? So you’ll always notice some plasticity in a person that is not, literally or metaphorically, brain-dead. What’s the news here?

I would experiment with such devices but placement of the electrodes is hard to deduce.

How do the studies ensure consistent placement across participants?

All Excel files directly connected to Brains, we change one line in our thoughts, and we get output to someone's brain directly.

Next step is to serve ads directly into people's brains. Suddenly I dread the future.

They tried that with blipverts. Not a good idea.


And add a little Google gadget that can search whatever currently in your mind in real-time, can't be too convenient, right?

To avoid the thought police, we'd need something like tor but for brain searches. Maybe a paid service where prisoners with life sentences could proxy our thoughts through their brains and the money could benefit their families. This is starting to sound like a really bad sci-fi thriller.

The future's bright... the future's Orange.

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