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Imaging the Brain

While we are concentrating on new possibilities of photographing the external world, there are quite a few who are investigating new and sometimes intrusive ways of photographing our brains as a means of measuring our attentiveness and memory. The results are both provocative and at times quite scary.

In India, for example, the New York Times reports that a woman was recently sentenced to life in prison based in large part upon a judge’s decision that a scan showed the alleged criminal’s brain held “experiential knowledge” of the murder of her former fiancé that only she could have had - in other words, she must have been the criminal (she insists that she is innocent).

To use this scanning technique a prosecutor narrates details of the alleged crime and certain areas of the alleged criminal’s brain are simultaneously tested via an electroencephalogram (EEG) to see if they light up to show that the person is reliving the experience (the inventors assert that they can differentiate between scans showing the person witnessed the event and those that indicate he or she committed it). While there is a great deal of controversy over whether this in fact is a dependable method and there has been no serious peer review, various governments are said to be considering employing it. The argument is that this technology can be very useful in interrogating suspected terrorists; water-boarding would be no longer necessary.

Meanwhile New York University researchers are working on what they call the new field of “neurocinematics.” They use magnetic resonance imaging to test a subject’s brain as it reacts to different kinds of films, arguing that “some films can exert considerable influence over brain activity and eye movements.” Not only is this technique a way to quantify the impact of films on viewers, they also suggest that it can be a “valuable method for the film industry to better assess its products.” It may not be much of a reach to imagine advertisers and political candidates having similar thoughts.

It can be like the magician: while we are all watching one hand it is often the other hand that is doing the most important work. With all the billions of digital photographs we are making with our cameras and cellphones, we too are becoming the subject, but in ways that we might never have imagined. It’s not about our smiles after all.

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  1. brain imaging - on Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 12:11 am

    [...] database. Researchers around the world will be able to access baseline pics of normal gray matter.After Photography Imaging the BrainImaging the Brain. While we are concentrating on new possibilities of photographing the external [...]

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