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A face as seen from inside a cat's brain
August 10, 2011 4:36 AM   Subscribe

A face as seen from inside a cat's brain. UC Berkeley scientist Yang Dan says she can connect to the neurons in a cat's brain and record what the cat sees.

Previously on Metafilter, but that post contained no video. Note that the article says this was done in 1999 – what has happened in this field since then?
posted by Termite (115 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Poor cat.
posted by pracowity at 4:39 AM on August 10, 2011 [72 favorites]


I love how in that video, the man's face looks like a dog's face or a certain bear's.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:40 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


That is one of the strangest videos I've seen in some time. I have no idea how these people got their cats wedged into their scanners (0:25 into the video).
posted by iviken at 4:40 AM on August 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


Note that the article says this was done in 1999 – what has happened in this field since then?

I'm betting that a lot of animals were mistreated to get speculative, useless data.

I hope she followed it up with "here's what a fart smells like to a dog" and claimed it was "warm cookies." I wonder if she rubs her hands together excitedly before she endorses her grant checks.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:44 AM on August 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


"...what has happened in this field since then?"

My hope would be that cats are now sticking wires into the clamped heads of researchers.

Tit/tat, goose/gander, turnabout/fair play, etc.
posted by tomswift at 4:45 AM on August 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


Note that the article says this was done in 1999 – what has happened in this field since then?

The cat was placed into a full-body robot suit and is currently fighting Gigamoth in metropolitan Tokyo.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:46 AM on August 10, 2011 [31 favorites]


Well, one can hope, anyway.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:47 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm betting that a lot of animals were mistreated to get speculative, useless data.

If you can't see any use in understanding how the brain works, I feel sorry for you.
posted by DU at 4:49 AM on August 10, 2011 [69 favorites]


Animal abuse. Period.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:55 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


speculative, useless data.

Yeah, that's what I'm sort of thinking. What's the point?

Researchers targeted 177 brain cells in the thalamus lateral geniculate nucleus area, which decodes signals from the retina. The cats were shown eight short movies, and their neuron firings were recorded. Using mathematical filters, the researchers decoded the signals to generate movies of what the cats saw and were able to reconstruct recognizable scenes and moving objects.

OK, so why do this? I am not against animal research per se, but it has to have a pretty clear point and an advantage to be gained or it's just "let's set a cat on fire and see how fast it can run" sort of experimenting which is nothing more than animal abuse.

Is this done in order to understand how cats see the world? Is this a mystery? Is it to learn how to acquire signals from a cats brain cells? Apparently, this can already be done. It does not appear to contribute to a created understanding of how the brain works because it seems that researchers already knew which cells to target and why.

It seems sort of like a parlor trick: look we can see what the cat is seeing.
posted by three blind mice at 4:58 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Brain computer interface.
posted by Ahab at 5:00 AM on August 10, 2011


Could be worse; could have been Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Goin' to pet my kitties now and promise not to wedge them into anything.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:01 AM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Steve Jobs: One more thing...
posted by run"monty at 5:05 AM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


How can anyone look at this kind of research and not see the point? There is a fricking computer screen showing a video of thoughts in a goddamn brain! Are we seriously so spoiled that reading minds, restoring sight to the blind, and making the lame walk again is passé?
posted by designbot at 5:06 AM on August 10, 2011 [128 favorites]


Any further experiments will need to be reviewed by an ethics committee consisting of "some guys on a website".
posted by fleetmouse at 5:10 AM on August 10, 2011 [37 favorites]


I bleev this is related to the technology that's already given us cochlear implants and prosthetic eyes (though the latter remain pretty low-rez, like what you see in the video)

People who have gone blind because of brain damage rather than eye damage might have a better chance of getting it restored if we understand how exactly the brain processes this stuff

Once we know how the brain processes its existing senses, adding more becomes easier--we can already kind of fake this with e.g. haptic devices, that field may be advancing a lot in the not too distant future

That kid who has to attend school thru a robot will be able to actually look through its eyes and not at a screen that displays the robot's output

I'm probably missing a lot
posted by LogicalDash at 5:11 AM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Camera Cat is watching you watch yourself masturbate.
posted by steef at 5:12 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Are we seriously so spoiled that reading minds, restoring sight to the blind, and making the lame walk again is passé? --- I bet if they had used a rat, you wouldn't be seeing this reaction.
posted by crunchland at 5:13 AM on August 10, 2011 [22 favorites]


I don't really care about what cats do see when they're awake, but I've been wondering a long time what they think they're seeing when they make all those funny gestures as they're asleep.
posted by nicolin at 5:20 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


There is a fricking computer screen showing a video of thoughts in a goddamn brain!

