Biophysical AV Data Transfer

Lucas G. Lawrence

The subject of perception has long been an area of sharp controversy among psychologists and biophysicists. The current diversity of these views is exhibited with dramatic force in English and foreign language research reports. Most of these papers have some common area of agreement, but one is more impressed by their differences which reflect a set of contrasting assumptions within the common field of investigation. This holds true especially in the biophysical field: in a sense, it holds the key to effective audiovisual instructional technique, as distinguished from other instructional methods in general. Unfortunately, as it stands, the increased AV-type research activities supported in the past several years both by major educational foundations and by the Federal Government — especially under the provisions of Title VII of the National Defense Education Act — include no elaborate studies on the instrumentation philosophy and application of biophysical-type systems to audiovisual use. Instead, due to a lack of something better, responsible personnel continue to wring out the semifixed possibilities of antiquated machines and Gestalt-type psychological concepts. It is in this connection that this paper — which, however, is not intended to be completely definitive or inclusive — [146] may help focus the attention of those who are interested in the biophysical aspects of AV research. At the outset, one should recognize that a mere listing of pertinent problems will not automatically produce new and better research findings. It should also be recognized that the ability to ask the right questions is a prime requisite for any researcher. It would be necessary, therefore, for the individual researcher whose interest is animated by any sample topics presented here to raise further questions himself and to make an effort to think through the relevant hypotheses. Both of these preliminaries, aside from driving curiosity, are among the most difficult tasks in the whole realm of experimental investigations.

How does the biological organism learn? The organism's behavior in communication tasks tends to lead to a preoccupation with a set of certain dependent and independent variables. An inquiry into the modus operandi makes it possible to specify, albeit in a statistical manner, its maximum sensitivity and thresholds, its characteristics in frequency and time domains, its overall information-handling capacity, and so forth. It is in this area that abstract philosophy is forced to leave and the concepts of contemporary psychophysics are invited to enter.

It should be pointed out, however, that respective assertions made in Weber's law, given further below, have only conditional validity since the the object of interest, the human child, acquires his main inventory of physical and intellectual sensations prior to the age of four.

Thus, the stimulus-ordering operations of the living organism tend to draw upon and compare against a biological-type data storage bank whose prime capacity and intellectual commerce was established during preschool years. If, at a later date, a basic deficiency in learning ability must be overcome by audiovisual means, it is obvious that the mode of data transport to the student must be cognizant of these circumstances. In a critical learning situation such as this, the orthodox apparatus currently in vogue is destined to fail. The reasons are twofold: (a) the medium on display, having oral and or visual substance, is applied to eye and ear only, (b) the mode of display does not take into account the quality and capacity of the subject's inherent (preschool) data inventory. Thus, by extension, the quasi-gifted student tends to benefit from the material presented to him, while a student of lower I.Q. is reached in a superficial way.


Stimulus of a physical order, however its physical character may be, can be perceived by every normal living organism. The objective is to make the stimulus as effective and lasting as possible; but, and most important, the contents of a train of stimuli must lend themselves for immediate recall upon demand.

Learning per se would become much easier if a method of more physical directness could be devised. It is in this regard that the following aspects must be considered. All stimuli are subordinated to a hierarchy of effector values (the term is used in the widest sense) which can provoke a specific response. Such labels as "just-noticeable difference" (jnd), "differential thresholds," and "difference limens" have been employed to describe the changes in stimulus characteristics that make it possible for a biological specimen to distinguish, with various degrees of certainty, between two magnitudes of stimuli.

Measures of differential sensitivity are statistical in character; the jnd increases in size if, say, a listener is required to identify correctly the more dominant of two sounds in 90 percent of the trials than if he is required to be correct in 75 percent of the trials only. An identical method of approach could be used in an exploration of visual acuity and the effects of radiated electromagnetic-type emanations on the data-correlation mechanism in the cerebral cortex. (Eyes and ears would be bypassed in this latter case!)

At this time, unfortunately, only a limited inventory of biophysical mathematics is available to the investigator for describing the pertinences of internally correlated data transport to centers of psychophysical awareness. Weber's law, formulated more than a century ago, sets forth a generalization according to which the jnd between two stimuli gets larger as the stimuli get larger: △I/I = k, which expresses the relative constancy of human differential sensitivity. Specifically: I is the intensity of the reference stimulus, △ I represents the difference along the intensity dimension that is discriminable (in 75 percent of trials, for example), and k is a constant.

In retrospect, then, Weber's law states that the jnd will remain proportional to the intensity of the reference stimulus. It is somewhat difficult, however, to apply this law to all situations. Years ago, both Fechner (6) and Helmholtz suggested [148] that Weber's law be modified to acknowledge the presence of intrinsic interfering stimulation that could not be eliminated.

One calls this the ”internal noise level” or, better, ”white noise” of an organism. The importance of white noise, with the latter being evident in all natural and man-made communication systems, cannot be overestimated. Under the influence of the mathematical theory of communication, with its concept of channel capacity, many experiments have been carried out to ascertain man's capacities to process selective information.

