While it may not help you learn how to Kung Fu fight or fly a B212 Helicopter, a neurofeedback method of learning is reminiscent of something we might have seen in the movie, The Matrix.
The technique would provide more immediate and long-lasting knowledge in tasks that demand a significant level of visual performance, like hitting a curve ball or learning to play the piano.
Researchers from Boston University (BU) and ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan recently demonstrated that they could induce brain activity patterns to match a targeted state by decoding a person's functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan of their visual cortex.
In the future, researchers envision a person watching a computer screen and having their brain patterns manipulated to match those of a desired level of task performance, perhaps of an athlete or someone healing from an accident or disease.
Their findings were published in the most recent issue of Science.
However, there is one wrinkle in this Matrix-style approach to learning: the method worked on subjects even when they weren't aware of what they were learning.
"We found that subjects were not aware of what was to be learned while behavioral data obtained before and after the neurofeedback training showed that subjects' visual performance improved specifically for the target orientation," Watanabe said.
Fascinating — sure — but this does open up the door to hypnosis and mind control, which Watanabe is keenly aware of.
"We have to be careful," he said, "so that this method is not used in an unethical way." Sounds like a good plot line for the next Matrix movie.