It's not, or at least there's no reason to think there is. In a recent cryptography thread someone pointed out that any given sequence of information can be converted into a match for any other sequence of information one has on hand, given enough compute power to generate a custom key. So a sequence of data arrayed on a grid, (the images.) were compared to a massively complex and jumbled data set, (the neural data set.) Lo and behold, with a tremendous amount of computation a key can be found that maps between them.

Nothing to do with cat-thoughts, and I doubt the key would be predictive. If we give them a video sequence, will their key turn that into the cat-brain neural patterns, which will then be found to match what arises experimentally? I doubt it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:26 AM on August 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'd like to stick that lady's head in the same contraption so we can see exactly what she sees. I have a feeling it could look a lot different than the way I see things.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 5:30 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Until something like this truly enables the blind to see or eases suffering in some kind of way, all I can think of is poor, poor kitty.

That and We3.
posted by rahnefan at 5:31 AM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also, rat != cat
posted by rahnefan at 5:33 AM on August 10, 2011


Lo and behold, with a tremendous amount of computation a key can be found that maps between them.
Do you think they could do this in real time in 1999?
posted by hat_eater at 5:34 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Relevant: A headset that reads your brainwaves (TED).
posted by jet_manifesto at 5:35 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a defense mechanism against such exploitation, my cat has no brain whatsoever.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:36 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you can't see any use in understanding how the brain works, I feel sorry for you.

or

How can anyone look at this kind of research and not see the point? There is a fricking computer screen showing a video of thoughts in a goddamn brain! Are we seriously so spoiled that reading minds, restoring sight to the blind, and making the lame walk again is passé?

One, it's what someone tells us the cat sees. If you're going to claim to have insights into others' perception, it's a good idea to use an animal. The cat can't say "uh, that's not it at all. Hey, loosen my straps a bit and I'll show you."

Two, assuming this is legit, what do you think that the broadest use of this technology will be?

Medical procedures that one in fifty people worldwide will have access to?

I'll bet that it's more likely to show up as:

-- "synaptic base-brain marketing"-- I just made up the term but we all know that there are marketers dreaming about the idea of applied psychology based on physical brain space.

-- weapons.

Your faith in and wonder at the applied sciences belongs in the 1950s. Medical advances are the promoted afterthought to lining pockets and forcibly seizing the dwindling resources required to line said pockets.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:41 AM on August 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


CIA Spy Cat fail. Though I've always been partial to the bat bomb..
posted by humanfont at 5:51 AM on August 10, 2011


I hate myself for even trotting this out, but I assume all you guys calling this animal abuse are vegetarians, right? Because if wedging a cat in a small space for a limited amount of time to study its vision is animal abuse, then I don't think we even have words for BBQ.
posted by lydhre at 5:54 AM on August 10, 2011 [11 favorites]


If my cat's vision looks like dark blotches moving cryptically about with very little definition, how does he keep catching bugs in the yard at night?
posted by TheRedArmy at 5:59 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mayor Curley, that's really pessimistic considering jet_manifesto has a link to TED talk showing something that does quite a lot a costs a lot lot less than "one in fifty" people worldwide will have access to. Mind reading technology is already available to the average consumer (although mostly these are low fidelity gimmicks). The amazing amount of progress these things have seen recently and the potential to use this stuff for gaming (a lot suckers to line the pockets, to use your doom and gloom) implies a lot of money is going to flow into this. Also I don't think anything that requires sticking a cat into a scanner can be called "applied science." It is at best a performance art, at worst a website, and somewhere in between it's cutting-edge research.

Did you even watch the video? It's pretty hard to doubt that they are actually reconstructing what the cat is seeing. The brain is not magic.
posted by Bobicus at 6:03 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course, you don't need a machine to know what that cat is thinking: "Man, when I get out of this thing, I am going to piss all over her carpet, her bed, and her favorite shoes too."
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:06 AM on August 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


What we still don't know - at least as far as I could tell from that article - is how the cat's brain processes that input before it ends up in the consciousness of the cat. From human testing, we know that the brain does all kinds of interesting edits and patch jobs and fixes to make sure that what the photos smacking our eyeballs tell us is what we "see," which then explodes into a whole new set of processes that tells us what the actual images mean to us.

I'm very sure that a predatory species doesn't see the world in a blotchy, pixellated form, but even just being able to read those noisy neuronal signals is quite an impressive feat.
posted by MShades at 6:07 AM on August 10, 2011


Cat's 2nd thought: "You know, I may even piss in the car during the ride home. Seriously. Revenge will be mine."
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:07 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, rat != cat

So? Is there some reason why using a rat would be more acceptable than using a cat?
posted by apatharch at 6:08 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I hate myself for even trotting this out, but I assume all you guys calling this animal abuse are vegetarians, right?

