Although quantum physicists have been making breakthroughs in the field of quantum teleportation, we’re still limited to the instantaneous transmission of information, and are a long ways away from being able to reconstruct matter or energy at a distance. But as humans, we may already be ready for such a mode of transportation, as the results of a new study suggests that our minds are capable of orienting themselves, despite the effect of being relocated in such an instantaneous fashion.
Neuroscientists at the University of California, Davis, are conducting studies that explore how the human mind navigates through its environment, and how it orients itself in and along different environments. In particular, they’re looking at how the hippocampus, a part of the brain’s limbic system that is responsible for our spatial memory and navigational abilities, and how it oscillates when processing new information as it navigates through its environment. The researchers found that the human brain’s navigational sense reacts very much the same in a virtual environment, such as in a video game, as it does in a real-world situation. However, they were unsure if these oscillations were triggered by sensory input, or by the brain’s learning process.
Taking advantage of the brain’s lack of discernment between real and virtual landscapes, the research team enlisted the help of epilepsy patients that were being treated at UC Davis’ Department of Neurological Surgery, using electrodes implanted on the patients’ brains that are used to determine the source of their seizure activity. The volunteers navigated through a virtual streetscape presented on a computer screen, and at various locations in the simulation they would encounter a spot that would allow them to teleport to a different location that they had previously visited in the virtual environment. Additionally, the screen would go blank for random amounts of time during the transition, to give the impression that the teleportation process had a travel time attached to it.
The data gathered from the subjects’ electrodes illustrated to the researchers that the oscillations they were recording were due to a combination of both the brain’s memory and learning processes, rather than from direct input from the patient’s senses. This meant that the volunteers’ brains were carrying information regarding both the speed and distance of the process of being teleported, enabling them to orient themselves quickly after arriving at their virtual destination, instead of being confused as to the nature of their surroundings.
This makes a lot of sense, considering that our brains have recently been found to be predictive mechanisms, rather than simply being a reactionary organ: initial sensory inputs wind up being cues for our brains to quickly start filling in the blanks in information that has yet to be been gleaned by our senses, using information that it had experienced in prior situations, as it constructs an internal three-dimensional simulation of its immediate environment–an important part of what we consider our "situational awareness". As our senses gather more information, it replaces the aspects of our environment that the brain made incorrect predictions on, helping make for a more accurate picture of what’s going on around us.
This process typically only takes a fraction of a second, but it accounts for the study participants’ ability to immediately orient themselves when suddenly transported to locations they were already familiar with, with their hippocampi knowing precisely where they were–even in a virtual environment.
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