Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Rules Concerning Earthlight
by Dale Ivan Smith and K.C. Ball

Waters of Lethe
by Ian Sales

Return of the Mayflower
by Gerald Warfield

Life Out of Harmony
by Rebecca Birch

Our Old Crossed Stars
by Travis Knight

Another Time in France
by Sylvia Anna Hiven

His Special Birthday
by Chet Gottfried

Sucks to Be You
by Tim McDaniel

8 Minutes, 15 Seconds
by Levi Jacobs

by Steve Rodgers

One-Way Ticket
by Milo James Fowler


Cool Facts About Cats
by Eric M. Jones

A Real Krell Brain Boost
by John McCormick




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips




A Real Krell Brain Boost

By John McCormick

EVER WISH YOU COULD JUST PUSH a button and become an expert on something? I’m not talking about getting ordained online for a few dollars or buying a diploma mill certificate; I mean having the ability to really become an honest-to-Einstein expert in some field in just a matter of minutes.

Personally, whether I want to solve complex puzzles, win at video games, write a perfect story, or gain in minutes any other skill that requires intense concentration (such as proofreading), this would be nothing short of a miracle. Sign me up!

Who wouldn’t want that ability if it was safe, cheap, non-addictive, and easy?

You are probably thinking this is nothing but fantasy, a blue-sky projection of something that might be developed in fifty years. In other words, the legendary Krell brain boost, a fun fantasy to dream about.

But no, like many science fiction predictions, this isn’t a blue-sky dream for the next century. The technology to easily and quickly boost brain power actually exists today. In fact, it has been available for decades and, incredibly enough, it appears to be extremely easy, requiring less than $5 worth of equipment used in a simple and yet entirely workable procedure.

Researchers from Australia to California have conclusively demonstrated through double-blind studies that simple electrical devices can impart temporary or perhaps permanent abilities otherwise seen only in geniuses or savants, the kind of skills displayed in “Rain Man” but without the downside of social awkwardness and inability to perform most everyday tasks.

Surprisingly enough, it works not by adding some new capability but rather by removing something.

Not surprisingly, when seeing a possible way to improve training and speed it up, even the military is getting in on the action, using the technology to train photo reconnaissance experts and (probably) sharpshooters. Although the Pentagon and the CIA have in the past opted for some incredibly dumb ideas such as the use of psychics, this technology is in a different class altogether—it works and can be repeated at will.

Besides producing high-level thinking in limited areas, it also has therapeutic applications and is approved by the FDA.

Nicotine addiction is a major health problem and transcranial stimulation may provide a way to help with this and other addictions, if they are based on trigger events (cue-induced addiction) as opposed to purely chemical addiction. Cue-induced smoking is the compulsion to smoke after sex or a satisfying meal, a learned response when a smoker gets the urge to smoke after an event when they usually smoked in the past. See: “Repeated Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Prevents Abnormal Behaviors Associated with Abstinence from Chronic Nicotine Consumption.”

So, what implications does this technology have, just how does this work, and why haven’t you heard about it?

My best guess as to why you haven’t heard of this direct brain stimulation is that it sounds so much like science fiction that people reject it out of hand, jumping to the conclusion that it is not scientifically proven. They are wrong and there has actually been a fair amount of press on the subject, not to mention a vast amount of scientific literature addressing tests and various potential applications both in therapeutic settings, and in skill improvement.

Taking a look back at classic science fiction may give you a better feel for what this just might mean for the average person in the real world (not that “Perihelion” readers are average).

A short time ago I was asked to name my favorite science fiction movie and, while I like and re-watch many, my all-time favorite for various reasons is “Forbidden Planet.”

“Forbidden Planet” was the first science fiction movie to take place entirely on another planet. Wikipedia states it is also the first science fiction movie with a human-made starship (as opposed, I suppose, to a space ship). The movie also featured an electronic music score.

For those of you who don’t know, “Forbidden Planet” was essentially a space-based remake of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” In the film, Robby the Robot (my all-time favorite robot) plays a part similar to Ariel, Prospero the magician’s familiar.

Aside from some highly forgettable acting by a number of mediocre thespians, after Walter Pidgeon as Dr. Morbius (Prospero), I would rate Robby as the second best “actor” in the film. And there was some very interesting speculative technology exhibited in the film.

Besides Robby himself (Robby states the question of his gender is meaningless, but he is pretty masculine), there were two amazing technologies that caught my attention.

The first massive device was the computer technology occupying cubic miles of the planet—a computer that can manufacture things to order—similar to a modern 3D printer. Remember, this was at a time when computers had relays and vacuumbrain boost tubes, not long after Admiral Grace Hooper supposedly found the first actual computer “bug” (Harvard Mk I) that had crawled into a vent and shorted out a circuit.