By considering man as a communication channel, the amount of input information can be varied either by varying the amount of information per stimulus or by varying the rate at which stimuli are presented. Quastler (9) points out that the maximal rate of transmission is limited by two factors: (a) man cannot emit more than 5 to 9 responses per second, and (b) persons get confused when they have to discriminate rapidly among too many alternatives. Therefore, even under optimal conditions, transmission rates of more than 25 bits per second are hardly ever observed. The type of motor response required and the degree to which excitatory stimuli and physical responses are ”compatible” determine the particular figure that will be obtained for the transmission rate. It is of interest, perhaps, that certain kinds of diseases (such as Parkinson's disease and diabetes, for example) can cause involuntary motor movements with frequencies above those that are obtained in controlled situations with healthy persons.

There has been much argument about the measurability of sensation, about the validity of Weber's law, about the legitimacy of the Fechnerian integration of Weber's law which Fechner used to derive his own law. Yet, by and large, Fechner has been correct in predicting that his psychophysical edifice would stand the test of time because his detractors would not agree on how to tear it down. (Fechner's Elemente der Psychophysik (6), by the way, was published in 1860!)

The difficulty of establishing a precise, all-embracing psychophysical law becomes impressive in view of the variables encountered. Organisms are able to deal with a massive sensory bombardment that impinges upon them by being satisfied to make crude discriminations, unless specifically instructed to make precise ones. But then, in this latter case, they must spend more time [149] and neglect sensory events other than those of immediate interest. It is due to this switch of modality that one audiovisual display method tends to be superior to another in a given teaching situation. Concentration is a good word for describing this. More concentrated directness comes about if, for example, a a loop-film projector is used to repeat a subject again and again. Directness comes about when a person is allowed to own a thing — ownership of material things promotes the aspects of physical survival. Other examples could be given, of course, but the ones cited have the main ingredient of what makes a learning experience more concrete and memorable. Verbalism, if considered alone, is least effective in this regard since it lacks the substance of a direct experience, however ephemeral. Even physical spanking, the old-time substitute for audiovisual aids, tends to fail severely if the academic program of a child consists of nothing but oral deliverances sans material-type objects and images.


The mere existence of organisms seems to entail a high internal noise level mat prevents certain responses to environmental stimuli. but as long as thresholds of tolerance are not approached, the more energy a sensory stimulus delivers to an organism, the higher is the probability that the signal will be processed in the central nervous system with both discrimination and dispatch. Several questions arise at this point: (1) What causes internal data-masking effects? (2) What causes an organism to be temporarily unexcitable? (3) Why does the perceptual mechanism tend to favor that information which is promotional to its welfare? Though true answers there can be none, it is now believed that a third natural constant (after the constant of the speed of light and Planck's constant) is responsible for this. This third constant, speculated upon by Heisenberg in his Physics and Philosophy (Harper, 1962), is one that determines the scale of nature. Consequently, similar to the triad of Ohm's law, the third unit might determine the final value of the end product, perceptive awareness.

It is not easy to precisely define such a doctrine or to propose a reasonably orthodox hypothesis that will withstand singing scrutiny. It is especially difficult to introduce such thoughts into an orderly discipline like biophysics, which has had its share of "psychoids" and other nonorthodox divergences. As we look back, however, we find that a family of experiments has been performed whose aim it was to define the phenomena of indirect [150] (extrasensory) perception. The experiments reported, especially those performed by Manfred von Ardenne (13) of Germany and F. Cazzamalli (3, 4, 5) of Italy, show that a new form of data-transfer agency in the human brain had come under mechanistic investigation. The experiments of J.B. Rhine (10), Duke University, which dealt with the telepathic transmission of messages between two persons, may also be considered. The validity of these and related experiments was given a new boost at the 1965 academic symposium on extrasensory perception (12). Held under the sponsorship of the School of Medicine, University of California at Los Angeles, the gathering left little doubt that telepathy "is." The quality and quantity of experimental data brought forth by national and international research groups left little ground for further doubt. (In one case, a mathematical chance element of 1034 was reported.)

Questions arise: How could telepathic-type equipment be tailored for application in the audiovisual field? How definite are current findings? Is such apparatus dangerous to use? The answer to the latter question is a restricted "yes!" Since certain telepathic phenomena cease when the human transmitter and receiver are enclosed in magnetic field attenuators (such as a Faraday cage), the idea lies near that the telepathic data-transfer agency has an electromagnetic character. Since Cazzamalli's reports do have a somewhat unprofessional tenor, it is necessary that his unique claims be reinvestigated. Cazzamalli's r-f oscillator excited the human brain into an unknown mode of resonance which was modulated by the biochemical action of the brain under emotional excitation. Absorption or detuning was said to cause AM or FM-AM, controlling the output of the r-f receiver, and thus rendered the characteristic oscillograms found in Cazzamalli's numerous papers. If the analogy between Berger's (1) encephalograms is kept in mind, his machine might easily be called "wireless encephalograph."

