Scientists trying to read your mind?

Did anyone else see this article? I came across it on msnbc.com – “Scientists Try to Predict Intentions: using brain scans to read minds before thoughts turn into actions” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17464320/)

I haven’t read anything Dr. Haynes has published in peer-reviewed journals on the topic (I’ll see what I can find) but this seems like another case of popular media grossly over-estimating (or mis-estimating?) the significance of the research. Take this excerpt:

But scientists are making enough progress to make ethicists nervous, since the research has already progressed from identifying the regions of the brain where certain thoughts occur to identifying the very content of those thoughts.

Although I think my favorite part is the opening paragraph, where the author writes:

At a laboratory in Germany, volunteers slide into a doughnut-shaped MRI machine and perform simple tasks, such as deciding whether to add or subtract two numbers, or choosing which of two buttons to press.

They have no inkling that scientists in the next room are trying to read their minds — using a brain scan to figure out their intention before it is turned into action.

Um…I think the first “inkling” that something is amiss is when these evil scientists ask you to step inside their big shiny machine. Perhaps I’m overly-critical. I still think articles like this are amusing, but it makes me cringe when I think that this is the public’s view of MR research. Any other opinions?

1 thought on “Scientists trying to read your mind?”

  1. You beat me to it, Rebecca! I’m glad you posted this. I wonder if we need a category called fmri-abuse. My favorite line was actually the ominous speculation, “The concept of keeping your thoughts private could be profoundly altered in the future” – cue scary music. I don’t know what future it is that has MRI machines lurking on every street corner, though who knows… 🙂

    At any rate I think the ethicists have more to worry about with respect to stem cell research than what those wacky scientists are up to with their mind-reading rays.

    Part of the problem though is that fMRI is so poorly understood. I think that the physiologic response to a thought (which is what BOLD is really measuring) is hard to intuitively understand. Sometimes the neuroscience literature blurs the distinction as well – not necessarily with deliberate intent to deceive, but more just as a shorthand.

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