But the second gadget was much less abstract—the Krell Brain Boost machine, which, according to Dr. Morbius, permanently doubled his IQ after his initial test of the machine, killing any others who tried it.

Three decades ago when I was writing the first and only “technology for the disabled” column in a national newsstand computer magazine, I got the opportunity to witness state-of-the-art computer control technology interfacing human electrical signals with machines.

At the time I was a national judge working with Paul Hazen (Johns Hopkins APL) and the top finalists were at The Smithsonian for judging.

Just that short a time before then direct brain control of computers was non-existent and eye motion control was in its extreme infancy. One finalist actually demonstrated jumping frog legs with electrical leads attached—hardly a major advance since its initial introduction in the late 1700s.

As far as devices non-invasively affecting the brain, simple feedback designs for meditation were the top development at that time even among the experimental equipment being shown.

Today we are on the verge of using brain waves to directly control computer input. In a decade or so we will routinely see electrode-loaded skull caps being used to interface with machines.

Even more astonishing, it has been shown that a simple electrical device any high school science student could build can turn average people into savants. If that sounds like I am talking about the Krell plastic educator, you have been paying attention—that is exactly what has been developed and it doesn’t take a vast computer complex to operate.

Furthermore, this same technology can apparently be applied to everyone—from someone training for a shooting competition to a disabled individual who would benefit greatly from having certain skills greatly improved in virtually no time.

What is it Like?

What happens is, with a relatively brief low voltage and low current stimulation from external contacts, an average person can become a crack shot, solve problems which he or she couldn’t previously see through, or even perform advanced photo reconnaissance analysis in order to assist designating drone targets.

The latter is obviously of interest to the Pentagon and it has been shown that those trained using this stimulation will continue to work at this level for up to several days, sometimes indefinitely retaining the skills learned while the effect was still in operation.

Any scientist, Buddhist monk, serious practitioner of meditation, Yoga student, or even a humble writer, experiences times when we essentially block all external influences and are able to concentrate at an intense level. Athletes refer to this as being in the “zone,” but it also applies in other fields.

Brain Stimulation

You may never have given any thought to the possibility of increasing your math or other skills using a 9V battery, but this isn’t actually a new concept. In fact, you will certainly recognize the first two researchers who did some work in this area—Luigi Galvani, known for the galvanic response (muscle contraction triggered by electrical stimulation), and Alessandro Volta, honored, of course, by having volt, a basic electrical term, named after him.

Over the recent decades people have scientifically demonstrated the ability to improve performance and learning ability using either a magnetic field or low electrical current applied right in the brain, using external pads merely pressing against the skin.

To simplify things, let’s get some alphabet soup out of the way first.

tDCS—transcranial Direct Current Stimulation.
TMS—Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.
fMRI—functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

What tDCS does, based on personal reports, experimental results, and even fMRI imaging, is to create the same brain condition as experienced by experts while in the zone, or when a savant uses his or her ability. This same brain condition can be created by years of intensive study or practice, as a byproduct of autism, and so forth, but not everyone has the time to devote years to gaining a skill.

What happens when a savant performs something appearing to be extraordinary feats of calculation or memory, as well as what occurs when an expert performs at his or her top level, is that a lot of the background “noise” in the brain is quieted, allowing the individual to focus on just the sensory input without interference from extraneous thoughts.

A minor (1mA to 2mA) current generated by a simple 9V battery temporarily shuts down the higher-level thinking that usually filters sensory data, allowing the brain to work directly on the input unhindered by the brain’s usual self-doubt or filtering, which normally overlays experience on all sensory data in most people.

This filtering is essential to normal life; the brain simply can’t deal with all the sensory data from eyes, ears, taste, touch, and smell bombarding the brain every second. Without some way to classify this input into various categories such as danger or not danger, or just whether the situation presents a puzzle that we have solved a dozen times before, we would literally be unable to function—it is speculated that this has some relation to the way severely autistic individuals react to stimulus, and even how people with obsessive compulsive disorders such as Asperger’s Syndrome simplify life by keeping things highly organized.

Top experts in high-stress occupations from surgeons to chefs demand that their work environment be precisely organized the same way, every time, allowing them to concentrate on what is, at the moment, most important.

Skilled quarterbacks report not ignoring, but actually not really seeing or hearing the cheering (or booing) crowd, focusing entirely on the ball, the playing field, and the other players. Top Formula 1 racers say the same thing.

Writers who push the limit by turning out thousands of words in a few hours (I often create at 100 wpm for eight to fifteen hours at a stretch) report that they totally shut out outside stimulation—from a wife’s questions to the smell of burning food.

Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls” featured a hollow-legged writer (he stored his file cubes in his false leg) who warned his prospective bride that a writer in the throes of creation can, if disturbed, turn and figuratively bite a loved one to the bone completely unconscious of what they have done.

(I can personally relate to this; it so happens I have also experienced this same zone state while studying sword and meditating for hours at a time between classes or while completing a story or a book.)

This, of course, is the goal of meditation in general as well as intense practice in Zen archery or intense study of some difficult academic field such as math or physics. Others may view the unfocused eyes and resistance to all external stimula as mere daydreaming, but remember this is exactly how Einstein worked.

A physicist, engineer, or mathematician working on a difficult project may spend weeks seemingly ignoring the problem.

What neuroscientists have discovered is that by applying a small electrical current (tDCS) to the skull, or magnetic (TMS) fields focusing on various parts of the brain, they can achieve this sort of zone performance or learning with just a few minutes’ exposure to the minimal charge.

Science or Pseudoscience?

You might well ask if this has actually been proven or if it is just pseudoscience invented to take advantage of the gullible.

I, too, am a professional skeptic, but it actually turns out to be very easy to conduct thoroughly scientific testing eliminating any subjectivity or mere anecdotal reports.

In testing tDCS consider that the effect only works if there is a direct current of the correct polarity applied at just the right location.

Many experiments at universities and private companies working under DARPA contracts (e.g. Advanced Brain Monitoring—see below) over the recent decades were conducted producing highly significant results, and confirmed by merely reversing the polarity and observing that the effect doesn’t occur. The test subjects had no idea what the polarity was, which was the correct polarity or electrode placement, and no way of knowing what sensation they should feel, nor would they feel any real difference if the polarity was reversed, or even if the current was switched in other ways such as using AC or below-threshold current.

In most instances the change in performance was easy to measure because it involved relatively simple quantifiable tests such as video game performance or target practice.

The results of controlled tests have also been confirmed by viewing brain activity with an fMRI, which also confirms a change in brain activity but only when the test current is correct. In fact, reversing the current causes completely different changes in both the fMRI and in performance so the tests are highly controlled.

A dramatic example of the skill improvement was shown on a Science Channel “Through the Wormhole” episode last year featuring both target recognition training for drone controllers and an Advanced Brain Monitoring (ABM) demonstration of how quickly average people can develop expert or savant level skills.

In a target shooting skill demonstration, Chris Berka of the Carlsbad, CA, Center for Advanced Brain Monitoring took several very average archers along with a top, competitive archer. The expert, as expected, hit or came extremely close to the bull’s eye with every shot. The beginners, as expected, did hit the wall where the target was located.

Then the beginners were given a session of monitoring which helped them to enter the optimum brain condition, very similar to that which can be produced with a brief (minutes long) brain stimulation, after which they were shooting at a level that proved a real challenge for the expert.

This was just a brief, powerful demonstration for TV, but because many controlled experiments by university teams had shown similar results in various fields of skill or learning, the possibility of the demonstration working exactly as described makes perfect sense.

The bottom line is that the ABM uses advanced monitoring of brain activity to improve performance by assisting the individual to produce conditions very similar or identical to that produced with the simple electrical stimulation being used at at other research centers.

Although it seems like science fiction in reality this is a proven technology—ABM really can improve performance. The Center for ABM is also working on various other applications, including therapeutic uses.


“Perihelion” had the opportunity to speak exclusively with Chris Berka, CEO and Co-Founder at Advanced Brain Monitoring (ABM), Carlsbad, CA. She has over twenty-five years experience managing clinical research and developing and berkacommercializing new technologies, is co-inventor of eleven patented and fourteen patent-pending technologies, and served as the principal investigator or co-investigator for grants & contracts awarded by the National Institutes of Health, DARPA, ONR and NSF that provided more than $30 million of research funds to ABM.

What prompted you to enter this field of research?

I have always been interested in the brain, but the turning point for me was in my junior year of college when I actually got to see brain measurements firsthand. I was a psychology major at the time and the ability to see the level of tangible results was fascinating to me.

How long have you been working on this skill improvement application?

Our first skill improvement application started in 2007 with DARPA’s Accelerated Learning program.

Do you mainly focus on sports or other savant-grade improvements in performance as opposed to therapeutic applications?

Advanced Brain Monitoring is fully focused on both. The sports market is small, but the marksmanship skill was discreet and easy to train so it was a good starting point. I really see many applications for performance enhancement within the leadership domain, too. We’ve done work in that area with David Waldman at Arizona State University. Of course there are more traditional, clinical applications that are using this type of neurofeedback for improving conditions of ADHD, Autism, anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Do you consider magnetic or DC the most useful method of applying the stimulation, and for what reason (e.g. ease of use, easiest to focus on particular brain regions, etc.)?

