During dinner yesterday, I mentioned to Andrew Paul and The Official Bear Of The Third Millennium that I’d recently had an MRI scan done of my brain. Someone then said how strange it must be to see the activity of your brain in real time. I was just in the middle of replying that the experiment didn’t involve subjects seeing their brain, and that in any case it wasn’t possible, when I realised that it in fact was possible.

Creating images from MRI and functional MRI scans is very computationally intensive and analysing them even moreso. Up until recently, this has meant that it wasn’t really feasible to conduct an fMRI scan and see different areas of the brain ‘lighting up’ in real time. However, last year in UC San Diego at the brain imaging centre, one of the guys there mentioned to me that there was some really cutting-edge work done at some research institute that finally allowed scientists not only to see the workings of the brain in real time, but also zoom into the specific sections and essentially fly through the brain – in 3D.

Needless to say, neuroscientists who’ve heard about this – and they are few, because the technique (as far as I know) is not in use yet – are positively wetting themselves with excitement about the possibilities. Instead of waiting days or weeks after conducting a test to see the results and then planning subsequent tests, you could alter the scan immediately to focus in on regions of interest. Perhaps even more promising is the possibility of creating dynamic tests that respond to detected activity.

On the artistic front though, this new development has given me an interesting idea – wouldn’t it be awfully cool to be able to look at a computer screen and see a 3D image of your brain working in real time? Wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to fly around the inside of your brain, and see your auditory centres light up as you listen to music? Forget about biofeedback using heartbeat or galvanic skin response – it doesn’t get any better than biofeedback using your brain activity. Now, all I have to do is get an Arts Council grant…

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