Bioethics Blogs

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and Humanity

By Ethan Morris

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016.

Ethan Morris is a rising undergraduate senior at Emory University, majoring in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology with a minor in History. Ethan is a member of the Dilks Lab at Emory and is a legislator on the Emory University Student Government Association. Ethan is from Denver, Colorado and loves to ski.

Do you ever want to turn your brain off, even just for a moment? Most of us have probably wanted to get away from the daily stressors and concerns that plague our lives. But aside from a vacation, how can we truly get away? Some people are beginning to turn this hypothetical question into reality.

One man, Thomas Thwaites, decided he would live as a goat for a few days, choosing to forego life as a human in favor of four-legged prosthetics and an all-grass diet. To achieve goat-hood, Thwaites used an increasingly prominent technology called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) that uses electromagnetic induction to temporarily alter brain function. Thwaites applied TMS to the temporal lobe of his brain, namely his speech areas of cortex, thus electromagnetically impairing his ability to speak like a human so he could become more like a goat.

Thwaites quite literally took a vacation from his brain in order to become a goat. This application of TMS has been in the making for decades. For example, studies have shown that TMS over our prefrontal cortex can seriously (albeit temporarily) impair our ability to make strategic decisions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.