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Okay so I just got off an episode of Gotham where this

electrician villain dude uses shock therapy to reprogram people to do his bidding.

Then I remembered that the brain operates on a sort of electric charge.

Anyways, going by that logic, electric manipulator mage guy <=> energy in our brains, does this compute? Can he, somehow, guide these charges in a way that suggests he is controlling the person?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you looking for world building help or do you just want to know if something from a TV show would work? $\endgroup$ – user31746 Feb 9 '17 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ We already do it to rats so I don't see why not. $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Feb 9 '17 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ This question should probably be asked in one of the TV exchanges or one of the science ones. Here, we ask questions to build worlds for stories/games and this would be considered off topic if you are simply looking to know because you saw it on TV. $\endgroup$ – ggiaquin16 Feb 9 '17 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ @ggiaquin Determining the limits of a superpower based on science is a valid topic for Worldbuilding. The science sites would likely close this as speculation and the TV sites would (probably) close this as not about TV. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Feb 9 '17 at 16:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre ah thanks for the clarification... :) Seemed a bit off topic to me as I haven't seen a question be asked for the sake of asking cause they saw it on TV. $\endgroup$ – ggiaquin16 Feb 9 '17 at 16:43
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I'm not a neurologist but...

It makes great comic-book science, but not real science.

In real science, neurologists can control lab animals (from insects to mice) in carefully controlled experiments and in certain carefully constrained ways, via electricity.

But these require:

  1. opening up the skull
  2. finding the right set of neurons in the right area of the brain
  3. implanting tiny electrodes in those neurons so they produce shocks to only those neurons.
  4. firing the electrodes within carefully constrained parameters to trigger responses or to change behavior/learning/etc.

From the various shows/articles I've seen/read, this isn't mind control, but triggering responses or linking behavior to responses. It is to "mind control" what "I write code for the cable company!" is to writing viruses that infect alien space ships, spread throughout those shps, and include graphics that display on alien ship screens is in Independence Day. Oh sure, both involve a similar set of precursor ideas and baseline concepts, but they aren't the same thing.

If you just fire electricity randomly at someone's brain, it will have some effects, but probably not anything controllable or predictable except in broad strokes.

Wikipedia discusses the use of electroconvulsive therapy. That article notes that it can cause memory problems, including amnesia. Note the History section and how it has been used in the past. Again, this isn't just "firing an electric beam at target."

Now, if you want to build this in a comic book or far future world, then sure. It is no greater stretch than Tony Stark making Iron Man armor in a cave or a high school kid making tiny arm-guns that shoot super-string webbing goo that he also invented to augment his spider-bite derived super powers. But I'd say this is a sci-fi technology far ahead of anything on earth now.

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When your electromancer wants to control a human brain, he needs to be able to:

  • Perceive the brain of the target person with microscopic precision
  • Gain an understanding of how the brain of the target person works which is far, far beyond our current understanding of human neurology
  • Aim his electric charge generation with microscopic precision to make it stimulate exactly the neurons he needs to stimulate (potentially on thousands of neurons at the same time)

But there are more crude methods than real mind control which he could use to get people to do his bidding:

  • Good old torture. He uses his abilities to cause pain to the victim until they will do anything to make it stop.
  • New, scientific torture, aka conditioning. The electromancer might discover that his ability can't just cause pain, but that he can also cause pleasure by directly stimulating certain brain areas. When he has a lot of time to spend with his victim, he could use pain and pleasure to mentally condition them to like or dislike being in certain situations or performing specific actions. This will be a traumatic experience for the victim and they will likely realize that they were conditioned. So there are limits to what degree of control he can achieve that way. He might not be able to completely turn someone, but he could use it to make his minions more loyal or to break a captive's will to oppose him even after being released.
  • He might just destroy certain areas of the brain of the target person to turn them into a mindless zombie. This would still require very precise control of his abilities and advanced knowledge of neurology, but is a bit more plausible than direct mind control.
  • You can cause people (or any other animal) to make involuntary movements by simply administering an electric shock directly to an individual muscle. The victim knows that the movement is involuntary, but can't prevent it. A skilled electromancer might use this to temporarily take control of someone's body. For example, when someone points a gun at him, he could make that person point the gun at their own head and make them pull the trigger.

    By the way, electrostimulation of muscles also works on fresh dead bodies, as long as rigor mortis hasn't set in yet.

    So he could force the hero to kill his best friend and then use the corpse of said friend to fight the hero. If that isn't grade A comic book villainy, I don't know what is.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the suggestions, even though the main method is out possibility, the motor function manipulation will suffice. $\endgroup$ – Arvayne Feb 10 '17 at 3:56
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Theoretically, yes. We can use this kind of technology on insects and some smaller animals. There's an article on Wikipedia about remote control animals which is exactly this idea; controlling a brain through electric signals.