I am, and I totally agree: I hate you for trotting it out, too. Hypocrisy is fine to point out when you have evidence of it, assuming it is not. Lets avoid this path because it generally leads to some high schooler arguing the equivalent value of a pet mammal and an aphid and eventual sophist nihilism suggesting that no life has value.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:09 AM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am on a small device and can't go into too much detail, but this type of thing (I can't speak to this exact research) is important for understanding how brains process information. At level being looked at here, a neuron is firing in response to a very specific feature, called it's receptive field. Some neurons fire when they see edges oriented horizontally, others when something moves left, or at a particular velocity. Here, they seem to be combining the receptive fields of many neurons to rebuild the original image. Unpacking how this processing works in complex animals with a strong visual sense is important for basic neurobiology, for medical devices or diagnosis of pathologies, and for possible suggestions for novel computation. There is, unfortunately, far too much we don't understand too avoid animal experiments, but everyone I know who does them works as hard as possible to keep suffering to a minimum. Still, it is part of why I am glad to work on fruit fly neuroscience, where the ethical concerns are minor.
posted by Schismatic at 6:12 AM on August 10, 2011 [21 favorites]


Are we seriously so spoiled that reading minds, restoring sight to the blind, and making the lame walk again is passé?

I think doing something that was done two thousand years ago is pretty much the definition of passé, no?
posted by griphus at 6:15 AM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm very sure that a predatory species doesn't see the world in a blotchy, pixellated form, but even just being able to read those noisy neuronal signals is quite an impressive feat.

One might argue that the process of growing from an infant to a toddler is where the brain figures out what those blotchy patterns mean.

Also, remember that eyeballs have a relatively small area of visual acuity. As you say, the brain does the interesting patch jobs to fool the brain into thinking that it has a full picture of the world. When it reality, all we actually see in the periphery is what we believe to be there, and if the motion sensors catch something, we move our heads to get a detailed look.
posted by gjc at 6:15 AM on August 10, 2011


Because if wedging a cat in a small space for a limited amount of time to study its vision is animal abuse,

It's so quaint that you think this is all that's involved in this experiment.
posted by aught at 6:17 AM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


Hypocrisy is fine to point out when you have evidence of it, assuming it is not. Lets avoid this path because it generally leads to some high schooler arguing the equivalent value of a pet mammal and an aphid and eventual sophist nihilism suggesting that no life has value.

So pointing out potential hypocrisy is terrible, but swooping flights of hyperbole are a valuable response.

In that case, I shall retract my statement that it is hypocritical to call this animal abuse if one is not at least a vegetarian and instead challenge such assertions on the basis that they are hyperbolic nonsense.
posted by lydhre at 6:17 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a vegetarian by a long shot. And BBQ is mercy compared to Clockwork Orange Kitty.
posted by rahnefan at 6:19 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe those artifacts were neurons firing. Maybe they were noise from the machine.

Or, maybe, that's what a cat sees when it's stoned off its ass. That cat looked doped to the gills. I know my vision gets a little wonky if you give me enough of the good stuff.
posted by valkyryn at 6:20 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, aught, I'm aware that they have electrodes implanted in their thalamus. I am aware that the cat is not a pet. I am aware that this is probably not the best possible life for this particular cat. But there is no reason to assume that the cat is being abused, mistreated, or tortured.

Research is important and that includes research on animals. This is not just a "wow, cool, look what I can do when I run electrodes into my cat!" endeavor.
posted by lydhre at 6:23 AM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


That is the profoundest Do Not Want I've ever seen.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:26 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


I thought the still frame at the end was the worst part of this. With all that noise, selecting the most cat-like variation isn't exactly good science writing.
posted by hanoixan at 6:29 AM on August 10, 2011


If there was no actual image of the cat with its fur rumpled the wrong way in the cat-vice, nobody would be complaining...
posted by gjc at 6:30 AM on August 10, 2011


About a month after my mom went to work for Torsten Wiesel, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for work he and two colleagues had done on "ocular dominance columns in the 1960s and 1970s. By depriving kittens from using one eye, they showed that columns in the primary visual cortex receiving inputs from the other eye took over the areas that would normally receive input from the deprived eye. These kittens also did not develop areas receiving input from both eyes, a feature needed for binocular vision. Hubel and Wiesel's experiments showed that the ocular dominance develops irreversibly early in childhood development. These studies opened the door for the understanding and treatment of childhood cataracts and strabismus. They were also important in the study of cortical plasticity.[4]" (Oddly enough, I was born with a lazy eye; at the time, surgery was only done to correct this if they eyes didn't correct themselves within a couple of years; Torsten's work showed that even if they eyes looked normal - didn't look crossed - the brain might still interpret the image in a monocular fashion. When my mom found this out, after he won the Nobel, she brought home one of those books with the colored dots, where you could see pictures "leap" out of the page if your vision was binocular. She was greatly relieved when I was able to see the pictures.)

