Scientists have decoded the short-term supercomputer that sits inside your head, the processor that wraps up trajectories, wind speeds, rebounds and rough surfaces into a gut feeling that lets you catch a football. This advance could lead to a new wave of prosthetics, as well as being another piece in the permanently interesting puzzle that is “The Brain”.
Researchers from McGill, MIT and Caltech focused on the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), the section of brain responsible for taking all the “what is going on” data from the senses and planning what your thousand muscles and bones are going to do about it.
Working with robot-arm equipped monkeys (god but science is awesome), they discovered that the PPC runs its own realtime simulation of the future. Of course, you instinctively knew that – when you try to catch a ball you don’t flail at where you see it, you run to where it’s going to be. More usefully they uncovered the nature of two distinct signals from this gooey futurefinder: a “goal” signal which describes what the brain wants to happen, and a “trajectory” signal which lays out the path the body part must take to get there.
This pair of signals is incredibly useful data for any robotic limbs or other extras we might add to our limited human forms – whether they be replacements for carelessly lost parts, or entirely new structures. By working from the “goal” signal the mechanical parts can swiftly prepare to move in the desired manner, preparing any components needed and checking the path for hazards, before the “trajectory” signal gets to the fine details of movement.