Wirehead (science fiction)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The wires of an implanted deep brain stimulation (DBS) device are visible as white lines in an X-ray of the skull. Large white areas around maxilla and mandible are metal dentures and are unrelated to the DBS device
Artist's conception of two DBS wires/electrodes in the human brain.[1]
Enlarged artist's conception of two DBS wires/electrodes with multiple contact points in each wire.

Wirehead is a term used in science fiction works to denote different kinds of interaction between people and technology. The typical wirehead idea is that of a wire going into a human's brain and safe amounts of electricity applied to the wire-conductor to directly interact with the brain, or the specific "pleasure centers" of the brain.[2]

Written fiction[edit]

Known Space stories[edit]

In Larry Niven's Known Space stories, a wirehead is someone who has been fitted with an electronic brain implant (called a "droud" in the stories) to stimulate the pleasure centres of their brain. In the Known Space universe, wireheading is the most addictive habit known (Louis Wu is the only given example of a recovered addict), and wireheads usually die from neglecting themselves in favour of the ceaseless pleasure. Wireheading is so powerful and easy that it becomes an evolutionary pressure, selecting against that portion of Known Space humanity without self-control. Also in this science fiction there is a device called a "tasp" (similar to transcranial magnetic stimulation) that does not need a surgical implant; the pleasure center of a person's brain is found and remotely stimulated (considered a violation without seeking the person's consent beforehand), an important device in the Ringworld novels.

A wirehead's death is central to Niven's Gil 'the Arm' Hamilton story, "Death by Ecstasy", published by Galaxy Magazine in 1969, and a main character in the book Ringworld Engineers is a former wirehead trying to quit.

Niven's stories explain wireheads by mentioning a study in which experimental rats had electrodes implanted at strategic locations in their brains, so that an applied current would induce a pleasant feeling. If the current could be obtained any time the rats pushed the lever, they would use it over and over, ignoring food and physical necessities until they died. Such experiments were actually conducted by James Olds and Peter Milner in the 1950s, first discovering the locations of such areas, and later showing extremes to which rats would go to obtain the stimulus again.[3][4]


Mindkiller, a 1982 sci-fi novel by Spider Robinson set in the late 1980s, explores the social implications of technologies to manipulate the brain, beginning with wireheading, the use of electric current to stimulate the pleasure center of the brain in order to achieve a narcotic high.

Shaper/Mechanist stories[edit]

In the Shaper/Mechanist stories of Bruce Sterling, "wirehead" is the Mechanist term for a human who has given up corporeal existence and become an infomorph.

The Terminal Man[edit]

In The Terminal Man (1972) by Michael Crichton, forty electrodes are implanted into the brain of the character Harold Franklin "Harry" Benson to control seizures. However, his pleasure center is also stimulated, and his body begins producing more seizures to receive the pleasurable sensation.[5]

Film and Television[edit]


In the 1983 film Brainstorm a wireless brain connection machine is made. A character named Hal Abramson abuses the device with a signal of never ending sexual pleasure.

The Outer Limits 1995 TV series[edit]

The List of The Outer Limits (1995 TV series) episodes#Brain Implants

In The Outer Limits episode named "Awakening", season three, episode 10, a neurologically impaired woman receives a brain implant to help her become more like a typical human.

The Centurions (animated series)[edit]

In episode 41, "Zone Dancer" of the 1986The Centurions animated series, the lead character Crystal Kane is accused of "Zone Dancing" (the series' term for computer hacking) and seen using a "droud" to interface her brain with computer networks in what is probably the first animated representation of cyberspace and virtual reality.[citation needed] The story, written by Michael Reaves, weaves a future noir tale of cyberpunk espionage, cloning and private-eye procedural, all set in the universe of the animated series and makes copious references to William Gibson's Neuromancer. There is even a Zone Dancer named Gibson and, in what may be an homage to Larry Niven's Louis Wu, a cyberneticst named Dr. Wu.


The title character of the television show House is a physician who suffers from chronic pain. In the episode "Half-Wit", House seeks a medical procedure to stimulate the "pleasure center" of his brain.

Non-fictional examples[edit]

In 1924, Dr Hans Berger succeeded in recording the first human electroencephalogram (EEG).[6]

Dr William Grey Walter wrote a paper in 1938 on the EEG ELECTRO-ENCEPHALOGRAPHY, the measurement of electrical activity in the brain using wires of different types.[7]

Dr Wilder Penfield and Dr Herbert Jasper stimulated the brain to find the places where the patients seizures were coming from.[8]

Dr Reginald Bickford [9] in 1944 is reported to have recorded the EEG of psychiatric patients who had had lobotomies.[10]

After the 1949 Nobel prize was awarded to António Egas Moniz for the procedure of lobotomy, a more precise method of destroying brain structures was pursued. In the year 1955 the placing of wires into the mentally ill patient was performed by Dr C.W. Sem Jacobsen.[11] Dr S. Sherwood also performed wire implantation.[12] In the year 1961 five patients had wires implanted to treat their mental illness and a precision leucotomy was performed for favorable results.[13][14]