Anyway, this is how we got our first cat. We'd always been dog people. But one day, my mom was at her desk, trying to whip a grant application into shape, when one of Torsten's post-docs wandered in with a sedated - but still awake - cat in his arms. "Look at this cat!" he said. "Isn't this a nice cat!"

Charlie, the post-doc, had fallen in love with this particular cat, an orange shorthair tabby who had a little patterned swirl of fur on his head right where the wires and things would be inserted in order to "see" the visual cortex. Charlie did not want to work on this cat. With puppy-dog eyes, Charlie somehow talked my mom into adopting the cat; she said we would take the cat for a week, and if we couldn't find another home for him - because we were dog people! we don't know anything about cats! - she would bring him back.

Which, yeah, right! That's how we ended up with Freud (named for his habit - not at all unusual, but what did we know? - of sitting quietly and watching carefully, and at least giving the impression that he was listening), who for more than a decade was a wonderful, wonderful cat. (I have no digital pictures of him, so no link. Sorry.)
posted by rtha at 6:30 AM on August 10, 2011 [53 favorites]


This story is 12+ years old...why is it getting press now?

Poor kitty.
posted by kinetic at 6:37 AM on August 10, 2011


use your own damn species for shit. That way you'd need to actually believe it would be worth the pain inflicted, and you'd get much better results. No more of this "but it saves lives!" bull.
posted by usagizero at 6:41 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


usagizero, did i just see you raise your hand and volunteer?
posted by Mach5 at 6:48 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


This research will lead to this.
posted by Sailormom at 6:50 AM on August 10, 2011


Was I the only one expecting a bright technicolor cheezburger on the monitor?
posted by jimmythefish at 6:57 AM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Note that the article says this was done in 1999 – what has happened in this field since then?

Nothing as far as I know. I believe the prototype was stolen by William Hurt and lost somewhere in the Australian outback.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:13 AM on August 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


I am pretty sure we will see that footage used in a horror film -- the cat gets loose, and the researchers watch the image feed helplessly as they die one by one....

Mary: "Wait, that blotch in the upper left... is that Ted? Ted where are you?"
Ted: (A few rooms over) "Ahhhhhhh!"
Bill: "We gotta get out of here! It's coming to this lab next!"
Mary; "Pull yourself together! Oh God! Look at the screen now!"

Actually, I think I rented this from Netflix by mistake last year.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:18 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Research is important and that includes research on animals.

That's quite a swooping feat of hyperbolic nonsense in and of itself. Not all research is important, and that includes research on animals.
posted by blucevalo at 7:27 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


us your own damn species for shit. That way you'd need to actually believe it would be worth the pain inflicted, and you'd get much better results.

"Dr. Mengle to the white courtesy telephone, Dr. Mengle to the white courtesy phone please."
posted by happyroach at 7:28 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Cat vise" is not capturing what was happening in that video. The cat had part of its skull removed and had hundreds of electrodes (needles) inserted into its brain. Of course it was doped to the gills; if it struggled it could rip out chunks of its brain.

As horrible as that sounds, it's not a slam dunk to me that this is unethical or wrong. There is tremendous new knowledge being acquired by animal brain research. Yes, it's distasteful. So is a slaughterhouse floor. Humans use animals.

The boundaries of what's acceptable and ethical should be constantly discussed and audited, because they change. At some point, we will move past this kind of research being useful, and then it would simply be cruel. Right now, with how little we know of the brain and the importance of it for medicine and technology, I think the cat's interests are less important than humanity's.
posted by bgribble at 7:32 AM on August 10, 2011 [16 favorites]


Step 1: Torture Cats *
Step 3: Strange Days - Youtube

* - I do not actually think this.
posted by DigDoug at 7:56 AM on August 10, 2011


Huh. Cats appear to be running some sort of horrible compression algorithm, but then I guess this was '99. I think they've had several OS upgrades since then.
posted by neuromodulator at 8:13 AM on August 10, 2011 [6 favorites]


> It's not, or at least there's no reason to think there is. In a recent cryptography thread...

Not sure if serious.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 8:25 AM on August 10, 2011


Does anyone have a reference to the actual methods used? It seems to me that they are simply correlating video images with neuronal activity. If so, then this tells us little about how a cat sees, but rather how well we can correlate signals.