The search for a radio-frequency "resonance node" in the human brain poses considerable danger for the investigator: too high an r-f power level, combined with critical frequency, will literally cook the brain (eyes and ears, the common receptors in audiovisual orthodoxy, are bypassed and do not participate as primary data receivers!) To avoid such dangers to himself, this writer devised an r-f sweep circuit which rapidly changed the r-f oscillator which rapidly changed the r-f oscillator frequency and that of the final tank [151] circuit between fixed bands. Since the 50 KHz r-f carrier wave was modulated by a constant tone (1 KHz), the appearance of the personal node of r-f susceptibility could be ascertained. A power level of 10 W was maintained throughout the experiment. The modulation level of the Heising-type transmitter, coupled to this writer via headdress, was 80 percent (4 W). The effective node epoch, as generated via sweep, was 2 ms. The sensation of intravisual phosphenes accompanied the r-f induction process.

One cannot fully understand how the actual sense perception generated by r-f induction techniques, comes about. The nearest and most logical explanation would be that the brain's synapses, a specific complex thereof, have been triggered. Unfortunately, there are only a few giant synapses available in nature which allow a direct experimental approach of the junctional region. The presynaptic nerve endings are too small to be tackled with intracellular electrodes, and their electrical behavior has to be inferred from a more indirect approach. Working with the stellate ganglion of the squid, Bullock, Hagiwara, and Tasaki (2, 8) obtained evidence of a different kind: they observed a definite local delay in the propagation of the electrical change, indicating a stoppage of the local-circuit transmission at the junction; there was no detectable transfer of subthreshold cable signals in either direction.

These and similar observations provide fair warnings against attempts to generalize about synaptic mechanisms. One wonders: Where shall we seek the answer for these effects? Where, indeed, do we actually "live"? We know a few things about the neural behavior of the brain — but, unfortunately, concise definitions cannot be set forth for various reasons. Economical mathematical descriptions of patterns and behavioral sequences, for example, are not yet available. To go beyond this would raise criticism for metaphysical speculation.


Tailoring a paper such as this is hampered by the immediate difficulty of trying to combine and suitably integrate a massive set of facts belonging to a wide array of scientific disciplines. But such cross-sectionalizing will point out, perhaps, that creative and scientific experimentation — even if somewhat unorthodox — needs to go hand in hand if we are ever going to explore the full potential of machine-based instructional media. The field has yet to develop the proper attitude for an expansion into more advanced horizons. Current techniques are not very good, [152] and the results tend to remain on the mediocre side. A good case can be made for the farfetched proposition that a larger number of biophysicists should be recruited for positions in the audiovisual area; for it is the biophysicist, and he alone, who holds the key to truly effective audiovisual data transfer and data induction systems.


  1. Berger, H. "Ueber das Elektrenkephalogramm des Menschen." Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten (Springer, Berlin) 87: 527-70; 1929. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF01797193>
  2. Bullock, T. H., and Hagiwara, S. "Intracellular Recording from the Giant Synpase of the Squid." Journal of General Physiology 40: 565-77; 1957. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1085/jgp.40.4.565>
  3. Cazzamalli, F. "Fenomeni telepsichici e radionde cerebrali." Neurologica 42:193-218; 1925.
  4. Cazzamalli, F., "Les ondes électro-magnétiques en corrélation avec certains phénoménes psychosensoriels." Paris, France: Comptes Rendus Ill-e congrés International des Recherches Psychiques, 1928.
  5. Cazzamalli, F., "Di un nuovo apparato radioelettrico rivelatore dei fenomani elettromagnetici radianti dal cervello umano." L'Energia Elettrica 18:28-42; 1941.
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    Fechner, G.T., and Helmut E. Adler. Elements of Psychophysics. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 1966. <http://amzn.to/16tLbxj>
  7. Fitts, P. M., and Deiniger, R. L. "S-R Compatibility: Correspondence Among Paired Elements Within Stimulus and Response Codes." Journal of Experimental Psychology 48: 483-491; 1953. <http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0054967>
  8. Hagiwara, S., and Tasaki, I. "A Study on the Mechanism of Impulse Transmission Across the Giant Synapse of the Squid." Journal of Physiology 143: 114-37; August/October 1958. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1356715/>
  9. Quastler, H., editor. Information Theory in Psychology. Urbana, Ill.: Free Press of Glencoe, 1955. <http://amzn.to/1xrvFgw>
  10. Rhine, J. B. Extra-Sensory Perception. Boston, Mass.: B. Humphries, 1964. <http://amzn.to/1Aq1RyN>
  11. Shannon, C. E., and Weaver, W. The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949. <http://amzn.to/1xruRs3
  12. Symposium of Extrasensory Perception — Fact or Fantasy? M 850.1. Los Angeles: University of California Extension, UCLA School of Medicine, June 5-6, 1965.
  13. von Ardenne, M. "Über elektrische Felder in der Umgebung lebender Wesen." Zeitschrift für technische Physik 9: 288; 1928.

  14. Heisenberg, Werner. Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science. New York: Harper & Row, 1962. <http://amzn.to/1wGaMwx>

Originally published in AV Comm. Rev. (Vol. XV, No. 2, Summer 1967, pp. 145-152).

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