Dreaming is a private thing.
December 11, 2008 8:47 PM   Subscribe

A team of researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto have managed to reconstruct black-and-white visual images from an fMRI scan of a test subject's brain. Some more examples of the recovered data. The organization responsible claims that the technology to record thoughts and dreams is just around the corner. posted by teraflop (48 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
posted by gwint at 8:53 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Let me just say, on the face of it: this is so freaking amazing.
posted by tybeet at 8:54 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

We live in the future!
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:01 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm just plain gobsmacked. (And my writer brain is going OMG YES I NEED THIS NOW NO MORE USELESS MEAT HANDS GETTING IN THE WAY OF MY PURE VISION... then I calm down and have a drink. 'Cause I'm a writer.)
posted by headspace at 9:04 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Woooahh??!!! !!

(And I haven't even clicked the link!)
posted by serazin at 9:05 PM on December 11, 2008

(Also, what's with the weird 'reconstructed from black and white images' theme shared with the next post?)
posted by serazin at 9:06 PM on December 11, 2008

The brain police can't be far off.
posted by awesomebrad at 9:07 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow - that's everything I've dreamed of and everything I've feared all rolled into one amazing thing I hope to never see.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 9:07 PM on December 11, 2008

People aren't going to like what I think.
posted by Flunkie at 9:08 PM on December 11, 2008

Holy shit! Now I can (semi-)realistically long for the day when someone can record my crazy ass dreams. As opposed to the unrealistic longing.

And when that day comes, I'd better have that dream again where I wake up to find myself in a metal room, 300 years in the future, living on the moon. See, apparently I had slipped into some kind of coma in my sleep and was cryogenically frozen until they could find a cure. Which they did, eventually. However, due to a clerical error, everyone in the future insisted that I was Dick Clark.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 9:25 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

If that's not a hoax of some sort or other, that's some small-step-for-man, 'Watson, come here! I want to see you' type stuff.
posted by cashman at 9:28 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Reminds me of Wim Wenders' excellent Until the End of the World.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:29 PM on December 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I am praying on my knees that it is a hoax of some sort or other.
posted by serazin at 9:30 PM on December 11, 2008

I thought the images in the post were mind-blowing, then I got the pdf of the article, which called to mind the "they just did their thing on it, they put it together" line from the analysis of Cole's call at the end of 12 monkeys and the vision and tracking system Predator used. I got in touch with a friend who was not exactly in the mood to be talking, and told them - dude, they extracted images from someone's brain. They got images from someone's brain!
posted by cashman at 9:41 PM on December 11, 2008


Watch this movie.
posted by dirty lies at 9:44 PM on December 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

This is amazing. I think this represents (symbolically, anyways) neuroscience taking a big leap into the league of much older more developed sciences like chemistry and physics. I'm sure in reality this is a fairly small step in neuroscience built incrementally on much previous research, but it is an amazing achievement to directly decode information from brain activity.

The comments here got me thinking about what nefarious purposes this technology could be put to use for. I think it would be virtually impossible to apply this technology to "read minds" without consent or coercion. First of all, MRI machines are very large, non-portable, and require the occupant to be in a strong and very well characterized magnetic field and quite close to the radio transmitters and receivers.

But if we make the unlikely supposition that some subtle advance could eventually allow for MRI at a distance, it would still be easy to "foil" with foil hat, which should reflect the ~50 MHz radio frequencies fairly easily (although as these brilliant nutjobs showed, tinfoil hats are not radio-foolproof at all frequencies, but they are probably pretty reflective at 50 MHz).

If the evil government were to find a way to penetrate foil hats by changing resonance frequencies or something, I think it would be fairly easy to construct a RF noise source that would effectively jam any theoretical "MRI reception".

Also, this technique, while amazing, did require several hundred images to be shown to the subject so they could train their software on the subject's particular brain (perhaps that disadvantage could be overcome). Although a truly evil government could probably get a "brain imprint" at birth. Then when you are walking down the street the subcutaneous transponder could identify you to the surveillance network, then the MRI-at-a-distance-probe could read your thoughts. Creepy, but as per my arguments above, I'm going to put on my foil hat and stop worrying about it.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:48 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

PS: It would be way way scarier if they had found a way of making a subject see images by applying some kind of RF to the brain.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:50 PM on December 11, 2008

Ja, don't get too worried. I can't claim to understand their entire paper, but after looking at their methods, this seems a long, long way off from dream-reading. More likely useful to improve electronic prostheses and such.
posted by zennie at 9:59 PM on December 11, 2008

Previously On MetaFilter

Damn. From cats to human beings in only a decade. Astonishing!

Thanks for posting this, teraflop!
posted by jason's_planet at 10:13 PM on December 11, 2008

It seems like a way to bypass the eyes and see what a person is currently seeing, not a way to read minds. Still pretty badass.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:15 PM on December 11, 2008

Metafilter: I'm going to put on my foil hat and stop worrying about it.
posted by finite at 10:52 PM on December 11, 2008

The brain police can't be far off.

The brain police, they live inside of my head.
The brain police, they come to me in my bed.
The brain police, they're coming to arrest me, oh no.
posted by homunculus at 10:56 PM on December 11, 2008

"...now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds..."

This is an astonishing, beautiful achievement.

It is also the gateway to hell.

I've always thought it would've sucked to live in earlier times, and been bereft of the technology that we enjoy-- and, conversely, I've always been somewhat envious of those who'll succeed us, thinking of the nifty toys they'll have at their command.

No longer.