Interesting how she blithely attributes artifacts in the output as "noise", then the announcer breathlessly goes on to say, "It proves that we can read and understand the grammar of [the cats visual neurons]". A very bold statement indeed..
posted by kuatto at 8:27 AM on August 10, 2011


What cats actually see looks like the Terminator T800's "termovision" display. But they only let us see what they want us to.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 8:28 AM on August 10, 2011


FWIW, I believe they are using cats because 1) they have excellent vision 2) the brain map of that vision is reasonably well understood 3) IIRC, cat neurons regrow very well.

The most fascinating part of this is that the human face ends up looking cat-like after processing by the brain. That's an awesome concept. That's like people seeing faces in tree trunks.
posted by maryr at 8:33 AM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Torsten and his team use(d?) cats at least in part because their eyes are on the front of the face, rather than the sides (like rats), and monkeys are very expensive.
posted by rtha at 8:38 AM on August 10, 2011


3) IIRC, cat neurons regrow very well.

Sorry, that was badly worded. My recollection is that cat visual nerves regrow well, not that cats generally have some amazing regeneration abilities. No feline Wolverines, that's just crazy.
posted by maryr at 8:39 AM on August 10, 2011


scientists believe that in the future we may even be able to “photograph” human dreams!

Wait a minute, I've seen that movie!
posted by chowflap at 8:44 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting how she blithely attributes artifacts in the output as "noise"...

To be fair, she did acknowledge that it looks like noise from the perspective of recreating the image, but that the "noise" might be some unrecognized computation that is yet to be understood. As for the announcer, well... science journalism!


Similar work has been done using fMRI on humans in early visual cortex (esp. area V1). One theory of neural organization suggests that cortical areas organizes themselves, from early sensory areas to more "abstract" prefrontal areas, along the same principle (in this case, minimizing "free energy"*). If that is the case, then understanding the response of neurons in early visual areas where we can make some headway on understanding how external stimuli translate into neural activity may translate directly into understanding how higher-order cognition comes about. This especially useful when we're trying to figure out how best to treat individuals with disordered cognition, e.g., schizophrenics.

So, yeah, it's not obvious how we get from sticking electrodes in cats to saving or improving lives, but saying that this kind of research doesn't or won't do so is ignorant.


*Free energy is a term from thermodynamics - physics in general has had a profound influence on cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Not sure there's a lot of influence the other way....
posted by logicpunk at 8:50 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]




Which means all the times I've been meowing back and forth in "conversation" with cats, they've just assumed I was one of the weird, big, bipedal cats who can speak the language, perhaps poorly.

posted by yeloson at 8:53 AM on August 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Whenever I see an experiment like this using animals, I can't help but think: How do we know we are not in the midst of some experiment beyond our intellectual grasp? Silly, unproductive thought, but hard to shake.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:56 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which means all the times I've been meowing back and forth in "conversation" with cats, they've just assumed I was one of the weird, big, bipedal cats who can speak the language, perhaps poorly.

Or maybe this.
posted by xedrik at 9:02 AM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


I love science but I don't want any kittens in headclamps.
posted by hermitosis at 9:24 AM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Robot controlled by a collection of rat neurons.
posted by jason's_planet at 9:49 AM on August 10, 2011


There's an app for that! Wait -- no there isn't . . .

This is like having a conversation on a telephone underwater. Using part of that cat's brain as a camera is not the same thing as seeing what the cat sees.
posted by February28 at 9:51 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating.* I wonder what sorts of changes we'll see because of the information gleaned here. Not only is it info on actual sight, but also info on processing and neurology and other things we aren't even thinking of here.

If my cat's vision looks like dark blotches moving cryptically about with very little definition, how does he keep catching bugs in the yard at night?

Just because they're seeing, as filtered through the machine, what images the neurons are presenting, doesn't even come close to how the cat interprets what it 'sees.' I wonder if we'll ever come close to knowing how the cat 'feels' about what it sees.

Nobody mentioned the major flaw in the experiment--why did they show the cat a movie??? Seems like using a movie, or even a photo, isn't something within the normal experience of a cat. Someone actually standing within the cat's field of vision and moving about would be much more revealing, I would think. Or even presenting a mouse or a dog. Any ideas about this from anyone?

*I'm with hermitosis--love science and new realms of understanding, but poor kittehs.

So when this gets out, my cat will be probing my brain at night, right?
posted by BlueHorse at 10:24 AM on August 10, 2011


Blarg!--scooped by February28
posted by BlueHorse at 10:25 AM on August 10, 2011


"Look at this cat!" he said. "Isn't this a nice cat!"

If that was all it took, your mom was already a cat person waiting to happen.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:26 AM on August 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is it compatible with my mac?
posted by hal_c_on at 10:26 AM on August 10, 2011


Ok, let me try to get my head around what's happening here.

