Berger’s telepathy theories never panned out

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

The idea of electric therapy goes way, way back:

The idea that electricity, properly administered, could treat illness goes back to 1743 when a German physician named Johann Gottlob Kruger of the University of Halle successfully treated a harpsichordist with arthritis via electrical stimulation to the hand. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, also experimented with electricity as a therapeutic and declared it “The nearest an Universal medicine of any yet known in the world.”

But the idea remained mostly an idea with no real science to back it up, until the 20th century.

Enter Hans Berger, a German scientist who wanted to show that human beings were capable of telepathy via an unseen force he referred to as “psychic energy.” He believed this energy derived from an invisible relationship between blood flow, metabolism, emotion, and the sensation of pain and thought that if he could find physical evidence that psychic energy existed, perhaps humanity could learn to control it.

To test his theory, he needed a way to record the brain’s electrical activity. In 1924, he applied a galvanometer a tool originally built to measure the heart’s electrical activity, to the skull of a young brain-surgery patient. The galvanometer was essentially a string of silver-coated quartz filament flanked by magnets. The filament would move as it encountered electromagnetic activity, which could be graphed. Berger discovered that the brain produced electrical oscillations at varying strengths. He dubbed the larger ones, of 8 to 12 Hz, the alpha waves, the smaller ones beta waves, and named the graphing of these waves an electroencephalogram, or EEG.

Berger’s telepathy theories never panned out, but the EEG became a healthcare staple, used to detect abnormal brain activity, predict potential seizures, and more.

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