Given things like this (and, possibly, resource wars, and, more speculatively, a radically widening gap between the rich-and-therefore-probably-neuro-enhanced-and-the-not-rich-and-not-smart)-- well, the near to medium term future might really, really suck.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:38 PM on December 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Dream Recorders may be a way off, but this concept has shown up in a movie from some years ago - Until the End of the world - directed by Wim Wenders, in which people become addicted to viewing the playback of their own dreams.
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 12:27 AM on December 12, 2008

I'd be impressed if they recorded dreams. Getting someone to sleep in something as noisy as an MRI is a challenge in itself.
posted by edd at 1:22 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's just seeing what you see, not what you think but even so it's amazing. By putting some kind of device inline between your eyes and your brain you could record what you saw or augment what you see. Wow.
posted by jiroczech at 3:15 AM on December 12, 2008

edd: You understate your case. I've had an MRI, and I was not told a thing of what to expect, and didn't know anything about the machine. Reasonably, I do not expect high tech equipment to be noisy and mechanical-sounding. So, imagine how I felt, laying in a machine, as motionless as possible, while this contraption knocked and whirred and buzzed, all around my head. And to look in on someone's dreams, the sleeper will have to be held still. Not an easy achievement.
posted by Goofyy at 3:22 AM on December 12, 2008

Today, it takes sticking your head up the ass of a giant bumblebee on the warpath. Tomorrow, they build it into a stylish fedora. Next week, eyeglass frames. By Thursday ... well, we won't need all this meat, will we, so the rats can have it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:09 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine

-- Bob Dylan
posted by marxchivist at 5:32 AM on December 12, 2008

Not to throw a damper on this, but they are reading the visual cortex. IANAN, but I think that's like a near direct map of the retina, which in turn is just an image plane from the optics of the eye. Pretty cool that they can do it, but nowhere near recording thoughts. (Except those thoughts that may utilize the visual cortex to visualize something?)
posted by DU at 5:42 AM on December 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah - I misunderstood what was going on. I'm kind of glad.
posted by cashman at 6:46 AM on December 12, 2008

I find it extremely amusing that the word they chose to illustrate how their method works ('neuron') is the same as the title of the journal their paper was published in.
posted by greatgefilte at 7:04 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

*calmly removes tinfoil hat*
*buckles on lead helmet*
*gets sore neck*
posted by craven_morhead at 7:17 AM on December 12, 2008

from the second link:

The researchers suggest a future version of this technology could be applied in the fields of art and design — particularly if it becomes possible to quickly and accurately access images existing inside an artist’s head. The technology might also lead to new treatments for conditions such as psychiatric disorders involving hallucinations, by providing doctors a direct window into the mind of the patient.

How quaint of you, science. That's definitely who's going to be able to afford this technology: artists. Right.

That said, holy crap. Wow wow wow wow.
posted by nosila at 9:17 AM on December 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

If anyone wants the pdf, memail me.
posted by nosila at 9:21 AM on December 12, 2008

Come the fuck on. That's it. I'm going home. I can't take this.
posted by BeerFilter at 9:21 AM on December 12, 2008

What the what!?
posted by sixswitch at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2008

I remember when Dr. Mindbender did this to Snake Eyes.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 10:27 AM on December 12, 2008

I think I just had a mindgasm.
posted by naju at 10:28 AM on December 12, 2008

"This Account Has Exceeded Its CPU Quota"

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:52 AM on December 12, 2008

This was already done with cats nine years ago -- I remember reading about it then and wondering why it received so little attention.

Also, teraflop, nice title reference.
posted by newmoistness at 12:03 PM on December 12, 2008

“well, the near to medium term future might really, really suck.”

It’s cyberpunk. Put on some mirrorshades.

“Not to throw a damper on this, but they are reading the visual cortex.”

Akin to saying there just combusting petroleum distilate internally. The impact on the areospace industry alone...
The applications here are tremendous, as are the implications.

The future is a bit scary. Still, it’d suck if things were the same all the time.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:51 PM on December 12, 2008

I believe the cat thing was not a very popular thing because they inserted a couple electrodes directly into the cat's brain, showed the images that they did. Then they pulled the electrodes out, put them into a different place and repeated the pictures. They repeated this dozens of times so they had something like a hundred data points, or more, it's been a while. Not a very pretty picture, repeatedly poking a cat's brain with electrodes. This is non-intrusive at all.
posted by Phantomx at 2:49 PM on December 12, 2008

Just wanted to confirm DU's thought and say while this is awesome, don't reach for your tinfoil hats yet.

The 'recording thoughts and dreams' article is pure fluff. The actual paper uses fMRI to map activity in low level vision, where patterns of activity still map relatively directly to what's beeing seen.

This technique is but a small step in recognizing rich visual experience merely from neural activity. There's a whole lot of processing that we do on images before, in some sense, they become conscious. To be brief, we build what we see as much as we see it.

We're not going to be looking at each others thoughts for a good while yet.
posted by Alex404 at 1:45 PM on December 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Perhaps a little more like La Mort en Direct (Death Watch).
posted by CG at 12:45 PM on December 15, 2008

Well, this lets me tick off one box on the very, very long list of requirements to finally getting that neural implant enabling direct wireless Wikipedia access by my brain.

Got a ways to go, yet, but some day . . .
posted by Ryvar at 6:18 AM on December 18, 2008

"In as little as 10 years, advances in this field of research may make it possible to read a person’s thoughts with some degree of accuracy."

Well, then, I'm going to have to come up with a better aluminum foil hat, aren't I?
posted by not_on_display at 10:39 AM on December 18, 2008

The singularity is near.
posted by clark at 5:59 PM on December 19, 2008

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