You posted a video of a cat -- A CAT -- looking miserable and/or stoned, clamped into a torturous-looking device, to MetaFilter, without a warning that the footage might be offensive/disturbing/upsetting to some.

That's probably not going to go over well. Moreover, it will probably disturb/upset a number of people who don't quite know what they're about to see. It might not be a bad idea to ask the mods to add a warning to the post.
posted by treepour at 10:38 AM on August 10, 2011 [8 favorites]


Seems like using a movie, or even a photo, isn't something within the normal experience of a cat.

I can guarantee that (some) cats really really like watching moving pictures on a screen. I don't think he knows the difference between the pigeons outside the window and the kittens on the "outside" of the monitor. (Yorvit's favorite videos are parkour videos.)
posted by rtha at 10:40 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alright animal lovers, here's the import of their research from my point of view.

Your eye-ball isn't sending a picture, ready to be understood, of these letters or the blue background to your brain. Your eyeballs are sending electric "I'm on!" and "I'm off now~!" signals down a series of biological logic circuits, sets of cells that require signal A and signal B in some combination of on and off to fire off signal C. After quite a length of interconnected neuronal cells this signal reaches the brain (and from here I'll jump straight to those-cells-they-were-connecting-electrodes-too because brain biology is not my forte, retina biology is).

The cluster of cells they were/are studying interpret the 'digital' (meaning on/off electric) signal and somehow, magically from my limited understanding, allow us to see the analog of what's represented in the real world in our minds eye. Notice how I didn't say brain there, because I honestly have no idea how that process works.

What's important though is that they identified a set of cells that are stimulated by electric current and generate a series of mind-pictures for the host awareness. The cat is probably quite uncomfortable and irritated. The blind men ten years from now who gets a clear image of the world thanks to electrodes that fire those refined on/off signals into the right part of his brain is going to want to kiss the grave of that cat.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:40 AM on August 10, 2011


I was surprised to find that the human's face didn't appear to be a bloody seething mass of tears and tissue, as seen from the subject cat's perspective. Poor kitty.
posted by motsque at 10:43 AM on August 10, 2011


A point of reference regarding the apparatus: when humans get neurosurgery, their heads are often held in a stereotaxic frame much like the cat's head in the video...
posted by scalespace at 10:58 AM on August 10, 2011


physics in general has had a profound influence on cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Not sure there's a lot of influence the other way....

Hate to go meta on this one, but it's our brain's ability to collapse random chaos into "reality" that gives is physics, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and donuts.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:00 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The blind men ten years from now who gets a clear image of the world thanks to electrodes that fire those refined on/off signals into the right part of his brain is going to want to kiss the grave of that cat the team of scientists who eventually make the breakthrough that gets them credit for this.

Seriously, no one will remember the test animals who suffered and died - that's not how most people think about these things - so regardless of whether we think this research is justified, let's not pretend there's going to be some kind of memorial or shrine or really even a passing mention of them in the end.
posted by aught at 11:16 AM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I gather that cats are the go-to test subject for vision studies, since I've heard about a couple other vision experiments and they all used cats. Here is one.

My theory as to why they would show movies is because they are a controlled source. You can compare the time-code and see that bright pixels in *this* region of the movie correspond with activity in *these* neurons, etc.
posted by RobotHero at 11:27 AM on August 10, 2011


Cat owners are givers of food, mostly, and if we were to suddenly become 2 inches tall and unable to open our front doors, we would become food in a day or two. Nevertheless, hermitosis said it best. Don't want to see that. Very surprised they even filmed that part.
posted by rahnefan at 11:53 AM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't see how this will make cats cuter, either. Then again, IANAS.
posted by hellbient at 12:04 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


Both of our cats, looking at me, see a can opener.
posted by hank at 12:07 PM on August 10, 2011


Mine sees a heater too.
posted by maryr at 12:10 PM on August 10, 2011


this distresses me because it looks like my 14 year old cat. I hope this cat had some happy kitty times.
posted by Lou Stuells at 12:19 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


According to that video, to our cats, we all resemble the figure Munch painted in The Scream.
posted by terezaakarenin at 12:20 PM on August 10, 2011


1. Cats basically meow mire fir the humans than for other cats.
2. The cat doesn't look THAT uncomfortable, more insulted.

Brain Tapping? Now THAT *is* scary.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 12:33 PM on August 10, 2011


Metafilter: cat people waiting to happen
posted by fleetmouse at 1:22 PM on August 10, 2011


MILLGATE:
[...] great achievement has no road map. The X-ray's pretty good. So is penicillin. Neither were discovered with a practical objective in mind. I mean, when the electron was discovered in 1897, it was useless. And now, we have an entire world run by electronics. Haydn and Mozart never studied the classics. They couldn't. They invented them.