Most of our work focuses on neurofeedback training to induce changes in brain states without external stimulation. But we have partnered with other teams on the combined use of EEG monitoring with various non-invasive stimulation protocols.

I think the whole field of non-invasive brain stimulation is still relatively new. We don’t know enough about matching the best stimulation protocol with the deficit or thing we want to improve. We don’t know how long you should induce stimulation for, or how often. This research is still in its early stages and there are issues with safety and efficacy that haven’t been completely resolved.

What skill set have you found is most improved using this technique?

If you mean brain stimulation, then Michael Weisend of Wright State Research Institute would be your go to source for tCDS information. He’s found that memory can definitely be enhanced with brain stimulation, especially if you are tired.

If you mean neurofeedback training, then there are many opportunities for advancement in a number of different skill sets. It’s wide open in what you can achieve in the realm of neurofeedback.

Do you find that learned skills under the treatment last for extended periods?

Our accelerated learning research suggests that perhaps neurofeeback training can last for extended periods. A month after participants in the marksmanship study had their one session of neurofeedback training, over 50 percent retained the skill level (both in brain training and marksmanship scores) from the original day of training and were able to quickly accelerate beyond that level. All of the participants learned much faster the second time, making us believe the neurofeedback training had some sort of lasting effect.

Do you find that maintaining the stimulation during activities (as opposed to training) is essential? Useful? Not necessary?

In our marksmanship study, we found that preference on when neurofeedback was delivered is very individual. Some people prefer neurofeedback before performance, and some preferred it during performance as well. It seems to vary by participant.

Being a science fiction magazine I always ask: are/were you (or others at the company) a science fiction fan and, if so, did science fiction stories influence your choice of work?

Yes! I was a big fan at the time and continue to be. Right now I am very into David Brin, he has a couple good TED talks I would check out.


And there are companies marketing medical grade tDCS systems. An Australian group is working in this field; they not only declined to speak with “Perihelion” but asked that we not report on their work.

A report in Pubmed describes one set of confirming double-blind tDCS experiments evaluating whether tDCS and/or TMS modulation of cortical activity could be a useful tool in Neurorehabilitation.

From an abstract of a study by Michael A. Nitsche, MD, and Walter Paulus, MD, Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, University of Goettingen (2001):

“The authors show that in the human, transcranial direct current stimulation is able to induce sustained cortical excitability elevations. As revealed by transcranial magnetic stimulation, motor cortical excitability increased approximately 150 percent above baseline for up to 90 minutes after the end of stimulation. The feasibility of inducing long-lasting excitability modulations in a noninvasive, painless, and reversible way makes this technique a potentially valuable tool in neuroplasticity modulation.”

In another study, "Neural enhancement," Progress in Clinical Neurosciences 26 (2011): 79, Singh, Sanjay P. states:

“Recent study subjects given 2mA current from a 9V battery showed double the improvement in decision making video games as those getting 1/20 the current and were two to three times more likely to solve a creativity problem than those getting a sham stimulation. Various studies of savants have shown that what they actually do can be done by anyone who can shut off self-doubt and other interfering thoughts. this can also be done using tDCS.”

What About You?

Can you take advantage of this newly developed cognitive improvement tool yourself? Would you want to?

The Krell brain boost was supposed to double IQ but that isn’t exactly what the tDCS does; however, it comes pretty close because it does double performance in a specific areas such as puzzle solving, marksmanship, etc.

There are safety guidelines published for the use of experimenters, but unless you exceed the recommended (and necessary) current in tDCS experiments by a relatively large amount or are subject to seizures, this appears to be an extremely safe procedure. The worst case I have seen cited in the literature involved syncope, a very brief kind of fainting—even that was extremely rare so, if you do try this on your own, you might want to try it sitting down.

“Perihelion,” of course, does not recommend that you test this out on yourself (or others). Do not try this at home! There are a number of cheap and questionable designs for the tDCS gadget on the Web, and some are obviously not well engineered.

The idea that you could possibly train your brain to achieve extremely high-level performance with virtually no effort remains extremely attractive. The Krell brain boost, it seems, is no longer relegated to a Forbidden Planet. END

Further Reading

“Neuroscience: Brain Buzz,” Nature.
“Wired Up,” Nature.
Advanced Brain Monitoring.

John McCormick is a trained physicist, science/technology journalist, and widely-published author with more than 17,000 bylines to his credit. He is a member of The National Press Club and the AAAS. His full bibliography can be accessed online.


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