Could the Men in Black Neuralize You? (Because Science w/ Kyle Hill)

Could the Men in Black Neuralize You? (Because Science w/ Kyle Hill)


(bug buzzes and splats) – Ew, dang bugs. According to a 2012 poll
by National Geographic, a full 77% of Americans
think that there is good evidence aliens have visited the Earth. As a sciencey person
who started his career looking at things like UFOs, I
just don’t see that evidence, but of course that’s exactly
what I would say, right? Maybe I’m just under the
watchful eye of some Men in Black like organization and
the only thing keeping me from believing in aliens
is frequent memory wipes. So, could you be–
(device squeals) But of course, that’s
exactly what someone like me would say, right? Maybe I’m just under the watchful eye of some Men in Black like organization and the only thing
keeping me from believing in aliens is frequent memory wipes. So, so. Heh. Could you be neuralized? (upbeat techno music) I’m referring to the effect
produced by the neuralizer, a memory-wiping device
used by the Men in Black in the comics and movies
to delete memories of a specific time and date. It’s a useful science
fiction tool when you have to convince a group of people
they didn’t just see an alien or an alien spacecraft,
but is there any science to illuminate light-based
memory manipulation? To find out, we first
need to know exactly what the neuralizer is supposed to do. According to Agent K,
the little red light here isolates and measures electrical
impulses in your brain. More specifically, the ones for memory. This thing just loves wiping mems, and according to Men in Black III, which was surprisingly good,
the neuralizer is actually just the common term for
electro biomechanical neural transmitting zero
synapse repositioners. Taken together, it sounds like
the neuralizer emits light which enters your eyes
and then enters your brain as electrical signals, and
then alters your synapses and the electrical signals
in your brain somehow. This basic interaction
at least makes sense. Here’s a typical neuron in your brain. It has a long axon that
transmits electrical signals to its neighbors, and
dendrites that receive electrical signals from its neighbors. And these electrical
signals are transmitted across synapses, little gaps
between axons and dendrites, where neurotransmitters float across, like dopamine or serotonin, and influence how their neighbors are
going to fire or not fire. Scientists are still trying
to figure out the specifics, but the basics of memory
are held right here, in the interactions
between groups of neurons, how often they fire to each other, how strongly they are
connected to one another. This could be a discrete memory. So if you had a device that
could alter how neurons interact with each other, you
could feasibly disrupt memory, but the neuralizer isn’t
sending out bolts of electricity or physically moving synapses around. How would, no, nope!
(neuralizer squeals) How would light wipe anything? Actually, one of the biggest
neuro-scientific breakthroughs in the last decade was figuring out how to control neurons with light. In the last 18 years or so,
scientists have developed and exploded the field of optogenetics, or the use of genetic engineering
to make certain cells, typically neurons sensitive
to certain kinds of light. To do this, scientists take
DNA out of microbes that code for genes that make proteins
that are sensitive to light. They take them out and then
they plop them into a virus. Then scientists inject
those viruses directly into the brain of an animal, like a mouse. Once those brain cells
start expressing those genes and making the light-sensitive proteins, then, sorry, then scientists
insert a fiber optic cable directly into the mouse’s brain. Depending on the genes and the light, the light-sensitive proteins
now in the membranes of the mouse’s neurons
can be shot with light and told to open or close or
just change how the neuron works on the inside, using
different kinds of light, and because these are fiber optic cables directly into the mouse’s
brain, they can be used at ultra-high speed, brain speed. In one study on mice,
scientists have even used this technique to isolate
specific memories in mice and effectively erase them. But mice brains and human
brains are very different, and you can’t just go inserting
wires into everyone’s face. This is as close as
science gets right now, so could there be
optogenetic neuralization? (machine buzzes) Boop, no! I do think that there’s a way to do it, but it’s very conspiracy, and that’s fine, this is the Men in Black, right? First, in addition to
surveilling every person on the planet, they also flood
the food and the water supply with light-sensitive
proteins of optogenetics, but inside viruses. And then once everyone eats and drinks, those viruses make their
way to everyone’s eye cells on the planet, hey these are not to scale. Second, the viruses insert
that DNA into the backs of everyone’s eyes,
into the neurons there, making them susceptible
to certain kinds of light. Huh, I thought, I though for sure that– (neuralizer squeals)
Oh no. Second, the viruses insert
that DNA into the neurons at the backs of everyone’s eyes, making them susceptible
to certain kinds of light. This is exactly what a
company called Retro Sense is testing on humans right now. They are using optogenetics to
give the neurons at the backs of blind people’s eyes
sensitivity to light again. This is more or less hacking the input that goes from eye to brain, and this can certainly change
how the brain functions. Now if you had cells at
the backs of your eyes that would only trigger in
response to a neuralizer’s flash and not just visible light,
then there is now a pathway where you could plausibly
disrupt brain function, maybe even memory. You may have heard of people
with photosensitive epilepsy. It’s a condition where patterns of light can tickle a susceptible
brain in such a way that it causes a misfire, a seizure. If the Men in Black found or crafted or were taught by aliens a certain trigger that could come in through the eyes that would affect anyone’s
brain in a similar way, and affect memory, like epilepsy does, then the pathway from light
to eyes to brain is there. J or K could neuralize you. So could you be neuralized? Well, if the Men in Black
were able to infect everyone’s eyes with the light-sensitive
proteins of optogenetics, and then make sure that
those proteins only react to the flash of a neuralizer,
then it’s plausible that that electrical signal traveling
from the eye to the brain could disrupt or excite or
otherwise confuse neurons associated with memory,
like seizures can and do. So in theory, yes, you
could be neuralized. Because science.
(neuralizer squeals) According to a National
Geographic poll in 2012, no, I’m just kidding,
we already did that gag. Haha, woo, say “what what,”
I’m Will Smith now, bye, thanks for watching, bye. (upbeat techno music) Thank you so much for watching. Make sure to follow me
on Twitter @Sci_Phile, where you can suggest
ideas for future episodes and on Facebook and Instagram, where I’m now posting mini-episodes in addition to all of this stuff, and if you want more silliness from me, I am now doing a show called
Muskwatch with my friend Dan, it’s very silly, check it out, and if you want high
quality science programming, check out my new show on
Alpha, ProjectAlpa.com called The S.P.A.A.C.E Program. It’s like Cosmos, but with
me, so it’s stupid, thanks. Elvis is dead. He did now just go home, we have, we have his body, like we found it. And why would, why would a giant space roach from another place know
that it needs sugar and water, who things that, how would it possibly–
(neuralizer squeals)