SAM
Discovery.

MILLGATE
What?

SAM
That's the thing that you were... Discovery is what. That's what this is used for. It's for discovery.

-The West Wing, "Dead Irish Writers"
posted by Maaik at 1:39 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


bluehorse, the are probably showing the cat a movie because it is a reproducible input that can be displayed side-by-side to the data stream obtained from the cat's brain. "well that kinda looks like Bob" is much less convincing than "wow, that is indeed a noisy copy of that there video". Also you can get more varied input than just waving stuff around in front of the cat.
posted by egypturnash at 1:43 PM on August 10, 2011


Bože! I had not read everything, so I did not know the poor little cat had it's scull removed. Booooo! Not good.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:48 PM on August 10, 2011


What a completely valueless piece of research.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:13 PM on August 10, 2011


I love cats and am against animal testing in many cases. But this is truly amazing. Even if you think it's ethically bad, I don't understand how anybody is saying this research is valueless or anything short of amazing. I can understand saying "even though it's amazing and valuable, it's not worth the steep ethical cost", but I can't understand "it's valueless".
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:20 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


no one will remember the test animals who suffered and died

Not to bark into a cat thread, but we remember Laika.
posted by spasm at 3:03 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Much of this thread is reflective of the general state of science education in the United States today. Enlightening, frightening and downright sad.
posted by dbiedny at 3:21 PM on August 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can understand saying "even though it's amazing and valuable, it's not worth the steep ethical cost", but I can't understand "it's valueless".

Kindness is the most valuable - and most rapidly diminishing - commodity that the human race has. I'm afraid that I am against animal testing in principle, just as I am against the torture of humans in principle. I'm sure we get a lot of valuable things from animal testing and I'm sure people will pop their heads in to tell me that the only reason I am able to use the internet is because of animal testing, somehow, but we also get a lot of valuable things from torture, probably, and I'm against that too. So, yes, in my personal scheme of things, which is the only scheme of things I'm particularly interested in, this is completely valueless because it costs more than we can afford. A Ferrari, for example, has zero value to me, because I will never have one, because the X hundreds of thousands that one would cost are, to me, more beneficially spent elsewhere. It may objectively have "value", because of artificial economics and comparative rarity, this smart-looking car, but subjectively, to me, it is worthless.

Does this mean that every single piece of knowledge ever extracted from the torture of an animal is valueless to me? Well, I couldn't say. I would have to be shown a comprehensive list of the exact piece of knowledge gleaned, its exact utility to life today, and the exact method by which it was acquired.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:22 PM on August 10, 2011


A point of reference regarding the apparatus: when humans get neurosurgery, their heads are often held in a stereotaxic frame much like the cat's head in the video...

And from what I know, they're often awake while they're having the surgery and able to hear the drills and all that. So...
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:56 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes, it's a cat. Yes, it might look like abuse - but these experiments are done with full ethics oversight. The animal is anesthetized and treated with respect. Similar kinds of experiments are done in organisms ranging from fruit flies to tadpoles to rodents to cats, and even humans.

I couldn't find a link to the article, but a few months ago I came across an article that recruited human epileptic patients who had arrays of electrodes (multiple hundreds of needles) implanted into various regions in the brain in order to see where the centers of epileptic firing originate (so they can undergo surgery to have those parts ablated).

The gist of the research was for the subjects to look at an analogue clock and simultaneously note where the second had is and intend/press a button. During this, local neuronal firing was recorded (from the array of implanted electrodes). After a (kinda largish) number of trials, a computer algorithm was then able to predict from neuronal firing patterns with >80% accuracy several hundred milliseconds before the subject self-reports to have intended/wanted to press the button, which happens about a hundred milliseconds after the intention.

Is this research utterly useless?

I'd argue no; it has neat implications on "free will" but sheds some very interesting data on cognition, awareness, and cortical network activity. This kind of basic research opens doors that could lead very very far (or nowhere at all, but if you never did the research, you'd never have the potentially opened doors).

Is this research human abuse?

I'd argue no - and these humans weren't even sedated.
posted by porpoise at 6:16 PM on August 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


Then again, the humans volunteered. Cats pretty much can't consent to that kind of thing. Of course, neither can other animals. I have very mixed feelings about all this. On the one hand, it us likely I am alive today because of research using animals, because of medical students performing dissections on animal and human subjects. On the other hand, it's a kitty. On the other hand, what was learned is pretty interesting and might help someone. No I won't show this to my Cat Lady friends.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:59 PM on August 10, 2011


awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome awesome i want one

that cat looks pretty sad
posted by tehloki at 7:01 PM on August 10, 2011


Of course this wouldn't be abuse if you did it to a consenting adult human. In fact, since apparently you can do experiments like this harmlessly on human volunteers and certainly gather much more directly relevant data in the process, I'm not sure why they used cats in the first place.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:31 PM on August 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


They use cats because they have a complex visual system. The cytoarchitecture of corticothalamic loops is much more similar in cats and humans than rats and humans (although it's even more homologous in macaques, on whom considerable visual research is conducted).

