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Imaging the Brain (2)

Solveig Dommartin

From "Until the End of the World"

Photography used to be about appearances. It now becomes clear that it is our brains, and maybe our souls, that are its growing focus. In various intimate ways a camera has been turned on us.

A report this week from Japan’s ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, picked up on Piink Tentacle, indicates that by using a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine while showing images to subjects, then mapping the changes in blood flow that occurred in each person’s cerebral visual cortex as an image was viewed, the computer was able to “reconstruct and display what the test subjects were viewing based solely on their brain activity.”

So far the work is only with simple black-and-white images, but the future is not only for color imagery but much more. According to chief researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani, “This technology can also be applied to senses other than vision. In the future, it may also become possible to read feelings and complicated emotional states.”

It all reminds me of a scene in Wim Wenders’s classic and badly reviewed 1991 film, “Until the End of the World,” where the scientist played by Max Von Sydow tries to help his blind wife (Jeanne Moreau) see by wiring her brain to what a sighted person is looking at (the experiment is only partially successful). Then his son’s girlfriend, played by the late Solveig Dommartin, becomes obsessed by videotapes of her own dreams captured on a small video player like the ones now in use.

These new experiments in Japan point to the eventual possibility of recording our dreams and thoughts. The implications are enormous for art, religion, surveillance, and most fundamentally for our sense of what it is - and what it will become - to be a human being. Will our souls be safe?

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