Brain-machine interfaces have been of huge interest to the press over recent years, particularly as the technology sparks concerns that have been the subject of numerous science-fiction fantasies.
I found a lovely offbeat example of a fictional brain-machine interface, not from recent high-tech science fiction, but from a H.P. Lovecraft horror story called ‘The Whisperer in Darkness’ – written way back in 1930.
It concerns a race of winged fungi creatures who transport themselves across the space-time continuum as brains-in-cylinders that can be plugged into sensory and speech apparatus where necessary.
There was a harmless way to extract a brain, and a way to keep the organic residue alive during its absence. The bare, compact cerebral matter was then immersed in an occasionally replenished fluid within an ether-tight cylinder of a metal mined in Yuggoth, certain electrodes reaching through and connecting at will with elaborate instruments capable of duplicating the three vital faculties of sight, hearing, and speech.
For the winged fungus-beings to carry the brain-cylinders intact through space was an easy matter. Then, on every planet covered by their civilisation, they would find plenty of adjustable faculty-instruments capable of being connected with the encased brains; so that after a little fitting these travelling intelligences could be given a full sensory and articulate life – albeit a bodiless and mechanical one – at each stage of their journeying through and beyond the space-time continuum.
It was as simple as carrying a phonograph record about and playing it wherever a phonograph of corresponding make exists. Of its success there could be no question.
I also note it’s an early example of the ‘brain in a vat‘ thought experiment used in philosophy of mind.