Everyone I've ever known to work with animals has always acted toward them with the utmost respect and compassion. No one is out there callously torturing animals in the name of science, and most any neuroscientist will tell you that most mammalian brains are a hell of a lot more like ours than unlike ours.

Failure or unwillingness to understand why it is that people would do scary looking stuff to fuzzy creatures does lab animals far more disservice than does the research itself.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:54 PM on August 10, 2011


I guess once the form that a cognitive model of vision is determined then the according, natural, stimuli will follow. This is the problem: the reduction of cognition to a political question. There is an implicit bias in the basic structure of her experiment. Well, of course "valuable" results may follow from this research, but such value could flow from entirely different research as well. Of course it is unfair of me to single our Ms. Dan in this regard, but it is to the point: Science, as a modern institution, is an entirely political endeavor..
posted by kuatto at 8:20 PM on August 10, 2011


I'm not sure why they used cats in the first place. --- I suspect that in this litigious world, even getting total consent to do something like this wouldn't be enough. One slip up, and the testee could be blinded, or worse. And since animals can't ever hire lawyers, the animal is always end up on the pointy end of the scalpel.
posted by crunchland at 8:25 PM on August 10, 2011


Several people have stated why they use cats. Two comments up, solipsophistocracy said "They use cats because they have a complex visual system. The cytoarchitecture of corticothalamic loops is much more similar in cats and humans than rats and humans (although it's even more homologous in macaques, on whom considerable visual research is conducted)."

Also mentioned earlier in this thread was Tortsen Wiesel's work that directly lead to advancement in understanding and treatment of blindness in humans. At that research was arguably crueller than the work seen in this video. His work blinded or partially blinded cats. This cat can probably have a normal life after the research is complete, just as a person can after brain surgery. At least, I can't think of a reason it couldn't.

I did try to find out if UCBerkeley had a program for retired research cats, but didn't have any luck. If anyone is interested, here's an advice article about trying to adopt a retired research cat.
posted by maryr at 8:52 PM on August 10, 2011


I'm afraid that I am against animal testing in principle, just as I am against the torture of humans in principle. I'm sure we get a lot of valuable things from animal testing and I'm sure people will pop their heads in to tell me that the only reason I am able to use the internet is because of animal testing, somehow, but we also get a lot of valuable things from torture, probably, and I'm against that too

Torture is not very good at getting good intelligence. Bribery works better. So your analogy is flawed in that respect.

Legal and ethical restrictions on animal testing are recognized and enforced, which in itself doesn't make animal testing okay, but it's quite different from practicing torture and calling it "enhanced interrogation techniques".

One of the common ethical standards is to use the "lowest" animal you can for your experiment. An arbitrary distinction? Perhaps, but much of what we know today about genetics comes from experimentation on fruit flies. Is that so bad?
posted by LogicalDash at 7:44 AM on August 11, 2011


I'm definitely opposed to testing on "higher" species that we can actually meaningfully inter-relate with, though I know that is an arbitrary distinction. A list of all the good things that has come of this kind of testing doesn't sway me much, because personally I would rather live in a civilization that is far kinder than one whose citizens live longer.

If all the torments we'd dreamed up for animals and man alike had resulted in some sort of amazing Utopian paradise maybe I'd join in with the happy rationalizing, but as it stands we are as divided and unhappy and polluted and diseased and hungry and unjust as ever. So while we may get to stick around in the whole mess a bit longer, I don't know exactly what else we have to show for all the suffering we've caused in the name of experimentation.

Human testing doesn't really bother me at all, as long as test subjects are made aware of the risks and adequately cared for in cases where they react badly. We can actually consent, and understand what's happening. If it's something so potentially risky that we can't get a human to agree to do it, then maybe we shouldn't be doing it at all.
posted by hermitosis at 7:58 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If all the torments we'd dreamed up for animals and man alike had resulted in some sort of amazing Utopian paradise

Antibiotics.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:44 AM on August 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh, yay! I was wondering if I'd ACTUALLY seen this video 12 years ago when it was originally broadast, or if I'd dreamed it. I was leaning toward the latter because "pulling visual data from a cat's brain and displaying it on a computer screen" seemed way too sci-fi to be real.
posted by luvcraft at 8:48 AM on August 11, 2011


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