Doing it to humans is a question of complexity, but it's certainly viable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Doubt that you could reach that level of control on a human brain by using just electricity. $\endgroup$ – r41n Feb 9 '17 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ You should watch the White Rabbit Project on Netflix as Kari does show that you can control muscles of even humans, but our will is a very different thing. $\endgroup$ – rangerike1363 Feb 9 '17 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ We can control many people's will even without electricity to the brain through brainwashing and indoctrination, though. Taking a shortcut by doing it on the brain doesn't seem too unreasonable. Complex, yeah, but that's what I said ;) $\endgroup$ – Erik Feb 9 '17 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ @r41n I agree it seems impossible but we know the human brain uses electrical impulses to control the body and even to think. The difficult part comes in mapping the human brain. I think this superhero/villain would have to do a lot of research first to know what he was doing. $\endgroup$ – Lio Elbammalf Feb 9 '17 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ @LioElbammalf, actually its function isn't only based on electricity, there are many types of neurotransmitters that control what is being transmitted. If our brain would only work using electrical impulses we would be as limited as most lifeforms still using electrical synapses. Changes in the levels of such transmitters is what actually changes our behavior. $\endgroup$ – r41n Feb 9 '17 at 15:55
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The answer is probably not, for a series of reasons:

  • You use the term "wills." Not everyone subscribes to the belief that our will is completely encoded in our brain state. Now the idea that our brain state holds everything is popular, and its the current prevailing scientific opinion, but it's worth noting that there's a whole slew of related philosophy questions that are currently unanswered.
  • Even if you assume that the brain state contains everything that is our consciousness, nobody has mapped one to the other. This individual would not only need to be a master of electricity to issue the finely tuned voltage differentials needed to do his manipulation, he would need to know more about how the human brain works that anyone ever before.
  • Every human brain is wired slightly differently, so he would have to learn each individual before bending their will.
  • Not all of our brainstate is electrical. There's also a vast amount of information transmitted by chemical means. Teasing those chemicals out into the open may be a tricky venture; we're still unlocking the secrets of how our neurons do these things. (Here's a funny yet educational video on the topic)

There are plenty of things that such a master could do. Causing pain would probably not be all that difficult. But bending someone's will is a very different matter.

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There are different ways to control people. Some of them will work, some are not.

  1. Controlling the thoughts. Since our neurons are communicating through electrical impulses, it is at least conceivable that by providing such impulses from outside, one can control thoughts, memories and desires of a target. This, however, is outside of realm of modern science and would require a very detailed understanding of human thought process as well as high precision of control impulses.

  2. Control by affecting the senses and emotional state. Electrical impulses can generate senses of hunger, pleasure, light, irritation etc. This is possible to some extent today in a lab. By providing precise impulses, manipulator would be able to control his target to some extent.

  3. Control through Pavlovian reflexes. By giving someone a small shock every time he/she tries to do something undesirable, manipulator can have some control over target behavior. Doable, but with limited effect.

  4. Muscle control. By providing impulses directly to the muscles, manipulator can cause his target to move unexpectedly. Doable, but manipulator should be able to see his target.

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Given much, much more advanced levels of technology and understanding of the human brain, one could possibly conceive of doing something very basic like stimulating the amygdala to evoke fear, stimulating the pleasure centers of the brain, or suppressing the frontal lobe to repress decision making.

However, another problem is that we often picture the brain as "sending electricity" from neuron to neuron to convey messages, but as often as not, things are put in motion by suppressing certain neurons just as you excite others. So most of the time, your efforts will probably be rewarded with a seizure.

Now, if your electromancer can detect electricity, that would be something else entirely! He would effectively be a walking fMRI, and with enough work he might be able to, in a very crude way, read someone's mind. Or at least tell how hard they're thinking. In terms of bending people to your will, this could go a long way.

It could also make him a pretty good lie detector test. If he could apply and measure current remotely, he could also monitor skin conductance like a polygraph test.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your last two paragraphs certainly opened some more possibilities. I was so focused on the control aspect, I didn't know how interesting the functions to achieve it would be. $\endgroup$ – Arvayne Feb 13 '17 at 4:54
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Unlikely. The brain operates by means of electrical signals, yes, but those are fed off chemical relays. Add in the microscopic size of each cell, the interconnection, which is different in each person and your master of electricity will have to work out the coding structure of a few billion nodes on the fly in order to produce an acceptable signal, that the rest of the brain won't simply ignore as a glitch. We do have [some] error correction.

Also bear in mind that the brain itself is enclosed in its own Faraday cage of sorts, which will make getting signals in to affect its internal workings difficult.

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Electricity from the circuit perspective : that current can electrocute and form a new fashion like a new path works against all logic without 1's and 0's bits going forth into all of 100 of 100% of logical more console interfaces like cgi and CGI as a domain not even for 90 days but for a day there would be CGI as 1bit and 1 bit as a digit of an image even 1 day or 1 bit not a whole control unless brought into a medium or fashion : this disproves displays and makes Electro shocking SpiderMan look like a verse rather than an attack even with high quality. This disputes into rather a quark or electron can travel into the brain which by polygraphs proves that people do see the effects of radio and particles but not stimulation not even now with cartoons and a twin tower attack.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding.SE! We're glad you could join us! When you have a moment, please click here to learn more about our culture and take our tour. I'll be honest with you, I don't see how this answers the OP's question. I'm an electrical engineer, and most of this doesn't even make sense. Can you take a little more time to sort through your thoughts and clear up the answer? $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 9 '18 at 19:57

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