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Source: We Can Build You, Page: 10

What had undone us was the extensive brain-mapping of the 1960s and the depth-electrode techniques of Penfield and Jacobson and Olds, especially their discoveries about the mid-brain. The hypothalamus is where the emotions lie, and in developing and marketing our electronic organ we had not taken the hypothalamus into account. The Rosen factory never got in on the transmission of selective-frequency, short range shock, which stimulate very specific cells of the mid-brain, and we certainly failed to see how easy - and important - it would be to turn the circuit switches into a keyboard of eighty-eight black and whites.

Like most people, I've dabbled at the keys of a Hammerstein Mood Organ, and I enjoy it. But there's nothing creative about it. True, you can hit on new configurations of brain stimulation, and hence produce entirely new emotions in your head which might otherwise never show up there.

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The 'depth-electrode techniques of Penfield and Jacobson and Olds' mentioned in this quote do actually exist. It is referring to the early work on electrocorticography, or ECoG, done not in the 1960s, but in the 1950s, by Wilder Penfield and Herbert Jasper.

ECoG itself is a lot like an EEG, except it is performed under the skull instead of on top of it. The first such ECoG procedures, carried out by Penfield, became known as the 'Montreal Procedure', because they took place at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

In ECoG, then as now, a small piece of the skull is surgically removed, and a network of electrodes - these days sheathed inside of silicon discs to prevent inflammation of tissue - are unfolded across the surface of the brain. In some modern procedures, this array is then left in place, and the skull resealed.

Penfield himself, was an expert at using ECoG, performing a great many such surgeries down the years. Used to eliminate epileptic seizures when all other methods had failed, his procedure consisted of operating under local anaesthetic so the patient remained awake, then probing the brain tissue one area at a time by activating the electrodes on the ECoG grid. The patient relayed the sensations they experienced as each electrode went live, and this was used to narrow down the source area of the epileptic fits.

Once the offending tissue was located, Doctor Penfold would then remove it. In each case, the seizures stopped.

This was - and still is - a rather crude method of detecting malfunctioning brain tissue, even if it is still used today in last-ditch situations. However, the ECoG itself is the interesting bit. By activating different electrodes, and different combinations of electrodes in the implanted grid, different sensations are produced for the patient to experience as the activated electrodes trigger the neural tissue around their locations to fire.

Obviously an invasive brain surgery is a little drastic, just to experience a kind of 'mood music', but that is not always necessary. This 'Hammerstein Mood Organ' whilst it has no strict counterpart in real-life, operates on such principles. From the descriptions given i nthe book, it does indeed sound like it is referring to a form of EEG rather than ECoG - the same thing but with electrodes placed above the skull, and a thick insulative layer between them and the brain itself.

We don't currently have any real way of writing electrical signals precisely to the brain that does not involve an invasive procedure such as ECoG or deep brain stimulation (DBS), although we can read from the brain without these evasive procedures.

However, working on the assumption that we do gain such an ability, whether by triangulated multiple-EEG signals, or optogenetics, or a different means of writing to the brain entirely - one we have not even glimpsed yet - then the concept of the hammerstein organ is sound.

One of the side-benefits to the early work on ECoG was the mapping of the functional areas of the brain, and identifying somatosensory and somatomotor cortex areas, along with speech control and the hypothalamus itself. We know where these are in the brain, and we know how to stimulate them, and what sort of charge is required.

Thus, we can as this quote suggests, map the most sensitive to stimulation emotional and somatosensory areas to a 3D positioning system, with each point referring to a means of stimulating that area. Map these points to a keyboard such that every key-press lights the corresponding area up, and you do indeed have a mood-organ.

Play a 'tune' on such an organ, and rather than hear musical notes, your brain processes emotional states and sights, sounds, smells, all associated with the areas being stimulated. It is not so much a tune as it is a direct alteration of your perceptions. TYou don't really hear anything, but instead as different areas of your brain are stimulated, a cacophony of thoughts and feelings wash over you, in direct relationship to the keys being played.

Add in the relatively trivial matter of recording such combinations of keystrokes, and the ability to play them back, and instead of composers just writing musical scores, you have the ability for composers to affect moods directly.

Nothing about this is in the realm of fantasy, and could be done today if you were willing to have an ECoG array implanted under your skull. A day not too far in the future when we perfect viable ways of doing so without making a hole in your skull.

It is also thus questionable if there truly would be 'nothing creative' about such a device. It could be argued that the ability to create a 'tune' which would directly and profoundly alter the emotional state of the person playing it back would be a work of sublime creation - and potentially a powerful weapon in the wrong hands as well. Perception is geared to emotional state, and a person with darker emotions prominent in their head is liable to react very differently to a given piece of news than someone with a much more upbeat emotional track.

It is also quite possible, looking at it in this light, that people with pre-recorded 'emotional roller coasters' running through their brains, might well be the 'wire heads' of the cyberpunk world; not using direct current to fuel their electrochemical highs, but something far more sublime. It is equally possible that some such people will one day be as big a fixture of our society, as they are in those books.

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About the Book 'We Can Build You'
By Philip K Dick
Produced By HarperCollins

We can build You is a very strange tale, centring around Louis Rosen, one of the partners in a firm attempting to sell electronic musical organs, that his father?s factory creates. Business has not been good of late: The organs are squeaky, tinny things, and by the second page it is clear the small firm is in dire streights. The solution comes in the form of his business partner, Maury Rock?s daughter, Pris Frauenzimmer.

She is very unusual, in that she was diagnosed as schizophrenic at seven years old. Now 18, she is better, or so the state says. She has attracted the attenti...
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