Researchers have discovered that rats can be made to communicate telepathically across long distances. Scientists trained rats in North Carolina and Brazil to work together to solve problems in return for a drink of water. In the first experiment they had to press the correct lever corresponding to a particular indicator light–in the second they had to distinguish between wide and narrow openings.
Electrodes picked up the brain activity of the first rat and fed it over the internet into the brain of its partner, which had the same levers in its cage but received no visual cues about which one to push. The best rats received telepathic messages from their encoder partners 70% of the time.
In the February 28th edition of the Financial Times, Clive Cookson quotes neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis as saying, "We cannot even predict what kinds of emergent properties would appear when animals begin interacting as part of a brain-net. In theory, you could imagine that a combination of brains could provide solutions that individual brains cannot achieve by themselves. One animal might even incorporate another’s sense of self."
Rats can communicate actions to one another, but with humans, telepathy has to do with reading someone else’s thoughts. Is this ethical? Cookson quotes neuroscientist Christopher James as saying, "The system would require placing invasive electrodes in participants and the visual and tactile brain signals involved are quite crude. You could not exchange abstract thoughts."
The giant Africa rat has a remarkable skill, which allows them to safely clear large areas filled with deadly landmines. And these anti-personnel mines are more common that you might think: more countries deployed them last year than in any year since 20045.
When the rats were first let loose in Mozambique, there was skepticism. On BBC News, Jonathan Kalan quotes government official Alberto Augusto as saying, "In Mozambique we eat rats, so it was very strange to see them working and demining. We were thinking to grill them (but) these are not normal rats, they are very special rats."
But they dutifully stuffed the gigantic rodents into tiny harnesses and began to sweep them back and forth on ropes. The rats stopped at regular intervals to scratch at a landmine.
Mozambique is one of the most heavily mined countries in Africa. Tens of thousands of landmines were laid during the struggle for independence between 1964-1975 and the civil war that followed for nearly two decades. With no maps of mined territories, Augusto says that working to clear the entire country is a "major challenge"–hence the rats.