In the 1950's there are several doctors who continued to place wires into the human brain.[15] They worked on epileptic and psychiatric patients brains.[16][17][18][19]

Silver and copper electrodes were found to be toxic to brain tissue.[20]

Dr. J. Lawrence Pool wrote "Effects of Electrical Stimulation of the Human Cerebellar Cortex" and described stimulation of a patients brain. April 1943.[21][22]

Dr. Robert Galbraith Heath placed electrodes in his subjects' brains in the 1950s to try to treat their mental illness. Dr. Heath wrote several papers on his work of stimulating the various regions of the brain.[23]

Dr. Carl Wilhelm Sem-Jacobsen "Depth-electrographic stimulation of the human brain and behavior; from fourteen years of studies and treatment of Parkinson's disease and mental disorders with implanted electrodes,"[24]

José Manuel Rodriguez Delgado also placed electrodes in his patients' brains. He called his inventions a "stimoceiver" and a "chemitrode".

  • 1953 "Induced paroxysmal electrical activity in man recorded simultaneously through subcortical and scalp electrodes" [25]
  • 1955: The patient, a 27-year-old housewife "Stimulation of the amygdaloid nucleus in a schizophrenic patient" by Robert Galbraith Heath[26]
  • 1963: "Electrical self-stimulation of the brain in man" by Robert Galbraith Heath.[27]
  • 1972: A 24-year-old man with temporal lobe epilepsy, identified as patient "B-19". "He was permitted to wear the device for 3 hours at a time: on one occasion he stimulated his septal region 1,200 times, on another occasion 1,500 times, and on a third occasion 900 times. He protested each time the unit was taken from him, pleading to self-stimulate just a few more times..." [28][29]
  • 1986: A 48-year-old woman with chronic pain. "The patient self-stimulated throughout the day, neglecting personal hygiene and family commitments."[28]
  • 1986: To treat patients suffering from pain due to cancer Dr Young and Dr Brechner made a study of electrical stimulation of the brain.[30]
  • 2012: Cathy Hutchinson who is paralyzed had one hundred electrodes placed on the surface of her brain. With this brain–computer interface she is able to control a variety of devices.[31]
  • 2013: A 49-year-old, right-handed woman had multiple electrodes placed in her brain for epilepsy. She reported an orgasmic ecstasy following the stimulation of the left hippocampus.[32]
  • 2016: The New England Journal of Medicine describes a growing do-it-yourself (DIY) medical engineering culture that includes DIY transcranial direct-current stimulation [33]
  • 2019:"Electronic implants studied for treatment of drug addiction" In China, doctors are treating addiction with brain implants aimed to stimulate the nucleus accumbens.[34]

See also[edit]



External links[edit]


