Empowering the BCI User

Imagine cognitive neuroscience has progressed to the point where the mind i.e. mental processes could not only be defined, but mapped to the brain — with accuracy and precision. In other words, imaging the existence of a workable mind/brain theory. How might this empower a BCI user?

The primary advantage of accurate mind-to-brain mapping, for a BCI device user, is it would enable construction of better mind/brain “targets.” These targets are the states of mind the user tries to achieve i.e. “hit” while commanding a BCI device.

Obviously the user can control (within limits — of task, environment, situation etc.) her state of mind during BCI operation. Because of this control she can also define, beforehand, her target states of mind. She can research and ultimately arrive at personalized targets: ones that fit her lifestyle, occupation, social habits, and personal goals. She could define her most desired, and readily-achieved, states of mind.

Self-chosen states of mind make the easiest targets to hit. Why? Because they are defined by someone who knows the user best — the user herself! For example, if the user is a Zen practitioner, “being mindful and focused on the task, moment-by-moment, during (BCI) movement” could be a target. If the user was a professional researcher, “moving while thinking and staying calm” might be a target.

Personalized mind/brain targets could be bolstered by the user’s own research efforts. For example, the user might learn it’s difficult to maintain a constant level of excitement, and dopamine-based brain signal, when one is both “failing” and “succeeding” at a task (such as device control). Social situations would magnify this emotional rollercoaster. To allow for this emotional noise, the user might define a target state of mind that includes “emotional variability.”

On the other hand, the user might be a devoted Buddhist who is (or strives to be) unattached to results. In this case, she could define her emotional target as “an even level of excitement while moving.”

Overall, optimal mind/brain targets can be researched, considered, discussed, and defined by the user and her clinical and professional team. Targets could be personalized to account for occupation, lifestyle, and other variables. They could also be activated flexibly according to the demands of the situation. These targets would be hit with much greater strength and consistency because (1) they are easier to hit, (2) the user is motivated to achieve these states of mind, and (3) she has a clear idea of what the targets are in the first place!

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