  1. ^ [non-primary source needed] Horn A, Kühn A (2015). "Lead-DBS: a toolbox for deep brain stimulation electrode localizations and visualizations". NeuroImage. 107: 127–35. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.12.002. PMID 25498389.
  2. ^ "THE PLEASURE CENTRES" McGill University
  3. ^ Olds J, Milner P (Dec 1954). "Positive reinforcement produced by electrical stimulation of septal area and other regions of rat brain". Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology. 47 (6): 419–27. doi:10.1037/h0058775. PMID 13233369.
  4. ^ Olds J (1958). "Self-Stimulation of the Brain". Science. 127 (3294): 315–324. doi:10.1126/science.127.3294.315.
  5. ^ Faria MA (2013). "Violence, mental illness, and the brain - A brief history of psychosurgery: Part 3 - From deep brain stimulation to amygdalotomy for violent behavior, seizures, and pathological aggression in humans". Surg Neurol Int. 4: 91. doi:10.4103/2152-7806.115162. PMC 3740620. PMID 23956934.
  6. ^ Haas, LF (January 2003). "Hans Berger (1873-1941), Richard Caton (1842-1926), and electroencephalography". J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry. 74 (1): 9. doi:10.1136/jnnp.74.1.9. PMC 1738204. PMID 12486257.
  7. ^ Walter WG (1938). "CRITICAL REVIEW: THE TECHNIQUE AND APPLICATION OF ELECTRO-ENCEPHALOGRAPHY". J Neurol Psychiatry. 1: 359–85. doi:10.1136/jnnp.1.4.359. PMC 1088109. PMID 21610936.
  8. ^ "Stimulation of the human cortex and the experience of pain: Wilder Penfield's observations revisited" Laure Mazzola, Jean Isnard, Roland Peyron, François Mauguière . October 2011. doi.org/10.1093/brain/awr265
  9. ^ "In Memoriam: Reginald G. Bickford". American Journal of Electroneurodiagnostic Technology. 38: 153–155. 1998. doi:10.1080/1086508X.1998.11079224.
  10. ^ "Invasive Studies of the Human Epileptic Brain: Principles and Practice" edited by Samden D. Lhatoo, Philippe Kahane, Hans O. Luders. Page 10 of chapter "History of Invasive EEG".
  11. ^ Sem-Jacobsen Carl W., Petersen Magnus C., Lazarte Jorge A., Dodge Henry W., Holman Colin B. (1955). "Electroencephalographic rhythms from the depths of the frontal lobe in 60 psychotic patients". Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 7: 193–210. doi:10.1016/0013-4694(55)90035-3.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Sherwood Stephen L (2006). "ELECTROGRAPHIC DEPTH RECORDINGS FROM THE BRAINS OF PSYCHOTICS". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 96: 375–385. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1962.tb50130.x.
  13. ^ Crow HJ, Cooper R, Phillips DG (1961). "Controlled multifocal frontal leucotomy for psychiatric illness". J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 24: 353–60. doi:10.1136/jnnp.24.4.353. PMC 495397. PMID 13882422.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Crow HJ, Cooper R, Phillips DG (1961). "Controlled multifocal frontal leucotomy for psychiatric illness". J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 24: 353–60. doi:10.1136/jnnp.24.4.353. PMC 495397. PMID 13882422.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ "Report to the people" by Governor C. Elmer Anderson. The Winthrop News. October 1st, 1953
  16. ^ SEM-Jacobsen CW, Bickford RG, Petersen MC, Dodge HW Jr (1953). "Depth distribution of normal electroencephalographic rhythms". Proc Staff Meet Mayo Clin. 28: 156–61. PMID 13037901.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. ^ Monroe Russell R (1957). "Correlation of rhinencephalic electrograms with behavior". Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 9: 623–642. doi:10.1016/0013-4694(57)90084-6.
  18. ^ Lien J.B. (1960). "Depth-EEG of Two Schizophrenic Patients Under Marsilid-medication". European Neurology. 140: 133. doi:10.1159/000131248.
  19. ^ "Exploration du cerveau humain par électrodes profondes". Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 12: 490. 1960. doi:10.1016/0013-4694(60)90025-0.
  20. ^ "Functional and Stereotactic Neurosurgery author E.I. Kandel. year 1989. Page 133."
  21. ^ Pool J. Lawrence (1943). "EFFECTS OF ELECTRICAL STIMULATION OF THE HUMAN CEREBELLAR CORTEX". Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology. 2: 203–204. doi:10.1097/00005072-194304000-00010.
  22. ^ [Functional and Stereotactic Neurosurgery author E.I. Kandel. year 1989. Page 133. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4613-0703-7#about]
  23. ^ "For the mentally ill Pacemakers regulate the brain" Newspaper "The Spokesman Review" May 8, 1977.
  24. ^ "Depth-electrographic stimulation of the human brain and behavior" 1968
  25. ^ HEATH, RG; PEACOCK SM, Jr; MILLER W, Jr (1953). "Induced paroxysmal electrical activity in man recorded simultaneously through subcortical and scalp electrodes". Transactions of the American Neurological Association. 3 (78th Meeting): 247–50. PMID 13179226.
  26. ^ Heath RG, Monroe RR, Mickle WA (1955). "STIMULATION OF THE AMYGDALOID NUCLEUS IN A SCHIZOPHRENIC PATIENT". American Journal of Psychiatry. 111 (11): 862–863. doi:10.1176/ajp.111.11.862. PMID 14361778.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  27. ^ Heath R.G. (1963). "Electrical self-stimulation of the brain in man". American Journal of Psychiatry. 120 (6): 571–577. doi:10.1176/ajp.120.6.571. PMID 14086435.
  28. ^ a b "Erotic self-stimulation and brain implants". 2008-09-16.
  29. ^ Moan C.E., Heath R.G. (1972). "Septal stimulation for the initiation of heterosexual activity in a homosexual male". Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 3: 23–30. doi:10.1016/0005-7916(72)90029-8.
  30. ^ Young Ronald F (1986). "Electrical stimulation of the brain for relief of intractable pain due to cancer". Cancer. 57 (6): 1266–1272. doi:10.1002/1097-0142(19860315)57:6<1266::AID-CNCR2820570634>3.0.CO;2-Q.
  31. ^ "Paralyzed woman uses mind-control technology to operate robotic arm" by Scott Pelley CBS News May 16, 2012.
  32. ^ Surbecka Werner, Bouthillierb Alain, Khoa Nguyenc Dang (2013). "Bilateral cortical representation of orgasmic ecstasy localized by depth electrodes". Epilepsy & Behavior Case Reports. 1: 62–65. doi:10.1016/j.ebcr.2013.03.002. PMC 4150648. PMID 25667829.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. ^ Greene JA (2016). "Do-It-Yourself Medical Devices — Technology and Empowerment in American Health Care". New England Journal of Medicine. 374 (4): 305–308. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1511363. PMID 26816009.
  34. ^ "Electronic implants studied for treatment of drug addiction" CTV news. May 8, 2019. Author Erika Kinetz, The Associated Press.